Which technology can convert multiple PDMs into a single PLM?

In today’s product landscape, almost all CAD manufacturers have developed their own data management tool. I think that basic PDM capabilities such as data revisions, changes, and support for multiple locations have become very connected to a particular CAD system. The main reasons for this are customer needs and the growing complexity of CAD tools. This means that very soon we will find ourselves in the world of CAD+PDM bundles.

 Will CAD/PDM bundles affect PLM in any way? My assumption is that the standardization of CAD/PDM bundles can provide the next steps in the development of Product Lifecycle Management in an organization. When this happens, basic data management problems will already be resolved and manufacturers will start looking how to organize a single product development process  and single product lifecycle process for an organization.

 In my opinion, the following four technologies are good candidates to resolve these challenges: (1) Business Process Management; (2) Enterprise Search and 3D Search; (3) 3D Technologies (4) Mashups.

 Let’s talk about them in more details:.

 1. Business Process Management focuses on definition, execution and monitoring of processes. The definition portion is important –  if a meta model of Business Process Management tools will be able to support product and related organizational models, it will be capable of serving as  a technological layer to keep product lifecycle in an organization. The key problem of today’s BPM(s) tools is that they are rather agnostic with regards to content. As soon as meta-data modeling capabilities of BPM technologies will improve, t we will probably see them connect well with CAD/PDM bundles.

 2. Enterprise Search and 3D Search will be able to coordinate product data and lifecycle data. Enterprise Search technologies were boosted during the last year or two. The main reasons for this boost  were the increased amount of data and a very proactive position of Google and its GSA offering. Enterprise Search technologies have become more vertical – together with a cheap GSA offering and the growing interest of vendors like Microsoft providing ES as part of MOSS, are  very promising. Another part of search technologies is the 3D search. This can add a special flavor for CAD-related models and engineering activities. Just imagine maintenance people being able to find part numbers by scanning the picture of the defected part…

 3. 3D technologies is another valid technological option. Since most of product development can be presented in 3D, this 3D experience can absorb and provide a single organizational view for the product lifecycle.  One example of such a technology is Dassault Systèmes’ 3DLive product which continues  following 3D Lifelike experience in V6. Future connections to gaming and other 3D technologies can create a solid platform for unifying all CAD/PDM product bundles used by designers. 

4. Mashups technologies combines data came from different sources. Initially, heavily promoted by GIS and map based products, this technology has improved and become useful for combining various pieces of data. This also provides required functionality when a product is developed by multiple CADs systems and managed by multiple PDM systems. 

Bottom line – I believe that the technologies I mentioned (and may be some other technologies) can take Product Lifecycle Management from multiple PDM systems to a single PLM environment. Who will actually do it? This is an open call… 


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  • Oleg,
    I enjoy your blog – good to have interesting thoughts on PDM/PLM and in particular the technology aspects. You are not alone asking the above question – I have faced the same question in every PDM/PLM project I have worked with in the last 15 years.
    What about products such as prostep’s openPDM or the plm2plm platform that we developed at gedas (now t-systems) which provide process oriented integration (I can get you some links to info). Or the utilization of neutral 3D formats such as JT – as a strategy for working in an environment with multi-cad systems (this is ever popular in automotive industry – particularly in US and Germany and backbone of Siemens PLM TCEng). I have witnessed several trials of 3D search technology (based on JT) and was not so impressed by the business benefits. What does it bring you as designer – if you can find 400 similar brackets designed by someone you do not know. As often happens the NIH – not invented here – sydrome hinders true reuse.
    In my opinion – the greatest benefit for everyone wishing to optimize integration in multi-CAD/TDM/PDM/PLM environment – would be if software manufacturers – including the parent your own employer – would stop the practise of proprietary data formats and closed or licensed APIs that certainly do not promote progress in any respect.

  • Hi Martin,

    Thanks about your comments and thoughts. Your raised point of integration and I agree – today’s integrations are expensive and provide low value to end user. The last point is, in my view main issue. I strongly believe in success of cheap and usable technologies. So, after almost 15 years, bundle of CAD and PDM becomes more successful and I’m asking question – who will come to move it forward?

    On proprietary data formats and API – in the end of the days, this is part of licensing model. In today’s world, I see certain promise of Open Source Software. I think, also, web technologies, especially in the space of open data will bring some change. Btw CAD/PDM bundles made data more available, since in most cases this is part relational database and, by nature, more open.
    Will be glad to know your opinion in the future on topics raised on blog….

    Best regards,Oleg

  • Hi Oleg,

    I’ve just found your blog – some thought provoking posts!

    I think current PLM technologies handle the storage and access control of product data well enough. But having a database populated with the correct data is only half the problem. Where I think improvements could be made is in the support for the kind of information retrieval tasks that the varied people in an organization would like to do with that data. Two tasks are mentioned above, the maintenance engineer looking to identify a part and the designer wanting to reuse a part. These kinds of tasks aren’t yet done well by PLM.

    Manufacturing Insights recent report (http://budurl.com/wkhy) identifies search as a failing in PLM offerings, but I suspect that bolting on current search technology onto PLM will only take you so far. Part of the problem is that product data is different from a lot of other kinds of data. Much of it is non-textual and thus opaque to ‘traditional’ indexing and search methods. Indexing and searching by 3D shape is one small piece of jigsaw. Parts have shape and in some circumstances this will be a useful piece of information for locating some piece of product data.

    Search, though, is only one aspect of an information retrieval tool for product data. How are results presented to the user? How can the user interact with those results to explore, navigate or filter? Rows of part numbers, keywords and small thumbnails don’t make the information that’s being returned to the user easy to assess or digest. Visualization of the data is often important for product data. From what I’ve seen of 3DLive it looks like a big step forward in allowing the user to interact with product data in a natural way.

    Martin, I’m a director of ShapeSpace Ltd and we’ve developed some shape search technology. At present this is in our desktop search application, PartBrowser (http://www.partbrowser.com/), intended for unmanaged CAD data. I’d be very interested in your experiences with 3D search – I take it this was Geolus?

    I’m interested in your example of finding 400 similar brackets. No tool is going to help with reuse if ‘not invented here’ syndrome is prevalent. It seems to me that it’s not the shape search which has let you down (you have found a bunch of similar brackets), but the tools to effectively assess the results and filter them on the basis of some other criteria. Either that or you’re searching through parts from a source which you don’t want to use.


  • If you think about it, any supply chain or partnership venture is going to involve multiple PDMs. Thus this question posed is also related to that of how to manage collaborative PDM/PLM. This is made more difficult by the fact that most PDM systems have been set up and configured to support one enterprise’s processes.

    My company, Eurostep, reached the conclusion in the late 1990’s that collaborative PDM would be needed and set about creating a product to support it. That product is called Share-A-space and it has since been in production use since 2001. The key difference between it and the many PDM systems is that it is designed to accept multiple asynchronous inputs of complex product structures and related data (CAD files, properties, documents…) and provides the tools to merge them into a consistent whole. We call this “consolidation” and this technology is one good answer to your question. Consolidation is achieved using a very rich fixed model that is strongly based on standards such as ISO10303-239 (Product Life Cycle Support). Another term for the resulting effect, more popular with the SOA community, is data orchestration.

    You might argue consolidation is a technical “mashup” but as has been pointed out in other comments, product data is complex. Search can of course be applied to the consolidated data set and notifications can be used to trigger business processes.

    Thank you for an interesting comment and the chance to respond.


  • Patrick

    An interesting read I must say. The mashup concept would be a welcome tool for suppliers as they are often faced with multi CAD formats requirements from a a variety of end customers. This is a constant challenge we face at SolidWorks.

    First thing I thought of when I read Mashup definition was Dassault capability with DMU. Is there a connection I wonder?

    Moving forward customers are looking for “consolidation” type technology as Nigel refers to. After 10+ years in this industry the need (want)for CAD/PDM bundles does not seem to be lessening and either does PDM for reasons already mentioned. As a company owner I can only imagine what a PDM Mashup could do for me???

    Great thought provoking stuff, I like it!

  • Hi Andy,

    I liked your idea of information retrieval. The important point is fact of “browsing” – your partbrowser looks nice. I still need to figure out how display panel works – will try to download and play with this.

    Thanks and looking forward your future comments.

  • Hi Nigel,
    I’ve seen Share-A-Space and read some of your white papers. Consolidation process looks very promising, but I’d really interesting to see how typical implementation process is going. Also I’m interesting to know if this single model evolves between different customer implementation. What is typical implementation time and how multiple systems mapped to this model.
    In my view, concept of Share-A-Space is very similar to general purpose EAI middleware (started from CrossWorld acquired by IBM back to 2001 and following multiple EAI hubs). The main difference in my view is that typical EAI is flexible about model, where you relies on STEP. Main problem of EAI, in my view, is very expensive implementation – as initial one and also changes.
    Thanks and looking to continue our discussion.

  • Patrick,

    Thanks about comments! Mashup is not something well-defined, especially in PLM. Initially invented in apps like Google Map it developed in industry allowed mixing of data sources. BTW, there even music mashups, that mixing multiple music streams (used by severals DJs). You can see another post about mashup – http://plmtwine.com/2008/12/09/is-there-place-for-plm-mashup-technologies/.
    There also also companies providing something they call “enterprise mashup”. In the end of the day, these are all “data manipulation” tools. Sometime they are efficient and sometime less.

    And, yes, I agree – consolidation in presenting information definitely can help to end users. DMU is one example of such technologies. 3DLive is another promising option.

    Will be glad to see you commenting in the future.
    Best – Oleg

  • Oleg,
    to try to answer your questions:

    Every case where Share-A-space is used has involved a different collection of surrounding systems and data. Thus in some ways there has is no typical implementation. Our experience is very clear, even if it is the same system (e.g. SAP or Windchill or Enovia) the content will be business process dependent. Naming conventions is but one example. Once collaboration between companies is involved the data will depend on two different sets of processes. The good news from our perspective is that the core rich data model in Share-A-space can support all of this and all of our installations use the same model (i.e. no internal model configuration). Of course effort has to go to mapping data in and out of the core. But such mappers are easier and quicker to set up than configuring a major PDM implementation.

    With respect to EAI middleware, many of these act as a post-office, passing data. They are also set up to support/enforce processes. We believe that message passing (data exchange) tends to lead to loss of configuration and that it is better to enable different processes to be connected via a consolidated (configuration controlled) data set rather than require collaborators to join processes. Share-A-space can be and is used with middleware solutions and does overlap in functionaility with them. It does provide something different, i.e. consolidation.

    Your last point concerned change. We find that the existence of a consolidated data hub enables change of system (PDM, ERP,…) while minimising impact on others (either systems or collaborating companies).


  • Nigel,
    Thanks for your answer. So, from your standpoint there are two consolidating components – data and process. Since you are using STEP-based data schema, you are focusing on process by providing process modeling and execution tools.

    I assume key Share-A-Space capability, in this case, is management of this model plus ability to map data. If this is correct, my concern is about how all data management story will happen – do you replicate data to Share-A-space? Do you access data using various “federation technologies’? How different it from what you call “passing data” in EAI?


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