Future CAD won’t require PDM

Future CAD won’t require PDM


Let’s be honest. Engineers hate data management. This is something that stands between their engineering creativity and formal configuration control. Check-in/check-out are two most painful functions for CAD users when it comes together with PDM. I recall my very old blog from 2011 speaks about the notion of “invisible PDM”. Navigate your browsers to PDM. Pre-configured? Painless? That was my conclusion back four years ago:

Engineers normally dislike PDM functions. They are trying to avoid it as much as possible. Therefore, PDM systems are not as popular when it comes to implementations. It requires time, cost and affect CAD functionality. However, the industry perception is that you need to have PDM to control your data. CAD vendors are trying to embed PDM functions into CAD packages and improve vertical integration between CAD and PDM packages. Can it be completely pre-configured and painless? I’m not sure. I think, the best PDM engineers can think about is the “invisible PDM”.

Solidsmack article about OnShape new CAD system put an interesting perspective on future PDM option for CAD:

We tried with traditional PDM, but fundamentally the architecture of copying files around, to and from servers and desktops, is just not a good basis for solving version control and collaboration problems. We think we have a better way to solve the problems, and no PDM system is needed.” Mac, Windows, phone or tablet. No PDM system needed. The files stay in one place. Different UI look. Now those sound like interesting and wonderful things. We’ll continue to anxiously anticipate what they have planned and what you have to say about it.

What is my conclusion? Cloud is changing paradigms and we are going to see a different user experience appears in engineering software – CAD, PDM and beyond. It can shift the way people are collaborating and eliminate the need for painless check-in/check-out functions that are moving files between servers and desktops. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit OnShape


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  • Naresh

    This is the right direction. All other applications that interface with CAD system should change as well, until then CAD system has to provide APIs to download the CAD data as a file.

  • beyondplm

    Naresh, thanks for your comment. You are right – the interface will change from “file” oriented to “service/API” oriented, otherwise you download files. However, I see PDM is an outlier here. Today, many apps are integrated into CAD environment. Even PDM interface is integrated, PDM is operating with files in many situations.

  • I’ve written a bit of a counterpoint to this: http://eng-eng.com/the-day-the-strength-of-pdm-failed/

    It’s not that I doubt the eliminating PDM as we know it is possible, rather I know that it is. But there are both cultural and technological barriers to overcome that are independent of whatever Onshape can cook up.

    On the cultural side it’s exactly what you said: “Engineers normally dislike PDM functions.” and “Can it be completely pre-configured and painless? I’m not sure.” Even if Onshape dispenses with traditional check-out you need some methodology for conflict resolution – whatever it may be will still be perceived as an obstacle by engineers because they can’t just do whatever they want. It’s fundamental that it can’t be invisible. You can only hope to make it much less annoying.

    On the technological side, Onshape’s cloud exclusive approach for PDM works if you’re on an island and use their product exclusively. But today’s design environments are more heterogeneous than ever – a multi-CAD reality. Sure, you could replace file exchange with API’s but those API’s will have to be so robust they essentially become file systems if of themselves, and the cost necessary to reinvent that with each successive interface will be an obstacle.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, thanks for your comment and sharing link to your article!

    Yes, the topic of how OnShape can eliminate check-in/out is leading to the question of data control. It can be tricky and you can capture some of my thoughts here — can cloud PDM make file check-in/out obsolete


    At the same time, Google Apps is a good answer on the question of how to manage cloud CAD island. Google did with with Office for quite some time and Google’s solution is improving (even not perfect yet). It will take time, therefore design for a hybrid solution can be a good opportunity too.

    just my thoughts…
    Best, Oleg

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  • Urban

    Interesting thoughts – as long as you define PDM in the historic way. But if you think about all the challenges around IoT and the huge amount of data coming along during the productiv use of products, I can´t imagine how these data will be handled, structured and valued by a CAD system. So if you define PDM as the “product centric knowledge base” over the complete lifecycle, PDM will even extend its right to exist

  • beyondplm

    I think, in the context of this post, defined as a system to manage CAD (design) data. Of course, in a broader sense, we need advanced data management system to handle variety of new data challenges – IoT is one of them. I’m not sure call it PDM, but the name is the last thing I’d be concerned about.

  • I’m with Oleg on this one – the IoT challenge is something else entirely and still largely little more than a bunch of promises (we still have the trough of disillusionment to cross). What handles IoT I think will end up dramatically different from PLM/PDM as we know it.

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