PDM: Untangling The Data Mess

Studies
indicate that engi neers actually spend only 20% of their
time on designing products, the remaining time goes in a series
of verifications and calculations. This means that a design
department spends only one day per work-week in designing
its core job. If it is losing out on 80% of its time, it is
a threat to the productivity of any manufacturing organization.
In today’s highly competitive scenario, where time to market
has become a crucial differentiating factor, no company can
afford such a loss. There is an increasing need to streamline
the product development process and enhance the speed to market.

This
has created a room for PDM or Product Data Management-an enterprise
wide tool. A PDM package enables manufacturers to manage and
control engineering information, specifically data surrounding
new product designs and engineering processes. By organizing,
tracking and controlling access to product information as
it is created, PDM facilitates a team-oriented approach to
product development and saves duplication of time and effort.
“Product development, which was never a priority area till
a few years ago, has now become the focus of attention. You
may have deployed the most efficient order processing software
or ERP, but unless you have a unique product that is accepted
in the market, you will not get anywhere,” says Shantanu Rai,
Area Specialist, Windchill Enterprise Solutions, Parametric
Technology.

Designing
needs

In an
effort to stay ahead of competitors, manufacturers try to
revamp existing products and introduce newer versions. The
aim is not only to add more features, but to be among the
first to hit the market. The manufacturer is well aware of
the increasing appetite of consumers for better designs and
quality. Says Narender Reddy, Country Manager, India, SDRC,
“Consumers want newer products and newer features. No one
waits for products that have fallen behind. Hence the market
seems to be adopting technology tools like CAD/CAM/CAE with
a backbone of PDM.” Today, there is a tremendous pressure
on designers to expand the usage of CAD/CAM tools to satisfy
the increasing consumer demands. As the use of CAD increases,
the expectations from users also rise. “If we want to reap
maximum benefits from the design unit, we have to manage it
effectively and integrate it with our ERP environment, and
a PDM system will serve this purpose,” says Neeraj Kohli,
Senior Manager, IT, Tractor Division, Eicher Goodearth. The
company is planning to invest in this package soon. Earlier,
CAD technology delivered data about the geometry of a component
and the associated information of tolerances, dimensions and
lettering.

But even
after a component is designed, it needs to be developed further.
As it develops, the associated information grows along with
it. In practice, the processing of such information is as
important as the original activity of creating the CAD model
and drawing. And so, no wonder that 80% of designers’ time
is spent on this. But as the industry begins to realize the
significance of managing such data more efficiently, PDM will
become an integral part of the CAD environment. Established
players in the CAD/CAM market are offering PDM packages. Metaphase
from SDRC, Windchill from PTC and Ennovia from IBM are some
of them. According to Anurag Srivastava, Regional Director
(South Asia), PTC, the CAD/CAM market worldwide has reached
a saturation point and India would witness the same trend
very soon. If we have to increase our revenues, we need to
find newer areas.Therefore, Windchill will be the new focus
of our company.

Data
management

Manufacturers
are realizing they can no longer manage their product development
processes using a fragmented and outdated IT infrastructure.
They need the ability to create and manage comprehensive,
accurate and timely information over the entire product life-cycle.
Till recently, most of them have adopted a combination of
commercial applications and home-grown solutions to handle
product configuration, sourcing, bill of material management
and other activities throughout the product development process.
But the overall environment remains severely fragmented with
multiple, independent information applications performing
various tasks and managing unconnected pieces of data. These
applications typically employ propriety architectures, operate
on different databases with unique data models and utilize
varying user interfaces. As a result, it becomes difficult
to link them in a meaningful way. According to The Meta Group,
a typical Global 2000 corporation has over 49 enterprise applications
and spends 25-33% of its IT budget on application interoperability
solutions.

PDM software
may put an end to the manufacturers’ long struggle with IT
deployment in the area of product development. It will not
only consolidate the operations of the engineering department,
but will also integrate the activities of suppliers, customers
and other external entities across the supply chain. As Reddy
says, PDM allows better management by linking people and bridging
islands of automation. With greater flexibility in its operations,
a company can respond more swiftly to new markets or changes.
A PDM system can be essentially viewed as the modern office
of design data management. These systems store information
about product catalogs, part catalogs, design standards and
codes. All documents are recorded in this system, avoiding
any duplicate numbering of parts. Revision of designs as well
as drawings can be tracked using such systems. “Starting from
the concept stage to detailing, testing, pilot and then full-blown
production, a PDM package controls the entire project,” says
Rai.

These
systems are more than mere repositories for product information.
They also support the demands of a distributed processing
environment. As information and computing systems become more
distributed, it is not always clear where to find things or
determine who needs to know when a change occurs. “A PDM package
ensures that if a change is made in design, it is correspondingly
reflected in the ERP environment. This allows seamless integration
and saves a lot of trouble that went in manually doing the
task,” says Kohli. PDM cycle-time provides a single location
for product definition data and an automated, file-based system
for access retrieval and notification of changes. It also
enables multiple views of the data. This allows engineering,
manufacturing, marketing, sales, finance and purchasing staff
to get information without re-entering the same data into
their own systems.

Thus,
PDM acts as a flexible data management tool for meeting productivity
standards. It appears that PDM will become an essential activity
in the coming years. Most companies, especially large enterprises,
are already implementing packages for supply chain management
and ERP. These packages are comprehensive and encompass all
the operations of a corporation. In fact, PDM goes hand in
hand with ERP for effective functioning of a manufacturing
organization (See box for details). As ERP alone may not be
able to tackle the engineering activities. Says Rai that ERP
takes an accountant’s view of the world. Even the consulting
companies which implement ERP have a financial background,
so the package mainly consists of financial modules like accounts
or payroll. Product development is a creative activity and
the engineering depth involved can’t be expressed in terms
of financial transactions only. “ERP, PDM modules cannot address
the complete range of engineering applications.There is a
need for software by a company that has legacy and experience
in engineering processes,” echoes Reddy.

Nascent
market

Although
the application of this product in India is very little at
present, it is expected to grow in the coming years. “The
scenario in India has changed dramatically during the last
few years. We can’t afford to lag behind the West. Unless
we keep pace with the changes taking place, we’ll get stamped
out,” says Rai. Prominent market players such as SDRC and
PTC are making efforts to create awareness, especially in
the large organizations. Explains Rai, “Large organizations
are already using their own solutions to tackle product development.
So, when we talk to such companies, they immediately see the
benefit of this software. Even the cost is much lower than
an ERP package.” The main industries targeted by this system
include automobile, white goods, heavy engineering, aerospace
and defense. Vendors are vying with one another to create
their own niche in a market which is still at a nascent stage.
SDRC’s Metaphase arrived in the market ahead of its competitors
and has the advantage of tapping an emerging market. It has
in its pocket orders from industry giants such as Telco, M&M,
NTPC and Infosys. Windchill, on the other hand, entered only
a year ago and will take some time to match this prestigious
client list. But due to its late entry, it has been able to
deliver a more comprehensive solution.

One with
many new functionalities such as ecommerce or internet. In
fact, PTC likes to term Windchill as an Enterprise Information
Management Solution (EIMS). “Compared to the other products,
Windchill has a wider scope. PDM is only a part of the entire
end-to-end solution that we offer. Moreover, it was conceived
after the web revolution, so it was designed to be web-centered,”
says Rai. Whether its technical edge or taking advantage of
established consumer base, each vendor has accepted PDM as
the technology of tomorrow and is gearing up its efforts to
lead the bandwagon. However, the belief that such systems
will remain restricted to larger organizations may not necessarily
be true. Says Reddy, “With off-the-shelf products like e!docs
we can address both large as well as mid-range organizations.”
According to Rai, the assumption that small customers can’t
take such technology is not correct. On the contrary, they
are more flexible and open to such innovations. Says Rajesh
Malik, Engineer, Product Development, Sumi Motherson, “Although
we have not yet considered buying a PDM package, however,
once we are convinced about its benefits, we would not mind
investing in it.” Sumi Motherson is a medium-size manufacturer
of plastic parts for automobiles.

According
to Malik, a product like PDM can be very useful in maintaining
huge volumes of design data. ERP has already been accepted
and now the manufacturing industry is all ready for a tool
like PDM. However, one reason that usually holds companies
from investing in enterprise-wide applications is the belief
that they take a long time for implementation. Rai explains
that people shied away from ERP because it took about two-three
years to implement the software and the returns come only
gradually. According to him, one needs a lot of commitment
to invest three years in an unproven technology. But a product
like Windchill doesn’t take that long and can be implemented
in a time period of 3-12 months. An inevitable tool To compete
in the global marketplace, manufacturing companies need to
get rid off the traditional applications that require heavy,
top-down data modeling and lengthy implementation cycles.
The failure to effectively manage engineering data can have
a devastating effect on a company’s competitiveness and productivity.
Products will be brought to market much later than expected.

These
products will not only prove more costly, but will not be
able to offer a full range of features, due to the excess
time spent in developing and refining them. A PDM system proposes
to alleviate these problems and enable an enterprise to improve
product quality, reliability and reduce development costs.
The promises seem ambitious. But success will depend on how
well the technology is adapted by the end-users to translate
their business objectives into tangible deliverables.

SHWETA
VERMA
in New Delhi.

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