What Is Product Data Management?

Product data management (PDM) is a process by which engineers and others track, control, and archive design and related data. Generally, it is composed of software involving one or more servers and clients throughout an enterprise.

The data that is managed typically includes models and drawings from any number of CAD systems. It can also include bills of material, documentation, and other product manufacturing information (PMI).

What does PDM solve?

If you’re new to the idea of PDM, it’s helpful to know what problems it is trying to solve.

Version control. If one person did it all in product development, versioning wouldn’t be an issue. But the truth is that many people contribute to the final product. You may have multiple engineers working on the initial design and sub-assemblies coming in from different contractors. Changes may come from quality control, purchasing, analysis, marketing, or customers.

With every participant, whether he or she is creating designs or making decisions based on them, there’s added risk. How do you know you have the most current version of the data? What if someone is modifying it at the same time?

As Chad Jackson says in an upcoming eBook, “he who saves last, wins.”

But that’s really no way to run a company.


There’s a lot more to design than a 3D model of a part. Parts relate to other parts in assemblies, drawings, and bills of material. If one part changes, will it be reflected in all the other parts that might be affected? What if one part is used in several different models or products? What about manufacturing information and assembly instructions?

It takes an enormous amount of effort to maintain these connections between files in product development. The bigger the product and the more revisions it goes through, the harder it is to keep track of it all. And reusing, let alone finding, a part or assembly in a large pool of data can be overwhelming.

Plus, it’s all too easy to make a mistake, and then propagate that mistake downstream until it’s an expensive problem in prototyping or on the manufacturing floor.

Access control

Protecting your intellectual property is protecting your business. And in some applications, it’s a matter of public safety. Yet many an ad hoc solutions would make an IT department shudder:

  • In a poorly managed environment, there is no way to selectively set visibility and control access at an individual file level. Plus, you can’t prevent overwriting of changes previously made by others.
  • Marketing or partners can use product files to create attractive presentation materials, but you wouldn’t want them to accidentally change and save a part.
  • Suppliers may work more efficiently with a copy of your files, but you wouldn’t want them to access all the detailed information for your products.

What problems doesn’t it solve?

Product data management is the industry standard approach for taking care of all these problems in a development environment. It has saved enterprises millions with its efficiency improvements.

But it’s hardly perfect. Many companies deploying PDM want to tailor the solution to reflect their individual process needs and deploy across multiple business groups. All that work needs consulting and time.

More About PDM

Over the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about PDM in this blog. How does it fit into the PTC Creo picture, with its flexible apps and quick deployment? Is there a “right-sized” solution for a 1- or 5-engineer shop? Could there be?

Stay tuned.

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