Home / PLM / First Steps in PLM: PDM with Collaboration Tools

First Steps in PLM: PDM with Collaboration Tools

CAD systems offer real solutions for entry-level users.
By Louise Elliott
Autodesk, Solid Edge, and SolidWorks have built-in product data management (PDM) capabilities that capture and manage design data, automate design versioning and sharing, and generally set users on the path toward product lifecycle management (PLM). Access to these systems is built into the CAD programs. The capabilities they provide follow in the footsteps of SMARTEAM, a popular CAD-independent, comprehensive PLM system that started out in 1995 as a PDM system.

“At the entry level, people want easy implementation, and not the endless capability for customization typical of large-scale PLM,” says Bruce Boes, a vice president at Solid Edge.

After that, he says, they want to get away from either paper-based files or simple file management tools (often Microsoft Windows Explorer). The systems mentioned above generally give users control over file nomenclature, design versions, updates, safe vaulting of older versions for use in field maintenance, controlled file sharing, collaboration, and bill of materials (BOM) development.

Because of its modular architecture and ability to be integrated with most CAD programs, SMARTEAM offers entry-level users similar capabilities that can be extended by adding other system tools. Solid Edge’s Insight offers tools for migration upward to Teamcenter Engineering, and SolidWorks’ PDMWorks can feed data into SMARTEAM.

Autodesk and AutoCAD

Autodesk just expanded its PDM/PLM capabilities, and Andrew Anagnost, senior director of product development for manufacturing solutions, describes the company’s offerings as a three-part PLM system. The products consist of Autodesk Vault, a PDM system built into all design applications; Productstream, a new set of tools that manages data by item and communicates with enterprise-level ERP (enterprise resource planning) and PLM systems; and Streamline, a hosted Web-based collaboration application that can link directly to Vault and Productstream.

Autodesk Streamline helps internal design teams easily and securely share design information with their customers and supply chain. Click on image to enlarge.

Autodesk Vault manages work in progress. “Productstream extends Vault capabilities so users can release data to other departments and people, generate BOMs, and track engineering change orders,” says Anagnost. “Productstream talks BOM, and builds an item master [list] that communicates with ERP.”

Autodesk Productstream automates the release management process by managing engineering changes and BOMs, while allowing the engineering department to maintain control over the design data. Click on image to enlarge.

Industrial Microwave of Morrisville, NC, uses Autodesk Inventor for mechanical design, and AutoCAD Electrical for electrical design. In the past, the company managed design data and created BOMs manually. Its initial implementation of Vault was limited, but with the release of Productstream, the company plans to use it for all projects.

Autodesk Vault, integrated into all manufacturing design tools, helps engineering securely manage work-in-progress design data and synchronize design-related efforts among team members. Click on image to enlarge.

Michael Trull, design engineer and CAD manager for Industrial Microwave, says, “Where our design management practices in the past had left unresolved links, version control was difficult. If an engineer modified an existing design in Inventor before Vault, it was possible to overwrite the original and lose it—compromising field maintenance.” Vault saves the modified model as a new version, and preserves the original.


He says that Inventor and AutoCAD Electrical generate BOMs for every model, and Productstream Creator and Reviewer merge them as well as capture such items as fasteners, lubricants, and paint, which are seldom specified on the model. They then create a single BOM linked to all design systems.

Solid Edge Insight

Insight is built into Solid Edge. “When a user files a part in Solid Edge, it goes to Insight automatically, and Solid Edge can be opened from within Insight,” says Boes. “Insight can take users from basic PDM functions through workflow control.”

Solid Edge’s Insight enables revision management via a workflow signoff process and manages data for the latest updates and accuracy. Click on image to enlarge.

Built on Microsoft’s Sharepoint database, Insight enables revision management and engineering change management via a workflow signoff process, and manages data for the latest updates and accuracy. Collaboration takes place in Insight Connect, a stand-alone PDM client for internal use on a Sequel server, and Xpress Review, a free Web-based service for viewing and markup.



Editing a Profile in Solid Edge. Click on image to enlarge.

Reading Bakery Systems of Robesonia, PA, makes large equipment for commercial bakery operations. “Our ovens can have over 3000 parts,” says Michael Cox, the company’s IT manager. “We need to know where every part in an assembly is, and Insight helps us maintain the integrity of links for documentation. It’s an intelligent system that manages the links, so that if we make changes, everything will link again, automatically

Before installing it, Cox says, the company depended on designers to keep track of changes, “but they didn’t always take the time to leave a trail. Insight doesn’t let anything fall through the cracks. We can search for specific parts and assemblies, instead of browsing through multiple folders.” He doesn’t know exactly how much time that saves, but says, “Overall, the experience of switching from 2D to Solid Edge and Insight led to a 62 percent productivity increase.”

SolidWorks’ PDMWorks

“PDMWorks was born out of a need to get a handle on engineering references between CAD files, so that different people on design teams can work on the same products without getting into each other’s way or working on obsolete versions,” says Joy Garon, product manager for SolidWorks. “The value of designing in 3D and being able to find data immediately means obtaining information about part-to-assembly relationships when, for example, a designer wants to reuse a part for a later product. If he makes any changes, he can see the impact on the rest of the assembly.”

PDMWorks’s bulk check in allows for the automatic creation of subprojects for indented folders, filtering document types for loading, and specification of lifecycle status. Click on image to enlarge.

The system consists of a vault and client. The vault is centrally located for IT backup, while the client runs on individual stations. Although PDMWorks doesn’t use a formal database, it stores small textual metadata files and caches them into memory upon startup. Communication between the vault and client enables changed data to be stored in the appropriate metadata file, like a database. Garon says that users find this approach both fast and efficient.


PDMWorks has collaborative capabilities for internal and external use. For example, customers can monitor projects on a Web portal that accesses the vault. The program, originally third party, was acquired by SolidWorks and it has evolved to follow a product lifecycle defined by the user.



Enhanced searching is designed to allow users greater flexibility and speed when finding documents. Additionally, right click open, etc., streamlines user workflow. Click on images to enlarge.

Todd Mansfield, systems engineering team leader for ECCO, an automotive industry supplier in Boise, ID, implemented PDMWorks in 2001 to replace drawings maintained on paper and data in files on a network server. That system became unruly because no two users followed the same nomenclature or filing approach. “We try to do concurrent engineering, and for that, we need a chronological history of product development and design intent. We need to know where the latest revision lives at any given moment to avoid purchasing and manufacturing mistakes. PDMWorks provides a strict PDM structure right out of the box.”

By that, Mansfield explains, he means that users can begin versioning immediately. “An add-on Web portal enables project managers to check where everyone is in terms of a project schedule, without requiring the engineer to be the only conduit and wasting design time,” he adds. “It also lets us capture customer properties such as masses, density, finish, and color and import them into other designs. This speeds up work.”


SMARTEAM makes it possible for users who work with either single or multiple CAD programs to enter PLM one step at a time. The full system is a very powerful, enterprise-level PLM system, but SMARTEAM can also be used module by module, starting with PDM.

Nova Measuring Systems uses SMARTEAM’s embedded Solid Edge integration to automatically save all engineering designs into the PLM repository. Click on image to enlarge.

Nova Measuring Systems, a telecommunications manufacturer in Rehovot, Israel, first implemented SMARTEAM in 1997-98. Yaniv Luria, Nova’s IT manager, says his company was SMARTEAM’s second customer. “At that time, we needed to manage engineering data, so our first application involved inputting engineering data from an older CAD system—basically a manual process,” he says.


Next, Nova put the system to work tracking BOMs by integrating its ERP system and SMARTEAM—an Israeli system called Priority. “That had to be done manually in the early days as well,” says Luria. “Today, the two systems can transfer information back and forth between them automatically, and we can issue new purchase orders based on the latest data.”


SMARTEAM’s Community Workspace module provides a Web-based, project-oriented portal for product collaboration by project teams and communities both outside the company and within. On the left, an AutoCAD flowchart. On the right SMARTEAM working with a CATIA assembly.  Click on images to enlarge. 

When the company went to 3D CAD (Solid Edge), Luria reports that the flow of engineering data was greatly enhanced, “because the two systems integrate. Instead of engineers having to move files and engineering documents individually, they just save documents from Solid Edge to SMARTEAM, which maintains all versions of our designs.”

The creation of new versions makes the old ones obsolete, but the system saves them along with their BOMs and all other associated data for service and maintenance. “We use SMARTEAM’s Web Editor Internet portal to connect all service engineers worldwide and SMARTEAM Community Workspace for collaborating with suppliers. On the shop floor, assembly and production personnel use SMARTEAM on computer monitors for manufacturing instead of paper drawings,” Luria says.

SMARTEAM can optimize BOM management while ensuring adherence to lifecycle rules. Click on image to enlarge.

The major benefits he finds in using the system reflect those reported by the users of the other programs discussed above: “Everything is organized and easy to find, especially engineering data.”



About DE Guest

This article was contributed to Digital Engineering by a guest author.