The PDM Revolution is Upon Us, Brought to You by CAD in the Cloud
Chad Jackson posted on February 05, 2013 | 10747 views
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Boy, we sure have been on a ride lately in the CAD industry, haven't we? Seems like surfing in a sea of wave after wave of disruption here. And I, for one, am not sure where it will take us.

I think we can all recognize that one of the most recent wave of disruptions to the CAD industry started with when a number of modeling approaches converged. Direct and Feature-based approaches merged. 3D modeling and 2D sketching got mashed up as well. Today, we have single apps or suites of integrated apps that do it all. And in my opinion, I think there have been significant benefits associated with those changes.

Now, you might think that there's a lot of legs left in that last wave. And you're probably right. But get ready, because the next wave of disruption is getting ready to crash upon us. I'm talking about CAD in the Cloud of course. Autodesk announced Fusion 360 in December 2012. Dassault Systèmes announced Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual a couple weeks ago. And yes, there are all sort sorts of implications of this latest jump in tech. More compute power. Easier sharing.

Today, however, I want to focus on one of the impact of this change on PDM. Because whether it was unforeseen or simply unintended, I believe the implications are significant. Why? Because the rules of PDM are changing because of CAD in the Cloud. What follows are some of those new implications.

Hands-free PDM

If you take a look at Fusion 360 and Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual, at least in my exposure to it, there's no step where you explicitly save your design or model. It's done automatically in the background. When you close your model? The latest version will be there when you return. What happens when you create variations on a design that amounts to branching? Look at the model history and you'll see those various branches tracked for you. So if you think about it, it is essentially hands-free. It does the brunt of the work automatically and practically invisibly for you.

Inseparable CAD and PDM?

Now, the implication for the capability above is interesting: PDM is no longer separable from CAD. Seriously, there is no installation of PDM on-premise. It sits in the cloud alongside the modeling capabilities. What's interesting about this move is that it renders the whole 'Should You Have PDM or Not' debate moot. You have no choice. It comes with it. At the worst case, there's a history or record of how the design progressed from concept through design release. Organizations have to like that because they no longer have to train users on how frequently to save to PDM. Users like it because it takes no effort and it saves them from losing their work.

Implications for Standalone CAD PDM

Now, what does this all mean for standalone PDM systems? Well, there are some fairly sobering questions to consider. Specifically, think about the position engineering organizations now sit in if they require users to check in models to a standalone PDM system. The user must export the model to their desktop via download and then check it into a on-premise PDM system. Yes, its feasible. But good grief, imagine the reaction of the user. Its requiring extra and painful steps. Mandating such steps for CAD users might be grounds for revolt.

Implications for Enterprise PDM

PDM, however, isn't just about managing CAD data. Some organizations have matured to the point where every digital representation of the part like requirements docs, specifications and more are attached to a single part representation. However, organizations running these kinds of systems still face the blowback mentioned above when requiring the CAD users to manually check their work into an on-premise system. The difference here is that there is value to counterbalance the equation. There is a system that is the single holistic source of truth. And CAD in the Cloud PDM is not there right now.

Mea Culpa

I don't like to eat crow. But I deserve it right now.

Back in April 2012, I wrote a post titled Is PDM Disruption Ready? In it, I stated that even though PDM was woefully disruption ready, no big software provider would make the change. There were simply few incentives for them to reinvent it. What I overlook was the implications of moving CAD to the Cloud. Regardless, congratulations to Autodesk and Dassault Systèmes for their bold steps forward in the realm of PDM.

Summary and Questions

Let's recap.

  • Autodesk announced Fusion 360 in December 2012. Dassault Systèmes announced Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual a couple weeks ago. Both have aspects of CAD in the Cloud.
  • Both offerings include integrated PDM capabilities that also exist in the cloud. There are serious implications as a result.
    • PDM can become relatively hands-free for CAD users. It automatically saves work and tracks design branching.
    • In these offerings, however, PDM is an inseparable integral part of CAD.
    • The implication for standalone CAD PDM is serious. Requiring users to download their CAD models and check them into an on-premise system is asking a lot.
    • For enterprise PDM, there is a counterbalance in that it represents a single holistic source of truth of the product data, not just a duplication of PDM offered through CAD in the Cloud.
  • Congratulations to Autodesk and Dassault Systèmes for their bold steps forward in the realm of PDM. They deserve a lot of credit here.

Alright folks, I've shared my view. What do you think? Do you think the implications here aren't as serious as I say? How does enterprise PDM play in this new world of PDM-integrated-into-CAD-in-the-Cloud? Interested in your thoughts.

Take care. Talk soon. Thanks for reading.

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