Future of PDM: complexity, functionality and open source

engineering-community-pdm

Product Data Management (PDM) is recently getting more focus and traction. You might think why so? PDM is a mature field with well known behavior, functions and value proposition. For example, if you follow Jim Brown of TechClarity, you can find a very nice infographic explaining the value of product data management (PDM). Another publication of TechClarity  – The business value of product data management can be found here. Note, the research was sponsored Siemens PLM, so you will need to get registered on Siemens PLM website to get access to the full report.

However, world is changing and so the technology around us. I’ve been reading GrabCAD blog earlier today – Interview: What hardware developers can learn from software developers. Read the full story and you will find some interesting facts related to development of Poppy Project – robot using an open-source humanoid platform based on robust, flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. The part of the article I specially like was related to how engineers at Poppy Project are using PDM and other collaborative tools such as software source control. The comparison between PDM and SCM tools was stroke me as something very interesting. Here is my favorite passage:

With software development version control is important. Our software team uses Git, for example.  Now I can’t work without it even for CAD. Our robotics project is open source so I need to use developmental branches for this type of work. I use Git flows to keep repositories organized. What else have you used to manage your files? I tried SolidWorks PDM but it’s not great. For one, its too complicated. A simple interface is important because we want to attract people to participate not scare them away. I couldn’t find anything like SVN (Apache Subversion) or any modern source control system. At this point it looks like we’re probably going to use Git for individual work and GrabCAD Workbench for sharing work with others.

It is absolutely not surprising to hear about complexity of PDM tools. Even my truly believe, SolidWorks PDM is not the most complicated PDM tool, it was still okay to say SVN is simpler. However, what is specially interesting, Poppy Project people found PDM tool lacking some important functions such as branching, forking and merging requests. The following passage is nailing down the difference between collaboration of people in traditional engineering processes compared to open source projects.

With an open source project, especially an open source robot, people are making their own modifications but they don’t have editing rights for the main repository. They need to be able to make merge requests- send notifications from their repository to ours so their changes can be merged upstream. That’s better than everyone working on the exact same version.

It made me think more about why PDM should change these days. Our working environment is changing fast. What was strictly prohibited yesterday, becomes a norm today. Open source is one of these things. The new trend is to re-use models, software code and other elements of design from outside of your organization (or in the community). This is a new field for engineering organization and manufacturing companies these days. It brings a new requirement to PDM.

CAD/PDM integration and new functional challenges

New PDM functional requirements will point back on some fundamental problems of PDM such as deep integration with CAD tools. Navigate to one of my previous articles Multi-CAD PDM integration: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The complexity of CAD/PDM integration is going to be tightly dependent on functionality of CAD that needs to be supported by PDM. The ability of branch and merge version is tightly coupled with this cross CAD-PDM functional bundle. In my view, to merge CAD models is much more complicated task than merging software source code text files. There is no reliable technology today that can help you to do it easy.

What is my conclusion? Even PDM is 25+ years mature technology, it is a time for PDM to change. The changes are coming from the huge demand for simplification driven by consumer tools and technologies. At the same time, new functionality driven by trends such as social product development, open source and development communities will be challenging PDM vendors. In particular, CAD-PDM integration will be one of them. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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