Tech Tips - Extend Aras Innovator to CAD Workgroups

Inspired by Bob Ellis

Connect various CAD applications and support workgroup operations


As much as we like to talk about all the wonderful things you can do with Aras Innovator as a PLM solution, it can easily be used as a product data management (PDM) platform to manage CAD data.

Recognizing this need, Aras developed best-in-class PDM functionality inside Aras Innovator.  You can effectively manage all your CAD data and share this across the business.

To support this, Aras offers an open, CAD-neutral environment for developing packaged and custom integrations.  It is used by various CAD Connector partners as the basis of their Connector products and can be used by customers or partners to develop custom PDM solutions.

Below are highlights of the important components of the CAD Integration Platform.

CAD Document ItemType

It all starts with the CAD Document, an ItemType designed to manage CAD data in the most efficient way possible.  Since I've never met a CAD engineer who thought their PDM system was fast enough, I know efficiency matters.  CAD Documents are quite different from regular Documents.  Key elements of the CAD Document ItemType are the following.

  • CAD Structure - Because CAD Documents are used to manage CAD assemblies, they need to have the ability to form structures. The CAD Structure relationship works much like the Part BOM, with one critical difference - defined as "Hard Fixed" rather than "Float." The reason for this is to retain the history of how the model was stored from CAD and, if subordinate levels float, that history is lost. The floated structure can still be extracted when needed using our Structure Extraction Methods - see below.
  • File Management - Because CAD Documents are primarily used through automation with CAD Connectors Aras chose to implement file handling in a specific way, using Properties of type Item (with File as the ItemType), rather than a generic CAD File relationship. By default, we have "native_file" and "viewable_file," but this can be extended to add other file properties like exchange files. Handling files as properties simplifies file manipulation, improves performance and allows the files to be directly visible on relationships in the web client.
  • Part CAD Relationship - CAD Connectors offer the ability to assign CAD Documents to Parts (which can drive numbering behavior), and to automate the update of the Part BOM based on CAD Document structure. Aras added special logic to the Part CAD relationship to support overall version-independent assignment between a CAD Document and a Part, in addition to version-specific links.
  • Change Affected Item - While often used in conjunction with Parts, CAD Documents need also to be able to stand-alone to support true PDM. Unlike some Aras competitors, a CAD Document is revisable either manually or on a change order, on an equal basis with Parts. So, you can implement a purely CAD-based change process, or one that involves both CAD and Parts.

Structure Extraction Methods

Since CAD document structures get large and complex, it's critical for good PDM performance to be able to extract quickly information from these structures.  There are three AML-based method calls that are purpose-built for this task, and optimized for large CAD structures.

  • PE_GetResolvedStructure - Returns all CAD documents within the structure of a given CAD document, based on three resolutions: As Saved (default fixed structure), Latest Released, or Current (commonly used to retrieve the latest work-in-progress structure).
  • PE_GetResolvedParents - Returns the where-used parent CAD documents of a given CAD document, again based on the three resolutions.
  • PE_GetRelatedParts - Returns all Part items related to the given CAD document, either version-specific or using our special version-independent assignment logic.

File Management APIs

PDM requires high-performance file management, both regarding file quantity and file size.  Aras has developed two excellent APIs within IOM for managing CAD file transmission on both upload and download from the file server.

  • CheckinManager - Provides multi-threaded file upload to the Aras file vault, in either synchronous or asynchronous mode. Includes conflict detection to determine the ability for the user to lock the necessary items that will contain the files being uploaded.
  • CheckoutManager - Provides multi-threaded file download from the Aras file vault, in either synchronous or asynchronous mode.

These API calls work seamlessly with Aras distributed file vaults to provide the best possible file performance for CAD data management on both LAN and WAN.

Aras subscribers can get more in the Aras KnowledgeBase (Aras KB) located in the Subscriber Portal at

By Martin van der Roest