Quick Lesson on the Value of Product Data Management

Product Data Management or PDM, is the often overshadowed acronym on the engineering whiteboard of design process workflow. Acronyms CAD, CAE and CAM stand boldly circled for the next software investment while PDM can get crossed off or postponed for consideration next year. Yet a PDM system has as much to offer in the way of business value and user benefits as the other acronyms, which, if you are new to the world of product development, are short for: Computer-Aided Design, Computer-Aided Engineering, and Computer-Aided Manufacturing.

So what exactly is PDM and why should it stand worthy of a bold circle for your organization? After fifteen years of helping a variety of product design and manufacturing companies solve business challenges with software, I have an “in the trenches” understanding of PDM.

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A definition of PDM

We could go to Wikipedia for a formal definition, but I like to think of Product Data Management as the following: Business technology used by people who produce and consume product data to securely share, regulate, version control and track a product's intellectual property throughout its lifecycle. This intellectual property could be a variety of data such as CAD models, product specifications, drawings, sketches, bills of material, emails and much, much more.

Why you need PDM

So why doesn’t PDM get circled on the whiteboard early and often? My take is that most organizations don’t fully understand the depth and breadth of a PDM solution much beyond the capability of revision control.

Initiatives like reducing prototypes (CAE), shortening drawing creation time (CAD) or sending 3D models directly to manufacturing (CAM), often take precedence over PDM. I might conclude that PDM only gets boldly circled when costly manufacturing mistakes occurred due to improper revisions making their way to manufacturing.

While improper revisions is a common challenge that a modern PDM system will address, some other challenges you should look for in your own product development processes are:

  • - Excessive time spent searching for existing CAD and engineering data for reuse in new projects
  • - Time spent copying and renaming CAD files and subsequently fixing broken references within those files
  • - Slow open, loading, and saving of 3D CAD data when data is stored on a shared file server
  • - Cumbersome project and file collaboration between multiple users and consumers of data
  • - Manual processes of approving, releasing and sending documents

If one or more of these common challenges resonate with your company then a serious look at SOLIDWORKS PDM is in order.

Another important acronym: the ROI of PDM

So how can SOLIDWORKS PDM address your product development challenges and bring a near immediate return on your investment? A powerful, yet simple, intuitive user interface built off Windows Explorer is where I believe it all begins.

I love showing companies how easily I can copy/cut and paste SOLIDWORKS files from my file server drive into my PDM space. A simple ‘Check-In’ completes the transition to PDM. All within a matter of minutes I am searching file properties and character strings within the filename. Time savings and increased productivity are key ROI metrics.

The Aberdeen Group did a study on productivity using a PDM solution versus not using a PDM solution. The results found that PDM users:

  • - Reused data 68% of the time versus 58% for non-PDM users
  • - Saw a 15% decrease in development time
  • - Spent 8% of time on non-value add activities such as searching, compared to 14% for non-PDM users

While this was a study conducted with companies that could be using a variety of PDM solutions, a longtime SOLIDWORKS PDM customer of mine, Landscape Forms, has seen a 15 to 20 percent reduction in time searching for files—results right in line with those from the Aberdeen study.

The known strengths of SOLIDWORKS PDM

SOLIDWORKS PDM is known for its intuitive, easy-to-use interface while at the same time bringing all of the capabilities needed to address the product development challenges listed above and more. A Microsoft SQL database behind the scenes brings fast and reliable searching to users’ fingertips.

The database also manages and understands complex CAD file references, so copy and rename issues commonly experienced in Windows are eliminated. Building an intelligent local file cache drastically reduces the time loading and saving files for day to day work. Robust workflows and permission controls make collaborating with multiple users and electronically passing files through the engineering and manufacturing design cycle a breeze.

Also worth mentioning is that SOLIDWORKS customers inform the majority of SOLIDWORKS PDM enhancements year after year, so the software evolves with the ever-changing and competitive demands of product development.

If your company is looking at any of these initiatives:

  • - Reduce time to manufacturing
  • - Improve product quality
  • - Reuse existing data at a better rate than today
  • - Find what you are looking for in a reasonable amount of time
  • - Automate manual processes and approvals
  • - Control revisions and improve manufacturing accuracy

...then SOLIDWORKS PDM should get that bold circle on your whiteboard this year. I leave you with a quote from a great Fisher Unitech customer and one that most will recognize by name, AMTRAK. In regards to implementing SOLIDWORKS PDM, AMTRAK’s document control manager was quoted as saying, “The system, which is really simple to use and readily accepted by our users, helps us to improve quality and cut error. It also lets us generate time and cost savings in the versioning and reuse of parts.” You can read the full case study here.

Click here to view our recorded webcast: Don’t Skimp on Product Data Management - Learn Why.

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About the Author

Brian VanderPloeg has been in the engineering and design field for over 15 years. He spent a few years designing industrial machinery with an undisclosed 2D software before seeing the light and joining Fisher Unitech in 2003 as a SOLIDWORKS Application Engineer. He now manages a team of Application Engineers in the Midwestern states for Fisher Unitech. With three young aspiring engineers at home, Brian spends most of his time outside of work teaching the value of problem-solving and how ...yes it too can apply to Minecraft and Madden as well as what to do when your socks do not match.