Alignex Blog

The Who, What, When, Why of Product Data Management (PDM)

Mike Lamora on August 23, 2018 at 11:30 AM


I meet with at least one or two customers a week in regard to Product Data Management. Each customer has unique goals or challenges important to them, but some of these recurring topics I hear on a weekly basis.

These include:

  • Control - Engineering information is time consuming to manage (interrelationships, large data sets, etc.)
  • Productivity - Finding the right information quickly.
  • Error Elimination - Reducing manufacturing waste, working on the latest revision.
  • Enterprise Connectivity - Sharing information with other business systems (ERP/MRP).
  • Collaboration - Communicating information to suppliers/customers.
  • Certification - Assisting with standardizing processes (FDA/ISO/FAA/TQM).
  • Compliance - Helping ensure data security (ITAR, etc.).


SOLIDWORKS PDM Video & Resource Library - Alignex, Inc.

PDM in Brief

In today's manufacturing organizations, product development teams generate many types of product information, engineering models, CAD drawings, product literature, artwork/graphics, BOM's, technical manuals, material specifications, simulation studies, CAM files, etc. These intellectual assets are some of the most valuable that your business possesses.

Back in my early days when I was designing equipment we had a Reprographics Department. This area was a huge room in the building that contained all the master drawings in drawers. Judy was the gatekeeper of those drawers. To make a change to a drawing, we needed to check out the drawing, make our changes, and have Judy update the record in a hard copy book. That book, those drawing file cabinets, and Judy represented our company’s PDM.

Today, the challenge is to maximize the time-to-market benefits of concurrent engineering while maintaining control of your data and making it accessible to the people who need it - when they need it. The way PDM systems cope with this challenge is that master data is secured in a 'vault' where its integrity can be assured and all changes to it monitored, controlled and recorded.

Reference copies of the master data, on the other hand, can be distributed freely, to users in various departments for reference, review, analysis and approval. When a 'change' is made to data, what actually happens is that a modified copy of the data, signed and dated, is stored in the vault alongside the old data which remains in its original form as permanent record.

This is the simple principle behind today’s electronic PDM systems. To understand it more fully, let us look separately at how these systems control raw product data (Data Management and Process Management).

What is Data Management?

Manufacturing companies are usually good at systematically recording component and assembly drawings, but often keep the records of attributes such as 'size', 'weight', 'where used', etc. in other systems, either manual or electronic. As a result, engineers often have problems accessing the information they need. This leaves an unfortunate gap in their ability to use their product data effectively. Data management systems are able to consolidate and manage both attribute and file based product data, as well as relationships between them, through a relational database system.

With so much information being generated, a technique to classify this information easily and quickly needs to be established. Classification is a fundamental capability of a PDM system. Information of similar types should be capable of being grouped together in named classes. More detailed classification would be possible by using 'attributes' to describe the essential characteristics of each component in a given class. Think of attributes as Google keyword searches you can use in your vault.

Common ways of classifying this data include: Classification of Components, Classification of Documents, and Customer Product Structure. Having your data structured this way in a database will allow you to search by a combination of attributes. In addition, this data can be shared with external business systems such as ERP/MRP systems. (More on this later)

Who Uses PDM?

In earlier years, PDM systems were expensive, complex and hard to use. Typically these systems were reserved to just the engineering staff. Today PDM is just as important as the engineering authoring tools (e.g. CAD) because many people in the company need access to the data. Some departments include, but not limited to:

  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing
  • Quality
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Purchasing
  • Technical Publications
  • Document Control
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Project Managers
  • Suppliers
  • Workflow Management

Today, companies have multiple workflow processes important for their day to day business. Back in the days when I had to check the drawing out of the Reprographics Department, we had to create an Engineering Change Order (ECO). An ECO for us back then was a hand written document describing the change and had multiple people on a distribution list for approvals. This also contained copies of the documents that needed to be changed and was all crammed in a nice manila folder. This folder was often "lost in transition" or importance diminished because it was a manual process and time was required to complete the task.

PDM systems allow you to take the old manual process and map it electronically. We can have documents routed through different people/departments for electronic approval and automate tasks that were once done manually. For example, checking a document back into the vault and bumping the revision can also generate an Item Master update to be shared with an ERP system or automatically generate a PDF to be associated to the ERP viewer hyperlink.

Enterprise Integration

Manufacturing companies typically use an ERP/MRP system. Information generated by engineering is shared with this system. For example, if you are not utilizing a PDM system today, chances are you have redundant tasks of someone manually typing in Bill of Material (BOM) information into downstream applications multiple times.

Often times, that person is someone in engineering who isn't the best at data entry, they'd rather be doing some nifty engineering work and it's expensive to have them spend time entering BOM data into an ERP system. Most PDM systems have the capabilities to share information and automate the exchange of this data.

What are the Benefits of Implementing a PDM Solution?

  • Accelerated Time-to-Market for New Products
  • Improved Design Productivity/Collaboration
  • Improved Design and Manufacturing Accuracy
  • Better Use of Creative Team Skills
  • Data Integrity Safeguarded
  • Better Control of Projects
  • Better Management of Engineering Change
  • A Major Step Towards Total Quality Management (ISO9000, FDA, FAA, etc.)

When Should You Consider a PDM Solution?

At Alignex, we have in-house experts to deploy a solution tailored to your business. If you would like to learn more about how PDM can benefit you, contact me by e-mail directly or fill out our contact Alignex form for the first step in the discovery process. Let us know how we can help your organization develop a comprehensive and easy to use Product Data Management implementation.

Check out our PDM Video & Resource Library for other related content. 

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

SOLIDWORKS PDM Video & Resource Library - Alignex


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