Integrate ECAD with PLM to achieve full product definition

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Written by
Perttu Korpela

As PLM Business Director, I meet with companies from different industries daily. It is apparent that all products include electronics nowadays, but the management of electronic CAD data (ECAD) is not as mature as the management of mechanical CAD data (MCAD). In this blog, I will go through my take on why companies, regardless of their industry, should take ECAD data management seriously and include it in their PLM roadmaps.

Today, companies need to document full product definition in an enterprise system like PLM. Enterprise visibility to complete product data helps companies be more efficient, not only in product design but also across the enterprise.


Common challenges with ECAD and PLM today

Shortage of components, as seen today, puts extreme pressure on companies to find alternative suppliers and parts. Different ways to manufacture or procure parts from various locations make efficient procurement, manufacturing, and change management a challenge if data is managed in network folders and changes in emails. Furthermore, someone needs to document the product changes to enable product support, aftermarket, and different life cycle service. When the frequency of changes increases, documentation and change impact analysis might get neglected if there are many manual steps in the processes.

An increase of product regulatory demands on OEMs increases the need to know and document the products. Today, it is no longer enough to rely on part suppliers’ certification to comply with different regulations such as REACH or RoHS. The regulations change frequently, and new ones are imposed on OEMs. The more markets the products are put on, the more regulations to comply with. Knowledge of chemical substances in the product makes it possible to anticipate needed product changes in advance to minimize the risk of banned market entry or not being compliant with new regulations.
The full product definition includes complete BOMs and related documents to both bought and own-design parts. World-class manufacturers include product chemical composition alongside other documents in the product definition in one way or another.


ECAD data model in Windchill

Benefits of integrating ECAD with PLM

Improved part life cycle visibility across design, procurement, and manufacturing makes it possible to react quickly to component availability or pricing changes. Sourcing alternative parts and changing the product can start earlier and keep all the functions aware of each other’s progress in the change process.

Improved part supplier management also makes changing suppliers easier. In extreme cases, it is impossible to change PCB supplier because the current PCB supplier has the knowledge of available and approved component manufacturers. When OEMs have the information in their own hands, they are less dependent on the current suppliers.

Improved collaboration of design domains through data exchange between ECAD and MCAD tools enables interference and heat exchange analysis multiple times during the design cycle. With the traditional approach using neutral file formats such as DXF, IDF, or STEP, the iteration rounds take a lot of time and are not done frequently enough. Different domains are synchronized easier and quicker with a solid and version-managed data exchange process. This helps companies get the products to the markets on time with less risk of delayed product launches.

Efficient product compliance reporting is possible when the product information is in one system and is up to date. When the compliance engineer pulls out the data, s/he can at the same time see if there are ongoing changes that affect the regulatory compliance. This reduces the risk of a product hitting the market based on old documentation. If this is discovered later, it can lead to costly product recalls or withdraws.

ECAD BOM in Windchill

Altium NEXUS and PTC Windchill

Every OEM is interested in gaining the above benefits. But collecting all the data needed, and keeping it up to date, requires so much work that it is not practically possible to manage. This is what a good, transparent, and intuitive ECAD data management system, such as Altium NEXUS, makes possible. Getting all these benefits is possible when data collection is part of daily work without added labor. Utilizing online services like Octopart and enabling enterprise access to data through native PLM integration, such as integration with PTC Windchill, does not add to the design team’s work. Quite the opposite, Altium NEXUS reduces manual steps in the process and makes design teams more efficient.

Stay tuned for a follow-up when I tell you about Altium NEXUS capabilities. These capabilities enable companies to achieve the benefits that I have discussed here.

Best regards,
Perttu Korpela


Read more about Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and explore the possibilities with PTC Windchillhere.

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