CAD PDM Software: What is it? Getting started.

How engineering teams can stay organized and increase productivity with CAD PDM.

CAD PDM Software is a Product Data Management (PDM) software used to manage Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files. A CAD PDM is used by engineers to manage their design drawings, assemblies, and technical documents. There are several use cases for CAD PDM software, but at its core, it solves data management issues that engineers face while creating products. An effective CAD PDM system takes the everyday tasks of engineers such as working with CAD files and releasing versions for production and makes them more automated with better control over their work.

The basics


Computer-aided design files are used to manage highly technical drawings of buildings and products. For example, an engineer in construction might design the building layout that details where lights and outlets should be placed while specifying the number and size needed to meet building standards. An engineer at a bike manufacturer might design the details of the bike such as what size, what materials to use, and how all the parts fit together.

In each of these cases, a lot of information is needed to create these design details. For a single light placed in a building you need to know at how many feet from each side of the wall the light is placed, how many Watts, lumens, length, and width of the light, and how this light will be connected to power.


Product Data Management is managing the data created for a product. PDM software is centered around managing CAD files, since they contain a lot of product data. What might come along with CAD files are bill of materials, analysis of products, deliverables, product data sheets, correspondence with suppliers or other teams and more.


Product Lifecycle Management is the next step after PDM. While PDM manages the technical information around a product, PLM takes it a step further and manages the entire product lifecycle from having the idea and doing the analysis of this idea, to designing, manufacturing, maintaining the product, and archiving old products. See the article about PDM vs PLM for more information.

Use cases of CAD PDM

Use cases of CAD PDM software

Version Control

You can use PDM software to have version control for CAD files. Version control helps you manage versions at every state of the design process. You can always go back to previous versions and avoid lost work or having to re-do work.

For example, you check out a part file and make a change to extend the length. You save. Then you realize the part doesn’t fit in the assembly anymore. You then have to go back to the previous version. Did you save the previous version? Do you have to now undo the change? With version control you don’t have to waste your time with these questions because they are already built into the system. You can see every state of change and go back to previous versions.

Data control

CAD PDM can help you manage your product data better. There is a lot of data stored in CAD files around a product. To view and use this product data you would have to open the CAD file. For stakeholders, especially non-engineering stakeholders, a CAD PDM can extract that data from the CAD files so you can view and manage it without needing to open the file in an expensive CAD software.

For example, if you want to know the material of the part, that information might be stored as a metadata field inside the CAD file. This can then only be seen if you have CAD software, or a viewer installed and can open the file. With a CAD PDM system you can extract the metadata and view that information directly inside the system. You then avoid needing an extra viewer of CAD software installation.


35% of surveyed manufacturers said that working on wrong and outdated data is a top design challenge according to a study by Tech Clarity. CAD PDM helps avoid non-productive tasks.

There are several automations and best practices that are built into CAD PDM software that helps you increase your productivity. Version control helps you avoid having to re-do work. Checking out and checking in a file helps the team see who is working on what file and helps avoid clashes of people working on the same part. Having a centralized system to store all your files helps everyone know where to find information and which files are the latest versions.


Collaborating with other team members and other stakeholders becomes easier because you can check-out and check-in files so everyone knows who is working on what. Sharing files also becomes easier because you can manage references outside of your CAD software making it easier to share all the files you need. A centralized system helps everyone know where to find files. In some systems, you can add comments and tasks to files so everyone can share any information related to the file.

Data Library

A CAD PDM system can act as a data library. You can store all your files to organize and allow you to search for your information. You can categorize and organize your files with index fields or “labels” that you can assign to your files. Having a data library where you store your files all in one place and archive older files can help you find the information you need when you need it.


Getting started with CAD PDM

Levels of PDM

You are now familiar with the different use cases of CAD PDM and why it is important for a growing engineering team. But where do you get started? There are different levels of systems to support your workflow.

Levels of CAD PDM software

Level 1: The basics

The basics include light CAD file management with a single place for your team to view and see your files. Some key features might include:

  • CAD file reference management.
  • CAD software integration.
  • CAD file viewers.
  • Metadata extraction so you can see CAD software defined properties outside of your CAD system.
  • CAD version control

Level 2: Professional PDM

  • Bill of Materials (BOM) creation
  • Light built-in workflows
  • Revision control

Level 3: Product lifecycle management

  • Customizable workflows
  • Improved viewing and annotations
  • Configuration Items (CI’s) management
  • Engineering Change Order (ECO) control
  • Project management tools

Where does software fit in to my business?

Often, people tend to see software as a simple solution, but sometimes they forget that software is merely a tool. The tool needs to fit into the bigger business workflow. The system itself needs to work with the tool and the tool needs to fit into the system. For more established companies with established processes, the tool needs to conform to the process because the process is proven and works for that company. For smaller companies still trying to figure out their process, a software workflow tool can help establish more of a process that works for them. In both cases, the software is not isolated. We need to consider how you can best achieve your goals and in what scenarios the tool fits into your business to help achieve your goals. This can be a starting point for companies considering adding a CAD PDM tool to their business. Map out your process and see what levels of PDM fit in to your workflow.

Conclusion: CAD PDM is a good tool to support a good engineering process, start with the level that fits your workflow

A CAD PDM can be a good tool for engineers to manage their product designs. There are many use cases for an engineering team such as version control, better data control, increased productivity and collaboration, and a data library. What are some of the challenges your engineering team faces with managing CAD designs and working together? For a team just getting started on finding the right level of CAD PDM, consider mapping out your process, identifying the key pain points that, if solved, could help your team reach their goals. Then determine the level of PDM that works for your team.

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