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Manufacturing PLM implementations rely on the quality data found in PDM software

A lack of synced, quality data can keep manufacturing product lifecycle management (PLM) implementation projects from getting off the ground. That's where product data management (PDM) software comes in.

Implementing product lifecycle management (PLM) software is a big step forward for most manufacturing operations. But without quality, synchronized data -- the kind of information that usually resides in product data management (PDM) software -- a manufacturing PLM implementation project may not get off the ground.

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Just ask Jim Jacobus, engineering documentation specialist at the Atlanta-based Cellnet+Hunt business unit of Landis+Gyr, a manufacturer of energy management solutions and meters. Cellnet+Hunt began as an independent company called Cellnet Technology, and in those days it relied on a dated software package that contained ERP functionality but was also used to store product data and generate bills of material (BOM).

According to Jacobus, the secret to getting a PLM system up and running is migrating product data into the system without introducing errors.

PLM and product data management go hand-in-hand

Jacobus learned a lesson about managing product data when Landis+Gyr acquired a company that was using Microsoft Sharepoint for PDM and Microsoft Dynamics GP (then called Great Plains Software) for its PLM functions.

The data in the two software products was always out of sync, Jacobus said. "Great Plains might be updated and then Sharepoint wasn't, and vice versa," he said. "The data was rarely the same."

Data that's out of sync is a problem for any company. That's why one of the goals of a PDM system, and the PLM system built on it, is to establish a single version of the "truth," at least as far as product data goes.

Although PLM is getting most of the spotlight these days, PDM software is still crucial, according to Marc Halpern, a research director at Gartner and lead analyst covering PLM, PDM and manufacturing process planning. "In fact, most companies start their PLM process with a focus on PDM," Halpern said.

PDM software predates PLM

Tracing the historical relationship between PLM and PDM is relatively simple. "PLM started with PDM, which has been around much longer," said Ken Versprille, PLM research director at CPD Associates, a research firm that helps organizations implement roadmaps for engineering and manufacturing technologies.

PDM, he noted, is the data repository or schema that embodies the data relationships within a company, thereby allowing the company to define how its products are built, all the way down to the assembly, subassembly and individual component levels.

PDM is critical to companies because it is the underpinning for everything they do, according to Versprille. Most larger manufacturers have owned and operated their PDM systems at least as long as they have had their CAD systems. Because these PDM systems have achieved legacy status, it is difficult for manufacturers to make changes to their PDM systems. "They complain about how ingrained their CAD system is, but PDM is, if anything, even more ingrained," he said.

PDM data being integrated with MES

That doesn't mean, however, that PDM isn't evolving. According to Mike Bauer, executive director for the North America Automotive practice at CSC, a global IT consulting firm, PDM was traditionally viewed as a kind of data vault.

Now, wrapped in additional PLM functionality, PDM has acquired sophisticated work rules that enable data to be integrated with, for example, purchasing functions and manufacturing execution systems (MES). "[PDM] still needs to serve as the single source of truth, supporting everything from conceptual design to manufacturing and then supporting products once they are manufactured," Bauer said.

Paradoxically, this means that even though PDM remains the most important topic in most PLM discussions, there is one significant difference from before. As any particular category of software matures, the users of that software become more intent of avoiding customization, and that, according to Twila Osborn, director of CSC's global PLM practice, is now true when it comes to the customization of PDM functionality.

"When it was just PDM, customers would seek to customize it to fit their needs," Osborn said. "But increasingly, as vendors build in more best practices, they want to avoid customization and simply adopt PDM capabilities as close to out-of-the-box as possible."

About the author: Alan Earls had his first exposure to computer programming on one of Digital Equipment Corp.'s PDP-8 minicomputers. He went on to serve as editor of the newspaper Mass High Tech and is the author of the book Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech, a photographic essay on a key part of Massachusetts economic history. He is currently a freelance writer, covering many aspects of IT technology and writing regularly for

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