A typical product development company, even one with limited product offerings and a small engineering team, can generate thousands of CAD files every year. Anyone who has attempted to keep on top of this enormous volume of data by using carefully named folders on a network drive is a brave person indeed. It requires discipline. Lots of it. Files go missing, get overwritten or are modified without permission. Version control is difficult, if not impossible, and copies of files are scattered everywhere. Managing CAD files is like herding cats.

You simply cannot run a design team efficiently without Product Data Management (PDM) software. Period.

Believe it or not, it is estimated that only 40% of product development companies use any sort of PDM and/or PLM solution at all. So why do so many companies struggle on without any formal PDM software to manage their mission-critical design data?

Here are some of the more common reasons:

  • PDM systems are too difficult to deploy

  • Companies say they have insufficient IT resources

  • Their design teams are not big enough

  • Their products are not complex enough

  • And yes, PDM just costs too much

While ignoring PDM may avoid the excessive costs, downtime, and resource requirements to implement and maintain it, can you really afford to keep your head in the sand? Managing design data effectively and controlling who can view, modify, share and approve valuable intellectual property should be a company’s number one priority.

Let’s take a closer look at some of those aforementioned objections to PDM systems...

Too hard to deploy / Too few IT resources

In simple terms, PDM software is a front end to a database. This front end deciphers and formats all the CAD-specific information and file dependencies, reads and writes that data from/to the database, and handles the copying of files between the server and the users’ local hard drives. Since the database is the foundation upon which the PDM software is built, and therefore cannot function without it, you would expect the database component to be an integral part of the system – it is not. In nearly all cases, it needs to be installed, configured, maintained and backed up separately from the PDM software.

For companies with dedicated IT resources and CAD administrators, installation and maintenance of a PDM system is not a major issue beyond downtime and related infrastructure costs – servers, networks and storage. For smaller companies, on top of the infrastructure costs, it is often the CAD expert who must act as the CAD administrator, sacrificing valuable design time to oversee the day-to-day housekeeping tasks that are essential to keep the rest of the product development team up and running.

For companies of all sizes, PDM represents a significant ongoing cost. The key difference is that larger companies have more available resources at their disposal and thus don’t feel as much pain.

For every upgrade or service pack, CAD and PDM software need to be tested thoroughly before being deployed to ensure that any new rollouts run smoothly and without incident. This requires more hardware, more IT resources, more time and yes, more cost to create multiple controlled sandbox environments to test that everything works as it should. Some companies report that new PDM implementations can take months – if not years – and some rollouts are abandoned completely if the testing phase is not successful.

Your data is your most valuable asset, so in many cases, PDM setup and configuration is probably best left to the experts. Your vendor will be happy to supply a consultant for a considerable charge as part of your implementation and ongoing maintenance package.

Not big enough / Not complex enough

It doesn’t matter how big your team is or how complex your product offerings are – it only takes a few costly mistakes, project overruns, or product recalls to ruin your company’s reputation. Even single-person design consultancies should use PDM. Here’s why:

  • PDM stores all files in a secure and central location. Files scattered across network drives, hard drives and email servers are not only a security threat, but the chances of the wrong version of the wrong part being manufactured increases by an order of magnitude.

  • PDM controls who has permissions to access your data – only those on a need-to-know basis should have access to your valuable design data. Limiting write access prevents unauthorized modifications.

  • PDM prevents designers from overwriting each other’s work. When a design change is required, PDM enables you to check out the parts you need to modify and lock them to prevent others from making changes at the same time and overwriting your work. Once the changes have been made and the files are checked back in, your co-workers can then check-out those files and start their work.

  • PDM provides release management and approval workflows. This depends upon what level of PDM you purchase, but most middle-tier solutions provide workflow modeling for engineering, manufacturing, approval and ECO processes. This ensures that everybody has signed off on the latest design changes and only the correct revision of a part is manufactured.

The argument for a formal data management solution is a no-brainer. The reasons for not implementing PDM may sound like excuses to some, but for those with limited budgets and limited resources, they are very real problems. Luckily, there is a reprieve.

Should data management be an “extra” system?

Managing design data is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. You shouldn’t be held ransom by your CAD vendor or reseller and forced to spend time and money on extra software, services and infrastructure to safeguard the integrity of your data. Data management should be the first and last consideration of any product development toolset and it should be tightly integrated into the core. This is one of the fundamental principles of Onshape.

Onshape is uniquely placed in the product design space by the very nature of its cloud and database architecture. Onshape was built from the ground up as a data management solution first and foremost with professional-grade design tools added on top – not the other way around as is common with many design and data management systems.

Consider these differentiators:

  • Onshape’s cloud component ensures that all the software tools you need are available at your fingertips as and when you need them, without having to involve your IT department. Simply sign-in to your secure cloud workspace from any available device for immediate access to all your design data, plus all the data that has been shared with you by co-workers, suppliers and customers. Every project stakeholder can get their hands on the latest design information whenever and wherever they need it.

  • Onshape’s database component completely eliminates files, removing one of the most frustrating issues associated with CAD and PDM. No work is ever lost, overwritten or modified without permission. Entire teams can edit the same design at the same time with real-time updates – there is no need to check-in, check-out or lock, removing all bottlenecks from the design process. Every design change is captured and recorded with unlimited undo/redo and a complete audit trail of who made what changes and when.

This unique architecture enables real-time collaboration, simultaneous editing, instant and secure sharing, version control, release management, and data analytics. No other product development platform comes close to providing this level of capability with this level of flexibility – all included in the platform, all included in the price.

Interested in learning more about how Onshape stacks up against a file-based PDM system? Our 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.

Picture of the cover of the new Onshape eBook about how product development teams can manage their product designs.

Download your free copy here.