CAD-less PLM Puzzle

CAD-less PLM Puzzle

Ask people about the connection between CAD and PLM and you will discover a very interesting thing. In the past people draw a bold line connection CAD and PLM environment. The connection between CAD and PLM is not very strong. CAD was considered as a founding layer in all PLM strategies, today impose lots of restrictions and complications in the implementation of PLM strategies.

CAD Foundation Layer

CAD data management is one of the historical roots of modern PLM. It was very straightforward to start everything with CAD. The starting pitch was to take CAD data under control. CAD provides the initial point and source of design information in the organization. Many PDM and PLM companies used to implement CAD integration modules first and then expanded the offering beyond this point. It was also an easy part to get into manufacturing organizations via people involved into design and CAD.

Business Processes

The opposite side of PLM development actually was to think more about product development and organizational processes. In the beginning, it was very ERP-ish to think about PLM as a “process management story”. However, more people started to see processes, change management, quality management and other similar, but disconnected from CAD topics as an important trend in their PLM strategies.

Connecting Dots

One of the important aspects of a product development process is to be able to connect dots between different departments in an organization. These days you cannot optimize product development without analyzing various aspects of product development – design, engineering, manufacturing, sales support. CAD is one of the elements in this chain. You cannot take CAD out of the overall product development story. However, to balance between strong dependencies on CAD and process optimization seems to me a right path to go.

PLM New Entrants

There are not many new entrants in the PLM world. Very few new companies were started in this space for the last decade. There is one very important question you need to ask. How much effort and focus new PLM company need to spend around the CAD? I don’t think there is a clear answer. Few new companies in the PLM world started completely disconnected from CAD and, later, discovered a need to put their hands into CAD-related stuff. Those companies that kept their eyes open to CAD world were more successful in the past. Industry is also an important aspect when you think about your CAD-roots.

What is my conclusion? CAD is obviously important. It represents a lot of IP in every manufacturing organization. It is hard to think how you can effectively manage a product lifecycle without putting your hands deeply inside of what people are doing in CAD. However, the technological aspects of CAD data management are very complicated. CAD vendors are playing hard to keep CAD as their competitive instrument, which creates additional entry barriers in front of new PLM development initiatives. Do you think CAD-less PLM has a future? An important question to ask, in my view.

Best, Oleg


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  • Paul

    I think you could probably argue that CAD is really just ‘Word for Engineers’ now – i.e. one of many specialist authoring tools used to ‘populate’ a PLM dataset. Obviously CAD (and other CAE tools) can generate more specialist information than you’d expect from Word – BoM, material quantities, logical information, positioning, but if the CAD tool and the PLM tool have ‘open’ APIs, it should be possible to link them without treating it any differently to any other data source.

  • Eldadc

    I agree with Paul. Yes, PLM started from the CAD necessity to manage the files/information that were generated.
    All CAD vendors (MCAD only) are also in the PLM business, however there are several PLM vendors that are not CAD oriented (stand atones and ERP). It’s interesting to notice that only in the last few years the notion of integration to other engineering tools, i.e. ECAD, CAE, S/W, has been addressed by the PLM vendors (called today Mechatronics), with very little support from these vendors.
    CAD-less PLM – has been around since the Sherpa days, and will continue.

  • Vuuch

    Oleg you say CAD is one of the historical root of PLM. I think you need to say MCAD is the historical root of PLM. PLM is the evolution of MCAD PDM. No other companies pushed PLM until many years later. As well most PLM start ups were the creation of MCAD guys, which is also true for most stand along PDM companies.

    Therefore I think the question of CADless PLM is very interesting and a good way to measure the potentail value PLM can provide. If PLM is really more than MCAD data management then it should be able to deliver value without managing the MCAD files.

    In the “Connecting the dots” you say product development cuts across all aspects of the enterprise. But I seems to also get the impression that CAD is the center of this communication. Is this what you meant? I agree CAD is important but it is not the center of this communication. For example I can have a discussion with purchasing about the target vendor without needing the CAD file. I can speak with marketing about the surface finish and color of some parts of the design without having the CAD model. I can communicate with quality about our ship to stock strategy on a part without the CAD model.

    Would you agree testing PLM value by NOT having any CAD files would be a good test?

  • beyondplm

    Paul, thanks for commenting. I completely agree about additional sources of information. PLM are trying to get to these sources. You can see Simulation Lifecycle Management, Mechatronics, Software business, etc. However, data is diverse and complex. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Eldad, thanks for this comment. I think, CAD-less was always here. However, CAD-integration was dominant in MCAD-business. ECAD was more self-contained. However, I remember ECAD attempts to acquire PLM capabilities from outside too. Software trend is just coming in my view for the last 3-4 years. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Chris, thanks for commenting!

    MCAD was the main source of PLM-branded ideas. Nevertheless, others implemented PLM-like ideas without call them by the same name. The best example is BIM, in my view. ECAD-related development systems have lots of similar ideas too.

    CAD data is important and many situations will be one of the elements that stands in the center. However, not only, of course. I think “PLM Value” can come obviously without any connection to CAD file. You can see how companies are implementing different project/solutions, and they are not always connected to CAD. It seems to me, connectivity is important if you speak to customers. Just my thoughts…

    Best, Oleg