PDM 101: Engineering Document Management Fallacy

We love new technologies and trends. However, from time to time, I want to get back to basic topics of engineering and manufacturing software. The topic I’d like to discuss today is Engineering Document Management (EDM). This post was triggered by DM vs. EDM article by Scott Cleveland on 2PLM letter. Here is the passage Scott use to explain the main difference:

Document management can be as simple as saving a document to a protected directory. It could be any of the document management software packages like SharePoint. Engineering document management is a different beast. Engineering document management follows some basic engineering rules. The concept is that of a vault.

Later in the article engineering rules are explained as access control, version control, process states (create, change, release) and audit trail.

I found myself a bit confused by this definition. There are many document management systems that will comply with rules described above. However, I’d not recommend to use these systems for engineering document management purposes. I took a look in wikipedia and here is what I found. Navigate to the following wikipedia link about Document Management System (DMS). The article is quite comprehensive. Here is a short passage that defines DMS:

A document management system (DMS) is a computer system (or set of computer programs) used to track and store electronic documents. It is usually also capable of keeping track of the different versions modified by different users (history tracking). The term has some overlap with the concepts of content management systems. It is often viewed as a component of enterprise content management (ECM) systems and related to digital asset management, document imaging, workflow systems and records management systems. Document management systems commonly provide storage, versioning, metadata, security, as well as indexing and retrieval capabilities.

Later in the article, I found a very useful table describing functions and components of document management. One of the them (very important) is Versioning:

Versioning is a process by which documents are checked in or out of the document management system, allowing users to retrieve previous versions and to continue work from a selected point. Versioning is useful for documents that change over time and require updating, but it may be necessary to go back to or reference a previous copy.

Now, let’s move forward and see what wikipedia states about Engineering Document Management (EDM). I didn’t find a separate EDM article. The most relevant one was Technical Data Management derived from Document Management System (DMS). I captured the following important passage:

A Technical Data Management System (TDMS) is essentially a Document management system (DMS) pertaining to the management of technical and engineering drawings and documents. Often the data are contained in ‘records’ of various forms, such on paper, microfilms or on digital media. Hence technical data management is also concerned with record management involving purely technical or techno-commercial or techno-legal information or data.

Wikipedia article compares TDMS and DMS in a following way:

TDMS functions are conceptually similar to that of conventional archive functions, except that the archived material in this case are essentially engineering drawings, survey maps, technical specifications, plant and equipment data sheets, feasibility reports, project reports, operation and maintenance manuals, standards, etc.

In my view, these days, most of people are associating Engineering Document Management directly with PDM. Navigate to wikipedia page EDM page and you find a confirmation to that (Engineering Data Management, also known as Product Data Management).

So, what is so special and different about Engineering Document Management that confuses many people? In my view, it comes down to the type of data system is managing. It is about CAD models, Drawings, Design, Simulation, etc. This data is semantically rich and contains lots of connections and constraints. To manage versions of Excel files is easy. Many document management systems can do so. However, to manage versions of SolidWorks or Inventor assemblies is not so simple. You need to track dependencies between parts, drawings and other elements of interconnected data.

What is my conclusion? Semantic complexity makes engineering document management complicated. It is all about connections and data dependencies. This is a specialty of engineering document management software. To manage revisions of interconnected files is complicated. It cannot be done on a level of single file and requires different approach. Engineering Document Management (today mostly known as PDM) is a special class of data management solutions used for this purposes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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