Ready to upgrade your engineering data management from Windows Explorer? There are plenty of choices available. Your CAD vendor probably has a PDM system, and there are CAD-neutral options including Synergis Adept. Each vendor has plenty of information available to share about their PDM product, in spec sheets, white papers, case studies, videos, webinars, and direct sales calls. The marketing teams at each company have worked hard to be ready with answers to questions customers might ask. But there is one question most of them don’t consider: Who holds the keys to your engineering data?
By “holds the keys” I am referring to what happens when your valuable data and documents get sucked into the PDM. Databases are complicated systems, and there are engineering trade-offs involved in how these programs operate.
Custom Data Model
One method of PDM design involves the custom data model. Each bit of data inside your CAD drawings/models, spreadsheets, etc. are extracted and loaded into a proprietary database. Every bit of information is given a code name. The PDM then uses these unintelligible code names to rename all documents. The benefit is fast access because the data has been renamed in a way the software can rapidly process. To the human eye, the data is essentially scrambled so that it can be tucked away neatly in the database.
For companies moving up from using Windows Explorer as their PDM, there are problems with the custom data model. Existing links between documents (including URLs and XREFs) are broken when one document goes into the PDM and another does not. If the data needs to be moved to another system (due to a company acquisition, for example), it is an expensive process requiring expert consultants using custom data extraction software. Your IT people can no longer assist in managing where files and folders are located, because the PDM creates its own system.
Moving Project Data to One New File Management Location
A second method of PDM design is less sophisticated than the custom data model approach. It has a variety of names among programmers, but the engineering is simple: all product/project data is simply moved to one new file management location. Generally there is little if any re-coding document names or data elements within the documents. The PDM system focuses on check-in and check-out, but does little if anything to support business process automation, revision tracking, or auditing. Over time, This blob approach to project data results in sluggish performance and a need for other software to help the engineering team be more efficient.
The Wrap-Around Method
Synergis Adept uses a third method of PDM design, the wrap-around. Your existing files, folders, and servers remain intact, physically and metaphorically. Security and control is provided as a separate layer external to the documents you have already created and will create in the future. Nothing is imported into a separate, proprietary database. Wrap-around data management, also known as smart vaulting, does not re-code your documents. If your intellectual property needs to be moved to a new system, or linked to another enterprise system such as supply chain management (SCM) or customer relationship management (CRM), it is easy to access the data.
Adept’s wrap-around approach allows Synergis to provide more than just database management functions; Adept also offers user-friendly collaboration, revision control, automatic audit trail preparation, and a variety of security and access control features. It works with, not against, the linking between documents already in place. The result is more efficient engineering and business processes without the nuisance of unintelligible document naming conventions, sluggish performance, and expensive data extraction.
Watch this video for a comparison on these three approaches to PDM.
Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985.