For those of you considering a Product Data Management system to prevent version control problems in your design and manufacturing process, this blog has you covered. We’ve recently explored why CAD needs PDM, how PDM systems work, whether your company can afford a PDM system – and lastly, some of the most important factors to consider when evaluating a PDM system.

The latter blog came with a cliffhanger, providing only the first half of the 14 things you should closely evaluate. Without further ado, here are factors #8-14:

8. “Where Used” Reports

Standardizing and reusing common parts across multiple product lines is a great way to reduce inventory, design time and overall costs. If a part needs replacing or updating due to a failure in service or change of supplier, a “where used” report should be able to detail the exact use of any part or assembly. The report should include your current products, products you no longer sell but still support and all your in-process designs. This is critical for analyzing the impact of any proposed change and the traceability of each design.

In combination with an advanced search tool, a “where used” report can help companies to rationalize inventory and reuse existing parts as much as possible. If a part can be reused in a new design, a detailed “where used” report can inform the designer that it is a common part. The company can save costs by not having to issue new part numbers, source suppliers and allocate new inventory space.

9. Effective Collaboration

A good data management system should be able to facilitate collaboration between internal and external teams and make the process as painless as possible.

When multiple designers are working on the same project, their CAD system may prevent them from being able to edit the same files at the same time, but they can still reference the last checked-in version. A suitable CAD add-in should therefore be able to alert a user who has referenced a part that is being edited by somebody else, that the design has changed and needs updating. Ideally, each user should have complete visibility into the changes that are being made so that there are no surprises when a new version appears. They should also have the option to update or freeze the design.

Sharing data to the right people at the right time should be straightforward and either controlled by the designer, project manager or CAD administrator. A unique identifier for each participant in the project, usually an email address, should be enough to assign permissions to another person who can then access the data without any further hurdles. A system should also allow companies to just as easily revoke access to data in the case of employees leaving the company or contractors moving on to another project.

10. Engineering Change Orders (ECOs)

Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) should not come as a big surprise to engineers – they’re inevitable. No design is perfect the first time and improvements are always required, whether they be design improvements or changes required for manufacturing. Issues found during the initial design are corrected as part of the natural design process, while ECOs are generally requested after a product has been released for manufacturing. At this time, all ECOs are carefully vetted in design reviews to ensure that it makes sense to implement them.

An ECO is effectively rework. When changes are made to one area of a product, invariably other areas are affected, too. While PDM systems can help manage all the data, the work required to implement an ECO may multiply tenfold as you chase interdependencies and tolerance stackups around a design. Workflows generally manage the ECO process, assigning permissions and notifying users who will then check-out the files to make the changes. File locking prevents others from working on design data while an ECO is completed, so if multiple ECOs need to be carried out, the PDM system may force a serial workflow and create a design bottleneck. Check if and how the PDM system permits multiple ECOs to be affected at the same time. Once complete, changes should be able to be compared, reviewed, approved and seamlessly integrated into the main design.

11. Bill of Materials

A Bill of Materials (BOM) is one of the most important pieces of information required for product design. When CAD files are checked into a PDM system and all metadata is extracted, a BOM becomes available for all users with permissions. Because the BOM is a vital source of data, it should be accessible and viewable by all project stakeholders without requiring a PDM license or special software. Users with edit permissions should be able to modify a BOM, edit part metadata and add bulk items such as such as paint, grease and sealants to the parts list.

A Bill of Materials should always reflect the currently selected configuration (if the PDM system supports configurations). This means that as an assembly configuration is selected, the BOM is updated to reflect that configuration.

12. Integration With Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software automates data transmission within a company, covering procurement, production, sales, human resources, accounting and other critical business information. Integrating PDM with ERP enables users to create production BOMs in an automated and process-safe way without having to copy numbers from their CAD system and manually enter them into their master ERP system. Part properties such as material, weight and volume should transfer seamlessly to the ERP system, giving the designer a comprehensive overview of all important product information, such as stock levels, suppliers, prices, etc.

13. Real-Time Analytics

Every company wants to identify inefficiencies and reduce costs. To achieve this, you need a data management system that is able to offer complete transparency across the entire product development process. Design is one area of a business that has very little in the way of hard facts, making it difficult to uncover issues and find ways to address them.

A good data management solution should be able to generate reports that enable you to analyze key performance indicators related to your entire design process. Reports that detail how much time and resources were used on a project, how much time a user spent on each project, who has access to a design and when did they last review it, are just some of the details that will help you to evaluate and re-engineer your business processes.

Role-based custom dashboards displaying analytics related to the progress of the product development process should be easy to define in the PDM system.

14. Automated Backups and Disaster Recovery

The PDM database and all the files on the file server must be backed up on a regular basis, no matter how safe you think your IT and PDM systems are. Backups should be done at least once a day, if not more often. Backups are there for the sole purpose of disaster recovery. You need to be ready to deal with missing or corrupt files, hardware failures, computer viruses, ransomware, or even a fire in the server room. Performing regular backups is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

It is estimated that up to 30% of a company’s CAD files become corrupt or go missing over their lifetime, so when data is lost and you need to revert to a backup, that is when you discover how good your disaster recovery strategy really is. Automated backup procedures are not part of a PDM system, so this is up to your IT department. Backing up a file-based PDM vault can be quite complex, labor intensive and expensive. Not only do you have to backup the disks used to store the actual CAD files, but also the SQL database that keeps track of those files. To make sure the two stay in sync, backups must be run at the same time, usually during off-hours when nobody is accessing or making changes to the PDM data or the CAD files. Otherwise, the backup may be incomplete or become corrupted. This becomes trickier if your CAD data is replicated across multiple sites worldwide.

Remember that backups are only worthwhile if they are made regularly, each backup is replicated and every copy is integrity-tested and stored in a safe place (preferably offsite). If a backup procedure is scheduled to run once a day during the evening and you lose some files, at least you can restore them from the most recent backup – losing “only” one day’s worth of work. That could be one day’s worth of work for the entire team, not to mention the time it would take to get the systems back up and running and restoring the data from the backup. In reality, your disaster recovery plan could easily cost you several days.

Your Guide to Data Management and PDM

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Interested in learning more about what you should look for in a PDM system? Onshape’s latest eBook,“The Engineering Leader’s Guide to Data Management & PDM,” will help you evaluate your current processes and help you compare and contrast alternative solutions. Download your free copy here.