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Evolution of Design: 2D to 3D to PLM and PDM

The design has come a long way since the days of paper and pencil drafting.  Even 2D CAD, a staple of design and engineering since the 1980s has mostly been replaced by 3D design, PLM, and PDM.  If you’re a CAD designer or engineer, the tool and processes you use are nearly as important as the design you create.  As specialists in 3D design, we know that fast-paced, product-driven businesses need effective product lifecycle management (PLM) and product data management (PDM), as well as intelligent 3D models.

What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

According to Wikipedia, product lifecycle management (PLM) is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.

What’s the difference between PLM vs. PDM?

Product data management (PDM) is the business function, often within product lifecycle management (PLM), that is responsible for the management and publication of product data. In software engineering, this is known as version control.

Advantages of the Evolution

While a 2D drawing may be able to show you the proximity of objects in a flat design, what about the heights and depths of everything? Why is spatial information so important? A 3D model is useful in reducing design flaws, identifying coordination errors, and facilitating better communication. Add PLM and PDM, and companies can bring together people, systems, and information to improve efficiency. It’s a company-wide and cradle-to-grave design, engineering, and production strategy.

According to Forbes, PLM and PDM can drive game-changing growth in product development. Better management of your bill of materials and cut production costs by as much as 80 to 90 percent.

CAD professionals are required to compete globally, push designs out more quickly, and do more with less to stay competitive. When every dollar and day counts, PLM/PDM tools and practices are more valuable than ever. Collaborative design with PLM and PDM shortens R&D cycles, reduces design time, and gives professionals and firms a serious competitive edge.


If you haven’t joined the 3D/PDM/PLM evolution yet, then here are some tips to get you started:

  • Implementation of an enterprise-wide PLM system – this requires the integration of many types of corporate data, from pricing structures to supply chain information; but possibly the most critical integration is that of legacy CAD data.
  • Understand the requirements of the new PLM system – Any PLM system is going to want to “see” the data in a particular way. Not adhering to the structure may result in data that cannot be accessed by one or more of the PLM tools.
  • Assess the value of your existing CAD data – GIGO (Garbage in = Garbage out) is as applicable a phrase in today’s advanced technology as it was when it was first coined in 1963.
  • Know what the migration will require in terms of people, resources and time – Since we are talking specifically about CAD data migration, it is important that your CAD manager or another CAD team member who has in-depth knowledge of the existing CAD data and the ways it will be used within the PLM be included early in the process.
  • Understand the complexity of CAD data migration – Once your CAD migration team is established, make sure they understand the need to maintain the integrity of relationships between CAD files. Over time, these relationships between legacy files can become very complex.
  • Identify and assess risks – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Considering potential risks and problems ahead of time and planning for unforeseen issues can save a lot of heartburn during the migration process.
  • Rely on experts for help and guidance – While a professional migration specialist can provide expert guidance for the entire PLM migration project, a CAD consultant can provide the expert help that you need to get your CAD files in order
  • Decide on your strategy.

PLM Strategy

There are as many PLM strategies as there are firms using them. Some well-known PLM strategies include lean manufacturing and concurrent engineering.  Lean manufacturing emphasizes efficiency and waste reduction during every step of the product cycle to produce big returns and value for consumers, while concurrent engineering emphasizes integration and seeks to reduce product-to-market time by performing design, engineering, and manufacturing functions simultaneously.

Whatever strategy you use, make sure it’s supported by appropriate software and resources to enhance productivity and efficiency for your organization.

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