Product life cycle and Data Management practices

In any engineering firm, whether you know it or not, like it or not, your CAD system and its relationship to its respective data management system is without question the foundation of your company’s assets.

This relationship between your CAD data and the Product Lifecycle/Product Data Management (PLM/PDM) system, its initial setup, and proper use throughout the company is a critical part of a company’s success.

I have worked with a number of PLM/PDM systems over my career, some more successful than others.

Wherein I have seen the results of attempts to implement a PLM/PDM solution for a company in which CAD data management was treated as a separate issue from the management of data generated by processes and procedures related to, or in support of the core CAD data.

Such as Engineering Change Request (ECR) and Engineering Change Notification (ECN), Bill of Materials (BOM) data, research supporting selection of a particular COTS item, manufacturing instructions, general reports and downstream data such as enterprise data for ordering, tracking of parts.

All of these documents and more are all impacted by the core relationship between CAD and the PLM/PDM relations.

Most commonly, the issue becomes a misunderstanding of data management requirements beyond the data generated by the Mechanical Engineering Department and its core data of CAD files.

Where in you have teams of engineers in the systems, electrical, and software engineering disciplines among others involved in the support of the engineering and manufacturing processes.

This is why it is critical that a company use the same data management system for ALL data generated.

There are a lot of different PLM/PDM solutions out there, some are what I call a 3rd party solution which claim to handle CAD data from multiple CAD systems equally as well as those that are designed for use with the CAD system selected for use.

Regardless of the requirements for data management outside of the core CAD data management, each of these solutions can and do handle data management of any and all data generated by an engineering firm.

Which is why it is critical to use the PLM/PDM system designed to be used with the CAD platform selected by the company.

There are issues pertaining to the relationship between CAD and PLM/PDM which are unique to the CAD platform. Because of this the CAD system and PLM/PDM system has an integration that cannot be achieved or replaced by the use of a PLM/PDM solution which is not designed to integrate with the CAD system selected.

However, the relationships between the PDM/PLM system and data generated outside of or in support of the CAD system are not unique and these systems can be integrated with supporting applications such as Microsoft office.

Bottom line: if you are going to use CAD system X, USE the PLM/PDM solution that came with it and only it.

Why, because it is designed to be used with that CAD system. Any data generated by the rest of the company can be managed by that PLM/PDM solution.

Attempting to implement a separate PLM/PDM solution for data generated by activities outside of the core CAD solution data management solution is a recipe for disaster.

Creating unnecessary complexity in the company’s workflow, redundancies in data management, a break in the flow of and relationship to the CAD data its self, among many other problems. As well as incorporating unnecessary expense in managing data and maintaining PLM/PDM software licensing.

An excellent example of the problems that arise from using 3rd party solutions can be found with attempting to use a 3rd party solution with the Autodesk Inventor CAD system.

I have seen several attempts to use 3rd party solutions for data management with Inventor. Without exception, all these solutions had numerous problems pertaining to the integration and data management.

Two key problems that arise from using a 3rd party solution instead of the Vault are:

1. The management of Inventor Pro data.

3rd party solutions will manage the core data generated by Inventor for parts, assemblies, presentation and drawing files.

However, Inventor Pro generates files specifically created to support such things as FEA, wire and cable data, tubing, and more.

These files and there relationships are not recognized by any PLM/PDM system other than the Vault and are left behind when the associated parts or assemblies are uploaded to the PLM/PDM system. Thus "orphaning" the parent part or assembly files in the PLM/PDM system and thus making them unusable by any computer other than the one that generated the original data.

If this computer is unavailable to the user, lost, stolen or damaged, the designs that are associated to these files are lost because they can not be opened without the associated files.

2. As with other CAD PLM/PDM relationships the Vault integration provides a content center for the generation of common hardware such as screws, nuts, bolts, gears, and more which cannot be generated by a 3rd party solution because there is no integration between the "content center" generator of the 3rd party solution and the Inventor CAD software.

Yes, Inventor can be configured to provide a "local" content center. In which, a 3rd party solution can and will manage the data generated, however, this can and will lead to duplicate files if the PLM/PDM system does not manage this data correctly.

Further, if a custom content solution is desired, such that all users are drawing on the same files to provide consistent data to the BOM the only solution is to use the Vault content center. Otherwise, your stuck with the content generated by the default set of hardware provided by Autodesk.

These two problems are not the only issues that arise from the use of a 3rd party solution; however, they are the most prominent.

Yes, other CAD systems have similar issues which is why the selection of your PLM/PDM solution should be and, in my opinion, MUST be the use of the system native to the CAD or primary CAD system selected.

Secondary CAD systems that are not necessarily used to generate such data as mentioned above can and should be handled by the PLM/PDM system used for the primary CAD system.

One other factor to consider here is that research data such as cut or data sheet information pertaining to COTS items can and should be "attached" to the models of the parts selected for use in the design along with any data pertaining to ECR's, ECN's, reports, or other data such as manufacturing instructions.

Even the electrical components and software used by the design, purchasing, inventory, or other support information can and should be attached to the CAD models for which they are in support of.

Doing so provides the company with a complete picture of the project’s management and a COMPLETE TDP in ONE place.

For More on this vital component to your company's success and what I could do to assist your company, please contact me at