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What is PDM and who needs it?


Product data management (PDM) is a system that allows a company to manage its design data and engineering process in one central location. Many engineering teams use a data management system to organize information about a product. By using a central location, the engineering team can save time, collaborate more easily, and avoid mistakes.


A product management system serves as a clustered database for all product-related data, including manufacturing instructions, information on production procedures, revised product data, and designs. This data system stores and organizes product data so different stakeholders can update and use this database. Access to this data depends on the permission each department receives from the administrator.


Basic History of PDM

PDM has largely been the domain of the large companies, due to the cost of the software, high implementation costs and intensive training. Most of the early users needed to spend months or years just planning the system, employing experts to discuss requirements with all prospective users before the implementation could even begin and, as such, this ruled out PDM to most Small to Medium sized Businesses (SMB's). Besides, why would SMB's require a PDM system?


Does a SMB company even need PDM?

Any company that has been using CAD for 20+, 15 or even 10 years (which is probably most) will have acquired a lot of CAD data and product knowledge, even if there are only one or two designers. Storing that amount of data becomes unmanageable after a while and often files and copies of files will be stored in many different locations - so who knows which is the most recent and whether a near duplicate copy is for production or just evaluation of a design concept? And if managing the CAD data is not enough, how do you make sure that you keep track of why design changes were made? You also need to keep records of reports or an analysis and any number of other related documents that are linked to a design. Are these kept in the same folders as the design and how do you know where and how to look for them as CAD systems only manage the CAD data?


Gone are the days when people stayed in a job for a long period of time and when people move on, a lot of the knowledge they had about designs and all its related data is lost. You can also add the problems involved with the work-from-home trend that has come about since COVID, which means it is not so easy to just pop along the corridor and ask the designer about your concerns and also ignores the impact these type of interactions would have on getting the design work done. Other stakeholders (manufacturing, sales, management) also need to be able to get hold of the information faster too.


It is therefore more important than ever that PDM is made accessible to SMB's,


Why are PDM systems important to businesses?

Data management systems help companies improve the development and management of their products. Here are some additional reasons these data management systems matter to the growth of a company:


Better design workflow

With a data management system for products, you can manage multiple tasks without losing track of progress. PDM allows you to search for data faster, quickly replace and reuse files, direct computer-aided design (CAD) interaction, and simultaneously access data across departments. This software also makes it possible for the team to collaborate without having to overwrite files or create clashing copies, saving time and resources.


Efficient collaboration

With a data management system, team members can easily share views of their products with other departments within and outside the organization's firewall. By distributing 2D or 3D views of the team's work, management can provide feedback and comments on the project. This system allows the team to change automated engineering orders and synchronize the data across the board for easy tracking.


Streamlined product development

A management system can help the product team control the entire engineering process without using many resources. This system allows the team to automate the engineering change order, revisit control access, and manage bills of materials. By focusing on important tasks, the product team can build new products and features in line with the department's schedule.


Accessible knowledge bank

With a data management system, the product team can leverage existing design data to access, configure, replace, reuse, copy, or incorporate design elements into new products. A management system often serves as a data bank that provides traceability and accountability for every design project a company undertakes. With an accurate history of design data, engineers always have access to this reference. This reduces the chance of losing data, duplicating files, or creating conflicting copies.


Why does PDM often fail for SMB's?

A lot of the systems in the market are still expensive and require a lot of time and IT expertise to get it up and running. They will also generally require someone full time to administrate the system, at least in the first year. Many SMB's don't have the IT resource to start on this and having one person dedicated to it.

If you get past this initial phase, most PDM systems require you to get your files PDM ready! Depending on how stringent your old systems were, this can be an extremely time consuming task and I have seen many implementations fail at this stage. You will normally need to ensure that all CAD files have no missing links and map out what properties are to be stored in which database fields, so a lot of switching data from one property to another can take time - does you designer(s) have the time to implement this?

The implementation phase then becomes the next road-block. A test system will have been set up and a sample data set will be loaded and someone will again need to spend their time to do some testing to make sure it has been set up correctly.

Finally comes the data loading process. All design work will need to be put on hold while the data is loaded and then again, so preliminary testing will be required before the design work can get back under way. Depending on the amount of data to be loaded, this step can take days.


In conclusion, most companies will benefit from PDM, but for SMB's it is important that the system implemented isn't hugely expensive and, most importantly, isn't going to require more staff to run it.

If you want to find out about a PDM solution that can work across multiple CAD programs, isn't going to require a high end IT team, is easy to use and have the data loaded simply by your usual designers, then contact Alan Pope for more information.


Alan Pope, +64 369 179, alan@cadcentral.co.nz

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