PDM in 2010s: Commodity or Competitive Advantage?

by Oleg on September 5, 2011 · 18 comments

Product Data Management is not a new term. The first appearance of PDM software goes back in early 1990s (I believe veterans of the industry will come with some even earlier examples). Nevertheless, 20+ years should be enough to put all dots on “i” in PDM applications, systems, etc. I was thinking almost the same. However, I’m thinking about to withdraw my previous conclusion. You can ask me why? During this long Labor Day weekend, I was screening feeds and links on multiple sources of information marked “for review”. Some of them were related to PDM. It made me think “PDM story” is not written in full… yet.

Commodity Function and Unique CAD Integration

For the last 3-5 years, I can clearly see the trend of converting PDM into CAD system add-in. Many CAD vendors strategically focusing on how to convert their own PDM development into the best-integrated-component to their CAD products. It happens with different PDM systems: ENOVIA V6 (CATIA), Enterprise PDM (SolidWorks), TeamCenter Express (SolidEdge), Autodesk Vault (AutoCAD, Inventor, etc.), Windchill PDM Link (Creo-Parametric).

Take a look on the following two video fragments presenting PDM functionality for TeamCenter Express and SolidWorks Enterprise PDM. Both systems represent two popular PDM products widely used on the market.

SolidWorks Enterprise PDM

TeamCenter Express

PDM today provides a quite standard set of data-management functions. However, one of the key points is related to the ability of PDM to work efficiently with a specific CAD system. The last one is definitely creates an advantage of every CAD-PDM bundle coming from each CAD vendor.

PDM Competitive Advantage

I was reading Gain Competitive Advantage with Product Data Management white paper from Autodesk during this weekend. Navigate your browser to the following link to download it (note – you need to register to download). The article looks like “Product Data Management 101″ courses for high school. The advantages presented in this white paper – speed up development cycle, improved collaboration and higher quality. For every manager in any manufacturing organization, these things are obvious. The question of PDM cost is presented in this paper as something that can be easy calculated. I specially liked the following passage:

As a rule, taking the first steps into design data management today is a simple process that is possible at quite a low cost. PDM solutions are practical and cost effective. The barriers to adopting them are lower than ever, making the investmentworthwhile even for small-scale engineering offices. The costs involved in the acquisition of hardware and software and foroperation can usually be calculated relatively simply. It is significantly more difficult to assess the benefits of a PDM systemquantitative terms. There are no formulae, factors or tables from which the increase to a company’s ROI (return on investment) can be easily calculated.

Autodesk defines 5 key questions to answer when selecting PDM system. Here is the list.

• Will the PDM solution work with my CAD applications?
• Will the PDM solution work with my existing data and drawings?
• Will the PDM solution work with my ERP system?
• Is the PDM solution easy to implement and use?
• Who is the right partner?

I found something interesting analyzing these questions. There is no question in this list directly related to PDM core functionality. The questions are completely focusing on aspects related to CAD (or data) and ERP connectivity. Easy implementation and usage are very subjective as well as the ability to choose a right partner. Any CAD+PDM bundle coming from a specific vendor will have a definite advantage. On the other side, the white paper coming from Autodesk doesn’t contain any information that present advantages of Autodesk Vault vs. Product Data Management solution coming from other vendors.

PDM-less CAD users

CAD vendors are constantly reporting about growing amounts of PDM sales. Earlier last week, during SolidWorks 2011 media event, SolidWorks stated that 20% of their sales are non-CAD. Some of these 20% are definitely related to PDM. Autodesk stated about incredible good adoption of Autodesk Vault promising to surprise everybody with the Autodesk Vault results. Here is the quote from Carl Bass interview few months ago:

…I would suspect right now, we’re getting close to as many people using Vault as any other PLM system in the world,” retorted Bass. “The standard Vault, we don’t charge for it, it’s included but there are tens and tens of thousands, of implementations involved…

At the same time, Carl Bass admitted that even Vault is not solving some of the existing problems related to product data management:

I think there are two things we have to do more. One is we have to do something that’s even simpler than Vault, for all the other CAD users. I mean there’s still too much design data and you can’t find stuff easily… I think many, many small offices, industrial designers and architects have gotten past the point where they need something more than just to help organise and search their data. They’re not ready for full Vault implementation.

What is my conclusion? PDM systems came to the certain level of maturity and customer adoption. At the same time, it is still expensive and complicated work. That’s why, in my view, the number of “PDM-less-users” is still significant. White-papers about PDM are clearly focusing on PDM value proposition and referencing successful PDM implementation. However, it doesn’t provide any information about how to decrease PDM TCO and take PDM to the next customer adoption level. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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