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Project data management software

Graphics | November 1, 2009 | By:

Control, manage and share product design data.

Project data management (PDM) software helps 3-D product development organizations control, manage and share the growing volume of diverse product design data they generate through the use of better, more automated CAD tools.

PDM solutions should be easy to implement, simple to use and affordable for small and midsize manufacturers. An effective PDM system represents an important step for maximizing the productivity benefits of CAD automation across product development stages.

Every manufacturer has its own distinct business processes for developing products and projects, which an effective PDM system can help to automate. Specific protocols for handling design reviews, issuing release-for-production approvals, and processing engineering change orders are examples of the important business processes that constitute a product development organization’s workflow.

With a mainstream PDM system, manufacturers can automate workflow. The system ensures that all employees adhere to a company’s own designated processes. Well-defined processes, combined with a system’s built-in notification capabilities, ensure that the right people review and approve product designs and changes, as well as release designs for production at the right time.

Workflow functions enable users and personnel at local and distributed locations to become active participants in product development, design reviews, engineering change orders, quote approvals and other product-development-related processes.

A quality PDM system should have customizable workflow diagrams that define the path that project-design-related information must follow through the various stages of a manufacturer’s specific development process. It also should specify the responsible individuals and the data access rights that they need to perform specific functions.

Overall company workflow status reports can show key metrics about the number of workflows in process, the state of progress for each workflow and who is responsible for it.

In the old days, when designers created 2-D engineering drawings of product designs on drafting tables, managing product design data was a fairly straightforward process of collecting, cataloging and safeguarding paper drawings in storage cabinets.

In many ways, the differences between a paper document management system and a PDM system are analogous to locating library materials with a card catalog vs. finding the information via an online search engine.

Paper document management systems are time and labor intensive, as well as prone to error. They discourage collaboration and design reuse because only one person at a time can sign out a drawing. Plus, sharing the information requires copying prints, mailing drawing tubes or sending hard-to-read faxes.

Besides providing a wealth of productivity-enhancing benefits, 3-D design and analysis tools create unique data management challenges. Unlike flat, distinct and autonomous drawing files, 3-D files contain many references and interrelationships that link them to other files. These drawings, bills of materials, multiple configurations, analysis results and assemblies need to be managed, preserved and safeguarded.

Revising a 3-D file or collaborating with other engineers on different parts of a 3-D assembly involves much more than updating a single file. It demands an effective PDM system for controlling access to data, recording design changes to files, and managing the ramifications of those changes on other linked files.

Working in 3-D, a PDM system is virtually mandatory. When a change to a file is made, the PDM system helps to ensure that the resulting ripples created throughout the associated design data are necessary and desired, rather than haphazard and costly.

In design environments larger than a single user, it is nearly impossible—and definitely impractical—to manage 3-D design data effectively with the “project folder” and “shared drives” approach.

Managing assemblies, parts and drawings requires careful adherence to procedures for file naming and an elaborate process for creating new folders. For a manufacturing company to maximize the power of 3-D CAD technology, boost productivity, foster collaboration and utilize valuable 3-D design data to its fullest extent, product developers need a simple, easy-to-use solution.

Supporting and encouraging design collaboration, design reuse and cooperation among previously isolated departments, customers and external partners are important components of an effective PDM system.

Replicating portions of a PDM vault to different servers or providing secure web access to design data at the user level enables product development organizations to support collaboration anywhere in the world.

Jim Cotton is a graphic designer and owner/CEO of Better Mousetrap LLC, Long Island City, N.Y.

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