What's the problem with PDM? It's a crucial tool to transform CAD ideas into reality, by tracking revisions and compiling BOMs. But with its high cost and complexity, many companies are frustrated that their designers won't use it, even after extensive training.
Now, in a flurry of October announcements, mid-range CAD providers are rushing to provide straightforward, low-cost alternatives integrated into current design platforms.
The stampede was started by Solid Edge (Cypress, CA), which announced at its annual users conference that it would include a component called Insight in Solid Edge version 11, scheduled for delivery in December. Insight is a free tool for data vaulting, revision management, engineering change orders, and BOM creation. In terms of training, it has a transparent user interface, meaning that CAD users need to learn no new commands.
Insight runs on Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server, which can link multiple vaults at various locations. Users treat the tool as a role-based (access by permission) check-in/check-out system, to track versions and revisions, and ensure that only one person can edit a document at once. And "document" means almost anything—Insight is an intranet information-sharing app that can search and track distributed applications including CAD files, image files, Word and Excel documents, etc.
"It integrates knowledge sharing into the design process with Microsoft's information-sharing technology. SharePoint combines metadata with geometry files in an indexed web storage system," says Bill McClure, VP of MCAD at UGS (now known as EDS' PLM Solutions, Cypress, CA).
"It's PDM minus P, where P equals pain."
But within a day of the announcement, think3 (Santa Clara, CA) was insisting that its eponymous MCAD application had contained PDM since 1999, and was shipping release 7.0 of this thinkteam product in October. Further, the company said it did not rely on a third-party developer (Microsoft) and that Solid Edge's version was not actually free.
Indeed, although the Insight application itself is free of charge, a SharePoint server costs $4,000, quickly rising to $7,000 with 25 seats (client access licenses).
The next announcement came from SolidWorks (Concord, MA) partner Zeal Solutions (Bristol, UK), which unveiled QuickSilver DDM. The acronym stands for Design Data Manager, and the company says it was developed specifically for SolidWorks, is user-transparent, and would complement any existing ERP system.
Within the same week, word also came from IronCAD (Atlanta, GA) of TEAMVAULT, a simple, low-cost, web-based data management system. The application is one third of the company's InnovationSuite, an integrated environment for design and information management that also includes Innovate (used for animation and visualization) and IronCAD 5.0.
Then Alibre (Richardson, TX) weighed in, saying it had integrated Web-based, peer-to-peer PDM and data sharing from inception. "Our architecture is fundamentally different from all others in our space, because data sharing happens point to point," says Greg Milliken, VP of marketing. "These other systems claiming to be Web-based really just use the Web to access a server. But Alibre Design uses the Web as a truly distributed storage medium where data can reside anywhere."
Obviously, these guys aren't copy-cats; it takes time to develop a new application. Unigraphics' Joe Bohman, the Solid Edge development manager, says the company assigned 10 developers to work on Insight for a year, before it was ready to make the announcement. So the question is—does it matter who was first-to-market with CAD-integrated PDM-lite? Probably not. What's important is that software providers finally got the point that, if it demands so much training-time that nobody uses it, it doesn't matter how cool your PDM product is.