The complexity of Part Management in PDM

July 11, 2014


How to manage Parts? It sounds like a trivial and simple question. Every manufacturing companies and engineering organization is facing this problem. However, it is not as simple as you might think so. The information about Parts (aka Items) is often scattered between CAD drawings, multiple Excel files, PDM and ERP systems. One of the biggest problem is to how to manage revisions and changes for Parts. I captured this problem in some of my previous writings. Future CAD-PLM and Assembly Version Management; Why versioning is complicated in PDM?; PLM, ERP and Managing of Effectivity; Revisions in CAD/PLM/ERP: Old Problems or New Challenges?

Recent GrabCAD blog – Part Revisions: Deal or No Deal made me think again about why is so complex to manage parts in every PDM environment. The following passage explains what means Part has no revision:

Documentation can be revised, but the part itself should not. If a part changes, the revised part is issued a new part number. In the case of PMI, where the "documentation" portion is integral to the part, revisions are more esoteric. Allowable PMI revisions in that case depend on whether the documentation portion is being updated or the part model is being physically changed.

The following passage explains one of my 5 Don’ts in BOM management – Don’t use the same ID for Part Numbers and Drawing Numbers:

In many cases, the documentation is a fully dimensioned engineering drawing, though these days it might also be Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), if you’re riding the technology wave. In the case of a drawing, the documentation also carries an identifying number. While it may be tempting to make the part and drawing numbers the same, such an approach aims to misbehave. For example, a drawing is often changed for very different reasons than the part it describes, often in a fashion that has no impact on design. In addition, drawings may describe multiple parts. In other words, drawing and part life cycles are unique, so the identification number for each must also be unique.

Now, let me go back to the original question. Why is so complex to manage parts in PDM? Here are two main reasons:

1- Complexity of two lifecycles – CAD and Items

CAD documents and Part lifecycle is fundamentally different. PDM system manage CAD files revisions and dependencies between files. Parts (Items) requires Part Numbers and Effectivity to control FFF (Form, Fit and Function) also known as interchangeability rules. Revision can be applied, but it won’t be used to identify a part.

2- Disagreement about where is "master" of part information and cross system integration

Part information is scattered between PDM, ERP and supply chain management systems. Organizations are having hard time to agree WHO is controlling Part creation process. When changes happens or new parts is created, information must be synchronized between multiple systems. It raises the complexity of overall integration and data management.

What is my conclusion? Complexity of two lifecycle management is a key problem in part management in PDM. It is hard to combine part lifecycle including interchangeability rules and effectivity with proper management of CAD documents. The user workflows are getting complex and engineers are having hard time to use the system. While the reality of manufacturing is that both documents and parts need to managed in an appropriate way, PDM vendors facing real challenges to get efficient Part Management processes in place. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Part and Document Management: Why is it Complex?

March 8, 2014


Parts and Documents are two different objects in engineering, product development and manufacturing. While “part” usually represents physical object, “document” usually represents specification, drawing or 3D model of part. Even it it sounds obvious, Document and Part management is not an easy and simple task.

In my post – How to manage Document versions, revisions and Part numbers, I’ve been mostly speaking about the need to have separate numbers for documents and parts. I also mentioned that bad practice to use the same numbers for both document and part, can lead to significant complexity and mistakes. At the same to implement a system or multiple system to manage Documents and Parts is complicated. Below I described potential three typical configurations you may find in companies related to document and parts management.


Even PDM is not very new technology, you can still see many companies that not using PDM. If this is a case, you have a good chance to see documents (CAD and non-CAD) spread out in the network and shared drives. Without centralized document management system, a company is creating numbering convention how to provide document numbers. A good chance that you will see lots of Excel spreadsheets to be used for Parts and BOM management. Very often, a company will be using similar number convention for parts and mix it together with usage of OEM and supplier part numbers. You can also see homegrown system to manage Part Numbers in a separate database.


This is very typical situation where engineering and manufacturing are splitting responsibilities into silos. Engineering department is using PDM system (very often from the same vendor as CAD system) and manufacturing (as well as rest of the company) is using ERP system. Within this schema, PDM system is taking control of documents. Document numbers usually generated by PDM system according to predefined naming convention. Item masters and parts are managed by ERP. The complexity of this model is to link between documents in PDM system and parts/BOMs in ERP system. In most of the cases, the integration between them is manual or using batch import/ export procedures. Optionally, PDM system can manage parts (typically engineering parts).


It is not unusual to see both PDM and PLM systems co-exit in the same company. Similar configuration can be achieved by combination of PLM and ERP system. In the last case, PDM module is part of broader PLM offering. The specific characteristic of this type of environment is management of parts and engineering BOMs in PLM system. Sometimes, you can see PLM systems is responsible also for manufacturing BOM management. This configuration provides the most consistent way to interlink between Documents and Parts. Both numbers are available in PLM system which can use them. The weak part of this configuration is complexity of integration between PDM/PLM and ERP. Synchronization of Part Numbers and Document Numbers among all systems is a challenge that may potentially lead to data inconsistency.

What is my conclusion? The information about documents and parts is located across organizational departments and systems. At the same time, to manage them in a consistent way is very important. Regardless on the number of systems and the way to manage Document Numbers and Part Numbers to keep them separate and maintain linkage between them is the first priority. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Autodesk Quietly Launched Their Cloud

September 26, 2011

Time ago, I was discussing on my blog about cloud file storage as one of the potential first step CAD vendors will take to adopt cloud. One of my posts about that was – Is Google Doc is a good place to store CAD files? I was very surprised to discover that Autodesk quietly launched their Autodesk Cloud services. Thanks to my web alert and Thomas Rambach about the notification. You can see that Autodesk made website available. You can register to login and have 1GB free space to work on. Below I put some screenshots and explain few experiments I’ve made. As you can see from the home screen, it is all about Cloud Documents, and it reminds you Google Docs very much.

After quick registration (it was actually very smooth), you have an access to cloud folders.

So, what you can do? Actually, not much… You can upload files, search for them, tag them, upload next revisions. You can create folders and organize your files into these folders. On the following picture, you can see some elements of a future cloud apps features – additional storage, applications and more…

What is my take? Few months ago, I was trying out Dassault V6 Cloud Apps. Here is the link to refresh your memory. I was talking about SolidWorks n!Fuze as one of the DS V6 Cloud Services – My Experience with Dassault V6 Cloud on Amazon. If you will take a look on n!Fuze user interface and Autodesk Cloud UI, you can find some similarity. Don’t think it is wrong. I prefer to have UI simple, slick and straightforward. From that standpoint, I liked very much Autodesk Cloud appearance and user experience. However, the most important question to ask- is it going to be a viable option for people to store and use their files? How easy will be connecting from applications (desktop and web) to these services? How efficiently we can share files between these separate cloud services? All these questions are requiring a deeper discussion and answers before customers will touch these new services.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM and Engineering Documents Identification

July 15, 2010

My new website and blog is BeyondPLM. The original post is here.

The question of identification is probably of the most complicated and always raises lots of interest. I had a chance to discuss early on my blog a topic related to Part Numbers and Part Identification. The discussion raised lots of opinions and comments. You can track them on the following link. PLM marketing and sales speeches are rarely discussing this topic. It assumed as a solved problem. However, I don’t think so. Today I want to discuss multiple aspects related to the identification of drawings.

I read article by Kean Walmsley of Autodesk on his blog – Through the interface . He is discussing the idea of identification of drawings using QR Code. Kean presented various ways you can today handle QR codes in software and how you can organize your work with help of QR-enabled software. He is talking about coming AutoCAD plug-in to do this job.

Another article by Jeff Sweeney of 3DVision Technologies in his bar-coded blog post presents an idea how possible to use bar-code or how he called “1949 year technology” to identify drawings. In his example, he proposed to create an association between file attribute and bar-code and automate processes related to document.

Both articles made me think about different aspects related to identification of engineering documents, and I decided to share and discuss it.

Internal vs. External
Documents are everywhere. However, in my view, most of the organization can clearly differentiate between documents that are belonging to an organization and are under formal control of the organization and documents that circulated outside.

Logical vs. Physical
Most of us are working with virtual documents or files – CAD Files, Related PDF files, Images, Scans and just office documents with embedded design and engineering elements. However, organizations are still printing documents for various purposes. I can see some of them, such as use of documents in the manufacturing shop floor or sending documents together with physical products as part of documents and some others.

Inside of the organization your documents are flowing between different people and organizations. You can see more and more organizations are starting to think about a single content management system. In some cases, PLM system is playing a role of a content management system for engineering documents. However, there are lots of situations where documents are distributed between multiple systems- CMS, PDM, PLM, ERP, etc. To be able to identify correlated documents can be an interesting solution.

The cost of storage is growing down. I’d expect IT in few more years will be discussing an option how to have all data on “spinning disks”. Flash storage is still expensive. So, a question of archiving and identification of drawing in archives can be interesting as well.

What is my conclusion today? I think, the problem of identification is a huge one. With all respect to our paperless future, we are document-driven society. I’m not touching now the future CAD on the cloud without files. We are still in a very preliminary stage in our trials to understand the problem of handling documents globally. There are many aspects that I mentioned in this post, and it seems to me, they are still very distributed within an organization’s boundary and beyond. I can envision kind of layered solution that will solve this problem. I’m looking forward to your comments and discussion.

Best, Oleg


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