CAD Data Management

The advent of CAD systems such as AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or SolidWorks enabled users to create their technical drawings electronically,  which consequently meant that they had to find a way to manage these drawings and the information that went along with them. Many CAD systems still come with more or less rudimentary features that allow us to store and retrieve CAD data. The drawing numbers, part descriptions, change status, or material ID that CAD designers need are stored in a database and made available for research and change processes.

Mechanical drawings, however, are nowhere near enough to describe a product: mechatronic components, software (whose share in products is ever increasing), instruction manuals, and other accompanying documents serve as additional information carriers. Making this knowledge readily available across the enterprise is one of the key pillars of CAD data management, which in turn requires integrated item and parts management to really make a difference.

2.1 Structured Storage of InformationStructured Storage of Information

CAD data not only includes CAD models, drawings, and bills of materials, it also extends to CAD-related information such as specifications, calculations, production notes (NC programs), routings, assembly information and much more. CAD data management concerns itself with structured storage, not just using a file system, but in an organized and structured fashion. There simply is no other way to efficiently handle technically sophisticated products and ensure a short time to market. CAD models and any related data and documents encapsulate a company’s complete product knowledge, its design and engineering expertise and it needs to be made available and operable across the enterprise.

CAD data management how it should be:

  • Knowing at any given time where a part belongs and how it is used
  • Always keeping designers in the loop and enabling them to access the data they within mere seconds
  • Preventing CAD data from being accidentally overwritten
  • Having complete visibility into who works with which data

Demands on CAD data management are growing

Flat data hierarchies and non-integrated item and parts management are still the norm in many companies that continue to rely on the working methods of early 2D CAD systems. Many companies, however, have grown accustomed to this outdated approach despite the fact that it is usually highly inefficient and cumbersome and, most of all, extremely limited in its capabilities.

After all, the number of systems that contribute to the creation of production related information and with it, the number of related CAD data management tasks is higher than ever: MCAD, ECAD, plant and machine control systems, and the entire suite of Office applications keep generating ever growing amounts of heterogeneous data. Managing this data is a complex challenge because the information it holds needs to be looked at along the product’s entire lifecycle.

The only way to do that is through true end-to-end digital transformation. CAD data management systems need to make their information available and reusable to ensure it is immediately actionable for other systems without prior human intervention. Regardless of their size or industry, companies simply cannot afford to not address these demands of digitalization.

For this very reason, the purpose of a modern CAD data management system is to create references and links between all the different pieces of information needed to describe a product, also known as as dependency knowledge. It creates a network of knowledge that is readily available without any manual effort. The error rate goes down, time and resources can be better spent elsewhere, and it becomes that much easier to handle product data and the information it conveys.

So, today, anyone who saves a drawing, indexes it, and creates a corresponding BOM is already no longer engaging in CAD data management in the narrow, historical sense of the term (because all that means is storing drawings with references to its parts). They are actually already making the next step in the evolution of PLM in the enterprise: the step towards Product Data Management (PDM system), that is, the ability to link drawings, documents, and bills of materials in combination with a bi-directional integration with ERP systems.

It therefore makes sense for them to choose a CAD data management system where referencing, linking, and integrated item and part management are already built into the standard or put simply: they should go for a PDM system rather than CAD data management. The PRO.FILE PDM/PLM software follows a modular design philosophy. To make the switch to a digital platform, users do not have not implement a system that is either too small for their needs or too complex and costly. They can leverage the platform to configure a CAD data management approach that fits their current needs. If these needs grow over time, they have the option to effortlessly add new functionality that takes them further towards a PDM and PLM system. A modern CAD data management system should always be a helpful and adaptable tool and never a roadblock.

2.2 Multi-CADMechatronics is becoming more important than ever

Today, many design departments rely on more than one CAD system and have their designers work with products from multiple vendors. A trend that is often driven by customer demand. This means that a CAD data management system must be able to integrate with multiple CAD systems both on the MCAD and the ECAD level. PRO.FILE, for example, provides integrations with more than 30 CAD systems, such as AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks, in the fields of mechanics, electrical engineering, and electronics. This integration with multiple CAD systems enables companies to store product data consistently across all systems, a vital prerequisite for mechatronics today. It is imperative to focus on an integrated approach to product data storage. Today, it is no longer enough to manage mechanical CAD data in isolation.

Six reasons for using a PDM system to manage multi-CAD data

  1. Product data is stored securely and data access is protected
  2. Parts and assemblies can be retrieved and reused
  3. Changes can be tracked; users always work with the latest versions
  4. CAD data is available across department lines
  5. Bills of Materials and item master data are automatically made available for production scheduling, purchasing, and production purposes (ERP integration)
  6. Simplified handling of product variants

2.3 3D CAD SystemSecurely work with references, versions and variants

CAD technology is advancing at a relentless pace. 3D CAD systems have almost completely replaced any legacy software that still relies on 2D models. The reasons for this go beyond merely adding another dimension to have the added advantage of incorporating spatial relations. 3D CAD also means being able to work with references between the heterogeneous CAD data. Any changes to a model must be reflected in the drawing. If a basic material is replaced in the CAD system, the management system automatically follows suit. Throughout the evolution of PLM in the enterprise, all of this has placed enormous new demands on the field of CAD data management. The objective here is to bring them all together in the sense of integrated process and information chains. Bridging the information gap is absolutely essential to making every single piece of information, from inception to the final product, available whenever and wherever it is needed.

3D CAD is the standard in product engineering

3D CAD modeling is a staple of modern product engineering and product management. 3D models are characterized by highly complex data structures. Companies have to be able to maintain their CAD-specific structures (parts and assemblies) along with any references to external documents. These are challenges that go beyond the capabilities of non-structured file system storage and then there is the issue of having to back up this data. PDM/PLM systems succeed in bringing together product engineering processes and 3D CAD systems, giving companies an efficient way to tap the key opportunities of accelerated product delivery that meets the highest standards of quality.

The functional elements of PLM/CAD data management in

  • Provision of CAD data in a protected storage
  • Versioning and variant creation to monitor and ensure the consistency of all references between CAD models
  • Individual components can be changed or deleted without affecting other assemblies in any way
  • Support for the parametrization and structuring of parts families
  • Where-used lists and Bills of Materials in different formats
  • Provision of geometric parameters from the CAD system in the class lists of characteristics of the PDM system

The advantages of PDM/PLM in CAD data management (e.g. AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks)

  • Ensure traceability through version and variant management
  • Control and monitor information from different CAD systems or NC programs along with routings, and neutral drawings
  • Guarantee safety through approval processes and engineering change management
  • Assist parallelization and concurrent engineering with the latest versions