What do I need from my PDM system?

What do I need from my PDM system?

When talking to companies about their engineering data I often hear the following words: "We manage our data via windows".  When asked how they manage their data via windows they mean that there is a folder structure on the server that data is stored in.  As an engineer, this is not managing the data - this is only storing data.

I've been working with Product Data Management (PDM) systems for over 10 years and struggle to come up with a justification for not using a PDM system to manage your data; windows just isn't up to the task.

Example:  If you have a CAD design saved on a server you are going to come across a number of key issues. Here are the main issues I see with managing data this way, though there are many more:

  • It will be slow to access the data as you and all your team attempt to stream all this over the network.
  • Copied files will retain links to the original files.
  • Renaming files breaks the references and associations to the rest of the cad data. 
  • Data tends to be searched via files name only.
  • Revision control is manual and not enforced.
  • There is no history to the data meaning that you can't see what changes have been made to it.
  • Users can see where data is used or what files are related to each other.  The old new part number or new revision question.
  • Users can not tell the state of a document such as released for manufacture or work in progress.
  • File/folder security is minimal and isn't dynamic to the state of the file.  If a file is released you can edit it the same as if it was work in progress.
  • Users might store files on their local computer stopping others from accessing that design.

There are many PDM solutions on the market at different price points and levels of functionality.  Autodesk, for example, have 4 main products; Vault Basic, Vault Workgroup, Vault Professional and Vault Office.  

Personally I find that many companies see the benefits of using these systems however often start with the cheapest option; in this case Vault Basic, Why?  Because its included with the Autodesk Inventor software that they already run.  I find I often need to challenge their reasons for moving to a basic system.  Why?  Because although many of the pain points above would be addressed, not all of them are. The needs of the design team are not fully met leading to workarounds and increases in workflows and manual work, this introduces mistakes.

So is this the right product and reason?  Well, there are several key areas that any PDM system needs to address:

  • Track and manage all changed to product related data
  • Allow easy organisation and searching capabilities on the data and its properties
  • Allow users to see how data is referenced to each other and allow the reuse of that data
  • Allow users to see what data is being worked on at any given time
  • Protect and backup all the companies intellectual data

Vault Basic certainly covers these points but at the same time doesn't have all the functionality that a design team requires.  As an engineer there are 2 key properties of any data that I need to know .... The state of the document and the revision.  

Without this information, how can we effectively manage the design?  This is in particular importance if you get audited by your customers!  Yes, the product is included with Inventor, but when we are talking about managing the designs, states and revisions for a company; any small mistakes in your processes add-up quickly and become costly.  With products such as Vault Workgroup and Naviate the initial investment is higher, however the reduction in processes and the automatic revision of documents based on the managed state of the data mean that engineers have clear access to the data and can manage the flow of the data through the company much easier.  The result is that mistakes are significantly reduced in a manor that will pass any audit.  

I would suggest to any company looking to implement a PDM system to think about their requirements from these systems and what meeting those requirements would mean for their company in terms of reductions in time, mistakes and cost.  I believe that you will find in every case that the benefits to a company more than outweigh the investment required.


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