PDM: re-invent the wheel or innovate?

Engineers hate PDM. It is an axiom known to all people touching engineering and manufacturing software. Nobody gets up in the morning and looking for PDM software. Most of product development people are considering PDM as an evil that they need pay taxes to get right revision and don’t overwrite changes made by his colleagues. The value proposition of PDM is obvious. Navigate your browser to the reports made by Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity here. Here is a conclusion:

The conclusion from that report was a clear indication that Product Data Management (PDM) helps companies control control and secure product-related data, improve the ability to quickly find and reuse information, and share product knowledge with other departments. The report went further to point out that the companies indicated the results of better control, search, and collaboration are increased efficiency, improved quality, reduced cost, and the ability to bring products to market much faster. So it was easy to make a conclusion from that report that PDM helps companies improve the metrics that drive product profitability.

At the same time, the same Jim Brown in his online dispute with Chad Jackson agreed that PDM is overkill for small and medium design team. I posted about it few weeks ago in my post – PDM: Rightsize, Wrongsize, Overkill? The current status quo of PDM is that majority of engineering and manufacturing companies are not using PDM. The optimistic estimation of amount of CAD seats managed by PDM software is probably 15-20%.

Recently, I saw two startup companies decided to challenge the space of collaboration and PDM using cloud solutions – GrabCAD Workbench and Sunglass PDM.

GrabCAD – company known because of a website providing online storage for CAD models and place to promote your engineering skills via different challenges. GrabCAD is coming with Workbench – an online solution that provide a secured location to share CAD design and collaborate in teams. Josh Mings smacked a review of GrabCAD workbench here. The following passage can explain what Workbench does:

Workbench provides a secure location for sharing models. Inside this environment, people can upload files (3d, 2d, docs, etc.), comment on files and further collaborate on the project files. The 3D viewing interface provides additional tools to section, measure, explode and place ‘pins’ on the 3D object itself. The idea is to replace less secure methods of collaboration like email, FTP, Dropbox or other online share sites, providing a single point interaction for the model and the people.

GrabCAD is planning to come with 3 levels of collaborative solutions – Professional, Team and Enterprise. Pricing is not available yet, but the first (Professional) is available now for limited beta. I requested a try for me and waiting it to be available soon.

Sunglass.io is come to the market as a online collaborative site with 3D viewing solution. Currently Sunglass is introducing what they call “product data management to 3D distributed cloud platform”. GraphicSpeak Randall Newton put an interesting writeup about Sunglass PDM here. The following passage is my favorite:

Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “Hurray, I get to work in our PDM software today.” Most product designers and engineers consider the data management side of using CAD for product design to be drudgery. The more product data management can be unified with design data and the processes of team workflow, the less onerous keeping the data current will seem. Only time and customer feedback will tell us if Sunglass has created a winner.

At $20 per month per user, the price of Sunglass PDM is a factor of ten less expensive than most PDM products on the market. But they offer a much richer, more nuanced approach to data management. Ease of use will be the key to early success.

Target low end PDM white space

Both Sunglass and GrabCAD are using modern web development concepts together with cool user experience. GrabCAD is leveraging the community of more than 500K engineers using GrabCAD website to upload/download CAD files. Both companies are thinking how to fill the gap current PDM packages like TeamCenter, PDMLink or SolidWorks Enterprise PDM left untapped. From the examples I’ve seen, Sunglass and GrabCAD are proposing an alternative experience to traditional PDM. At the same time, most of traditional attributes left without changes.

What is my conclusion? User experience and S3 cloud storage. Community of engineers and dashboard with CAD plug-ins. Most of these attributes were introduced by old PDM tools in the past. Will it be enough to change the mind of conservative engineers about the role of PDM systems in their working processes? Everything new is actually well-forgotten old. The history of software has many things like this. Cost is a huge factor also. Only time will show if GrabCAD or Sunglass created a winner in new PDM space. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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