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…Ok, so it was the late 1990’s, but the CAD world would be significantly changed by the technical revolution that several small companies like SOLIDWORKS, Solid Edge, and Autodesk with Inventor proposed to bring to the market. Until that time CAD fell exclusively in the domain of large companies, mainly Aero and Auto that helped to co-develop the software that ran on very expensive Unix Workstations, and had license costs that did not make their hardware pale by comparison.

The new contenders were nimble, unencumbered by legacy code, and they bet the farm (albeit a rather small one) on one very simple idea. That idea was that desktop computers, operating on the Microsoft Windows OS, would one day grow to be powerful enough to run engineering software that provided affordable computing power (both hardware and software) to the bulk of the design market. SOLIDWORKS, Solid Edge, and Autodesk Inventor all successfully released products in this market. Solid Edge languished a bit under UGS ownership in favor of the NX brand, and Autodesk Inventor was a bit later to market when Autodesk launched a 2 ½ Dimensional package called Mechanical Desktop. Today these systems have been in the market for around 20 years and as systems have evolved and the industry changed the key vendors have worked hard to provide good products to the design user base.

Just as desktop CAD software has gotten more powerful every year, “High end” CAD software has followed it to the personal desktop. With different packages theoretically running on identical hardware, how do companies keep brand differentiation to justify higher costs for one package over the other? In some cases, there are coordinated packaging agreements that allow certain features into one package, but not the other. This is similar to a “Packaging exercise” that will differentiate a Volkswagen from an Audi, targeting a market for each without eroding the market for the higher revenue model.

However, CIMdata has described this distinction differently. According to their research customers fundamentally use the products differently

  • Multi-disciplinary CAD – CATIA or NX are almost always used in a managed environment to generate geometry that adheres to design criteria based on Systems Driven Product Development (SDPD). A project is launched, parts are specified, and part numbers are even created before geometry enters the picture. End to end there should be breadcrumbs and documented justifications for decisions reinforced by simulation data all stored on a master system. Part of that “master system” eventually conveys all of the necessary information to manufacturing, purchasing, quality and sales making up a traditional Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system.
  • Design Focused CAD – (SOLIDWORKS, Solid Edge, Inventor) A design focused project often starts with sketches and ideas that quickly morph into models that iterate quickly. These are typically smaller design teams working in a looser framework, but even small teams reach the limit of data/file tracking and traceability rather quickly. Product Data Management (PDM) is typically used inside the engineering group to keep their designs and revisions straight.

So, What is the difference between PDM and PLM? Mainly, one is a granule of the other. Effective PDM is one part of what makes PLM possible to reach across the organization and disseminate engineering data to other stake holders in the manufacturing chain. When communicated early it can tell supply and logistics what they need to prepare to buy, Manufacturing what they need to think about building, and Sales what they may want to think about selling. Quality information that is collected and fed back can influence future design, and Sales and Marketing can incorporate the voice of the customer.

Can PDM and PLM be in different environments? PDM is best focused on managing CAD data Inside of CAD. Most often the best tool for this situation is designed for that particular tool, released in concert with that package, and guaranteed to interface as seamlessly as possible with the intricacies of those file types and configurations. Users have a single point of contact and support, and the tools are likely to work effortlessly together.

PLM, as it has been addressed for many years, has been too big a bite for any but the largest companies to digest leading to a plethora of homegrown solutions from paper based systems to email and MS Access databases that pull data from various sources and push it to others. These systems work for a while, but when there is a change in the business ecosystem they can break down with little hope of an easy repair.

We are entering a new era of PLM that is not only CAD agnostic, but PDM agnostic. Products like Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle use strong integration capabilities to integrate with many different business systems. Systems such as Autodesk Vault, SOLIDWORKS PDM Pro, NetSuite, SalesForce, Oracle EBS, and SAP to name a few. Integration allows PLM and PDM platforms to focus on the problems they were built to solve and easily pass information to other business systems designed to solve a different business problem. This is creating more flexible, affordable, and easier to adopt solutions in the market place. Just as we were able to see the CAD space transformed over the last 20 years, there are some very exciting things ahead in the next 20 years.

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