PDM Part I: Product Data Management’s Journey to the Cloud

Over the last 20 years software engineering has advanced in amazing ways. The result has been an explosion of innovation that has transformed how we live - retailing (with e-commerce sites like Amazon.com), software (with cloud computing); purchasing expensive products (where have all the travel agents gone?) and countless others. But what’s happening in the “real” world, the world of physical products?

Don't get stuck working like this. Read PDM Part II: How to manage CAD files without PDM software on GrabCAD blog

Not until recently has the $20 billion CAD vertical begun its journey to the cloud. PDM is also transitioning to meet the changing needs of engineering community... or is it? In this two part series on PDM, we’ll explain the past, present and future of PDM software, as well as common PDM alternatives.

Brief history of PDM

PDM, or Product Data Management, has been available to CAD users since the mid-1980s. When engineering drawings were created by draftsmen on drawing boards they were usually stored in shared and secure physical folders and cabinets, such as those in the image above.

When engineering design and documentation moved to the digital world the companies that produced CAD software started to develop software for storing, managing, sharing and securing the digital data. These products were called PDM systems.

From the mid-80s through the late-90s we saw the development of many capable PDM systems:

  • iMAN from UG Solutions
  • Metaphase from SDRC
  • Optegra and Windchill from PTC
  • MatrixOne from the company of the same name
  • Pro/PDM and Pro/Intralink from PTC
  • Enovia from Dassault Systemes
  • Workgroup PDM and Enterprise PDM from SolidWorks

Since that time we have seen both company and product consolidation.

UG Solutions acquired SDRC, which was in turn acquired by Siemens. Their respective products were combined to create TeamCenter. Computervision was acquired by PTC and their collective products were integrated to produce Windchill. Dassault Systemes acquired both MatrixOne and Solidworks. MatrixOne lives on as Enovia.

And the major CAD vendors have all reinvented themselves as “Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) companies”. This is meant to indicate that they provide not just design and manufacturing software products, but services and solutions that integrate digital manufacturing into an enterprise.

Current state of PDM

Despite decades of investment in the development of PDM systems by CAD vendors, the majority of today’s CAD users, 60% - 80% do not have access to a PDM system. Instead they manage their design and manufacturing data using homegrown solutions.

Why is this?

  • PDM systems are difficult to setup and manage. Even the simplest PDM systems require the support of a full time IT administrator.
  • PDM systems are complex. They are designed to meet the most challenging requirements of the largest manufacturing companies, and often overlook the needs of small to mid - sized companies. The complexity often outweighs the advantages of using a commercial system to manage data.
  • PDM systems are expensive. The initial license cost and the maintenance or renewal fees can be a significant expense.

Of course, these are all problems that Software as a Service (SaaS) or “software in the cloud”, like our product GrabCAD Workbench, solves. Cloud solutions also solve other problems, like securely sharing data with supply chain partners.

Part II of our PDM series is now live! Click here "How to manage CAD files without Product Data Management software".

We’d love to hear about your challenges and successes with managing CAD data. How are you doing it? Do you have a commercial PDM system installed?

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  • PDM should be the foundation of any CADCAM system.

    PDM code should be written before an code is written for either CAD or CAM.

    This is exactly how modern CADCAM programs like Misser TopSolid CADCAM 7 are written. When this happens PDM is almost transparent. If it’s done right PDM is easy to use and doesn’t get in the way.

    Jon Banquer
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn

  • Patrick

    Jon, Agree with a lot of this however not all. Not all PDM systems are complex or require full time IT staff to maintain. Many that fall in the PLM domain have this stigma of never reaching their promised delivery. Proper expectation setting along with understanding how to get to the end game is key to any data managment solution. Looking forward to part II.

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  • Seumas Mac Uilleachan

    Cloud-based PDM may be fine for larger companies with multiple locations and T1 lines but what is the benefit to small, single location manufacturing companies? We experience delays just working on files located on our local file server with 1Gb connection. I shudder to think what the delays would be over an internet connection at 150Mb (the measured download speed I am getting).

    Guess I’d have lots of coffee breaks …