Data Management

New Expectations Drive Development of PDM Collaboration Features

5 Mar, 2015 By: Randall S. Newton

Product data management software is evolving with the incorporation of on-demand cloud, analytics, mobile, and social elements.


When a smartphone user takes a photo or records a video, the results can be immediately saved to a cloud storage site. The data is then available to edit, to geo-encode, to tag (possibly using facial recognition software), and to share. Such capabilities are only a few years old, but most of us already take such fluid access and creative flexibility for granted — until we go to work. Creating and sharing a CAD-based model or drawing in a professional setting is an entirely different experience; it's the IT equivalent of donning a straitjacket.

The discrepancy exists because most of our workplace processes still mimic the days when everything was done on paper, whereas the “workflow” of using a smartphone is rooted completely in contemporary digital processes. The freedom we experience with new technology in our personal lives is being driven by new interrelationships among four existing technology types: cloud, analytics (“big data”), mobile, and social (CAMS). The power of these four technologies is rooted in their ability to provide the following on-demand services:

  • Cloud: On-demand computation and storage
  • Analytics: On-demand insight
  • Mobile: On-demand access
  • Social: On-demand collaboration.

CAD industry software developers are discovering the benefits they can deliver by incorporating these CAMS technologies in their solutions — how to take off the straitjacket, in other words. While the new technologies are relevant to content creation, the biggest changes are happening in product data management (PDM).

Simply put, PDM is software that tracks and controls the data related to product development. Originally, PDM products organized CAD files and provided version control and check-in/check-out access control. Over time they took on other tasks, including the management of change orders and bills of materials. PDM products are created by CAD companies (such as Autodesk Vault and PTC PDMLink) and by PDM specialists (such as Synergis Adept or Arena Solutions BOMControl).

The Product Development and Management Association calls today’s reformation of PDM distributed product development, and defines it this way:

The separation and optimization of activities performed during a single product development process (i.e., product ideation, development, and launch) across multiple geographic locations. These locations may be within a single corporate entity, within subsidiaries, or involve the use of third parties.

Venture capital firm Greylock Partners is one of many investors in this new wave of collaborative PDM. In a statement on its web site, Greylock claims product development teams are looking for new software to match today’s expectations:

Engineering and Manufacturing Managers are looking for different ways to help individual engineers become more productive, and have internal and external supply chain teams work together. The key for this transition is creating clear communication and process around the workflow. The best way to manage this is through software that is designed for the new environment.

Around the turn of the century, engineering software vendors were leaning heavily on “collaboration” as their new buzzword. But reality did not match expectations, and the term was dismissed by many as just more failed marketing spin. But today, collaboration is being rehabilitated as CAMS technology is proving to be the real deal. Early adopters are discovering:

  • New ways to open up the design process by allowing shared access to CAD
  • Visual version comparison of parts and assemblies
  • Web-based viewing and markup of CAD models
  • Tools for workflow automation, including digital handling of BOMs and other required transmittals.

While CAMS technology is shorthand for many specific services, the real star is “the cloud.” By using a neutral location with infinite storage and infinite processing capabilities, adoption of cloud technology has become the key to unlocking the inherent “on demand” possibilities of the other services and making them available to a wider constituency.

Several vendors, representing both the old guard and new startups, are bringing products and services to market that rewrite generations of existing procedures and possibilities. Features are being added for use on mobile environments and the Web, for making messaging part of the workflow, for extensive search inside documents, native document viewing, and access to new or previously unmanaged data types including 3D point clouds, simulation data and visualizations. What follows is an introduction to a few of the players redefining PDM by incorporating CAMS services.

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About the Author: Randall S. Newton


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