17 Replies Latest reply on Aug 16, 2016 11:42 AM by Chris Vaught

    How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?

    Kris Reddy

      I am trying to understand the best practices for sharing product data within EPDM with companies/partners/suppliers/co-developers outside our company. At present, the only method I can find is to 'pack' the some or all of product data (meta data, assembly & parts, drawings, and all other relevant data) and send it to the recipient. And when there is an update to the data that has been shared, then do this all over again.

      On the recipient's side, they have to 'unpack' the data and load it into their system. We have a few scenarios here:
      1. The recipient has EPDM+SolidWorks - they may be able to take the data 'as is' with very little massaging to get into their system.2. The recipient has PDM/PLM/CAD from another vendor - they have to find a way to "import" the data into their system, and this may lead to data being neither imported into their PLM system or their CAD system.
      3. The recipient has only CAD system - they have to grab the CAD data out of the 'pack' and use it, perhaps after translating it into their native CAD system, if they arent using SolidWorks.

      And all of them have to this over again the moment something changes at the sending end to either the metadata or the CAD data.

      I would like to know if the user community has evolved a set of best practices for each scenario. I would appreciate if people can share their thoughts on how they would deal with this situation in their company.

        • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
          Faur Arama

          EPDM has also a web server and web clients. These tools can be used to sharing your data with partners.   

            • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
              Kris Reddy

              Thanks Faur. But a web server and web clients does not address the question I have posed. For ex. if we have 3 partners who all have different PLM+CAD system (other than EPDM+SolidWorks), it doesnt help them much even if we gave them all access to our web server with the product data.
              Firstly, they wouldnt know how to use the web server & client and surely arent going to learn our system to do their work.
              Secondly, they would still want access to the product data itself, so they can load it into their system and use it in their environment. Hope I have made it a little clearer.

            • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
              Tim Webb

              Hi Kris.

              I don't recommend the pack and go method after having managed a SOLIDWORKS PDM based document control department with an aircraft interiors company in 2011 & 2012. Mixed references end up causing a major pain in the rear.


              First method I proposed and deployed:

              1. Outside "contractor" works in their managed CAD system/PDM system
              2. When Design is ready for review, contractor drops a PDF for review (NO interim CAD model updates)
              3. When design is complete, they pack and go the entire assembly tree and upload it to dropbox


              Our team found some holes in the content and management of deliverables against contract so we came up with generation 2:

              1. Built a cloud based EPDM system on rackspace
              2. Contractor works directly inside our own EPDM connected via VPN
              3. All work is assigned by version free variables on the data card by a PM
              4. Contractors have permissions in edit states and the transitions going from edit to check states
              5. Develop a SSRS reporting dashboard to track the % complete (based on state) and monitored deliveries


              We found that either one method or the other works. But interim updates of the CAD data is a management nightmare.


              Lastly, to publish content downstream to supply chain, suppliers, machine shops, manufacturing, etc. check out Flatter Files at https://www.flatterfiles.com/


              Hope this helps,

              Tim CEPA


                • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                  Tim Webb

                  Basically since they were contractors to "us", we included it in the contract requirements they would use our system. This looks like it may only address one of your situations so good luck on your journey.

                  Hope this helps,

                  Tim CEPA


                  • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                    Kris Reddy

                    Tim, thank you very much for a well-thought out answer. I will check out Flatterfiles, thanks for the tip.


                    I should have made the following clear in my original post
                    1. The partners only take data from us, we dont expect anything back from them (except finished products)
                    2. We want our partners to always have the latest product data, since they are sometimes designing products that are assembled with our products
                    3. We cannot force them to use EPDM+SolidWorks
                    4. Design changes is a fact of life

                    • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                      Matt Rohr

                      I'll second Flatter Files, we have been using it for a few years with a lot of success.

                      • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                        James Santangelo

                        We have been using Flatter Files for the past year and can't say enough good things in how it integrates with EPDM and Chris the developer.  He is super responsive to any issues and and very open to suggestions.

                          • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                            Kris Reddy

                            James, thanks for your reply. I have been checking out Flatterfiles and this is my first impression:
                            1. Flatterfiles installation and start-up is easy.

                            2. The automatic uploader seems like a good idea but I have not checked it out yet.

                            3. I have not checked out the EPDM integration.

                            4. Sharing of files to 3rd parties seem to be easy.

                            5. Focus seems more on 2D drawings & PDF, and other drawing viewables, rather than on true product data which includes metadata, 3D, and 2D.

                            6. Have to investigate how product changes (metadata, 3D, drawings) are automatically given to the supplier.

                            So it may work for certain installations, but not sure if it will for the our requirements described above. But will keep looking at it.

                              • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                                Chris Vaught

                                Thanks everyone for the positive reviews of Flatter Files.


                                Kris - I just wanted to provide some additional information that hopefully will help you with your evaluation. Flatter Files strength is definitely the tight integration with EPDM. As you release new drawings in EPDM they will be processed by the Uploader automatically. The Uploader will auto generate a PDF using SW, extract the appropriate property data, and upload everything to the Flatter Files Cloud. In addition, it can be configured to auto generate additional deliveries such as STEP, Parsolid, DXF and many other generic CAD file formats. In addition you can include the native SW files in the upload or have FF auto generate eDrawing replacements for the native files.


                                With regard to the focus on PDFs, Flatter Files organizes all content around an item's PDF. FF can be used for transferring the 3D content or DXF flat pattern, but both will be included as additions to the PDF. By doing this, FF creates a much simpler user experience due to the consistency and single item approach. When you perform a search, you don't get a list of files. Instead you get a list of items where each item contains a PDF and then the appropriate associated content. For example, you may have a STEP file included with all items, but a DXF only for sheet metal parts (the Uploader can even generate the DXF from the model's flat pattern automatically). This results in a very consistent user experience since no matter what the underlying native file type is (SW, DWG, Word, etc) you can view the item directly in the browser immediately.


                                Shared items can be configured to auto email the vendor anytime a new revision is added for one of the items contained with the shared item. So consider the scenario where you have created a link containing 10 items that the vendor needs access to. A few days later you notice a mistake with one drawing and change the state in EPDM of the drawing. First, FF will immediate mark the item as being modified and if someone views that item they will be shown a warning message that the item is being modified. This applies to both internal and external viewers. Once the new revision is finished and the item is released then the Uploader auto adds the new revision and the vendor will automatically receive an email indicating that there is a new revision. No need to re-share the item or do anything extra beyond adding the revision in EPDM.


                                Hopefully you find the above information helpful. I am happy to answer any additional questions you may have.





                                Chris Vaught


                          • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                            Ryan McVay

                            Sounds like you need a PDM/PLM system that is a multi-CAD system. ;-)


                            Teamcenter allows for multi-CAD and utilizes the JT model for working with multi-CAD geometry within a product structure. Meta-data stays the same for all.


                            Your biggest problem is getting meta-data that isn't assigned to your data within CAD out to your end users. XML outputs might help with that. Then if you have another PDM/PLM system they could import and map your xml outputs to their system.


                            Without giving access to your data (and you licenses) to your customers you really don't have a good option to share your data. This is exactly why the CAD OEMs are pushing PDM and PLM systems so hard. It locks you and your customers down to using their systems!


                            1. You are still going to have issues getting SW+EPDM into another SW+EPDM system. Versioning and Service Packs have to match for both companies and getting your meta-data out might be a challenge. Even when that is done everyone has a pretty unique business workflows and states. You can't just Export and Import this data.

                            2. xml exports for meta-data and depending on the CAD system Parasolid or STEP exports of models

                            3. Parasolid or STEP exports PDF of drawings.

                              • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                                Kris Reddy

                                Thanks Ryan. We do have EPDM+SW now, so installing TeamCenter or any other product is just not feasible. No stomach for yet another PDM installation or the $$$$ :-)
                                As you have pointed out, keeping our suppliers totally in sync with our product's meta-data & CAD data through the many changes/revisions is turning out to be a much bigger challenge than I expected.
                                Given our EPDM+SW setup, all we are looking for is the best practices on how to share BOTH metadata (selectively) & CAD data to suppliers (basically from us to the supplier, so collaboration is not what we are asking for) in a manner that puts very little burden on us and them to keep this 'connection' up to date with the changes going on at our end.

                                  • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                                    Ryan McVay

                                    Kris Reddy Kris-

                                    Sorry I was being a bit facetious in my comments about Teamcenter.


                                    Here's what you could do. We utilize a transition state and some meta-data to check for files that have a certain flag set and then ftp the file (with a different name assigned from the meta-data) to our website to ensure our website drawings are current.

                                    You could do a similar process.

                                    Setup up some actions to take place when you transition files from state to state. So, say that you have a file In Work and move that file to Released (keeping the states simple here- of course you would have many other states in between). During that transition you could ftp the file to your vendor/customer. You could also launch an email to inform them that something has updated. You could write rules based on project "folders" if you organize your data that way and have different ftp sites and different email address assigned to the folders in your rules. That is a why to automate keeping them up to date. As for the meta-data side you might be able to create some sort of file be created during that transition which could be included in the ftp packet.

                                    This would require some serious API programming to do but I don't think there is anything to "left field".

                                      • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                                        Kris Reddy

                                        Thanks Ryan. It looks like your suggestion seems to be the only meaningful way to do this. Although I suspect it wont be easy to set it up. I checked out FlatterFiles as was suggested by many folks here. Its a simple product with limited utility. Nowadays all of our suppliers have already standardized on one PDM/PLM/CAD or another and just dont have the resources to incorporate yet another product like FF. So we have to take a pass on that.
                                        But your suggestion of using some procedural methods (based on folders, ftp, email and the like) may be the band-aid we could use for now. Of course it still leaves our suppliers with the unenviable task of taking this data into their set-up for use downstream, whether they are drawings or 3D models. It also looks like there is some programming to be done to achieve this, both at our end and at the supplier end. Even if I can get our IT dept to help us with this, I am not sure how we can convince our suppliers to take the data we are sending them.
                                        If anyone knows any vendor that has created software solutions for this, please post your tips here.

                                  • Re: How to share EPDM product data with outside partners?
                                    Scott Stuart

                                    Our philosophy is this:

                                    1. We avoid file version issues by always sending the latest version of the file to the supplier when we place an order. We instruct our suppliers to not keep copies of files since they will receive new files with the next order, and we hold them liable for any orders produced to older version.

                                    2. We avoid CAD software issues by sending files in neutral format, STEP for 3D and DWG/DXF for 2D.

                                    3. To facilitate converting the files I developed an automated (VBA) Excel spreadsheet that takes a list of part numbers as input and provides a zip file of STEP/DWG/DXF as output. We destroy the neutral format files after sending to the supplier, to avoid version issues on our end.