Product Data Management: Everything You Need to Know

That electric kettle didn’t just appear on the countertop in front of you. Someone thought of it. Designed it. Tested it. Manufactured it. Improved and optimized it. How did all of this happen?

Three words: product data management.

As any engineer will tell you, product data management is the lifeblood of the process of bringing any idea into physical fruition. Without product data management, a few of the things that you use today would have never existed at all.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of product data management, never fear. You’re in the right place. In this article, you’ll learn all about product data management. You’ll learn what it is, how it is put into practice, and exactly what it does to contribute to the engineering and manufacturing industries.

The History of Product Data Management

Before we look at exactly what product data management is, let us first consider how it came to be. Product data management (or PDM for short) is more of a recent development than it is an old practice.

Back in the old days, product design for complicated products was not necessarily centralized. Instead, it happened in different departments, across different teams, using different tools and drawings. The natural result of this is a lot of confusion.

After all, if a lot of communication is necessary to launch a product there is ample opportunity for that communication to fail. Thus, as time wore on, people began to realize the need for centralized product data management.

By centralizing PDM, much of the confusion could be taken out of the process. Instead of having a hundred and one different versions of the same product out there, designed by fifty different teams, there was one master version and all of the other versions were accounted for. Instead of having multiple points of contact responsible for the management of the product lifecycle, there was one.

And when the world of modern Internet technology came to life, there was one place to store all of that information in the software. And so software for product data management was born.

Technical Specifications

The number one thing that product data management seeks to centralize is the technical specifications for the product. All of that information can be housed in PDM software.

The most significant of all technical specifications are the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) drawings. Whenever a product is being built, engineers first use CAD design to electronically draw the software. Once the software is drawn, materials and properties can be applied to the software. This allows the engineer to model the product and see what would happen if different situations are applied to it. Using an engineering solution analyzer, the engineer can then test the product in different ways as well.

Take for instance a television housing that is being designed. Once the housing is drawn by the engineer, he or she can apply the appropriate plastic or other materials to the drawing. Then, the design can be entered into the solutions analyzer. Different loads can be placed on the housing in order to simulate how much force a wall mount would exert on the piece, or what would happen if the housing was dropped from a certain height. 

Once these loads are applied, the engineer can see how the product would react in those instances without even having to manufacture the product first. Thus, one can see how important having access to this information is.

All of this information can be housed in a PDM.

Milestones 

Another important benefit that PDM software provides is tracking the overall lifecycle of the product. From the approval of the idea to the manufacture of the prototype, there are a myriad of different steps in the process that need to be accomplished.

Similar to project management software, a product data management system can enter and keep track of those milestones. It can set due dates, assign people responsible, and mark when a milestone is completed. This allows the engineering team in order to design products with a consistent process.

Version Control

Version control is what keeps everyone sane while designing an extremely complex product that requires input from a myriad of different people. By having one master version, everyone knows exactly what the product looks like.

Take the manufacture of a car, for instance. Different teams, whether it’s the engine team or the airflow team or some other team entirely, might be trying to alter the dimensions of the engine bay. The PDM software will enable the teams to essentially check out and check in that part of the product in order to work on it. This prevents teams from working on the part at the same time and delivering two different pieces with different dimensions that are incompatible with each other.

Cloud Hosting

Lastly, PDM software is able to host all of this information right from the cloud. The principal benefit of this is that anyone can access it from anywhere on any device. This removes roadblocks to the product design process and enables multiple PDM professionals to work on the product at the same time.

PDM is the Future

Product data management is indeed here to stay. Without PDM, the products that you use today in your daily life would almost certainly not be around. Whether it’s your car, your furniture, or your oven, you have PDM to thank.

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Adam Hansen