Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Solidworks PDM Professional is... well, it's complicated

As an ardent proponent of Solidworks Workgroup PDM, it was disappointing to come to terms with its end of life. Originally developed by Design Source Technologies, Inc with president and co-founder Jim Foster, the PDM tool was entitled PDMWorks. It was out-of-the-box basic and simple all around, much to the delight of administrators and users alike. Solidworks recognized its value and acquired it, renaming it as Workgroup PDM where it continued to be appreciated as a reliable file management tool. Based on a flat windows folder database structure, it has understandably been showing its age and being included with Solidworks Premium and Professional licenses was not a revenue generator in and of itself. Now with its demise, the alternatives parlayed by Dassault Systemes are Solidworks PDM Standard and Solidworks PDM Professional. The later formerly known as EPDM or Enterprise PDM, was acquired from Conisio @ 2006. Based on Microsoft SQL database structure, Dassault Systemes has put forth great effort to promote it as a "data management solution for organizations large and small", with scripted information that makes for a good first impression.

Like most marketing and sales related impressions though, it's what is not being said or shown that needs to be asked. For PDM administrators, the dilemma is that you simply might not have a good working knowledge of a product until you've... well, worked with it. As such, it isn't always apparent what questions to ask until you turn a corner in your understanding and suddenly realize you don't know anything about what's next, or how one aspect relates to or controls another.

For Solidworks PDM Professional, from the online presentations to the VAR sponsored demos, there is a clean polished display of what it can do, and it looks and sounds great. It's from the point of commitment however that things become... well, it's complicated. From the perspective of transitioning from Solidworks Workgroup PDM to Solidworks PDM Professional, here are some things that if not already apparent, certainly need to be discussed with a VAR when you hear them. This is especially so if you are anticipating a contracted statement of work (SOW) prior to implementation.  
  • "easily migrate CAD data"  This expression sounds like everything will be taken care of for migrating your data. If agreed upon, only the most recent CAD files will be migrated to the new vault in the same folder structure arrangement. However, they will be in a "legacy state" that will most likely require you to manually transition each file to a working workflow if you want them in a working state. Also, none of the PDF copies of drawings contained in the Workgroup PDM vault will be brought over unless you specifically request such, because after all, they're not CAD data. Yes, if only you knew what to ask.
  • "have it all set up"  This expression sounds like everything will be taken care of and you will simply need to show up and turn the key. From the initial consultation of current workflow processes, to the Administrating Solidworks PDM Professional Training you will begin to grow in your awareness that most everything required to make your PDM system operational will need to be learned, setup and tailored to fit your needs. Some points of application might be easier to understand, others will be totally new concepts that will take time to understand, implement, and test. Once understood, additional questions will inevitably arise. The VAR training includes examples on many points in the manual, but there really isn't enough time to cover every aspect in detail, nor the subsequent questions that naturally arise. The VAR will initially take the lead in developing each of the needed elements for your PDM system, and provide assistance along the way, but the operative word here is "assistance". Likely, you will receive assistance as you request it during the subsequent weeks that follow deployment. However the Admin is more or less left to discover what works and what doesn't, followed by head scratching, on-line research, requesting assistance or direction from your VAR, development and testing. Yes, if only you knew what to ask.
  • "have any questions"  This expression too sounds like everything will be taken care of if you should ever have a question. As already discussed, you WILL have questions that arise only after you have made advances in your working knowledge of the software. Depending on how you arrange your workflow and transitions, some aspects of PDM Professional can be automated within PDM, others will require knowledge of API or dispatch programming. This will apply if you want to simply update a drawing when changing states such as from preproduction to production, or to simply update a drawing Revision Table with revision information. For example, would you know to ask if the Solidworks Revision Table works for Solidworks PDM? It's not a stupid question. It really doesn't work. So you will need to use a General Table edited specifically to function as a revision table. (Update: with the 2018 release, PDM now integrates with the Solidworks Revision table.) As these types of boggling issues surface, the VAR may or may not provide the hand-holding assistance you would like to have to address your questions as you navigate to the next corner and emerging question. In fact, you most likely won't be aware of initial shortcomings in your preset workflow and transitions until you realize you don't have the functionality you expected. All of this leaves the Admin in the unenviable position of having to make these edits to tailored PDM functions as projects of themselves, while communicating to the engineering team why Workgroup PDM used to perform all of these functions but 'we can't right now with PDM Professional until we do more programming'. Programming, which in all likelihood will again require some form of research, requesting assistance or direction from your VAR, development and testing. Yes, if only you knew what to ask.
Those who have successfully navigated the implementation of Solidworks PDM Professional are to be commended. They have garnered a worthy skill set using a product that possesses a puzzling array of potential. To put it judiciously... it's complicated. It's certainly not what everyone wants but seems to be the only choice Dassault Systemes wants to offer. With years of use behind it, isn't it strange that Solidworks PDM Professional would be so unduly complicated, yet in many ways does less out-of-the-box than Solidworks Workgroup PDM?

In summary, Solidworks PDM Professional is anything but turn-key. It's an auto mechanic dropping in a new engine for you, tightening it to the frame, showing you how a hose or a cable connect, and saying "you can deploy in as little as ten days... to capitalize on new opportunities faster"! Sure, out of necessity you will figure it out... eventually,... but it's complicated. You asked for an expensive new engine and naively thought you could just show up and turn the key, because you didn't ask the right questions.