For most people these days, computers are such an integral part of life that using them is often taken for granted. But in these times of automatic updates, it is easy to forget just how much work goes into each new piece of software. With this in mind, I would like to take the opportunity today to report on how MANN+HUMMEL Group’s switch to the new PDM/CAD integration software went – a switch that affected 550 engineers at 26 different locations.

For MANN+HUMMEL, the PDM/CAD integration software is a vital IT application for the company. This is no surprise really, when you consider that many hundreds of employees worldwide use the program to design filter solutions for our customers. Designs and data are exchanged on a daily basis, and even a small fault can quickly become critical.

So, when our software provider withdrew its support for the existing CAD interface last year and offered us a new technology – Workspace Manager – it was clear that our central Engineering Network Team in Ludwigsburg had a huge project ahead of them. Our task was to ensure that the necessary preparations were made for the switch, both in terms of technology and ‘atmosphere’, and to implement this changeover’. We soon had our core team in place, with Harald Kurz chosen to lead Project WSM, along with experts Roland Adolf, Gebhard Lämmle, Manfred Porsche and Markus Scheit. Panagiotis Mavroidakos was chosen to oversee global coordination, and I assumed responsibility for project communication.

Regular SCRUM meeting with (from left to right) Harald Kurz, Markus Scheit, Gebhard Lämmle

Regular SCRUM meeting with (from left to right) Harald Kurz, Markus Scheit, Gebhard Lämmle

First things first: reduce the functional scope

One of the first steps in a migration project is to put the new software through its paces for the first time. Having done this, we then held a workshop with some 15 worldwide CAD experts to help set expectations with regard to the new program. Workspace Manager is capable of far more than the old software. From the workshop, it emerged that it is important to initially restrict the functionality to make it manageable for the user. This is where our IT and CAD specialists came in, reducing the functionality of Workspace Manager to the extent that it could only do as much as the old software. At the same time, we made preparations to install the test system. In hindsight, this turned out to be the right way to go as it ensured that we weren’t asking too much of the users during the introduction phase. The full version will subsequently be available globally by the end of 2017.

Preparation for the global test phase with (from left to right) Harald Kurz, Gebhard Lämmle, Jörg Volke, Markus Scheit.

The test version was initially rolled out in Ludwigsburg only. We wanted to make sure that the field test was carried out successfully in our own environment before rolling out the software worldwide. The first impressions of a new piece of software are crucial. The first aspects to be seen and tested by the employees need to be good; negative feedback is quick to spread.

For the international locations, we selected key users, who were then given intensive training on the new software in numerous meetings over Skype and telephone conversations. We also constructed an eLearning environment in SharePoint with space for discussions and feedback. Since Workspace Manager doesn’t favour a particular implementation method, we opted for the SCRUM approach. SCRUM is an agile project management style, in which working methods are constantly adapted based on feedback, amongst other things.

Project communication also required a great deal of attention; we communicated with the users, their superiors and management via a range of channels including a newsletter, the R&D network, SharePoint, Skype, videos, management communications, etc.

Adapting and migrating a million CAD files

One fascinating question was how we were going to process all the stock data from the old system for use in the new software, a task that would involve at least a million CAD files. The data structure in today’s software systems is quite different from that in older programs, so there was a great deal of adaptation work to be done here.

The final migration before ‘go-live’ took place on the last weekend of June: on this Friday evening, all CAD users in Asia, Europe and America stopped working in the PDM system at the same time. This signalled the start of the actual changeover. We started the first migration routines for the evening in several parallel batch jobs, and by 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, we had overcome our first hurdle with the bulk processing of the CAD files successfully completed. This was followed by further migration steps, which saw the whole team simultaneously configuring and testing various software components and CAD systems. Then, just a few hours later, we were able to release the new PDM/CAD system for global productive operation.

So far, so good. However, the acid test was still ahead of us and we had to wait until Monday morning for all users to start using the new software. To ensure everything ran smoothly, we had made sure there was a member of the core team available on-site in each of the regions – Asia, Europe and America – to provide assistance in the local language. If our colleagues in Asia had a program error, the migration team in Europe would know about it the next day and America would then have access to the finished solution.

We did not underestimate the challenges the preparation phase would bring and relied on the right approach, teamwork and global communication. By and large, the switch to the new PDM/CAD technology passed without a hitch. Testament to this is the fact that, on the Monday morning, the CAD users were able to pick up where they had left off on that Friday evening, just with a more modern, up-to-date working style …