Manage Your Data Intentionally: Don’t Let It Manage You
Many product-related projects begin the same way. All relevant information is gathered and placed into the appropriate Windows folders on the company network. As the team is assembled, tasks are assigned to its members. Each teammate makes their own working folder and starts to plug away making progress rather quickly. Then comes the day when everyone combines their individual efforts into a top-level assembly, or a single body of work. The first few usually go smoothly but eventually each person makes revisions and the top-level assembly becomes out-of-date. Even with small groups it becomes difficult to communicate what design changes are most current. Windows folders are no longer as efficient as they once were for the project. For optimal productivity and performance, every team member must have access to all of the most current documents all of the time. Product data management (PDM) is how this can be achieved.
What is PDM?
A PDM system is a software system that is responsible for the version control and publication of product data. This can include computer aided design (CAD) files, manufacturing files, quotes, presentations, test data, and anything else related to product data. The most common and basic use is managing CAD files. A complex CAD project can have numerous subassemblies and part files. The PDM system stores all the data in one spot on a network drive. Users can check out the individual files they are currently working on, which means the files are locked for editing. A good PDM system will force users to check out files before any changes can be made to them. When finished with a file, users check it back into the network drive. This pushes the latest changes to the master set of files. Other team members can then update the files they are viewing with the new design changes. This helps users know that they are always designing around the most recent project updates.
What are the Benefits?
Why is this important? Accuracy. Efficiency. Productivity. With PDM, all of the project files are stored in one place. There is no question as to which files are the latest and greatest. No question about which version of Block.prt, Block_NEW.prt, Block-2.prt, or Block_FINAL.prt is the right one to send to manufacturing. The other important aspect of a good PDM system is that it can track and control versions of files. No versions of a file are permanently deleted. They can easily be recovered if the team decides to revert to a previous design. The PDM system reduces the risk of overwritten or lost work because it warns users when the file they are viewing is locked by another team member for editing. This improves efficiency significantly because there is no time wasted redoing work. Having all of the product data files stored in one place also significantly reduces the risk of a company sending the wrong set of drawings to manufacturing. This can save thousands of dollars in rework and expedite costs.
Some PDM systems allow workflow maps of the project data to be established. These are flowcharts that direct the approval process of a file. For example, an engineer can submit a file to his or her manager for approval. The manager gets an email that the file is ready to be viewed and he or she can check it electronically. If changes are needed, it goes back to the engineer. If the file is acceptable, it is approved and sent along to the manufacturing or purchasing department. If manufacturing need a revision to a part, they can easily send it back to the engineer to start the process over. Some PDM systems even allow for automatic production of manufacturing files like PDF, DXF, or STP. An engineer can spend a lot of time producing these files by hand. This workflow process is completely paperless and highly automated. PDM systems help engineering and manufacturing departments stay on the same page.
Many Options Available
Why doesn’t every project team or company use a PDM system to manage their files? The most common responses are: “It’s too expensive”, “It’s too difficult to implement”, or “Our network wouldn’t handle it well”. Things have come a long way in the PDM world and these excuses are no longer valid. Did you know that SolidWorks (SW) now includes their PDM standard package with a license seat of SW Professional or SW Premium? Companies can install it on their own for no additional charge or reach out to their value-added reseller to implement the system with training for a small fee. Another more basic PDM system is GrabCad Workbench. It is a free software that can be downloaded off the internet. It can be used with any CAD platform as well as Microsoft office files. There is no network drive to set up this package, it is all cloud based. There are not as many bells and whistles with GrabCad Workbench, but it is great for small teams looking for a free solution to get started right away. The implementation is as easy as dragging and dropping your files into the Workbench folder. There is simply no excuse for not having a product data management system in place. The risk of lost files or out-of-date work far outweighs the minimal effort and cost it takes to get a PDM system in place. Manage your data intentionally, don’t let it manage you— and watch your productivity climb.
If you have more questions on how to streamline your systems and processes, contact DISHER. We love to come alongside companies and assist with training, coaching, and extended support. Let us know how we can assist your organization achieve even greater performance, productivity, and profits.
Written By: Zachary Neville, Product Design Engineer
Zach has a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Grand Valley State University and primarily works as a Machine Design Engineer using SolidWorks. He plays golf, softball, and soccer in his spare time.