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How Does PDM Software Work for Electronics Design Teams?

Key Takeaways

  • Product data management (PDM) software is built into many ECAD applications.

  • Engineers and designers use PDM software to track design and component data.

  • Product managers at large enterprises need a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution instead of PDM software, as this supports development, manufacturing, and distribution tasks.

PDM Software

Product data management (PDM) software gives design and engineering teams the bare-bones utilities they need to keep their project data organized. A PDM software application is used to organize all the data that goes into the design of a new product. Sometimes, all of this data lives in the ECAD domain, which is why many ECAD applications will include some PDM features to help users track their electrical design information. However, real products have much more data than just electrical drawings and layouts, so the best PDM software will span across design domains and provide domain-agnostic data organization functions.

Successfully placing an electronic product into production and managing its journey to market requires tracking a lot more than just design data. PDM platforms fall short in this area, as they provide limited management of manufacturing, sourcing, production, and distribution processes. Product lifecycle management (PLM) software provides these more comprehensive management functions on top of a core PDM layer so that companies can guide a product throughout its journey to market.

What PDM Software Does for Engineers

PDM software is primarily a tool to assist engineering tasks. Electrical engineers and designers rely on a wealth of technical data on components, materials, and distributors; a PDM software platform helps engineers keep track of all this data so they can quickly find and source parts for their systems. 

PDM software can take many forms. The simplest style of PDM involves building a custom database with approved components, while commercial PDM software packages provide a customizable interface for building and tracking datasets for engineered products.

Today’s ECAD software includes some of the tools engineers need to track project data and component data without using a 3rd party software platform. Some platforms will also pull data from and write data to an internal inventory database that contains sourcing information. In PCB design software, the basic PDM function used for electronic components is library creation, where CAD models and sourcing data are included alongside parts specifications inside a vendor-specific file format.

Smaller companies can usually manage just fine with the built-in PDM system in their CAD tools. This is especially true for service bureaus, as they only need to organize customer projects, but do not need to track the entire lifecycle of those products. Larger organizations that take products to market need to do more than just keep data organized into a coherent file structure. Enterprises need to associate design data with production, manufacturing, inventory, distributor, documentation, and sales data. This is where a PLM system is used by product managers to support PDM functions on multiple fronts, ranging from front-end engineering to production and distribution at scale.

When Should a PLM System Be Used?

PDM systems enable some of the foundational tasks involved in organizing and tracking data, so they are a good solution for smaller companies, service bureaus, and even freelance engineers. Electronics design data includes many file types and high file count per project, and it can be challenging to keep everything organized in a convenient location. This is why most ECAD software includes some basic PDM features to help users stay organized.

PLM systems are ideal for larger enterprises that need to design, build, and distribute multiple products. The data organization and tracking features in PDM software end with the product’s design data; PLM software helps companies manage everything that needs to happen around a given product design. Some of these functions include:

  • Linking design data to component data to aid redesigns, sourcing, and assembly.
  • Assigning obsolescence status to entire products, individual components, assemblies, and individual documents.
  • Linking component data to an internal inventory management system or enterprise resource planning system.
  • Linking physical design and layout data to source code, documentation, manufacturing files, product documentation, and any other documents needed to understand the product design.
  • Guiding transition from initial design to prototyping and, eventually, to full-scale production and eventual decline in the product.
  • Issuing and tracking change orders to project data, which might include fabrication/assembly data, source code, physical design, and functional requirements.

PDM software simply doesn’t include the features needed to implement all of these functions. Companies are then forced to build a custom solution or implement complex processes with multiple software platforms. Instead of getting mired in data management tasks, innovative companies in the electronics industry use PLM platforms to comprehensively and efficiently manage product data. As companies grow, they eventually shift from a simple PDM software platform to a scalable PLM solution so that they can streamline their product management workflows. 

If you are looking for a scalable solution, consider Allegro Pulse. Pulse features include a workflow engine, data management, security protocols, and search capabilities. And, Pulse integrates seamlessly into many design tools, allowing it to manage the design data behind the scenes, freeing up engineers to focus on their work instead of juggling design files.

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to our team of experts