How do PDM Solutions Fit into a PLM Strategy?

Integrating Autodesk Vault or SolidWorks EPDM with PLM

By Martin van der Roest

We regularly hear from organizations that are using or thinking about using a product data management (PDM) solution such as Autodesk Vault or SolidWorks Enterprise PDM (EPDM) to manage their CAD drawings and parts (items).  Users want to know how these PDM applications fit into a PLM strategy.  “Does PLM replace PDM?”  “Should we stop the PDM evaluation process and just go to a PLM solution?”  “We implemented PDM, but the company wants to implement PLM.  Our CAD users don’t want to change.  Can they work together?”

For starters, there is a role for each solution.  It is not a question of one-or-the-other.  Coexistence can be a preferred strategy for certain situations.

Ultimately, it boils down to integrating PDM with PLM or bypassing PDM and integrating the various CAD systems with PLM.  Either decision has a similar total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) associated with it.

For a PDM to PLM integration, the expenses will typically be a function of the number of CAD users connected to the PDM, even though there is only one connection between the PDM and PLM environments.  This latter point is one of the advantages of a simple point-to-point integration between the PDM and PLM platform… it’s independent of how many CAD users there actually are.

Alternatively, If all the CAD users are directly connected to the PLM environment, then the expense is based on the number of connectors required.  Third parties and not the CAD vendor typically develop these CAD connectors.

I’d suggest there are three primary conditions that would drive a decision.  They are…

  • CAD vendor’s vertical applications are heavily leveraged
  • CAD (AutoCAD, Inventor, and SolidWorks) functionality and capabilities are enhanced with third-party add-ons
  • custom development added to existing PDM platform

I’ll take AutoCAD, for example, to address the first condition above.  Dozens of available vertical applications address civil, building, electrical, etc. that have been built on top of the AutoCAD engine.  No doubt impressive, but each application may have its nuances for libraries, data structures, linkages to external dependencies, and so on.

Having been involved in CAD integration technologies for over two decades, the reality is that no one does a better job of integrating CAD tools with data management than the CAD software vendor themselves.

The second condition noted above is similar to the first condition.  Although third party add-ons are required to adhere to certain operating conditions as defined by the CAD vendor, we continue to see functionality that creates challenges for these third party developers of the CAD integration with PLM.

Finally, the third condition noted above, suggests that the incorporation of additional custom functionality and development represent an investment that might be lost if the PDM solution were to be replaced with a PLM platform.

If a decision is made to operate without a PDM platform, the integration between the CAD and PLM systems is straightforward.  The PLM system now operates as the PDM for the CAD users.  The CAD users operate within their environment and see the PLM environment as if it were a file folder with additional features and capabilities.  Hence, the impact for CAD users to learn a new system is minimal.

Likewise, integrating a PDM solution with PLM is also straightforward.  A point-to-point integration is independent of the number of CAD users involved.  But, it's important to synchronize the life cycle stages and workflow processes (change management) between the two systems.  In this scenario, the PDM could retain work-in-process (WIP) files and only push out “release” candidates to the PLM by a change process.