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Product Data Management

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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2005 1:47 pm    Post subject: Product Data Management Reply with quote

Somebody call a doc

First things first: What is a product data management (PDM) system and why would you want it? It’s a soft-ware tool for storing and distributing es-sential product data. It does this by hold-ing the master design data and other key product data, which is often called “product-definition data,” in a single lo-cation— a secure “vault.” There, its in-tegrity can be assured and changes can be monitored, controlled and recorded.

Duplicate reference copies of this master data can then be distributed freely to various departments for analy-sis and approval. The changes, recom-mendations and queries that they make (the essential give and take of design-ing a product and bringing it into pro-duction) are then stored in the vault. Each modified copy of the data is signed, dated and filed in the vault alongside the original data, which re-mains as a permanent record.

PDM systems vary in their function-ality, but some of their common capa-bilities are:

* Access control
Access to each piece of data in the product-definition database can be specified. For instance, read-only access can be given to person-nel not directly involved in design or planning. This allows wide circulation of the data while maintaining its security.

* Classification
Components and materials can be organized in the data-base into classes to suit your business needs. In addition, each part can be given its own set of attributes. This en-ables designers and planners to locate a needed material or component with minimal effort, avoiding the time-wast-ing process of searching for and speci-fying a component or material whose equivalent may already exist in the database. Similarly, documents can be classified in terms of 2-D drawings, 3-D models, FEA (Finite Element Analysis) models, technical publica-tions or whatever rubric is desired. Plus, the relationships between docu- ments and parts can be established, making it easy to retrieve the docu-ments related to a specific part.

*Product structure
PDM systems allow relationships to be specified by product structure. Thus, for any given product, the relationship among its com-ponents is recorded. Links between those physical objects and relevant doc-uments are also recorded. Not only does this aid in the design process, it can serve as a manufacturing bill of materi-als for MRP II (Materials Requirement Planning II) or ERP (Enterprise Re-source Planning) systems, and it makes it possible for personnel from other dis-ciplines, such as manufacturing or fi-nance, to quickly structure the data about that product in a way that’s rele-vant and useful to them.

*Process management
Not only can PDM systems organize data, they can also organize the way people work with that data, thus helping to manage the process of bringing a design into pro-duction. The following is a fairly typical example of the sort of process manage-ment a PDM system can provide.

After a lot of give and take, and hav-ing evaluated various alternatives, the design team signs off on its CAD model of the design. The PDM system then alerts the designated analyst that the de-sign is ready for FEA stress analysis. Once completed, the analyst signs off on the design, and the PDM system no-tifies manufacturing engineering to begin specifying the manufacturing process, which, in turn, alerts the tool designer to begin designing the needed tool(s). The system can send a red flag when the design has been held too long at any given stage so that minor delays don’t turn into major logjams.

Put all these capabilities together and you have a system that can shorten de-sign time, safeguard the integrity of your data, boost concurrent engineer-ing and collaborative efforts generally, and, because of its automatic controls, checks and change-management processes, ease the path to ISO 9000 compliance. Furthermore, it’s a great selling point for your company, partic-ularly if you are going after contracts with global firms that are increasingly demanding higher levels of data inte-gration and process accountability from their suppliers. So why not rush out and buy a PDM system today?

Well, there’s cost for one thing. It could well be more than you are will-ing— or able—to spend on IT at the moment. Second, there’s the complex-ity issue—you may not be ready to grapple with a system that will proba-bly take weeks to install and learn. So does that mean PDM is only for the big boys? Not exactly. The good news is that nearly every medium to large CAD developer, reacting to sluggish sales and to customer needs for more seamless in-ternal communication, has added collab-oration tools to its newer releases. In most cases, this includes some degree of PDM functionality.

For some time now, SolidWorks Corp., Concord, Mass., has provided built-in PDM software, called “PDM-Works,” with its 3-D mechanical design package. It allows users to automatically bulk-load thousands of SolidWorks or AutoCAD files into a PDMWorks vault, complete with property and attribute mapping and configuration previews.

Recent versions of Palm Bay, Fla.-based VX Corp.’s CAD/CAM software come with integrated PDM software, which VX stresses is easy to use. Many of its features can be accessed via the standard menu bar. These include file and attribute sharing, document control with read-write permission control, ver-sioning, and check-in/check-out. The history of actions taken in the course of a project is clearly documented.

“With a global economy, rapidly changing market conditions and real deadlines, manufacturers need ad-vanced CAD/CAM designs that can meet the demands of compressed prod-uct cycles,” noted VX CEO Mark Vor-waller. As a result, he said, “CAD/CAM systems will continue to become more intelligent and intuitive as new genera-tions of software are developed and leveraged from current applications.”

Clearly, CAD vendors en masse are seeking to add value to their offerings by integrating a variety of collaborative tools—including PDM—with their core products. So if you’re interested in mov-ing up to PDM and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on it, the solution is probably as close as your current CAD vendor. Sure, these integrated PDM mod-ules won’t do quite as much as a more comprehensive and more expensive sys-tem from a PDM vendor. But does that mean you won’t be getting real and valu-able functionality? Not at all, said Ken Amann, director of research for CIMdata Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., an industrial soft-ware research and consulting firm.

“Certainly smaller organizations don’t need all of the things in a full-scale PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) system (of which PDM is a subset),” said Amann. “They have fewer people and less data, but that doesn’t mean these smaller-scale PDM systems aren’t valuable. They make the data more shareable, and unleash the advantages that go with that.” By themselves they won’t provide enterprise-wide data in-tegration, but, he said, “they can be a great place to start.”

About the Authors Gregory Farnum is a Detroit-based journalist specializing in industrial and scientific issues. David Gehman has been writing about manufacturing and software for more than 20 years as both a journalist and a marketing com-munications specialist.
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