Migrating the tool to the cloud will provide all gain and less pain.

Workforce Blog: Is PDM Worth the Hassle?

Jul 27, 2020

by Chad Jackson

No technology-driven engineering tool elicits a greater mix of love and hate than product data management. PDM aggregates engineering data that would otherwise be stored haphazardly across many formats that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to find. This is essential for complex projects and large organizations. Yet, many engineers hate spending time downloading, uploading, checking in, and checking out models and drawings. It slows their design process.

So, are these systems really worth it? Are their benefits overblown? Will they ever get easier to use?

Let’s start with the basics. PDM systems save, track, and manage all CAD deliverables, from models and drawings to bills of materials and more. They also manage product data, such as specifications and change, release, and requirements documentation.

One often-overlooked PDM feature is its intelligent management of 3D models. CAD assembly models, for example, reference and reuse many parts. Each part has its own files, which are changed individually rather than as part of the whole. PDM systems track the version of every single part used in each iteration of an assembly, avoiding big configuration management headaches later.

PDM can also save an engineer’s neck. Engineers who save changes only to their desktop can lose months or years of work if their drive crashes. PDM protects those designs in a secure place, so engineers can get back to work.

This always-available aspect is never more valuable than when an engineer is working on a white-hot product at break-neck speed. This is a recipe for an extra-large helping of engineering stress that can lead to mistakes. PDM can minimize their impact by letting engineers revert to a past design iteration, essentially erasing the problem.

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In the simplest terms, then, PDM is a digital file cabinet and organizer that eases the overhead of tracking all the complex, interconnected stuff that mechanical engineers produce.

Yet, all this comes at a cost. To work on models, drawings, and other files, engineers much check it out the way they would a book from the library. Once an engineer downloads a file to work on, no one else can use it. This prevents two team members from making separate changes to the same design at the same time. Only after the engineer modifies the file and checks it back in can someone else change it.

This sounds sensible, but many engineers hate the manual check-in/check-out process. It feels heavy-handed. And, of course, no one wants to find they have to wait for the file they want.

Fortunately, this is likely to change dramatically in the near future because PDM—like so many technology tools—is migrating to the cloud.

Many engineers are now working with CAD-in-the-cloud, accessing this tool from their browsers. In the future, those cloud-based CAD systems are likely to interact with a cloud-based PDM models. This change has serious implications.

As CAD moves to the cloud, most software providers are integrating PDM as a transparent functionality. Instead of explicitly checking models in or out, users just work on a model or a drawing while the tool automatically tracks every change. Users do not even have to hit save. All that PDM stuff just hap-pens. The next time you or anyone else opens the document, those changes are included.

Up to now, engineering managers either had to burden engineers with PDM to keep design data safe or let engineers work on their desktops and risk losing important stuff.

With CAD—and PDM functionality—moving to the cloud, this is no longer a difficult choice. There is less of a burden. It just kinda happens.

Overall, the move to the cloud will change the face of PDM—and make this valuable tool far less cumbersome than ever.
 
Chad Jackson leads Lifecycle Insights, which conducts research on technology-led initiatives for engineering executives.

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