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  • Writer's pictureAlan

PDM - Is it suitable for small businesses?

Product Data Management (PDM) has been around for a long time, but it has always been considered a big boys tool. This is because traditional PDM systems were always built from the ground up, so the planning and implementation phases could take many months or even over a year (which would include a costly consultant fee and time for employees to share their input), so for a small firm, this was not an option.

However, just because you are a small company, maybe with only 2 or more designers, this doesn't mean that you don't need PDM! Even a small design office can generate a lot of files that still need to be managed, especially if you have been using CAD for 5 or more years.

Managing Files

CAD is a complex tool with many files linked to each other, such as parts in an assembly, drawings of parts, etc. Managing files in a standard windows file/folder system becomes complex and may only make sense to the person that created it. You may choose to have one folder per project and depending on the size of the design, that may be broken down into sub-folders. Do you keep the draft in the same folder as the part or are all the draft files kept in a folder on their own? Do you have sub-folders for sub-assemblies and then what happens when a part is in more than one sub-assembly?

Managing this becomes a lot easier in a PDM system where all files are stored in a vault and their metadata (file properties) are stored in a database, which makes finding files much quicker.

Linking Files

Each part will be stored as an item and linked to that item will be its corresponding draft file for easy visibility. Often, you will have other data that is related to the part, which could take the form of a field report, an analysis or just a mark-up from the machine shop. A PDM system still allows these additional items to be linked to the part (item) so that when you go looking for that item, you will clearly see all of the relevant data for it.

One version of the truth

In a windows file system it is so easy to copy a file from one folder to another, but this makes it very hard to know which is the right one to use. In a PDM system, it is possible to create folder or project like containers and build a collection of files together for easy reference. However, the items copied here are just links, pointing back to the one version of the truth. As the files are referenced from a database, it also makes it easier to perform where used queries to ensure that the file you are about to edit is not going to affect anything else.

When is a BOM not a BOM?

In a file based system, a bill of materials (BOM) is whatever parts are stored in the assembly. This becomes troublesome when making edits to an assembly as the sales team will only be interested in the latest released version, but the designer may have been looking at changes to parts, which puts the assembly out of sync.

In a PDM system, there are at least 2 types of BOM available. For the designer, it will most likely be the current working version and then it is also possible to open the same assembly file with the last released version.

Keeping track of changes

Design changes are inevitable for most engineering design offices, but keeping track of who made them and why is not so well tracked. This can cause problems a year or more down the track when you need to know why something was done. With a PDM system, this information is tracked using information stored in the database using compulsory workflows or via tracked engineering changes requests.


In my experience, it is quite common that when a project is completed, files are converted to share with other departments or outside parties in the form of PDF, parasolid or step files. The creation of these files is often a manual process and, as such, can lead to the files not getting created or updated.

A PDM system can be set up so that these files are created automatically on the release of a part or drawing, meaning that the information is consistent and current.

If you are struggling with any of these, or similar issues, and want to learn more about getting your engineering data under control, then contact Alan Pope to discuss how this is possible for even the small design offices. Our solutions work with most CAD applications and can be simple to set up and get started.

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