Product Data Management - Small Business

Hi everyone,

I’m currently the only designer/engineer at a small business that designs knee braces for the action sports market. Lots of injection moulded parts and simple assemblies. We have a lot of part numbers (308 active components) due to different size or colour variations of the final product. We currently model in Solidworks and manage all our PDM data manually, using spreadsheets and doc files to keep track of part number allocation, part revision and product BOMs etc.
This system has obvious flaws where it is difficult to make sure the data is correct / up to date, introducing new users to the system can be difficult and when files get moved and renamed references in Solidworks get lost etc. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year actually going through all our current data and bringing it up to date and the ongoing maintenance of keeping it current is a pain. We are looking at picking up another CAD user or two next year for an upcoming project and we would like to set up a more robust PDM system before then.

I know Solidworks Pro has a standard PDM system built into it but our IT guy is really pushing back against setting up the required sequel server, the ongoing maintenance and having all of our data locked in there if the machine fails. Not to mention the ridiculous annual maintenance fees from our local reseller, as a result we haven’t updated our Solidworks version since 2016 SP3.

I’ve been looking at Autodesk’s Fusion 360 package and the built in PDM features there. I am not familiar with their full range of products but I can see some benefits from the outset.

  1. IT is a big a big fan of cloud subscriptions and the fact that it’s PDM data is set up on the cloud will mean less maintenance.
  2. I ran through some basic tutorials and it doesn’t seem to be a big jump moving from Solidworks to Fusion 360.
  3. It looks like the revision control will mean less problems with lost references for my drawings, assemblies.

I would like to know if anyone else has any recommendations for PDM software that they have found simple to use.
I would also like to know if anyone has any experience implementing either of these systems into a small business, any advice or suggestions?


Hey Fraser, I’m on the Fusion 360 team and what you’re describing sounds exactly like the kind of problems Fusion 360 is set out to solve: eliminate the constant switching of tools during data migration, the headaches of version management and people stepping on each other’s toes as well as how that impacts downstream assets like drawings and tool-paths. The associativity built within Fusion 360 enables you to make changes and have those changes propagate throughout the project, while having everything up-to-date and securely stored in the cloud. The data is yours forever, even if you decided to stop using Fusion 360. You’ll always have access to it as long as you can log into your account. If you’re interested to learn more, I’m happy to connect with you our product manager (who specifically looks after the data management side of Fusion 360) so he can give you a more detailed tour of the functionality and see if Fusion 360 is right for you. Shoot me PM and we’ll go from there!

Just a disclosure so no one freaks out, I asked Keqing to reply to this because I didn’t have the answer. Keqing is a friend of mine who works at Autodesk.

Thanks for clearing that up Yo.
For a minute there, I thought the Autodesk team were parked across the street from my office watching me. Turns out it was just the Tax Office.
I’ll reach out to your friend and be sure to post the outcome of all this here in case some one finds it useful in the future.

Hey fraser_frase.

I used to work at a small/medium sized company that had about ten thousand part numbers that were used and shared across about a hundred products. We used to handle our BOMs and part number creation through a bunch of spreadsheets. Things were getting out of hands as we grew from two people interacting with that data to 5 or 6.

We ended up going with Autodesk Vault to handle this. We were using a mix of Autodesk Inventor and Rhino. I think Vault is extremely similar to Solidworks’ PDM solution. Those programs run a complete database and as such can keep a bunch of information that as far as I know is not possible to get in Fusion 360 - mind you I use Fusion very sparsely. For example, you can do the obvious thing of getting all the parts used in an assembly but you can do the reverse and find all the assemblies that use a part. This is super handy if you have a lot of shared parts. It can automatically generate part numbers and avoid collisions between users. Change management, revision and document approval can be handled in the system. You can also have the system get you all the documentation related to a product/assembly which can be a huge time saver.

We dealt with in house manufacturing so we were often involved with minor change management and handling of documentation so we saw a lot of value from these fairly expensive PDM systems. It did take us almost a year to fully transition into the system comfortably. The upfront setup took a while and we had to change things around to suit our workflow which involved multiple CAD systems. Once things were set upm things worked pretty smoothly and the system got out of the way. I would advise getting someone to help with the initial setup and give you some training. Our reseller was actually very competent and helped us get our feet off the ground.

Though keep in mind, there is some hassle with running a heavy system like this and you loose some flexibility. If a lot of those features are useless to you maybe what’s built into Fusion 360 would be sufficient for you!

I don’t have much experience with this, but I do know that 3rd party solutions do exist for managing SolidWorks data. I haven’t used them so I can’t recommend any in particular, I just know some have marketed to me. Might be something to look into if you want to stick with SolidWorks. I’m guessing they’d be cheaper than the SW package.

Hi Louis,
Thanks for the recommendation. Specifically getting someone in to assist with the initial set up and training if we do go down the path of installing a PDM system.

Yeah I’ve seen a few too. One we are looking at is Openbom for Solidworks. Unfortunately, like all things the marketing material never tells you what the package can’t do or doesn’t do well.

Just closing this thread up in case anyone searches and finds this in the future.
Unfortunately Keqingsong didn’t reply to my DMs so my investigation down the Fusion 360 route didn’t develop much further than me doing some of their tutorials during the trial period.
I had a few calls with the local Solidworks reseller and we came to the conclusion that the PDM software didn’t have all the functionality that we required and as a result the cost of implementing and maintaining the PDM system didn’t justify the benefits, especially while we are still such a small team.
I was able to make a case to my employer that our financial position had improved quite a lot since we stopped paying for updates to the Solidworks package and that one of my primary tools should be up to date. We decided to continue to use the software that I am familiar with and we know handles all our legacy data.

On a personal note I do feel there is some promise in the Fusion 360 package as a CAD software (no comments about its PDM ability) and plan to continue using it in my spare time for personal projects, if only to get some familiarity with the system and what it can do.