Product Data Management and Product Lifecycle Management

Research shows an average engineering department employee spends 2 hours a day looking for information. When aiming to increase efficiency and drive innovation, the first place to focus on is the use and management of engineering information. Various surveys in recent years reveal that nearly 50% of engineering companies use Windows file folders as either their primary information management tool or with older vaulting software for CAD files.

Engineering firms with automated data management use Product Data Management (PDM) or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools; some use both. When it happens there is often a history of company acquisitions bringing together incompatible systems. Other times companies will use both by intention instead of by accident. The PDM system provides deep knowledge and control of CAD models; the PLM system manages the broad knowledge about product definition and lifecycle.

PDM to Manage Product and Technical Files

Product Data Management/Technical Data Management (PDM/TDM) technology provides centralized security and a set of tools designed to manage technical electronic files. By integrating directly with the tools that workers use to develop their files (ex. SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Microsoft Word), PDM/TDM tools provide a fast and easy way for files to be securely and centrally managed. Searching capabilities are provided to help users find files that they created or information that may already exist, it can also provide centralized file security, revision management and storage, allowing multiple users to collaborate and share information.

Integration with other document systems is often required when sharing documents across the organization. Additional capabilities include centralized storage and security of files; workflow management tools; and automatic routing of files for faster approvals. Some PDM systems allow for the creation of customized workflows for file review and approval, further integrating the PDM/TDM system into the company’s internal processes.

By centralizing the storage of daily files, users can access PDM/TDM files as quickly as the files are created. Additionally, relationships between files are automatically derived from the programs, so complex relationships like part-assembly, drawing-3D solid model, and externally referenced files are built into the files.

PLM for all sizes

In years past, PLM tools have been seen as only of value in the very largest manufacturing companies, where product complexity and manufacturing volume require a dedicated data management approach. But times have changed; PLM software is now more affordable for SMB manufacturers as well as the Fortune 500.

Regardless of size or vendor, all PLM tools share common elements. They work with classes of objects including parts, documents, and change forms. They create and manage the bill of materials, and their variations (eBOM, mBOM) depending on the manufacturer’s workflow. Change management forms relate to all the objects, so that when a change is made in one place, it ripples through all affected systems automatically.

A PDM tool is generally for one department; a PLM system serves all of engineering and connects to manufacturing, finance, program management, and more. As an example of companies who use them side-by-side, part numbers are generated in PLM software, used in CAD and PDM software, and exported to the bill of materials in the PLM tool along with the supporting data (CAD models and other data). The file set is then approved in the PLM system and can be utilized by production and the supply chain.

No single PLM system does everything; no vendor has an out-of-the-box solution that will work exactly the way you need it on Day One. The experts at Razorleaf can help you before you invest in a PLM system; we can design a platform capable of filling in workflow gaps as well as automating existing procedures. We will make sure you have a PLM system in place that is easily updated and extended to support new requirements or growth.

When it is time to make the move to PLM

From our experience, the first decisions you make about your PLM system are the most important. Here are some recommendations from our consultants:

  1. Get buy-in at every level of the organization. If there is a committee involved in system selection, make sure every affected department is represented, all the way up to senior management. Demonstrations and seminars do not create buy-in; experience does. Our senior solutions architect, Jonathan Scott, recommends spending 10% of your PLM budget in the evaluation phase, before you acquire a single seat of software.
  2. Start small. Focus on implementation of one or two key processes for the initial installation. It is important to realize tangible gains in the near term. It builds morale and will help you avoid creating strategy by accident as you continue to deploy.
  3. Think about value more than price. A bicycle costs less than a car, but if you have long commute, the car is a better value. Value is a handy measure for evaluating the benefits of a specific tool or workflow. This also helps when explaining decisions to upper management; if they know the value of the tool they can evaluate it better than if you just say how much it costs.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most companies run so lean, they do not have staff to devote to PLM review, installation, or modification. More than one large PLM installation has come to a screeching halt when somebody decided data migration could be done in-house.
  5. Trust your instincts. If a vendor’s proposal seems too big or too small, you are probably right. Maybe you don’t need Dassault’s ENOVIA V6 yet; maybe an Aras Innovator or Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle is a better fit. (This works in both directions: your gut feeling may be that you really do need to invest in the larger products.)
  6. Be ready for the future. You may not be creating products with embedded software and electronics today, but you have to be ready for that day. New manufacturing concepts like Internet of Things and product as a service are on the doorstep; make sure the PLM system you invest in today is ready for what you give it tomorrow.

One big reason manufacturers invest in a PLM system is to make complexity manageable. Many are moving to engineering-centric product development, and making sure they are automated from first idea to product recycling. Razorleaf can be your trusted partner as you reinvent your product development workflow.