Meet Actify: Making product data intelligent

Many of today’s manufacturing companies store their data in siloed line-of-business systems, like PLM, ERP, and Excel spreadsheets. The challenge with this is not everyone in the company has access to these systems, and the user interface can be cumbersome.

For more than 20 years, Actify has solved this challenge by developing products that enable cross-department collaboration, data management, and quick access to extended product data. Leading manufacturing organizations such as Plantronics, CERN, and Magna rely on Actify’s solutions to make product data available throughout their organizations, helping them make critical business decisions faster.

 

The Challenge: Adding features without increasing architectural complexity

One of Actify’s key products is Centro, a platform that securely delivers a unified view of a company’s enterprise product data. Traditional solutions were built on SQL Servers, but Actify wanted to develop more sophisticated features driven by the hierarchical nature of CAD data and product structures.  Actify wanted Centro to have a core system that could stand on its own as a product-centric management application, but also serve as a platform for tailored analytics applications and business tools.

“Centro is implemented as an on-premise application, so keeping architectural complexities to a minimum is very important.  Our customers want to avoid hiring an army of IT consultants to install and configure their enterprise software.” shares Ross Mills, engineering manager at Actify.

 

The Solution: One database, multiple data models

Actify’s customers are dealing with diverse data. CAD files and related documents fit nicely in a schemaless document database, but the various components of a given manufacturing product naturally form a directed acyclic graph.

“At first we thought about using separate data stores and evaluated the usual suspects for each data model – MongoDB for the document part, and Neo4j and Sparksee for the graph part,” explains Mills. “We quickly learned this would increase our application footprint and make deployments more complicated, not to mention increase complexity in our application by having to keep data consistent across multiple databases.”

Actify found the feature set of ArangoDB compelling. By tying together graph and document data models in a single database.

A graph database typically provides the best performance when it comes to richly connected data, such as CAD associated engineering documents and data (cost, material, supplier, specifications and testing), taking less time and memory to perform search queries. When it comes to choosing the right database, a native multi-model database provides operational benefits and flexibility.  Data can be stored as key/value pairs, graphs or documents and can be accessed with one declarative query language.

 

The Implementation: A directed acyclic graph to model product structures and assemblies 

Actify uses ArangoDB to store product structures and their components in Centro.

A key feature of Centro is the ability to import product structures directly from CAD files, and modeling product structures that have shared components. This structure of product assemblies with shared components is represented as a directed acyclic graph of products.

 

How Actify models product assemblies through an acyclic graph.

GraphDB Actify Centro

 

How product assemblies are visualized in Centro using a directed acyclic graph in ArangoDB.

Data Grid Actify Centro

 

How Actify’s SpinFire Web uses ArangoDB’s graph and document database features to integrate data from disparate data sources.

SpinFire Web Actify Centro

 

In addition to modeling the current product graph, Actify also tracks the history of changes throughout the product graph – giving customers a complete history of product structures throughout the database.

By combining a graph traversal with 3D search, Actify also built a “where-used” analysis to find similar components based on the geometric shape. This feature helps Actify’s customers consolidate duplicate parts and inform their decisions around which suppliers they should use.

 

The Results: Scaling through software

Actify will continue to take advantage of the flexibility offered by its native multi-model database as we continue to develop new features, including Materials Library, Collaboration, and Analytics capabilities.

By supporting multiple data models with a single query language, this allows Actify to scale through our software, not engineering time, enabling flexible and rapid deployment scenarios.

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