Photo: Luis Llerena

Product Data Management

Product data management might seem like the dull, formal work associated with any product design workflow. After all, it’s far from being as exciting and challenging as the creative product design and engineering work. However, product data management actually has a great impact on product design and project efficiency, especially when it comes to complex product designs and/or long projects. Accurate and comprehensive product data management is a crucial aspect of the product design workflow and a key parameter for effective product designs and successful products.

The three main elements of product data management are CAD files-, BOM- and Product-Brief- Management. In this article, I’ll share some working methods and tips about these three product data management elements.

CAD File Management
CAD file management is complicated. Managing many files with multiple versions, complex hierarchies, and common (with other projects) parts is not a simple task. PLM is perhaps the most effective tool for CAD file management. Nevertheless, many companies (mainly SMBs) find PLM to be an overkill solution: it is expensive to implement, has no clear ROI, and it restricts the free workflow that product designers love. At a cretin point (of scale and complexity), you’ll probably have to implement a PLM system. Meanwhile, if you have no PLM, here are some simple working methods to help you manage your CAD files:

  1. Create one main folder for the whole project and keep all of the project’s data in there.
  2. Keep all CAD files in one folder. Even if some of the files are used in other projects, copy them.
  3. Duplicate this whole CAD folder for every major change, new version or variant, and label each folder with a meaningful name and the date of creation. (It’s much easier to manage duplicate files than complicated cross folder links.)
  4. Create a “History” folder and keep all history versions in there.
  5. Have a “Sketch” folder for quick concept design. It’s very important to separate sketches from the “real” design.
  6. Have only one “source of truth” – all copied folders should be marked as “non-original.”
  7. If you’re working on a project with a team, make sure that only one user can edit a file at a time, and all the others can open it as “read only” (this is Windows’ default option).
  8. Create a “Sent” folder and keep all the CAD files that you have sent to external partners in there. This allows you to easily follow what you have shared with whom and when.
  9. Manage a CAD logbook – a table including the date, subject, details, and signature columns, to track the history of all major events and decisions.
  10. Remember that you cannot be too meticulous about CAD file management.

BOM Management
The BOM is the only tool which integrates both types of product data – engineering and commercial. Before building the BOM, you do not really see the whole picture. The earlier you build the BOM, the earlier (and cheaper) you can make the right decisions – ones based on knowledge and data. BOM management is tedious work, yet it’s crucial. Avoid the common mistake of treating the BOM as a list that needs to be delivered at the end of R&D. The BOM is a management tool; it helps you to make a wiser data-driven decision during the R&D and production implementation phases. Use it for the benefit of your products and projects.
For more details about BOM management

Product-Brief Management
A product-brief is one of the most important elements in a product design project. The product-brief is a plan and a compass – it defines the product’s goals and attributes, and it shows you where to go. The product-brief has to be managed, not (only) written. It guides you, and you should keep updating it through the entire project.
For more details about product-brief management

 

My next article will be about Branding vs. Product Design strategy - the similarities and the differences between these two domains.
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