Is Product Data Management Overkill for Small Design Teams?

Tech4PD: Episode 8

Small design teams face a tough choice for managing product data. Should they implement a simple document management solution? A CAD-only data management tool? Or go for something bigger that manages the BOM through to manufacturing? Analysts Chad and Jim don’t agree and you get to vote. Plus see who had to take a very public plunge in the pool at COFES - the conference that brings the leaders of the engineering software industry together.

PTC’s View

Without basic CAD data management, it’s difficult for organizations to effectively collaborate and improve their productivity. PTC Windchill PDM Essentials empowers smaller organizations to effectively organize and manage their product content so they can improve design reuse, broaden access to product information across roles and ensure control over design versions and release processes.

Smaller manufacturers face the same challenges as larger companies: the complexity of bringing products to market and the need to continually innovate. Yet, while large manufacturers have long relied on enterprise-class PLM solutions to help coordinate strategy and planning activities related to product development, small businesses have often shied away from adopting such solutions due to perceived deployment complexity.

PTC has taken the strengths of its enterprise PLM solution and created a "right sized" package for small companies. PTC Windchill PDM Essentials is easy to deploy, containing everything a customer needs to get up and running - including a Microsoft SQL Server database - in one easy-to-install package.

This offering also helps companies scale business and product development activities to ensure repeatability. For example, rudimentary processes may be sufficient if there are only a few people involved in product development. But as a company grows, a lack of defined, scalable processes can cause confusion and chaos. PTC Windchill PDM Essentials allows customers to enable simple controls and processes to help make everyone more efficient. This helps keep costs low and output high, while maintaining flexibility and adaptability, and maximizing ROI.

Based on PTC’s production-proven PLM software, PTC Windchill PDM Essentials offers a quick to deploy, easy–to-use offering that can improve your ROI. By managing product data from PTC Creo, as well as many other CAD systems, you can ensure data integrity and enable concurrent engineering.

PTC Windchill PDM Essentials is right-sized for the existing needs of smaller teams and companies. And it provides the foundation for additional capabilities that a growing company may require in the future.

Video Transcript

Chad:Hello. Welcome to Tech4PD. I’m Chad.

Jim: And I'm Jim. Today we're going to talk about Product Data Management for small businesses.

Chad:Let's go ahead and set the stage. So Jim, why are we talking about Product Data Management for smaller organizations today?

Jim: PDM is really important to help companies control access and share information. My research has actually shown a strong correlation between business performance and a company’s ability to manage product data. Some of the things we've seen is companies were able to grow revenue and profits larger during the economic recovery, actually are better at data management than average companies. So, it is important to drive business.

Chad:Yeah, well. To contrast that it is also very important for the engineer or organization. Before design release, it is absolute chaos. Engineers and designers seem to try all sorts of different options and alternatives. And it lets them track what they did yesterday or the day before or what they want to keep, or what they want to discard.

Jim:I'm not sure that contrasts. I think that plays into the efficiency of the overall business. You just want to disagree before we even debate. I think when you look at solving this problem there are different solutions that are available, different approaches even. Starting with companies that really take a document management approach to it, or companies like One Desk or Team Platform, that help keep everything under control.

Chad:Yeah. There's also some systems out there that allow you to manage your CAD data specifically. So, you look at systems like Autodesk Volt, as well as Solid Works has one out as well.

Jim:Right. And then you move from the CAD centric view of the world to the product centric view of the world where you really start to bring in a bill of material focus.

Chad:Yep

Jim: And that's really where product data management starts to evolve towards Product Lifecycle Management. There is a host of companies there. And we've got companies like Arris. You've got companies like Arena Solutions, Synergist [SP] Adapt is another in that area.

Chad:As well as the big guys too. PTC's Windchill kind of falls in that category. Siemens, Team Center is there as well as Dassault and Novia.

Jim:And the larger companies have offerings that are specifically targeted to the mid-sized business.

Chad:Yeah, they do.

Jim:And now the question is, 'How appropriate are they for small to mid . . .

Chad:It's debated.

Jim:. . . sized businesses?

Chad:Right.

Jim:Now we can debate.

So, Chad, what is your opinion? Do you think PDM is overkill for small to mid-sized manufacturers?

Chad:No. I don't think it's overkill. But, I think you need to be careful about what you do adopt. Because, PDM can span a lot of capabilities. I think what small organizations need to do is adopt the CAD data management capabilities that PDM offers. I think it's both a personal productivity tool, because these assemblies can have hundreds of files. Right?

Jim: Right.

Chad:Just keeping track of those provisions can be overwhelming. I also think it's a work group and coordination type of tool as well. So, that is my perspective.

Jim:Yeah. Which, I agree with your perspective. But I also think it doesn't go far enough. I think that you need to manage CAD data.

Chad:Yeah.

Jim:You just have to do that today, unless you’re in a business that works on Spectra documents. But you have to go beyond that. It needs to scale beyond the work group, you need to be able to share information with manufacturing. You need to be able to have a broader set of people working on the design itself. But then also, as things change over time, you need to be able to share that information outside of the work-group.

Chad:Hmm, okay.

Jim:It doesn't go far enough just to manage CAD.

Chad:Well, here's my issue, is that these small organizations, they don't have a dedicated IT staff.

Jim:That's true.

Chad:They have a very small IT budget. They can't afford to expend a lot of effort to go deploy these systems that can take a long time. And just from a practicality perspective, I think you have to keep it limited in scope. So, that’s my concern with having something that could get much, much bigger.

Jim:Yeah. And that's a valid concern. You don't want to get a PDM system that is overkill. But what you want to look for is simple yet scalable. Something that can manage CAD data but then also extend to manage bills and materials. Take that product-centric view and use that as a foundation to grow over time and get more value. So, for example, something like product compliance or sustainability.

Chad:Right.

Jim:Leverage is a bill of material. Where is that bill of material going to come from? It should be coming early in the process. it should be coming from data management, from PDM, as the product is being developed. Developing the manufacturing bill of material has to come from somewhere. So, you take that engineering BOM that comes from CAD data management. But then you can transform that and get more value out of it by extending beyond that core engineering team and the work-group. And that's really where PDM really needs to focus.

Chad:Interesting. Okay. Just so I understand, you're saying that you need to go above and beyond CAD data management, at least with the system and capabilities that doesn't have a ceiling it would hinder the expansion.

Jim:Yeah. CAD data management is not enough for small to mid-sized businesses. It's important, but it's not enough.

Chad:Alright. Well, I disagree.

Jim:Shock.

Chad:Shock. I know. Yeah, I think for smaller organizations it's a point of practicality. I mean, CAD data management is essential, so you have to get that in place. But going above and beyond there are some alternatives out there that can let them do those things without being overwhelmed.

Jim:Right. But, you could also do it without making it a dead end road that once they get there, they've got nowhere to grow beyond there. It's an infrastructure. It's something that you can get value out of over time.

Chad:Interesting. Alright, well, yeah. They get to decide who is right.

Jim:So, Chad, what do you see changing in product data management, specifically for small to mid-sized business over the next, say, five years?

Chad:What I thinks is really interesting is that, I think, we are on the cusp of a real revolution in PDM. And not that it would start on its own, it's actually, it was instigated by CAD the Cloud. So, you look at SolidWorks, mechanical conceptual as PDM elements as part of it. Same thing with Autodesk Fusion 360. It's a natural progression.

If you already have your CAD data in the cloud, if you're creating it there, it makes no sense to get it down to the desktop to get it to an on premise system. So those data management capabilities are going to be there. I think it's interesting that those capabilities are going to be in the cloud, but also they are far more automated. So, you actually don't hit save. You just do your work. It tracks every single thing you've done. So, it's much more hands off.

Jim:Yeah. And I think we're going to see that simplification. I think the other thing we are going to see is, a lot of our debate today, probably, will go away because systems are going to become more granular.

We're going to see more modular and app driven approaches. So that doing CAD data management is not a dead end path. That you'll be able to do CAD data management. And then to go beyond that to really add on new capabilities and extend what you've already built with CAD data management. As opposed to that being something that sits over to the side and you can't go anywhere from there. So, I think that will effectively change.

Chad:That's interesting. I think the other thing that plays into this, is going to be, I guess, a move towards enterprise search. And it's almost a side effect of big data. People are starting to realize that big data exists on the desktop. If you have search capabilities that indexes all of that and understands the relationships but also understands the type of data it is indexing. So, it knows what a CAD drawing is. It knows what a CAD model is.

Jim:Right.

Chad:And has visualization baked in. I think that's going to change the game a little bit.

Jim:Yeah. So, it has that context to it.

Chad:Exactly.

Jim:Yeah. And I do think there's going to be this struggle between search and sort of pre-organization of information. And I think we're always going to have to drive down the path of trying to organize and keep things controlled. And as technical people, that's just what we do. But at the same time, there's going to be a whole lot bigger of a safety net of being able to pull information together. And pull information together that wasn't necessarily intended to be together in the first place.

Chad:Right. Yep.

Jim:From data management out to ERP or supply chain, or CRM or quality management. Whatever it could be.

Chad:Yeah. And thankfully it can do that in the future, hopefully. So, yeah. There is a lot in store. After years of little change in this space, PM has been the same for a long time. I think we're on the cusp of some big changes.

Jim:Yeah. I think we are also on the cusp of finding out who won the debate from last week.

Chad:Yeah.

Jim:Let's take a look at our consequences.

Out here at COFES 2013 and the consequences phase is you seeing me again. Because I let the word 'Integration' come out of my mouth. I still believe in it, and once again Chad won. And I'm doing something silly. So, as soon as the sun goes down and the party moves to the pool, game on.

Chad:Well, that ends our episode today.

Jim:I'm not proud. I would like to thank our founding sponsor PTC.

Chad:We'll see you next time.

Jim:Thanks.