PLM And Management Of CAD Files

One of the questions that disturbs me when I’m thinking about PLM is a complexity. In a modern enterprise manufacturing organization, complexity kills. When I’m thinking about the way data management passed since the first introduction in PDM systems, I see a huge amount of blocks built on top of basic PDM functions. In the beginning, PDM was about managing of data records about file. After, additional silos of data were added to represent various aspects of products – Bill of Materials, ECO, Requirements, Projects, Supply, etc. Then we got a mess…  I’d compare it to the situation happened with MRP/ERP industry about 15-20 years ago. Started at the early beginning as MRP and lately a MRP-II, it comes long way to acquire all possible and impossible islands of enterprise data to become, finally, ERP. We are facing a very similar situation these days in PLM.

CAD Files Control Dilemma
For every PLM system, the management of CAD files is a fundamental question that needs to be answered at the early beginning. This is Shakespeare’s “to be or not to be” question of all PLM vendors. Touch CAD files or do not touch CAD files? I see a lot of advantages in management of CAD files: you are getting control on valuable design and engineering information, there is an ability to have a system that has deep and tight connections to the daily life of people in the organization via CAD system operation and many others. On the other side, control of CAD files put a lot of restrictions on users, increase the overall system complexity and in the end create dependencies on vendors of CAD products.

Invisible CAD Data Management
There are two examples I want to talk about in the context of CAD data management: CATIA V6 and Google Apps. Do you see something in common between them? Yes, I do. In both systems, data management and version control are embedded parts of products. You have a built in mechanism to manage version of CAD models as well as Google Apps document. You still need to take care about next version, lock and un-lock operations in CATIA. However, you shouldn’t care about version of your files in Google Apps. The idea I had is a notion of “invisible CAD data management”. It happens, but users should not care about that.

What is my conclusion today? I think, dependencies on CAD were born in the beginning of PDM. We need to revise our technological decisions came from early days on how we can keep control of CAD files and management their revision. The connection between the CAD version management and overall product development (PLM) processes need to become less restrictive and more flexible.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg



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  • Oleg,

    Amen, brother. We struggle with the human factors of PLM and CAD file management, a lot. One of the biggest challenges impeding “quick start” implementations is the management of CAD files and the formalized procedures necessary for that control. If it could simply be invisible, as you suggest, then users would indeed not need to care. Things could speed up.



  • Nawal

    I am not sure just the CAD version management makes the PLM complex. Once you decide to manage CAD – WIP design, your forced to manage unique things to CAD like Part Families, Part realtionship dependency, controlling geometry, standards parts, UDFs etc. I believe these additional things makes CAD data management complex. If CAD part was as simple as just a Word document, then many of softwares that do structured document would also be able to manage CAD WIP data. But, it is not. Hence, the complexity.

  • Mike, Thanks for your comment. Yes, you are right- to speed up implementation in the beginning can be very beneficial for users. Best, Oleg

  • Nawal, You figured out a very important issue, thank you! The WIP design management is tricky and complex. I’ve seen situations when people were disturbed by “data management”, so they wanted to drop their PDM components/systems at all. So, to find a right balance and hide unnecessarily details- this is what needed, in my view. Best, Oleg

  • Oleg (et al),
    I think you are missing a key point.
    Yes, managing CAD files is a complex and difficult problem. But mostly (or perhaps “only”) because design re-use is such an important factor in the design and manufacturing of products. History is full of examples of the technologies that have been used to make it easier to re-use designs so that we could drive down costs. As an example, does anyone remember Group Technology?
    Individual designs continue to evolve over time. Thus, there must be a method to identify the version of each nut, bolt, sub-assembly, and assembly to ensure that the appropriate version of each individual design is used in each situation. And since product design is a collaborative activity performed by a team, there must be tools to manage the utilization of all of these versions across the team.
    This leads us, unfortunately, to create systems that can manage, track, and provide access to one or many CAD file versions for any member of the team. I too dislike the complexity and the inherent limitations that testing, re-testing, and re-re-testing all of the CAD interactions place on PLM system innovation. However, what is the alternative? A return to the days when we had numerous duplicated parts? Or perhaps complete product designs that no longer share any common elements?
    The last decade or so has all been about reducing engineering, manufacturing, inventory, and logistics costs by increasing data re-use. I would hate to think that all of these efforts were for naught.

  • David, Thank your comment! Actually, I have to say- I agree with you. My point was to identify a problem – the CAD file management is complex and not resolved problem. Most of CAD files today are not managed by PDM/PLM systems. I tried to highlight a path in people’s mind that “data management” needs to be invisible for most of the engineers’ hands. Does it make sense to you? Best, Oleg

  • Oleg,
    I agree that it would be nice if “data management” was invisible to an engineer. But I don’t think that is either reasonable or achievable. If there are 2 versions of a part and the only difference between them is the location of a hole, shouldn’t the engineer be aware of the two versions and be able to select the version where the hole aligns best with the other parts he is designing?

    Only the engineer knows what his design intent is, so it is (in my opinion) most ideal if you can give the engineer powerful tools so that he can understand and leverage previous work, instead of trying to anticipate what he wants and deliver that to him automatically.

    Microsoft has been trying to automate word processing for years and only succeeds about 50% of the time in anticipating the formatting that I want — and word processing is MUCH easier to predict than CAD designing.

    Lastly, I’m not so sure that “most CAD files are not managed by PDM/PLM systems”, unless you’re talking about very small shops (2-3 people). Anyone who has ever experienced a design gone wrong because an incorrect part version was used appreciates the value of a “basic” PDM system to manage CAD files. My guess is that well over 50% of all shops with more than 5 people are using some form of PDM system to manage their CAD files — but I don’t know for sure. Perhaps someone has some recent statistics in this area.

  • David, Thanks for your comment! Your example with a version difference that related only to geometry is a good one. Invisible doesn’t mean won’t have a visibility on a difference between versions. However, on the other side, I don’t think an engineer need to be involved into a hassle of revision creations like we have today. With regards to your second point about PDM managing CAD files, my take is that the real number could be very low if you are taking all companies including very small ones. Excel is the king of the road there. If you move to bigger organizations, numbers can be different and maybe close to 50% you mentioned. Even that is a very big number in my view…. Best, Oleg