PDM System

“Product data management is the use of software or other tools to track and control data related to a particular product. The data tracked usually involves the technical specifications of the product, specifications for manufacture and development, and the types of materials that will be required to produce goods. The use of product data management allows a company to track the various costs associated with the creation and launch of a product. Product data management is part of product lifecycle management and configuration management, and is primarily used by engineers.” (translated from Wikipedia).

PDM systems, as their own type of software, have their origin in the shortcomings of simple drawing management found within CAD data management systems. The reason: Plants and machinery simply cannot be represented by technical drawings alone. They need to be complemented by every piece of information that accompanies and documents a product across every stage of the development and manufacturing process. One of the most pressing problems of simple CAD model or drawing management was the drastic increase in product data volumes.

What’s more, as the products grew more complex so did the product data networks, which made it imperative to come up with new concepts on how to manage these massive amounts of product data.

3.1 Product Data Management (PDM System)More than just managing drawings

In the evolution of PLM in the enterprise, Product Data Management (PDM system) represents the second step after simple CAD data management. While the latter is limited to the mere storage and retrieval of CAD data, Product Data Management connects drawings, documents and Bills of Materials and integrates them with a ERP, workflow or document management system (DMStec system), making the Product Data Management system a complete repository of all the data required to describe a product – from CAD, ERP, and PLM. Its purpose is to record and manage the results delivered by product engineering and product management and to make them available along the product lifecycle. This goes to show that PDM is much more than just managing drawings.

A PDM solution automates the exchange of Bills of Materials between the CAD system and the ERP system, maintaining transaction integrity and eliminating the need to manually enter them into the ERP system. Design and purchase items are also automatically synchronized. A customizable set of rules governs the synchronization of data, which can be managed and monitored from a single pane of glass in the PDM system, thereby bridging the gap between the ERP, CAD and PDM environments. This gives companies a reliable product data foundation by breaking down the product data silos created by product engineering, project management, maintenance, development, and production and making the information available across department lines. This enables designers to go through the PDM system to access supplier and material master data stored in the ERP system directly from their CAD workstation at any time. The risk of error is significantly reduced and companies save money and resources by eliminating the need for redundant development work.

3.2 ERP SystemsA unified look at mechanical and electronic components

Developers and designers are used to working with CAD software and storing product data in a CAD data management system (e.g. AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks) but what about the production planners, purchasers, material requirements planners, and production staffers who maintain their information in the ERP system. The interface between these two IT systems is where PDM/PLM systems come into play. As a unified Product Data Backbone, they integrate the ERP and CAD systems and synchronize the product data between both worlds.

The integration of CAD and PDM (and, in the next step, PLM) systems with the ERP system is essentially about exchanging and transferring item master data, Product Structures (assemblies), Bills of Materials, and documents generated during the mechanical, electrical and electronic development stages to the ERP system. Bills of Materials from mechanical and electrical engineering are aggregated into a single mechatronics BOM. This automatically prevents purchasers from ordering components such as drives, which can be viewed as both a mechanical and electrical component, twice or not ordering them at all.

Conversely, it enables development and design departments to view information such as prices or stock levels of purchased parts in the ERP system through the PDM/PLM system. This is important if, for example, purchasing has negotiated a discount with a supplier that designers need to be aware of. Integrating the CAD, ERP and PLM systems puts this type of information at the fingertips of everyone involved. With a CAD-PDM/PLM-ERP integration in place, purchasing departments can make sure that any preferred parts that they agreed upon with a specific supplier are actually used by designers.

ERP integration with PRO.FILE for seamless process flows – a standard solution rather than custom programming

“We used to create bills of materials in Excel and had a production planning assistant manually enter them into the ERP systems. When dealing with machinery with up to 600 assemblies this is an extremely time consuming and tedious process. Today, it is completely automated.”
(Johann Bierl, Operations Manager, Maschinenfabrik Herbert Meyer)

Data ownership – which system takes the lead?

When all product specific information is shared, the question as to who owns the data arises. Who assigns item numbers or material master numbers? Which system holds the item and part master data? Where are bills of materials maintained? In the CAD and PLM system, where the parts are developed, or in the ERP solution, which holds all data relevant to production and purchasing and where costs and routings come together?

Experience shows that most companies share responsibility between development/design and production planning. Consequently, material numbers can be chosen freely. The assigned numbers are then simply synchronized by the systems. This is the logical thing to do because the purpose is to streamline the processes involved.

The process governs which data is needed when and where. This means it doesn’t really matter where this data is stored. The different departments provide the data and the IT department helps them consolidate and synchronize it. By implementing faster and more secure processes and avoiding duplicates, companies are able to cut costs significantly.

3.3 File SynchronizationProduct data shouldn’t go down a one-way street, it needs to be exchanged bi-directionally

Product data silos and the manual transfer of information between various IT systems are a constant source of error, resulting in the need to do re-work and unnecessary costs. This can be avoided by maintaining data consistency and ensuring automatic synchronization between the different IT systems. For product-centric companies, the question of how to synchronize item master data, bills of materials, and project data between the design and production department, in particular, presents a major challenge because in order to do so the very first step is to agree on which data needs to be exchanged between the CAD software, the ERP system, and the PDM/PLM solution and how to the design the interfaces.

Manufacturing companies that fail to ensure proper synchronization will see their workflows grind to a halt. The most common causes: Bills of materials are inaccurate, drawings are outdated, or required purchased parts are not communicated to purchasing in time. When material requirements planning is provided with inaccurate and incomplete information, errors are inevitable. This results in having to go back to the production floor for re-work and sometimes even re-manufacture, typical problems in the collaboration between design and production and a reason for tensions between business departments.

At the core of synchronizing data lies the transfer of item master data, product structures (assemblies), bills of materials, and documents generated during the mechanical, electrical and electronic development stages to the ERP system. This is where bills of materials from mechanical and electrical engineering are aggregated into a shared mechatronics BOM. This automatically prevents purchasers from ordering components such as drive motors, which can be viewed as both a mechanical and electrical component, twice or not ordering them at all.

Bi-directional data transfer

Outdated drawings and production documents are notorious stumbling blocks on the path to error-free manufacturing. They can be avoided by always having just one drawing available in a neutral PDF, PDF/A or TIF format that can be instantly accessed from across all departments. This is exactly what a PLM solution does. It ensures that drawings and other documents created during the design stage are available in the ERP system.

The same has to be true the other way around: Employees working in development can access information found in the ERP system such as prices or the stock level of purchased items. If, for example, technical purchasing has negotiated a discount with a supplier of motors, designers must be made aware that they are expected to use these components through the CAD/ERP integration. The PDM/PLM system PRO.FILE, for example, does this by means of a traffic light system for purchased parts – green stands for recommended parts, yellow means they may be used, and red denotes parts that must not be used.

3.4 Bills of MaterialsConsistent bills of materials – automatic synchronization – flawless manufacturing processes

“A bill of materials or product structure (sometimes bill of material, BOM or associated list) is a list of the raw materials, sub-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, parts, and the quantities of each needed to manufacture an end product.“ (Source: Wikipedia)

Consistent bills of materials are the key to flawless manufacturing processes. Consequently, they should have the same structure in both the ERP system and the CAD/PDM/PLM ecosystem as this prevents duplicates from being created in the first place. This is ensured by automatically synchronizing item master data, bills of materials, and project data between the design and production departments and the business side. By maintaining consistency in their shared documents and ensuring automatic synchronization between the different IT systems, businesses can avoid having to do re-work and save a lot of unnecessary costs.

A PDM/PLM software like PRO.FILE, placed as the interface between both IT systems, will automatically transfer the bills of materials from the CAD and PDM system to the ERP system. This makes it possible to automatically synchronize them – analogous to the item master data – if they are available in different forms as engineering BOMs, single-level BOMs and summarized BOMs, effectively tuning the PDM/PLM solution into a central data hub that serves the master data management needs of development, procurement, production, sales, and service departments.

3.5 Part ManagementAutomatic synchronization of item master data – no programming involved

The synchronization of item master data is a hallmark of the ERP integration of Product Data Management (PDM/PLM). Consistent item master data is essential to guaranteeing seamless and error-free workflows across the company and a sure way to significantly cut costs. The PDM/PLM system automatically transfers item master data from development to production planning, production, and purchasing. In return, these departments provide developers with their preferred norm parts and purchased parts. The PDM/PLM software automatically synchronizes designations and characteristics in a company’s master data management, preventing naming differences for specific parts or assemblies between the production and the production planning departments and resulting in diligent and consistent parts management.

Fast LRT train in motion, Kuala Lumpur

Various studies in recent years have shown that the automatic transfer of item master data from the CAD system to the PDM/PLM and ERP system along with the reduction of duplicates with purchased parts allows companies to eliminate some 10% of new parts every year. If you multiply this by the average cost of maintaining a record in the ERP system (creating a supplier, assigning an item number and identifier, coordination processes) and add the costs generated by purchasing, incoming goods inspection, and invoicing, an averaged-sized manufacturing company can achieve substantial annual savings.

Harmonizing item master data, however, requires more than just exchanging data using Excel spreadsheets or ASCII files, which means relinquishing all control over the data. To ensure proper synchronization, companies need complete process control, visibility, and end-to-end documentation of the exchange process (monitoring).

The PRO.FILE PDM/PLM system, for example, implements data exchange standards and relies on the PRO.FILE ERP Server to synchronize item master data. An adapter is used to deliver the data from the CAD context, which is then transferred to the ERP system and vice versa.

Without any programming, the PDM/PLM system can be used to

  • match item characteristics found in CAD systems such as AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks to the corresponding characteristics of the ERP materials
  • specify the flow logic for the data transfer without any programming whatsoever

This drastically reduces overall project implementation time.

Image: Synchronization of item master data

3.6 CAD and PDMEnterprise-wide product data management for a faster time to market

CAD data management used to be understood as nothing more than the ability to store and retrieve CAD data, which is among a company’s most critical assets. 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.

The objective here is to not only store this data in 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 across the enterprise.

Any approach to professional product data management in manufacturing requires the parallel integration of CAD systems (such as AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks) and PDM. Without a CAD integration with the PDM/PLM system, technically challenging products in particular cannot be efficiently developed and brought to market as fast as needed.

A company’s product knowledge is mainly contained in its CAD models and the related data and documents. This design and engineering knowledge needs to be made available throughout the enterprise. With the integration of CAD, ERP and PLM, employees from all departments can access any of this information with the proper authorizations. All data, whether it is CAD models, drawings, manufacturing and assembly drawings, NC programs, item master data, ERP, or documents with images, text or calculation tables, are securely stored in the data vault of the Bills of Materials system regardless of the type of CAD and PDM system they come from. This ensures that all product data is always up to date and consistent within and across department lines.

The benefits of PDM in CAD Data Management (e.g. AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge, NX or Solidworks):

  • Secure storage and protected access to product information
  • Product information can be stored regardless of the underlying authoring systems used in the fields of MCAD, ECAD, electronics, Office, and email
  • Information is consolidated to create customer, machine and lifecycle files
  • Automatic provision of valid drawings for manufacturing purposes
  • automatic synchronization of item master data and Bills of Materials between design / development and production planning / manufacturing / service

3.7 MechatronicsA common data foundation for interdisciplinary collaboration

In modern mechanical engineering, you will be hard pressed to find a component that does not involve electrical/electronic elements and is not electronically controlled. Mechatronic products such as the control panel of a robotic arm contain mechanical assemblies, electrical components, and frequently software driven electronic components. In many cases, they also include hydraulic and pneumatic components. This creates a high level of complexity in mechatronics systems, which in turn means that they can only function properly if all individual aspects are perfectly in sync. Consequently, mechatronics has become indispensable even for companies in product-centric industries. This also means that a PDM/PLM system needs to create a unified CAD data repository (multi-CAD) that allows it to manage mechanical parts along with any electrical/electronic elements.

Overcoming deep divisions

The division between mechanics and electronics has always been deep and wide: The two groups simply differ in the way they think and solve problems. They work from different data and product structures and rely on separate authoring systems and data storage tools and with the time delay between the work performed by mechanical designers and electronics designers, coordinating them is not always an easy task. For this very reason, many of the processes that occur at the interface between the MCAD and the ECAD system still involve manual intervention. Development engineers exchange installation data, cable lengths, or pin assignments using Excel spreadsheets or email.

A PDM/PLM system bridges this gap by controlling the flow of product data and information across department lines. As a Product Data Backbone it combines all mechanical, electrical, electronic, hydraulic, pneumatic and software related product elements into a single BOM. It consolidates all documents in a central database and makes them available through its user interface, enabling a seamless experience from development to business processes and the transfer from the PDM/PLM system to the ERP system.

In this way, mechanical designers can, for example, easily access the layout diagrams prepared by their electronic engineering counterparts as they design a new housing. Electronic designers are aware of the dimensions and placement of the boreholes in the housing that will hold the PCB. This is particularly important when the different teams are geographically dispersed. A PDM/PLM software like PRO.FILE gives them the common data foundation that is crucial to interdisciplinary collaboration in mechatronics!

3.8 ROI CalculatorWhen is a DMS/PDM/PLM system worth the investment?

Determining the threshold for when it becomes worthwhile to implement a DMS/PDM/PLM system is a complex task. The amount of variables is large: the number of designers, the amount of time they spend each week searching for data and documents, the sum of newly designed parts and their average cost, the number of times a part is reused and of variants/new purchased parts per year and their average cost. Other factors tipping the scale in favor or against PLM are the number of Bills of Materials that need to be entered manually each week (and at what hourly rate) along with the number of changes per week and the time and effort involved in each change iteration.

For your convenience, PROCAD has therefore made available an online ROI calculator at https://www.procad.de/en/roi-calculator-procad/ that allows anyone interested to enter their specific data. Backed by PROCAD’s free service for assessing the cost effectiveness for the company at hand, it is now easy to determine the extent to which PLM solutions can have a meaningful impact, to identify where there is room for process improvement, and to infer whether these effects actually make economic sense. Drawing from more than 1,000 successful projects, PROCAD has the experience it takes to realistically assess the benefits of a PLM solution.  This allows for informed decision making right from the start.