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Product Data Management (PDM) is a term that has been thrown around the industry for years, but what exactly does it mean?

PDM is a vast field that has many branches, so it can be difficult to define what it is and what its benefits are. To help out, we’ve put together this definitive guide.

By the end of this article, you will have a good idea of what exactly product data management is, what its benefits are, and why you should be using it instead of spreadsheets, emails, and shared drives.

What is PDM (Product Data Management)?

When it comes to engineering and design, product data management is a centralized system that stores all of your product-related information and engineering processes.

This covers design documentation, CAD files, test data, coding, file metadata, and just about anything that is vital to the success of a project.

The primary issue with this kind of documentation is that it tends to be spread over multiple formats, opens in multiple programs, and needs to be accessed by multiple parties.

If that data is scattered over spreadsheets, emails, and shared drives, accessing it is difficult, time-consuming, and the chances of information getting lost or accidentally deleted are high.

PDM provides a one-stop solution to these problems by aggregating all design documentation and related data into one secure but easy-to-access centralized data repository.

The data is indexed for easy searching and retrieval and any member of the project team can contribute to the centralized repository, making document sharing easy and simple.

At a basic level, product data management systems enable businesses to manage their product information more efficiently by saving time and money while increasing productivity.

Current product data management software evolved from traditional engineering design activities such as the creation of product schematics and drawings and the creation of bills of materials (BOM).

The primary issue with this system was the lack of centralization and no ability to search through these hugely important documents.

Since widely used operating systems and data management software such as macOS and Windows Explorer are not designed to facilitate the engineering and design process, this data was often stored in multiple formats, such as CAD, PDF, and DOC.

As the design process became more complex and more digitized, the need for this data to be accessed by multiple shareholders spread across multiple locations. The disorganized and distributed nature of the data made this difficult and time-consuming, eating into project deadlines and lowering productivity.

In around 2001, the first PDM software came onto the market. Originally used in the tech sector, product data management software was quickly adopted across a huge range of industries for its cost and time-saving benefits.

The product data management industry has grown along with companies’ need to manage their enterprise content more efficiently, whether that be through the cloud or on-premise deployments of PDM software.

What is the difference between PDM and PLM?

The term PLM, or product lifecycle management, refers to a set of business processes that manage the data needed for products and product lines.

The main goal of product lifecycle management software is to capture, store, track, maintain, and distribute all information about a product or family of products throughout its life cycle from inception to disposal.

Product data management sits underneath product lifecycle management as accurate data storage, and quick access to that data is a vital foundation of effective PLM.

Essentially, it’s much easier to manage a product from one end of its lifecycle to the other when all of the data on the product is gathered in one centralized easy to search repository.

What are the components of a PDM system?

While there is a range of PDM software options available on the market, they all share some common features and components, such as:

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) management systems

CAD file management is a hugely important part of the design and engineering process.

It’s what enables engineers to share and collaborate on product design, what allows manufacturers to easily visualize their products in various stages of production or assembly, what allows suppliers access to the information they need for materials sourcing.

Having all of these vital files in one place and organized logically is what CAD management systems are for – and what PDM software does.

All product design files go through various stages of development, from your initial concept sketches and render to the final prototype that’s ready to be put into production.

Every iteration needs to be accessible by everyone who worked on it at every stage, but an inability to clearly identify the most recent iteration of a design could lead to costly manufacturing mistakes.

Revision management software makes it easy to locate previous design iterations, while also making it clear what the latest version of a design is.

Data security is paramount when designing a potentially market-disrupting new product.

It’s vital that any design data is shared only with those who have a need to know.

Ensuring that files are accessible by the right people at the right time requires some degree of oversight, which can be achieved using product data management software.

PDM companies often offer what they refer to as “governance” features within their platforms, allowing for workflows and permissions management so you can control what your team sees at any given stage in development.

Modern design teams are often geographically distributed and the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the likelihood that remote access to important data will be paramount to effective workflows.

This is why a PDM system should be able to facilitate remote access so that designers and engineers can work from wherever they want. This makes collaborative efforts much easier for everyone involved in the product development process.

Product data management systems are also becoming more secure with each passing year as suppliers learn what their customers demand of them when it comes to security features built into software platforms.

Most modern PDMs offer robust password protection options, full-time web encryption support, and two-factor authentication features just to name a few examples.

In fact, many design and engineering teams will not even consider products without these basic compliance capabilities due to increased awareness of the huge rise in cybersecurity threats over the last several years.

Engineering Change Requests

Implementing an engineering change request often requires a complicated workflow that encompasses rigorously documenting design changes and getting multiple sign-offs from the right stakeholders.

Some of these changes can be quite minor, like using an alternate material for a component (aluminum instead of steel) or changing the color on a single part throughout your product’s entire life cycle (blue to green).

But what if you need to make significant design updates that require retooling? It could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs and many weeks before shipping becomes possible.

Making sure those vital engineering change requests are fully documented, have received the correct sign-offs, and are distributed to the right departments is one of the key functions of effective PDM software.

External Collaboration Functions

As we mentioned with remote access, being able to have external teams and third parties collaborate on design and engineer projects is a core part of the modern iterative design process.

It’s what enables the “fail fast, fail often” approach that today is used by so many successful product development teams. Being able to integrate with outside data sources, have access from multiple locations and devices, and work together in real-time makes this possible.

Modern PDM software has multiple factions that allow for external collaboration for both remote users and those utilizing the software in-house.

Real-time collaboration, what is sometimes referred to as “High Fidelity” mode, allows all parties on a project to work together on common datasets or projects with live changes being made across everyone who has access, regardless of location.

While this functionality may be more tuned toward engineering teams working on products that are still undergoing development, it can also be used by specific product managers to manage multiple teams at different locations working off of data coming from specific source systems.

Benefits of having a PDM System

There is a large range of benefits associated with adopting an effective PDM solution, including:

  • One version of truth for all your information –  PDM allows companies to maintain a single version of the truth for all critical data used throughout the organization.No more worrying about what is correct and what isn’t, since it’s one place to go check out what you need at any given time. This also means no more time wasted on double entry or triple entry work.
  • Decreased maintenance costs – PDM reduces costs associated with custom code or manual workarounds due to inconsistencies across multiple sources. The PDM system will standardize what is published out from these disparate systems into a uniform format that can be consumed by all applications.This saves time during development as the same datasets are used everywhere rather than having different formats depending on what application team created it originally (e.g., web app vs mobile). It also ensures consistency between what’s shown online and what appears in print materials such as user manuals or sales information.
  • Improved product quality and release times – Due to the lack of time-consuming data hunting and the errors associated with poor maintenance of changelogs and inaccurate version control, products can be produced with fewer errors and a faster time to market.
  • Greater oversight – Managers can more easily monitor what is happening in product development, both internally and externally. This more streamlined managerial control allows for greater project guidance and easier sign offs and support for staff.
  • Improved communication between teams – Teams involved in complex projects with remote offices or partners abroad are easily able to share complex data sets and work collaboratively on projects while security controls mean that sensitive information is restricted to only those who need access to it.
  • Faster easier integration – PDM software allows for easy integration of data into other programs. For example, a designer might use the native CAD program as well as Adobe InDesign depending on what they are designing.This design process is much smoother with PDM because all general product information can be stored in one place; it’s not scattered between different applications where links have to be re-created each time new information changes, which takes up more time than necessary. It also simplifies exports and imports among various file types.
  • Increased productivity – By removing the need to hunt for data and the time wasted in correcting errors, PDM software increases the productivity of engineering, marketing, sales, and support teams through the use of a single searchable source for live data
  • Reduced errors – The use of PDM reduces the number of errors in any data set releases to market, which means less back-and-forth with R&D and the supply chain.It also reduces any potential errors that come about through the use of outdated design documents or missed engineering change requests that can have serious cost and time consequences.

Current Challenges in Product Design and Solutions with PDM

As with all business processes, there are always challenges to be overcome and PDM offers a number of solutions to those challenges, including:

The inception of effective PDM software allows companies to manage their design process more effectively through the use of a single centralized source of data.

This allows for increased communication across teams, reduced errors, and an overall increase in productivity and cost savings which are just a few of the benefits that effective PDM can have on your company’s bottom line.

With PDM

  • Single unified source of data
  • Improved version control
  • Less time wasted hunting for data
  • Increase visibility over project progress
  • Reduced errors

Without PDM

  • Data spread across thousands of documents in multiple formats
  • Issues with maintaining tight version control
  • Time wasted hunting for specific data in unsearchable archives. 
  • Decreased visibility that threatens project deadlines
  • Compounded errors caused by data storage and retrieval errors


BOM, or bills of materials, represent an extensive list of raw materials, instructions, components, and required to construct, manufacture, or repair a product. As such, they are a vital part of the design and engineering process.

BOMs, created and managed by product data management software, can be made up of hundreds or even thousands of individual components. This is what makes them such a complex challenge to manage efficiently.

What’s more, BOM changes are often confusing for those on the production line without advanced knowledge of how they work together to create the final product, incorrect management of BOM updates can lead to critical errors.

PDM software collates all BOM in one place and makes sure that the latest versions are clearly signposted.

With PDM

  • A single centra source of BOM documentation
  • Good version control that cuts down on error
  • Reduced material costs associated with mistakes

Without PDM

  • Large numbers of complex and vital documents spread across multiple systems in multiple formats
  • Poor version control that contributes to errors
  • Mistakes that cost time and money to correct


Effective PDM software makes managing changes streamlined and easy, which reduces development errors and their associated costs

In addition to being able to control what information is shared with whom on entire teams or facilities, PDM software also integrates seamlessly into other systems used in the product lifecycle such as CRMs and ERPs.

This means that a company can use PDM software to gain a far greater level of visibility over what is happening with their products. That visibility translates into it being easier to make changes to what is happening with the product at any given time, which reduces development errors and increases productivity.

It also allows for those changes to be quickly and efficiently distributed to all stakeholders in the project, so all teams are on the same page and using the most current versions of all documents.

With PDM

  • Full visibility across the entire project
  • Changes are made quickly and efficiently
  • All teams are brought up to date from the same central data repository

Without PDM

  • Limited visibility makes managing change harder
  • Change requests and updates take longer and can be lost in the data churn
  • Teams are siloed and may be working from outdated documents, leading to errors.

Finding the right data quickly

One of the primary challenges with product data management is finding the right data in the huge amounts of information generated in the design and engineering stages.

The PDM software allows for the data to be broken down into what is relevant, what has changed since the last update, and what can be deleted. This makes it easy to find what you are looking for in a short amount of time. This also helps with compliance, as updates that need to happen will be done quickly without any errors or omissions.

PDM software also allows data to be properly indexed, even if it is stored in multiple formats, making it easier to search for a single document.

PDM software is not just used for product data but also CAD files. With this, you can have an audit trail that shows what changes were made to the file and when they occurred. This will help with design revisions or quality control audits in case there are issues later on down the line.

Nowadays PDM systems are being integrated into other applications so it becomes easier to manage all of your information within one platform instead of having multiple pieces of software running at once.

With PDM 

  • Data is available from an easy to access central location
  • The data is indexed and searchable
  • Version control means that everyone is reading from the same document

Without PDM

  • The data is spread over multiple devices, formats, and locations
  • Searching for a single unindexed file takes time and slows productivity
  • Poor version control leads to costly errors


The modern iterative design process works on the ‘fail often, fail fast’ ideal, with data being salvaged and reused from previous iterations to speed up the design process.

This is what organizations are looking for in a product data management system so they can get products to market quickly while still maintaining quality and compliance standards across departments.

One of the issues of not having a centralized PDM system in place is that data generated by previous design iterations is often much harder to find and integrate into future iterations. This is partially true if the design team is scattered geographically or is utilizing third-party support.

With a PDM solution in place, companies are able to store, sort, assess, and pressure relevant data to make the design process more efficient.

With PDM 

  • All data from previous iterations is simple to locate
  • Data from previous iterations is easy to include in future designs, making the product better
  • The iterative design process is fast and effective

Without PDM

  • Potentially pivotal data from previous iterations can be lost in the data churn
  • Feedback is harder to find and include in future iterations
  • The design process is slower and less effective. 

Sharing Info within the company

Data siloing within a company can make the design process slower and less efficient.

Having a centralized data management system allows designers and engineers to easily access what they need. This can also speed up the design process as this information is readily available at their fingertips, without having to search for it elsewhere or wait on approvals from other departments. Reducing Re-work

One of the biggest benefits of PDMs comes with what happens during product recalls and reworks: by taking control over all relevant data, companies are able to quickly pinpoint what went wrong and come up with solutions that ensure there won’t be any further issues in future iterations. Without a PDM solution in place, these kinds of problems would only increase exponentially.

With PDM 

  • All data is shared from a central location
  • Different departments are able to communicate and share data easily
  • Mistakes are avoided and productivity increases

Without PDM

  • Data is stored in separate siloed systems
  • Departments struggle to communicate and share data
  • The lack of communication and data sharing leads to costly errors

Collaboration with engineers in different locations

Having geographically separated engineering teams is increasingly becoming the norm, especially in light of the travel restriction and social distancing orders put in place to combat Covid-19.

With a PDM solution, all product data is accessible to anyone who needs it at any time and can be accessed from anywhere so your engineering teams don’t have to waste time following up with one another to share what they already know.

This level of communication and data sharing is currently a hugely important part of the iterative design process and what sets companies apart.

With a PDM solution, you’re able to not only work with your design and engineering teams in real-time but also collaborate across product lines or projects by sharing what you already know about the product data of one product on an entirely different system.

This is invaluable for comparing designs from new angles or identifying ways to optimize existing products without having engineers go back and reconfigure them from scratch.

Instead of reworking old models, they can be used as reference points while simultaneously ensuring that all future iterations are built upon accurate information leading to higher quality end results.

With PDM 

  • Engineering teams can collaborate freely and easily 
  • All data is stored centrally and easy to access
  • Designs and models are easy to compare and comment on

Without PDM

  • Different engineering teams struggle to share data
  • Findings have to constantly be checked with other teams
  • The design process is slower and less effective, slowing time to market 

Sharing Info with Suppliers

With many companies outsourcing their manufacturing processes to China or other countries, it has become more important than ever before to work collaboratively with suppliers as partners.

PDM allows for the faster and more effective sharing of data between supplier and customer which has led to better communication, increased productivity, reduced errors, and overall cost savings.

With PDM

  • Fast and effective data sharing with suppliers
  • Reduced errors caused by miscommunication
  • Ability to build close relationships with partners and effectively collaborate with them

Without PDM

  • Potential errors in ordering a manufacturing
  • Inability to build working partnerships based on shared data sets.

Meeting compliance requirements

As part of meeting compliance standards, such as ISO 9000, companies need to present significant amounts of data to their customers, including documentation for all products.

When this data is stored in siloed systems or spread across multiple departments, it becomes increasingly difficult to access what you need when you need it.

With a PDM solution, product information can be accessed by everyone who needs it at any time and shared with suppliers as well so they have the same level of insight into what goes into the product that your company has.

This ensures uniformity throughout every step of production which leads to fewer mistakes down the line.

With PDM 

  • All data needed to ensure compliance is easy to find
  • Compliance certificates are applied for in a timely manner
  • Product documentation is accurate and up to date

Without PDM

  • Data vital to compliance is hard to locate
  • Certification is not applied for in a timely manner
  • Projects do not receive certification and the time to market is increased.


One of the primary benefits of a rapid iterative design process is the fact that it brings new products to market rapidly. However, poorly implemented PDM can significantly slow the design process down.

This is because a poorly implemented digital product information management system can cause what has been termed “line-item lock”, in which every change to the model necessitates going back and updating all of its associated data including geometry, manufacturing instructions, bills of material, etc.

This significantly increases time spent on quality control checks or reworking designs from scratch once they have already gone into production.

With PDM 

  • The design process is rapid and iterative
  • The engineering and manufacturing process is streamlined
  • Products are brought rapidly to market

Without PDM

  • The design process is slowed by poor data sharing
  • Mistakes and errors in the engineering and manufacturing process increase costs
  • The time to market is increased, further increasing costs

How to get started with a PDM system

Given all the obvious benefits of using a PDM system, you are probably wondering how to get started with one, which is why we’ve created this short primer:

There are a lot of PDM solutions on the market, to make choosing one more streamlined, here is our list, in no particular order, of the top ten PDM solutions on the market in 2021:

1/ Autodesk Vault

Autodesk Vault is considered to be one of the best PDM solutions on the market in 2021 because of its range of features.

These include effective version control for all your product data, the ability to manage what types of people have access to what information, the option to create controlled workflows that ensure the right person sees each document at each step in its development process.

Autodesk has also made sure to keep the product updated with new features on a regular basis, ensuring customers get what they need from it month after month.

2/ IBM MaaS360

IBM’s PDM solution, IBM MaaS360 is what they are calling a “next-generation” product data management toolset that enables companies to manage their products across the digital thread, from design through to manufacturing and service.

3/ Microsoft PLM 360 

Another popular option for 2021, Microsoft has created its own kind of PDM software known as Microsoft Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) 365. This system allows you to easily access all your files in one place so everything can be shared with everyone else who needs them at any given time throughout the entire lifecycle of a product or project.

4/ Solidworks PDM

Solidwork has made a name for itself as a solid and effective PDM solution that has won over many users who are looking for a way to organize all of their product data into one place.

This system is great because it makes sure that no information ever gets lost and everything can be found in an instant throughout the entire lifecycle of products or projects through its cloud-based database.

5/ UpChain

Upchain combines product lifecycle management software and cloud product data management software in what they call “a single product data platform.” This is a great solution for companies who want to ensure that all of their information is stored and organized systematically.

Upchain’s software helps users automatically generate documentation, manage change orders, track revisions and versioning of products, and monitor quality throughout the entire lifecycle of a product or project.

6/ Teamcenter

Produced by Siemens, Teamcenter is an adaptable and flexible product lifecycle management software that can be used to build custom solutions for any industry. Teamcenter helps companies manage the entire life cycle of their products from conception and design all the way through distribution and service.

Teamcenter integrates with a range of CAD applications and a variety of data sources, including product “big data.” Users can easily connect Teamcenter to their existing IT infrastructure via ODBC/JDBC or SOAP connectivity, as well as through the native APIs that are available on all major CAD systems.

7/ Synergis Adept

Designed specifically to store, share, manage, and integrate engineering and enterprise information, Synergis Adept is a “big data” product information management solution that enables companies to track and trace the flow of their products through the supply chain.

Synergis Adept collates the hundreds of thousands of documents any design process creates into a single, secure, and accessible hub. It also assists with the management of product models as well as managing what is known as “legacy data” – or any information that may be on a company’s internal networks but not yet digitized.

8/ GrabCAD Workbench

A simple and effective PDM solution, GrabCAD Workbench is a cloud-based and free product data management solution that is gaining traction in the manufacturing industry.

Product information such as CAD files, images, documents, and BOMs are stored in Workbench so they can be easily located when needed without wasting time digging through file folders. GrabCAD also makes it easy to share this information with team members around the world.

8/ Centro

Developed by Actify, Centro is a  product data management (PDM) platform that manages and controls product information from all sources.

With Centro, users can store CAD files with associated revisions, create custom attributes for each file to help track what changes were made when and by whom, manage versions of the file – including what revision number it is on and what was changed in that revision.

9/ Windchill PDMLink

A web-based PDM solution that has already seen extensive use, Windchill PDMLink is the product data management solution for everyone who uses PTC Windchill, one of the most popular PLM software products on the market.

PDMLink brings product data management capabilities to everyone who uses Windchill, regardless of what department they are in or what version of Windchill they have access to.

Available on all major platforms, PDMLink allows users to connect what they need in one place and work together with their teams without having to worry about version control issues or file conflicts.

How to Choose a PDM that Fits Your Business Needs

Every PDM solution needs to fit the specific needs of its customer, and there are some steps you can take to ensure that you get PDM software that does exactly that:

The primary step in finding a PDM solution that fits your business needs is to determine what those needs are.

  • Determine what your company’s objectives for product data management software are.
  • Look at the requirements of each department and decide if their needs can be met by a centralized PDM solution or whether they need different solutions that meet their specific goals.

From there, you’ll need to take into account what type of industry you work in, what products you produce, who manufactures your products, how many people work on them, and what types of files must be managed across teams.

Key features to look out for in a PDM solution include:

  • User permissions so users only have access to information relevant to them
  • Audit trails so changes made will show up in reports no matter where they occur within the system
  • Version control options that give every team the most up-to-date version of all data
  • The ability to flag what is most important for you.

Implementing a New or Existing PDM System

Implementation of a new PDM system is what you want if your product is new or has never been managed with a system before. Typically this method means the complete set up of all data required to run your business, including information for every team member in their respective programs and files that have yet to be digitized.

If an existing PDM system is what you need, there are a couple of steps to setting up a new project on one. First, you will need to get information about what program is used for what product.

Second, there should be a walk-through of what data needs to go where in the system; typically this means an understanding of what each team member’s role in the company entails along with their access permissions and what programs they use.

Once all relevant members have been brought up to speed on what data goes where, the system should be set up and ready for use.

Barriers to successful PDM implementation?

There are a few common mistakes when implementing a new PDM system that can slow down or even halt the project in its tracks.

Some of the most common issues include:

  • Incomplete or incorrect product information from the start. Data is what makes PDM so powerful, but only if that data going into it is accurate and complete. Make sure to cleanse your master data of irrelevant files before importing.
  • Data that doesn’t align with a business process, product information that is stored in a spreadsheet, or even email because it’s what the team has been using for years.
  • Not having access or rights to certain areas of a business. PDM systems only work if everyone is on board and has access to the data relevant to them, regardless of their department 
  • The lack of proper training for users to use the system effectively can slow down or even halt a PDM project in its tracks. Without the right knowledge, employees will not be able to properly utilize what they have at their disposal and will continue to work around it instead of through it. 

Most of these issues can be solved with staff training, company buy-in, and starting a project with a clear idea of its end goal and how it will align with a business priority.

Final thoughts on PDM and why it’s needed

PDM offers a huge range of benefits, the most material being significant cost and time savings during the design and engineering processes.

Product Data Management is an important tool for any business looking to streamline its design, engineering, and manufacturing operations across all departments in any area of the world.

Well implemented PDM improves communication, cuts down on wasted time, reduces errors, reduces time to market, and makes the whole iterative design process that much more effective.

Disclaimer: I am the author at PLM ECOSYSTEM, focusing on developing digital-thread platforms with capabilities across CAD, CAM, CAE, PLM, ERP, and IT systems to manage the product data lifecycle and connect various industry networks. My opinions may be biased. Articles and thoughts on PLMES represent solely the author's views and not necessarily those of the company. Reviews and mentions do not imply endorsement or recommendations for purchase.

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