Product Data Management

In the evolutionary chain of information management in technical environments, Product Data Management represents the second step after simple CAD data management. While the latter is limited to the mere storage and retrieval of CAD data, Product Data Management connects drawings, documents and Bills of Materials and integrates them with ERP systems, making the Product Data Management system a complete repository of all the data required to describe a product.

With PRO.FILE, you get a PLM solution that automates the exchange of Bills of Materials between the CAD system and the ERP system, maintaining transaction integrity and eliminating the need to manually enter them into the ERP system. Design and purchase items are also automatically synchronized. A customizable set of rules governs exchange of data, which can be managed and monitored from a single pane of glass in the PLM system.

PRO.FILE thereby bridges the gap between the CAD and the ERP environment. It gives companies a reliable data foundation by breaking down the product data silos created by project management, maintenance, development, and production and making the information available across department lines This enables designers to access supplier and material master data stored in the ERP system directly from their CAD workstation at any time. The risk of error is drastically reduced and companies save money and resources by eliminating the need for redundant development work.

4.1 ERP

Developers and designers are used to working with their CAD software and storing their data in the corresponding CAD data management or PDM system. And then there are production planners, purchasers, material requirements planners, and production staffers who maintain their information in the ERP system. The interface between these two IT systems is where PDM/PLM systems come into play. Acting as a Product Data Backbone, they integrate the ERP and CAD systems and synchronize the data between both worlds.

ERP integration is essentially about exchanging and transferring item master data, Product Structures (assemblies), Bills of Materials, and documents generated during the mechanical, electrical and electronic development stages to the ERP system. Bills of Materials from mechanical and electrical engineering are aggregated into a single mechatronics BOM. This automatically prevents purchasers from ordering components such as drives, which can be viewed as both a mechanical and electrical component, twice or not ordering them at all.

Conversely, it enables development and design departments to view information such as prices or stock levels of purchased parts in the ERP system. This is important if, for example, purchasing has negotiated a discount with a supplier that designers need to be aware of. Integrating the ERP system with the CAD system puts this type of information at the fingertips of everyone involved.

ERP integration projects often start out with the project data, with the order or order confirmation that is triggered by the ERP system and needs to be forwarded to the design department. With a CAD/ERP integration in place, purchasing departments can make sure that any preferred parts that they agreed upon with a specific supplier are actually used by designers.

4.2 Bills of Materials

A Product Data Backbone works with shared documents that are used across department lines. This raises the question which data is to be exchanged between the CAD applications and the ERP system and how to design the interfaces. Synchronizing item master data, bills of materials, and project data between the design and production department is a major challenge for every manufacturing company. By maintaining consistency in their shared documents and ensuring automatic synchronization between them, businesses can avoid having to do rework and save a lot of unnecessary costs.

Consistent bills of materials are the key to flawless manufacturing processes. Consequently, they should have the same structure in both the ERP system and the CAD/PLM environment as this prevents duplicates from being created in the first place. To achieve this, companies need a way to automate the synchronization of these two IT systems. The PLM solution will automatically transfer bills of materials from the CAD/PDM system to the ERP system. With PRO.FILE, it is possible to automatically synchronize them – analogous to the item master data – if they are available in different forms as engineering BOMs, single-level BOMs and summarized BOMs, effectively tuning the PLM solution into a central data hub that serves the master data management needs of development, procurement, production, service, and sales departments.

4.3 Part master data

The synchronization of item master data is a hallmark of the ERP integration of product data management. Consistent item master data is essential to guaranteeing seamless and error-free workflows across the company and a sure way to significantly cut costs. PRO.FILE automatically transfers part master data from development to production planning, production, and purchasing. In return, these departments provide developers with their preferred norm parts and purchased parts. A PLM system automatically synchronizes designations and characteristics in a company’s master data management, preventing naming differences for specific parts or assemblies between the production and the production planning departments and resulting in diligent and consistent parts management.


Studies have shown that the automatic transfer of part master data from the CAD to the ERP system and the reduction of duplicates with purchased parts allows companies to eliminate some 10% of new parts every year. If you multiply this by the average cost of maintaining a record in the ERP system (creating a supplier, assigning an item number and identifier, coordination processes) and add the costs generated by purchasing, incoming goods inspection, and invoicing, an averaged-sized manufacturing company can achieve annual savings in the five-figure range.

Harmonizing item master data, however, requires more than just exchanging data using Excel spreadsheets or ASCII files, which essentially means relinquishing all control over the data. To ensure proper synchronization, companies need complete process control, visibility, and end-to-end documentation of the exchange process (monitoring).

PRO.FILE implements data exchange standards and relies on Microsoft BizTalk Server to synchronize part master data. An adapter is used to deliver the data from the CAD context, which is then transferred to the ERP system using Microsoft BizTalk Adapter and vice versa. This makes it possible to a) match item characteristics found in the CAD system to the corresponding characteristics of the ERP materials and to b) specify the flow logic for the data transfer. All of this is done without any programming whatsoever, drastically reducing overall project implementation time.

4.4 CAD and PDM

CAD data management used to be understood as nothing more than the ability to store and retrieve CAD data – which is one of a company’s most critical assets. CAD data not only includes CAD models, drawings, and Bills of Materials, it also extends to CAD-related information such as specifications, calculations, production notes (NC programs), routings, assembly information and much more.

The objective here was to not only store this data in a file system, but in an organized and structured fashion. There simply is no other way to efficiently handle technically sophisticated products and ensure a short time to market. CAD models and any related data and documents encapsulate a company’s complete product knowledge, its design and engineering expertise and it needs to be made available across the enterprise.

Any approach to professional product data management in manufacturing is the integration of CAD and PDM. According to RAAD Research (2014), technically challenging products cannot be efficiently handled and brought to market in a timely manner without PDM.

A company’s product knowledge is mainly contained in its CAD models and the related data and documents. This design and engineering knowledge needs to be made available throughout the enterprise. With the integration of CAD and PDM, employees from all departments can access any of this information with the proper authorizations. All data, whether it is CAD models, drawings, manufacturing and assembly drawings, NC programs, item master data, Bills of Materials, or documents with images, text or calculation tables, are securely stored in the data vault of the PDM system regardless of the type of CAD and ERP system they come from. This ensures that all product data is always up to date and consistent across department lines.


The benefits of PDM in CAD data management:

  • Secure storage and protected access to product information
  • Product information can be stored regardless of the underlying authoring systems used in the fields of MCAD, ECAD, electronics, Office, and email
  • Information is consolidated to create customer, machine and lifecycle files
  • Automatic provision of valid drawings for manufacturing purposes
  • Automatic synchronization of item master data and Bills of Materials between design / development and production planning / manufacturing / service

4.5 Mechatronics

In modern mechanical engineering, you will be hard pressed to find a component that does not involve electrical/electronic elements and is not electronically controlled. Mechatronic products such as the control panel of a robotic arm contain mechanical assemblies, electrical components, and frequently software-driven electronic components. In many cases, they also include hydraulic and pneumatic components. This creates a high level of complexity in mechatronics systems, which in turn means that they can only function properly if all individual aspects are perfectly in sync. Consequently, mechatronics has become indispensable even for companies specializing in mechanical and plant engineering. This also means that a PDM/PLM system needs to create a unified CAD data repository that allows it to manage mechanical parts along with any electrical/electronic elements.

The division between mechanics and electronics has always been deep and wide: The two groups simply differ in the way they think and problem solve. They work from different data and Product Structures and rely on separate authoring systems and data storage tools. And with the time delay between the work performed by mechanical designers and electronics designers, coordinating them is not always an easy task. For this very reason, many of the processes that occur at the interface between the MCAD and the ECAD system still involve manual intervention. Development engineers exchange installation data, cable lengths, or pin assignments using Excel spreadsheets or email.


PRO.FILE bridges this gap by controlling the flow of product data and information across department lines. As a Product Data Backbone it combines all mechanical, electrical, electronic, hydraulic, pneumatic and software-related product elements into a single BOM. PRO.FILE consolidates all documents in a central database and makes them available through its user interface, enabling a seamless experience from development to business processes and the transfer to the ERP system.

In this way, mechanical designers can, for example, easily access the layout diagrams prepared by their electronic engineering counterparts as they design a new housing. Electronic designers are aware of the dimensions and placement of the boreholes in the housing that will hold the PCB. This is particularly important when the different teams are geographically dispersed.

PRO.FILE gives them the common data foundation that is crucial to interdisciplinary collaboration in mechatronics!