There are many ways engineers can manage data associated with their products. A PDM (Product Data Management) system is standardized way engineers manage their design files and documentation.
In this post, we will dive into the landscape of PDM: What is Product Data Management? why PDM is important, its advantages, recent PDM solutions, and areas of improvement.
Also, you can download the PDF on Product Data Management at the end of this article.
What is Product Data Management and its importance?
As a mechanical engineer, you’ll often use a PDM when it comes to managing product data during the design process. The most important product data will end up being design files – often many part and assembly files, together to compose a single product.
Some of the most complex products can include thousands of design files, making it extremely difficult to ensure that only one person is driving changes to a file at a time. Also, PDM software has advanced search capabilities that can help retrieve a particular type of data from thousands of files.
When we look at growing teams, oftentimes multiple mechanical engineers will share ownership of one design.
A PDM system ensures that simultaneous changes are not happening, which can lead to overwriting another person’s changes.
A PDM also establishes file ownership and version control. Mechanical engineers will “check out” files from a larger database when they are working on a design and then commit their changes by “checking in” the design back to the database.
When designs are checked-out, other collaborators know that these designs are in progress. This ensures that the database always has the latest designs and there is no confusion on if any design changes are in progress.
A PDM also supports downstream functions (outside of initial product development) of a hardware business that relies on product data. Oftentimes, mechanical engineers will refer to a BOM (Bill of Materials) as a reference point to what designs roll up to a product.
These files are essential to evaluate the cost and complexity of building any product. But creating and updating a BOM by hand is tedious, especially when designs are still in flux.
Each time a design changes, a designer would have to go into the spreadsheet to update the information.
It’s clear that mistakes can easily be made. With PDM, BOMs are created from an assembly in one click and automatically updated with design changes.
Another value that PDMs drive in mechanical engineering teams is to make sure designs are not changed after it has been released for production. Fabricating parts and moving them through a supply chain requires several weeks or months.
These lead times are used to create the development schedule and the deadline for parts to receive final approval. Engineers often describe the final approval of a design that is shared with downstream functions as a “release”.
Since designers tweak designs until the last possible minute, it requires constant oversight to adhere to released statuses.
PDM formalizes release status so hardware teams can always tell which designs have been released and should not be edited. But certain scenarios (such as feedback from a supplier) encourage designs to be changed after the release date.
These changes must be carefully considered because they often have large cost and schedule implications. While every team has a different process to approve a late design change, this is known in the industry as an ECO (engineering change order).
An ECO is a checklist where several people, usually from different functions of the business, approve a design change. In a PDM system, an ECO can be designed to kick off automatically when a design change is proposed post-release.
Quick summary of the importance of PDMs
In summary, PDM simplifies design file management for hardware teams during the:
- Initial design process (file ownership, revision control, part numbering)
- After the initial design process (BOM management, release approvals, ECOs)
These capabilities reduce the time spent on design file management and increase product development speed. In addition, there are emerging trends with PDM solutions that are in the market today.
Certain PDMs incorporate more PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) features and are cloud-based. These trends create the landscape of the PDM market we see today.
There are many PDM solutions in the market today, but mechanical engineers gravitate towards recent entrants as they look for cloud capabilities.
Advantages of Product Data Management (PDM)
- Reduction in cycle time.
- Improved productivity.
- Optimized use of available resources.
- Retrieve the correct data quickly and hence reduce wastage of time.
- Reduction in product development errors and costs.
- Efficient management of product design data.
- Quickly access the latest and accurate data and changes happening in it.
- Helps in better business decision-making by providing a clear picture.
Recent entrants to the PDM market and their limitations
These solutions offer increased accessibility to designs and rendering in the browser. They also offer various access levels to reduce an organization’s TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).
For example, an Up chain Participant can view files on Up chain but not upload; their seat costs less than an Up chain Professional who can do both.
Recent entrants to the PDM market provide value beyond legacy options. They are cloud-first solutions with lower TCO. However, they do not fundamentally improve the design workflow of fast-moving hardware teams.
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How PDM can be improved
While current PDMs meet several basic needs of hardware teams, they do not improve the workflow of fast-moving hardware teams.
The Bild team has experience working at some of the largest hardware companies. We’ve also spoken with over 100 hardware teams about pain points in their process.
While most hardware teams want to move faster, they are limited by the amount of time they can spend on engineering.
Instead of doing important development work, teams with a PDM still end up spending a lot of time managing files, writing emails and sitting in inefficient meetings. Today’s PDMs don’t help solve these challenges.
Unfortunately, in many cases, they are part of the problem. Traditional PDM features over-complicated file storage so design files and documentation files are often siloed to separate locations. As a result, it’s difficult to view and access designs quickly alongside relevant documentation.
Design feedback is hard to capture in detail and is disconnected from design files. Instead of being integrated with files, design feedback has to be transferred via email, chat, or in meetings. It’s hard to maintain a process to review and approve designs while moving quickly.
Ongoing work is difficult to track because there’s no project management tool that works well for hardware teams. We are excited by a future where a modern cloud PDM solves these exact challenges and enables a better workflow for hardware teams.
Some FAQs regarding Product data management:
Define Product Data Management?
A PDM (Product Data Management) system is a standardized way design engineers can manage their design files and documentation. A PDM system ensures that simultaneous changes are not happening, which can lead to overwriting another person’s changes. A PDM also establishes file ownership and version control.
Which of the following would be a typical use for Product Data Management?
A. tracking potential clients by Marketing
B. generating variations of a preliminary design
C. searching for how many designs used a particular fastener
D. evaluating the strength of rib support on a cast piece
Answer: C. searching for how many designs used a particular fastener
What are some Product data management software?
Some of the popular Product data management software include Upchain (an Autodesk company), Solidworks PDM, Autodesk Vault, Grabcad Workbench, Windchill PDMLink, etc.
Does Product Data Management require coding?
No, using a PDM doesn’t require a person to have coding or programming skills.