Software Review: PDM Software Handles Enterprise Engineering Data

Nov. 6, 2008
PDMWorks Enterprise (PDMWE) 2008 lets users easily manage engineering documentation that includes specifications, supplier data, CAD models, and drawings.

Authored by Brian McElyea Brian McElyea is a senior mechanical design engineer and a certified SolidWorks professional. He is also editor of the SolidWorks blog, CADFanatic,

Edited by Leslie Gordon,[email protected] The software comes from SolidWorks Corp., Concord, Mass.,

In a nutshell, PDMWE manages all the relationships among a user’s SolidWorks files. It also includes viewers for over 250 different file formats.

PDMWE targets enterprise-wide use. It uses a Microsoft SQL Server database to manage a separate file archive and can synchronize this to multiple remote sites. The software includes a full-featured license of SQL Server 2005. However, the license is limited to running only the PDMWE database.

The documentation for PDMWE is well written and complete. Setup is straightforward, but it is helpful to get support through a VAR. There are different ways to import legacy data into the program. These range from simple drag-and-drop to automating the import of data using the API.

Most users find PDMWE almost transparent. In fact, the software runs within Windows Explorer, so users needn’t learn a new interface. They just create a “vault view” on their computer, which lets them see all the files that have been added to the vault, as well as files they have on their local computer. If you think about this too hard, it can be confusing at first. Fortunately, the software has several functions that help users determine which version of each file they have locally, if any. PDMWE can view over 250 different file types and there is a Web interface, so anyone in the organization with access permission can view files through an Internet browser. The software also has a SolidWorks add-in that lets users perform certain operations on SolidWorks files once they are open.

In PDMWE, the workflow controls what happens to files throughout the entire life-cycle chain. The graphical representation of a workflow resembles that of a flowchart. Administrators set up workflows. A basic workflow consists of three elements: states, transitions, and workflow links.

Creation of a workflow is simple — something like creating a flowchart in Visio. The capability to link out of a workflow to a different one (represented by other than the basic boxes) helps keep workflows simple and modular. Linking out is a nice feature, especially as the navigation in the editor could be easier. The inclusion of mouse zooming and panning functions would have made navigation less of a task.

User and group setup is intuitive and allows a fairly fine level of control. Administrators can set who has access to files in each workflow state and who can transition files between workflows. Administrators can also assign workflow and transition permissions on a user or group basis.

Administrators are almost unlimited in what they can do with file metadata (such as SolidWorks custom properties; for example, unit cost, mass, volume, and vendor) during transitions. For example, administrators can set the program up such that when users transition files, revisions, dates, and names get added and e-mails or notifications get sent to users or groups. Electronic-document release is easily implemented by simply applying logic to workflow states and transitions using Visual Basic functions. Users generally need only push or transition files through the flow.

PDMWE uses file data “cards” to handle the link between file properties and the database. The cards are similar to Access database forms. Users employ the cards to type data into the database and see data that is already there.

Administrators can customize the search functions to search variables on file data cards, to find which files are checked out, which users are logged in, and the like. Search accessibility can be limited to certain users or groups as well.

It’s easy to manage users in PDMWE. Administrators create and manage users from within the program or link them to the domain’s Microsoft Active Directory. The latter lets users log in automatically, authenticating with their Windows login. PDMWE software clients are network-licensed so that everyone in the enterprise can have access to the program.

Users can also check out a license to enable access to the local vault view when not connected to the central database. This lets users work offline from remote sites and on files they have already checked out when the central server is down.

Overall, PDMWorks Enterprise is a useful tool. It helps ease the management of files and allows information sharing across an entire organization, from drawing board to shipping. In addition, organizations with multiple locations will find the replication capability alone boosts user productivity and communication.

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