Manufacturing

PDM Manages MCAD Data

1 Feb, 2004 By: Don LaCourse

Vault-based organizational tool controls design data explosion.


This month we focus on PDM (product data management) and how it helps you manage the design data explosion that's occurring in your engineering departments. I'm sure you've noticed that every viable MCAD offering today either has an add-on PDM application or provides one with the base package.

Figure 1. Heads-up user interaction enables team members to work concurrently. PDMWorks' data management capabilities give you instant access to documents whether they are located on a local machine or stored in a vault. PDMWorks manages this data from 
the FeatureManager area within SolidWorks software.
Figure 1. Heads-up user interaction enables team members to work concurrently. PDMWorks' data management capabilities give you instant access to documents whether they are located on a local machine or stored in a vault. PDMWorks manages this data from the FeatureManager area within SolidWorks software.

All PDM applications basically do the same thing. They manage the flow of data during the design cycle and once the designs are released to production. The data is stored in a vault, a secure location where the onsite PDM manager assigns and manages access rights. Search tools help you locate and preview data in the vault and find out where a particular part is used in order to anticipate change propagation. The PDM application also provides tools such as Check-In, Check-Out, Release, and Obsolete and maintains the change revision history of a part after its release.

I'm pleased to have Joy Pineau, product manager of SolidWorks Corp. ( www.solidworks.com), with me this month. We're going to talk about the challenges posed by this design data explosion and how PDM applications can help designers and IT managers cope with the sudden increase within their organizations. We'll use SolidWorks PDMWorks application as an example during these discussions.

Q: Both PDM and PLM are the buzzwords of late. Can you explain the difference?

A: PDM stands for product data management, while PLM stands for product lifecycle management. PDM is a key building block of any PLM solution. PDM allows companies to manage all product-related documents. These can include CAD data, specification documents, test data (such as analysis files, and certifications), electrical engineering data (like PCBs, schematics, and Gerber), installation instructions, and more. PDM systems also offer PLM-enabling functionality such as lifecycle management for ECO (engineering change order) control and enterprise-level document access.

PLM is the business strategy that helps companies share product data, apply common processes, and leverage corporate knowledge for the development of products from conception to retirement, across the extended enterprise. By including all participants, such as company departments, partners, suppliers, OEMs, and customers, PLM enables this network to operate as a single entity to conceptualize, design, build, and support products.

PLM is important to any company regardless of size. The tools required to realize the benefits of PLM will vary based on the needs of the enterprise. In addition, success is determined by a committed management team and a sound implementation plan.

Q: Why are we having this data explosion now?

Figure 2. Pinpoint search tools help you quickly find any document. If necessary, you can refine the search criteria to look for a specific property. You can preview any document in the vault, making it easy to find the exact document you're searching for. To reuse a document in a new design, simply drag and drop the file from the vault directly into the new design.
Figure 2. Pinpoint search tools help you quickly find any document. If necessary, you can refine the search criteria to look for a specific property. You can preview any document in the vault, making it easy to find the exact document you're searching for. To reuse a document in a new design, simply drag and drop the file from the vault directly into the new design.

A: When mainstream solid modeling software debuted in the mid-1990s, it brought a laundry list of significant time and cost efficiencies to make engineers more productive. Design teams formerly buried under stacks of 2D drawings were able to complete designs in hours and incorporate changes with a few mouse clicks. Better visualization allowed them to design a product correctly on the first try, minimizing assembly problems later. They could also automate drawing creation and reuse parts from past designs to reduce new product design time.

This increased productivity fueled a somewhat unexpected explosion in design data. As design firms and manufacturers began to grow, other departments, such as sales and shipping, began to access the data to further streamline the art-to-part-to-delivery cycle. Managing all of this CAD data meant the difference between version control issues that caused production problems and difficulties meeting customer deadlines (figure 1, p. 28).

Q: How do users manage file relationships (parts, assemblies, drawings, etc.)?

A: Outdated 2D design tools typically yielded only drawings. In addition to drawings, today's mainstream tools create several common engineering files such as assemblies and parts. Parts can be used (and reused) in multiple assemblies and drawings. Engineers must be able to track these relationships and quickly determine where designs are used to assess a design change's impact, among other tasks. Engineers also need to associate non-CAD data, such as product images and analysis results, with the CAD file from which it was generated.

Q: How can users effectively manage all project, product, and customer documents and control access to these documents?

Figure 3. In addition to finding documents, you must also be able to locate information such as revision, where-used information, document ownership, and other history.
Figure 3. In addition to finding documents, you must also be able to locate information such as revision, where-used information, document ownership, and other history.

A: These documents may include Microsoft Word and Excel files as well as legacy data files such as IGES, DXF, SAT, and others. Different workgroups must keep related data logically grouped while controlling access based on variables such as projects, document type, and lifecycle status. For example, the sales team controls proposal documents, the QA department controls test result data, the engineering group controls design data, and the shop floor team has access to some or all of the data, but only after it's been released.

Q: How can users quickly find documents for revision and reuse?

A: Finding data quickly when needed is key to enabling productivity gains associated with design reuse. This is especially true for quickly accessing the most recent version of a document. A secure file vault enables all relevant workgroups in the company to access the most up-to-date version of a design (figure 2, p. 28).

Q: How can users work effectively as a team?

Figure 4. Enhanced reporting tools produce accurate, relevant BOMs. PDMWorks includes reporting tools that help you generate revision and configuration-specific BOMs.
Figure 4. Enhanced reporting tools produce accurate, relevant BOMs. PDMWorks includes reporting tools that help you generate revision and configuration-specific BOMs.

A: Teamwork and version control are paramount. For example, one designer may develop a new part within the context of an assembly while another designer may work on a separate part within the same assembly. These designers must have a mechanism to take and release ownership of documents so they can make changes without overwriting the work of other team members. A passive notification mechanism allows team members to know when others have made changes so they can quickly update their versions to reflect these edits (figure 3).

Q: How can users achieve all of the above without creating additional IT and administrative burdens?

A: The data management tool must meet all of the design team's needs, including management of file relationships and revisions. It must capture who, what, why, and when design changes take place, and it must track design status feedback. Moreover, it must not be obtrusive or overly complicated. Having a tool that installs easily and requires a minimum of administration gives the design group control over its domain, while alleviating the burden on IT.

The Last Word

PDM software has evolved to manage this design data explosion and give engineering departments a means of addressing the new challenges posed by the increase in design productivity. MCAD developers help customers address these challenges with applications such as PDMWorks and others. Today, these applications are integrated product data management tools that enable effective workgroup management. This means that engineers can work more efficiently, ultimately designing better products in a shorter time period.

A special thanks to Joy Pineau, product manager of SolidWorks Corp. for taking the time to answer these very important questions about today's PDM tools. I hope Joy can join us again in the future as we keep an eye on these developing MCAD tools.


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