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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »


July 9th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

For many years all of the major CAD vendors have been touting the importance of managing the mountains of design, engineering, and manufacturing data created using their software. Conversely, most manufacturing organizations, large and small, have made the transition from 2D to 3D and are finally investigating how to best manage these mountains of CAD and associated product development data beyond files, folders, Excel spreadsheets, Window Explorer, and FTP servers.

It is estimated that approximately 70% of commercial CAD seats today still are not connected to any product data management (PDM) system, and the CAD/PDM/PLM companies are very aware of this situation and are doing everything possible to change it. It has come down to an aggressive SMB-marketing of existing “scaled down” or “right-sized” PLM solutions, as well as introducing of new opportunities by leveraging cloud and open source solutions.

The biggest challenge in the SMB space is promoting an answer to the question, “Why change?” At the end of the day, if a company can get things done by using Excel, Office and email, a very compelling alternative solution to change is needed. Small doesn’t necessarily mean simple. Small- and medium-sized business is complicated and competitive. Cost and implementation challenges are still two key elements that every vendor struggles with when trying to provide a viable PDM solution for SMBs.

Various sources claim the following benefits of PDM, including:

  • 30 percent to 70 percent shorter development time
  • 65 percent to 90 percent fewer engineering changes
  • 20 percent to 90 percent faster time to market
  • 200 percent to 600 percent higher quality
  • 20 percent to 110 percent higher productivity for engineers

While these are impressive figures, many SMBs are still not convinced of the benefits of PDM and remain on the fence as to whether to implement it or not. This indecision presents both a challenge and an opportunity for making believers of SMBs in PDM.

Generic Product Data Management Overview (From Wikipedia)

Organizations implement PDM for many different reasons, but virtually all implement with common goals, including:

  • Securely controlling product-related information
  • Sharing product knowledge for collaboration
  • Searching for and reusing product information.

The two biggest words and phrases that resonate with SMBs regarding PDM are “preconfigured process workflow” and “design reuse.”

Since more companies are becoming process-centric, preconfigured workflows take a lot of the guesswork out of designing, executing, manage, and monitoring business processes that span across multiple products, steps, users, applications, and organizations – including different departments, business units, customers, partners, and suppliers.

Preconfigured, or so-called “out of the box” PDM systems provide predefined settings, such as roles, attributes, forms, and reports that are intended to get SMBs operational quickly. The most capable PDM systems also provide best practices as part of predefined workflows so users have a proven starting approach that acts as a point of departure from previous obsolete manual processes.

For SMBs without dedicated IT staffs, preconfigured PDM is especially important because the reduced ability to modify the PDM system helps companies implement systems and realize benefits more quickly.

Design reuse is the inclusion of previously designed components in newer products. Design reuse makes it faster and cheaper to design and build new products, since the reused components will not only be already designed, but also tested for reliability. Components can also be reused in both similar and completely different applications, making them very versatile.

So, why do companies need and adopt PDM? The true business value of PDM is derived from the following:

  • Controlling product information — revisions and configurations
  • Role-based access to specific PDM functionality — selectively and effectively sharing product information
  • Retrieving product information — comprehensive search and minimize need to re-create product data.

The main beneficiaries of PDM systems include executives, project managers, engineers, sales people, buyers, quality assurance teams, and manufacturing personnel – in other words from the top floor to the shop floor. PDM systems allow companies to:

  • Find the correct data quickly
  • Improve productivity and reduce cycle time
  • Reduce development errors and costs
  • Improve value chain coordination
  • Meet business and regulatory requirements
  • Optimize operational resources
  • Facilitate collaboration between global teams
  • Provide the visibility needed for better business decision-making

These wide-ranging benefits are challenging to achieve, especially for SMBs, but several competing PDM vendors are attempting to crack this huge potential market.

While major functions where evaluated and compared, this project is based on the experience of a single user (me), so scope and experience is somewhat limited as to a real world SMB environment with dispersed multiple users.

The comparison below is not intended to be an exhaustive study of all of the possibilities for all PDM systems for SMBs, just a comparison of some of the mainstream offerings that our readers may be familiar with from Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, PTC, and Siemens PLM Software.

Lastly, the following is only a presentation in the context of comparison. No conclusions are drawn; that will be up to our readers to explore and experience themselves.


CAD: Inventor Professional 2014
PDM: Vault Professional 2014

Relative Strengths

  • Relatively easy to set up and administer.
  • Has long legacy with many Autodesk customers, especially AutoCAD.
  • PDM process workflow is well defined and well structured.

Relative Weaknesses

  • Limitations of a simple vault structure.
  • One size does not fit all.
  • Does not seem particularly scalable beyond a certain threshold of users (>50).
  • Starting to fall out of favor as an on-premise solution, deferring to cloud-based PLM 360.
  • Probably has finite lifespan.

Relative Competitiveness

  • In the Autodesk ecosystem, Vault is very competitive
  • It is receiving fewer support and development resources as cloud-based Fusion 360 and PLM 360 ramp up.
  • Best suited to relatively simple workflows.

DS SolidWorks

CAD: SolidWorks Premium 2014
PDM: Enterprise PDM (EPDM) 2014

Relative Strengths

  • Relatively easy to implement and use.
  • Excellent, easy to use administrative interface with drag-and-drop capabilities for assigning user groups and tasks — very graphical.
  • Enterprise PDM has several default templates for structuring parts, assemblies, and drawings, as well as file locations.
  • Enterprise PDM status window within the SolidWorks user interface.
  • Data Card concept.

Relative Weaknesses

  • Relies on Windows Explorer for a sizable portion of its functionality.
  • Data management capabilities only; no true lifecycle management.
  • Does not have and does not handle any manufacturing capabilities.
  • No MRP capabilities.
  • When revising existing parts and assemblies, renaming within EPDM is limited. For example, an assembly cannot be checked out when a subassembly is renamed. If it is, the links to the subassembly are lost and must be manually re-created.
  • Correctly renaming a files within EPDM requires diligence:
  • If a parent assembly is checked-out, a subassembly should not be renamed because links will be lost.
  • Renaming is safe and links are maintained within EPDM only if a parent is checked-in.
  • All CAD updates must be coordinated with the next higher assembly (NHA) owner for maintaining integrity and ensuring update status of a design. This requires notifications (email or phone) and design team coordination.
  • Limited number of tasks that can be assigned.
  • No direct interoperability between native SolidWorks and CATIA CAD data.
  • EPDM seems like it has a finite lifespan going forward as a standalone solution.

Relative Competitiveness

  • Despite its limitations, most customers using EPDM seem to like it.
  • Dassault is starting to push ENOVIA as a collaboration (including data management) solution for SMBs using SolidWorks. In other words, PDM and PLM. This has already begun with some larger SolidWorks customers.


CAD: PTC Creo Parametric
PDM: PTC Windchill PDM Essentials

Relative Strengths

  • Windchill PDM Essentials is a very solid PDM solution that is scalable and unlikely to be outgrown.
  • Once implemented, very stable, and reliable.
  • Positive Windchill perception.
  • Workspace concept is process/task oriented that is helpful for understanding the role of PDM in an organization.
  • Ability to have multiple workspaces, each dedicated to a specific project. Workspaces are easy to create, populate, and activate.
  • Capabilities of Creo Parametric embedded browser.
  • Some Windchill configuration steps can be automated that simplify the process, such as numbering schemes, organization groups and roles, libraries, and CAD data management life cycles.
  • Searches are not case sensitive and wildcards can be used.
  • Start parts (Creo Parametric) and CAD document templates (Windchill).

Relative Weaknesses

  • Software licensing and installation continues to be relatively difficult as it has been for some time.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • No obvious connection or interaction between Creo and Windchill PDM Essentials. Little common look, feel, and behavior between the two.
  • Without a dedicated IT system administrator, most SMBs would probably have to rely heavily on PTC or sales channel for support.
  • Windchill PDM Essentials required a lot of attention and tweaking to keep it operational and optimized. For example, during a power failure the router for the rich and thin client assigned a new IP address. Since it was hard coded it, an update to the IP address in the host file was required.
  • The Creo Parametric embedded browser is the only browser that supports the connection between a CAD application and a Windchill server. Standalone browsers do not support this connectivity.
  • Creo Parametric retains much of the legacy look and feel of Pro/ENGINEER/Wildfire which is not endearing to users of other CAD packages.

Relative Competitiveness

  • For current Pro/ENGINEER, Wildfire, or Creo Parametric users, very competitive and compelling.
  • Convincing users of competing CAD products at this time to switch is relatively unlikely.
  • For users of competing products, such as SolidWorks, and Windchill PDM Essentials, not as competitive for the following reasons:

-Typical organization using SolidWorks is likely too small to consider implementing Windchill.

-Typical organization using SolidWorks would probably find Windchill too difficult to implement and maintain.

  • Very competitive for growing SMBs with workflows and processes that are likely to increase in complexity.

Siemens PLM Software

CAD: Solid Edge ST6
PDM: Teamcenter Rapid Start

Relative Strengths

  • Document management is set up and controlled in a very methodical manner.
  • JT Viewer within Teamcenter is fast and has good model manipulation tools and capabilities.
  • Multi-CAD capabilities.
  • Good at managing common tasks with preconfigured workflows for product release and engineering changes.
  • Easily handles native data from multiple CAD systems. (Emphasizes compatibility/interoperability with PTC CAD data)

Relative Weaknesses

  • Relatively simple tasks can require an inordinate number of steps and people involvement to accomplish.
  • System documentation and online training is lacking. Almost certainly would need customized training to get up to speed quickly.
  • Setting parameters and getting started with first project is confusing and time consuming.
  • Roles and privileges for many tasks can be difficult to comprehend, such as setting revision status.

Relative Competitiveness

  • Siemens positions Teamcenter Rapid Start as a springboard to full-blown Teamcenter, inferring that customers could and probably will outgrow TC RS. The same sentiment is shown to users of Solid Edge, prompting them to consider NX in the future, as well.
  • Without directly saying it, Teamcenter Rapid Start has a lot of lifecycle management (LM) capabilities, although manufacturing is a big shortfall. However, Teamcenter Rapid Start could be construed as a more than strictly a PDM system. Rather, more like a PD(L)M system.

So there you have it. Let us know your PDM experience with any of these or other competing products by leaving a comment. Let’s get the debate going!

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