Product Data Management (PDM) was around for the last 20-30 years. However, I can see an increased traction around PDM topic last year. You ask me what’s the reason? My simple answer – Dropbox. Think 10 years back. The typical "PDM spiel" was to enable data control and collaboration in a team of engineers. So, PDM value proposition was to enable team with controlled access to CAD files and manage file revisions alongside. The alternative was to put data on a shared network drive (z:\ drive) and hope nobody will overwrite your last change. However, z:\ drive is replaced by Dropbox (or alternative to Dropbox solutions) with ability to synchronize and collaborate around data changes. It smells disruption and raised many questions about future of PDM systems, especially for small teams.
PTC Creo blog published guest blog article written by Chad Jackson. Article PDM is a Personal Productivity Tool speaks about traditional PDM value proposition – enabling collaboration, offloading complexity of CAD, managing design configurations, managing data dependencies (eg. simulation data), etc. These values are typical and (almost) never questionable. However, Chad drives a conclusion towards individual productivity- a bit unusual when you speak about collaboration and data management tools. Here is the passage from the post:
Listen, I know there is value in PDM for the organization and it actually does deliver. But for me, what is even more valuable is that it frees up individual engineers and designers to spend more of their time actually designing products, not managing spreadsheets with file names.
Fundamentally, I agree with Chad – PDM delivers value. However, PDM implementation usually can raise many questions about individual productivity lost and additional efforts to implement and maintain PDM system. Topics mentioned by Chad made me think about few tips that can help you to evaluate PDM system to insure it will boost your individual and team performance.
Secure global collaboration
PDM is using centralized storage to keep data and control access. No tricks here. So, before starting your work, you need to insure you can move your data from central location to your working folders and back. Nobody wants to have slow system that will suck your time during check-in/check-out process. The ability to manage conflicts is also very important here. You better test your specific CAD system, version and sample your data.
Complexity of CAD
Yes, CAD data is complex and very intertwined. Drawings, dependencies and many other features. Some of them carefully designed by CAD vendor for a very specific design process, features or performance optimization. Check if PDM system will support all features and won’t break design scenarios beautifully crafted by CAD. This is also the time to check how your PDM system can support different versions of CAD software.
Design configuration brings an additional level of complexity to data management. CAD systems are implementing it differently. If configurations matter for you, check how PDM system will allow you to manage configuration and expose this information in PDM environment.
Design dependencies (simulation, manufacturing, etc.)
Another important point. Obviously, you want PDM to capture "related data" such as simulation, requirements, manufacturing information. This information either management by your CAD system or created by add-ins or separate application. You need to validate PDM system’s ability to capture this information and integrate with separate CAE tools you might use. Otherwise, you will be manually connecting files in your PDM environment.
This is not always obvious. However, the ability to generate design BOM in the way you can share it with outside parties is an important functionality of PDM system. The same is about BOM updates. Otherwise you will be spending your time in Excel updating bill of materials to share with your suppliers.
What is my conclusion? The demand of customers these days is to provide technology and products that can boost your individual and team performance. Traditional approach to solve CAD data management problems is going to meet new technologies and paradigms. In my view, PDM has a huge unrealized potential. However, the devil in details. Wrong PDM system can suck your time and make your everyday’s experience very complicated. You can consider these tips together with my earlier blog – How to select PDM system in 5 simple steps? before making your final decision. Don’t forget to check cloud PDM alternatives. Just my thoughts…