As technology evolves, so does the way we work. In today’s competitive landscape, more and more companies are looking for ways to optimize their processes and introduce digital technologies to improve their information flows. For product development teams, the organization of optimal data management and information streams is a big challenge.
As manufacturers increasingly rely on multiple CAD programs to design their products, the need for an effective way to manage all of this data becomes clear. By utilizing digital workflows, manufacturers can streamline their processes and increase efficiency. In this blog post, we will explore the difference between old fashion multi-CAD data management and modern digital workflows. I also speak about how can manufacturing companies better manage their data and improve their overall performance.
My attention was caught by Engineering.com’s white paper (sponsored by Siemens Mainstream Engineering organization), which speaks about CAD Consolidation and Data Integrity. The white paper speaks about how companies involved in product design and manufacturing are using multiple CAD or engineering applications will benefit from consolidating workflows, tools, and data types. I downloaded the white paper (Engineering.com gives it to you in exchange for your email, so it is free).
According to the white paper, the reality of all companies is to have multiple CAD systems and to support processes using data management (PDM) tools. Here is the passage:
If after considering all of this, you are still left with multiple CAD systems, there remain ways for you to benefit from consolidation strategies. One is to employ a multi-CAD document management system. This keeps all product information, geometrical and otherwise, in a single place that is searchable and connects each CAD file to the correct software.
In addition to CAD files, product document management (PDM) allows you to connect all the documents in your product development process, such as work instructions, simulation results, CNC tool paths, assembly documentation, test results, automation programs, customer manuals, and product development specifications and more. PDM can also offer the traceability required for regulated product development and other processes. PDM gives you where-used capabilities, revision control, electronic workflow, and sign-off capabilities, and helps designers and manufacturers take a solid step into the digital age
Multi-CAD Data Management
The need to manage CAD files was around from the very early beginning of engineering software. The core of all CAD technologies was to organize file persistency and engineers were forced to exchange and manage CAD files to collaborate, manage versions and share information with others. A traditional PDM system integration and architecture as we know it now was born back in the 1990s and didn’t change much since that time. The systems included data management (database) servers and file (vault) storages, working simultaneously and managing files and metadata records. This is a traditional (or mainstream) product data management system (aka PDM system).
Back in the 1990s, it was a space where many vendors innovated to develop the best technology to manage CAD files, provide distributed access and file viewing and collaboration. It was a golden era of PDM software. CAD vendors acquired the best vendors and killed competition by bundling CAD+PDM systems together not leaving much space for independent PDM systems and vendors.
Mainstream PDM systems
While CAD system and their product data management (PDM) system bundles became some sort of best approach in the industry selling a traditional solution to manufacturing companies, the systems demonstrated their limitations related to traditional data management architecture. CAD tools alone can be hosted, but design data and CAD models are locked in for non CAD users inside of fashion PDM systems. Scalability of systems for access outside of local area networks (LAN) combined with limitations of data management and data sharing across multiple organizations, made these systems slow and not efficient for modern workflows. At the same time, design data is critically needed outside of this local PDM vault to organize business flows. The last two years disrupted by COVID realities was a culmination of mainstream PDM inefficiency. The need for digital transformation in CAD data management became obvious.
Cloud CAD Systems Hope
An introduction of cloud CAD systems, both hybrid (eg. Autodesk Fusion360) and browser-based (eg. Onshape) provided a little hope to everyone that the limitations of traditional PDM systems will be resolved. It is true that cloud CAD systems provide a much better way to manage data. However, the reality of the last decade of cloud CAD systems was that engineers and manufacturing companies are still very slow in their adoption of cloud CAD. Mature desktop CAD systems (eg. Solidworks, etc.) can be combined with virtual cloud desktops making adoption of SaaS/Cloud CAD too slow to hope that they will solve PDM systems problem and will provide a viable solution for a modern digital workflow.
Another hope to solve old fashion PDM system architecture was the introduction of cloud product lifecycle management (PLM) systems without CAD system /PDM support. Most of the existing Cloud/SaaS PLMs provide very limited to no support for CAD systems and engineering integrations. Earlier CAD / PLM vendors’ strategies to bundle traditional PDM with cloud PLM systems were mostly failures.
As a result cloud product lifecycle management (PLM) didn’t solve the problem of providing CAD systems with reliable product data management support. They were not able to support data generated seamlessly from the CAD system and make it available for digital workflows.
New Data Management Architectures
The solution and the opportunity for digital transformation are modern cloud-native PLM systems capable to interact with CAD systems, turning existing desktop solutions into online data services by SaaSification or desktop-based solutions to support modern digital workflow. These cloud services can seamlessly integrate with cloud/SaaS CAD systems and also speed up cloud CAD adoption.
The foundation of these new cloud-native platforms is a multi-tenant data management, micro-service architecture, and polyglot persistence database architecture. Together, they provide a scalable global platform capable to be integrated with existing multiple CAD systems, but providing seamless SaaS user experience and to scale to support multiple engineering teams, contractors, and suppliers.
What is my conclusion?
One area that is ripe for improvement is Multi-CAD data management. For many years, it was one of the most conservative spaces in engineering software. CAD vendors collectively killed PDM competition by acquiring and partially developing the best matches between CAD systems and PDM. It created a status quo, which worked for almost a decade between 2005 and 2015. Solidworks PDM, Autodesk Vault, Siemens and their larger PDM systems, Teamcenter, Windchill, and Enovia provided a backbone for their own CAD systems. They provided support (still do) for multi-CAD and by doing so, served as a backbone for company data management and integrated workflows.
The modern demand for cross-company collaboration, which includes contractors and suppliers combined with the maturity of cloud software created an opportunity for cloud-native PLM systems to be integrated with CAD systems (both old desktop systems and modern cloud-based) and provide online data services that serve as a foundation of the future digital workflows.
The modern online data management services approach fundamentally changes product data management systems and the way multiple CAD systems data and workflow can be managed. Mainstream product data management systems used old fashion database architectures to organize vaulting and metadata storage, limited to local networks and a single company workflow. Opposite to that new product data management system is using multi-tenant cloud-based service, seamless integration with multi-CAD data, extracting data, and making it available for modern digital workflows. These modern services will be a future and foundational element in a new type of digital workflow. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.