In a typical 10,000 person company there are probably 50-100 full-time 3D CAD engineers. So how come these few CAD users and their CAD software vendors so often drive the selection of an enterprise PLM system that will likely touch thousands of users around the world? Why do the needs of these few weigh so heavily in the decisions that affect so many? This is a new trend I’ve observed over the last 5+ years, and it concerns me.

What has evolved in so many companies is the perception that the people doing product design are the heroes; the only ones making a contribution to the new product portfolio and the long-term success of the company. The problem with this perception is that it ignores what the applications engineer does and what the quality engineer does and what the component engineers in procurement do. In fact, there are a lot of engineers in a corporation and they’re all critical to new product introduction, yet their activities have little or nothing to do with 3D CAD. In fact, they have their own data, creative processes, and value-add activities.

PLM is more than managing Pro/E or CATIA files. PLM is about managing the whole set of data; the entire product record. My guess is that only 20% of the product content comes from the 3D CAD system, with the other 80% or so coming from ERP, Microsoft Word and Excel, CRM, EDA tools, email and many other systems. The fact is, if you let your design team or 3D CAD vendor drive your PLM decision you will miss most of the users, most of the data and most of the processes involved in the product lifecycle.

Some of the customers I visit are managing their CAD files just fine; either with a simple PDM product from their CAD vendor, with a home-grown system, or with manual processes. At these companies, CAD file management is not their top business priority. I think these companies are on the right path. Their PLM vision is a business-driven vision and they look at new product introduction more holistically and identify their priorities from a business perspective.

Priorities involve improving communications with global suppliers, ensuring that the shop floor has the right specs, implementation of serialized data tracking, choosing suppliers with the best price AND the best quality, managing environmental and regulatory compliance, and on and on… These are not 3D CAD problems. So why trust a 3D CAD vendor to solve them?

My opinion:  Successful companies do not let 100 people drive the enterprise software decisions for 10,000. Scope your PLM deployment based on the biggest business benefit to your entire organization. Build a roadmap and tackle the biggest issues first in a sequence that, in the end, gives your business a fully integrated PLM environment. In your company, CAD file management might be in phase 1 or 2, or 5 or 10, but shouldn’t that be up to you?