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.
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.
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.