And if that happens on internal engineering data you better ensure it doesn’t happen on data you publish to help prospects and customers produce better design files, faster, incorporating your products!

Why we need Product Data Management (PDM)?

If you are already familiar with PDM, skip this answer and jump to the next question.

If you use computer aided design (CAD) your design data is in digital files, probably in an enormous volume of CAD files that demands organization. That’s where PDM comes in. As paper drawings were managed in pre-CAD print rooms, PDM systems provide centralized control of CAD files with version control and check in/out. Companies with a few hundred products may have thousands, even millions of parts, assemblies and drawings or models. Some companies have been using CAD without PDM, relying on manual methods, or file folder structures on shared network drives but that can lead to mistakes and lost productivity.

For example, according to The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2019, an independent research report published by Onshape, “86% of design and manufacturing industry companies said they need to reduce errors resulting from working on the wrong version of a design or receiving important project information too late.” That identifies two of the reasons to use PDM on your master engineering CAD 2D drawings and 3D models but here’s a fuller list:

  • Search – finding what you need fast
  • Review and approval workflows
  • Version and revision control
  • Automatic part numbering
  • Bill of materials (BOM) data – included in CAD files
  • Control and security – of file access
  • Engineering document control
  • Engineering change orders (ECOs)
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration
  • Analytics – such as “where used” reports
  • Backups and disaster recovery

These PDM capabilities are obviously critical to effective and repeatable management processes for engineering CAD files. And if your design team works collaboratively with other organizations, or design teams, the complexity of the CAD data management can easily increase many fold.

Why PDM for Online CAD Drawings & Models?

There is something else that can increase CAD data management requirements exponentially. It occurs when you reuse CAD models for new purposes such as:

  • For online marketing of your products on your website
  • For syndicating of your online CAD drawings and models to other websites (distributor websites or CAD portal websites, like 3DModelSpace)
  • For custom products, designed by potential customers online through a configurator that creates custom or even unique CAD drawings or models
  • For additive manufacturing 
  • For supporting various Augmented Reality use cases 
  • For any other new purposes

CAD for these other purposes requires PDM for the same reasons as outlined above, but they also add other new PDM requirements. For example, in the case of online CAD drawings and models, you’ll need to decide the following questions then have your PDM system manage the processes:

  • What intellectual property protection do you want applied to your online CAD files? For example ‘hollowed-out’ CAD models with internal details removed. That may entail another set of all or some of your CAD files as master online CAD files that will require their own PDM controlled review and approval loops including automated recreation if and when the engineering master CAD files are updated.
  • What 3D model CAD file formats do you want to make available for users to download?Also whether you want 2D CAD drawings available and in what formats? Obviously all these derived CAD files need their own PDM review and approval loops including automated recreation if and when the master online CAD files are updated. A simplifying alternative is not to create all these as ‘static’ files at all, but instead use a well-proven online SaaS service that generates any needed CAD file format (2D or 3D) in realtime when a user requests it.
  • What viewing capabilities do you want in the user experience? For example, zoom, pan, rotate but what about measurement, or exploded parts viewing? Whatever you decide try to use a viewer that requires no software download so as to avoid firewall issues or users simply blocked from downloading software for security reasons.
  • Whether to syndicate your online CAD files to other websites? Either of your business partners (distributors or resellers) or CAD file portals? Depending what approach you take your PDM system may need to manage more sets of files (for example, unbranded OEM ones) or simply more locations of the same files to be managed in update cycles and PDM revision control.
  • What user data to collect in exchange for CAD downloads? Survey’s show that engineers regard CAD files as the type of content most enticing for them to provide their information. It’s this fact that has made CAD downloads a leading content type for lead generation. Once you collect leads, how will you distribute them and track them? For example, you might integrate your CAD download solution with your customer relationship management (CRM) system.
  • What will provide analytics on your online CAD files? For example:
    • How many views/downloads are happening?
    • Which files are being viewed/downloaded the most or least?
    • Which companies/users are doing the downloads?
    • What is the uptime/availability of the solution?


1. If you publish CAD data it needs to be correct and maintained that way. 

2. If you do it yourself, ensure your PDM system processes reliably deliver that accuracy.

3. Many companies avoid extending their PDM system by outsourcing their online CAD marketing to cloud based SaaS solutions. They provide their engineering CAD models in one CAD file format and the SaaS solution provider creates IP protected versions for their review, and then totally manages real-time production of any requested 2D CAD drawing files or 3D CAD model files in required formats, all syndication to other websites, all lead generation (possibly with integration back to your CRM) and all analytic reporting. They can also, via user surveys, monitor and report on customer experience and satisfaction.

Lastly, if you’d like our opinion on your particular PDM issues with online content marketing, please call or click either button below:

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About the Author: CDS Visual

CDS Visual is helping lead the digital business revolution for industries all over the world. Whether you’re an OEM or parts distributor, we will help you convert prospects into buyers – while reducing engineering costs.

Turn ordinary CAD drawings into dynamic 3D product experiences that captivate and engage your audience.


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