Autodesk Products – A CAD Perspective


Autodesk Product Data Management: A CAD Perspective


Autodesk Product Data Management solutions prove to be easy and straightforward to use, and also promise to considerably increase user productivity during product development.

This report reviews Autodesk’s Product Data Management Systems from a CAD Designer point of view. During the process of our review we collected many images of the software functions. We have placed these images, most of which are not included in this paper because of brevity, on our web site along with explanations.  AutoCAD Improvements paper can be found here

Highlights of the Autodesk PDM products

Data management allows Engineering to more easily share and secure data with a formal Engineering Change Order process which can be monitored and tracked.

Raymond Kurland of TechniCom, the author of this paper, spent several days at Manufacturing Solutions Division (MSD) headquarters in Tualatin, Oregon in mid August,

2006, focusing on Autodesk’s Data Management Solutions and their interaction with Autodesk Inventor. Ray met with Autodesk management and technical experts, the goal being to develop this paper summarizing the connection between Autodesk Inventor, Vault, and Productstream, what they provided for users, and how easy or hard they were to use.

Ray met with Eamon O’Gorman, Product Manager for the Data Management Products as well as several executives to get their perspective on the technology and where it is headed. O’Gorman focuses primarily on the requirements for these products, which include Vault, Productstream, and Streamline.

This paper summarizes the most important functions of Vault and Productstream, two of the major components of Autodesk’s PDM software and why they are important for prospective users. Autodesk sponsored this paper and minimally edited the final version. The impressions and conclusions are solely those of the author, an independent analyst and consultant in the CAD/CAM/CAE/PDM industry.

Manage Work-in-Progress Design with Autodesk Vault

Maximize return on your company’s investment in design data by driving design reuse with Autodesk Vault functionality. A centralized data management application that securely stores and manages design data, Autodesk Vault is included at no additional cost with all Autodesk manufacturing design software and AutoCAD ( coupons and discounts are here ) customers signed up for the subscription service. Tightly integrated with each design application, Autodesk Vault organizes all engineering data in a centralized location and reduces the time needed to find, reference, and reuse design data. The graphical UI (User Interface) offers CAD users an intuitive way to access and manage their data. As product designs evolve, versionmanagement features in Autodesk Vault provide protection from unintentional overwriting of good designs. In addition, users can save hours of valuable design time with the powerful copy design capabilities that maximizes reuse of existing designs and reduces the time required to start a new design.

See : Autocad Tips And Tricks For Beginners for more ideas

Automate Release Management with Autodesk Productstream

Maintaining control of the design data until it goes into production proves to be a major factor in getting products to market faster. Obstacles to increasing productivity include changes made to drawings and models without your knowledge, out-of-date bills of materials (BOMs), and trouble sharing design information. Autodesk Productstream automates the release-management process by managing engineering changes and bills of materials (BOMs), which allows engineering departments to maintain control over the design data after release to adjacent departments. Automating this process helps reduce costly errors and delays by minimizing manual data entry so that design changes are communicated directly back to engineering and correct parts are ordered or manufactured for a specific design. Engineering can more easily share design information knowing released information is secure and changes cannot be made without implementation of a formal engineering change order (ECO). In addition to automating release management and tracking the change order process, Autodesk Productstream manages bills of materials and enables the sharing of valuable design data with users outside engineering and applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and material requirements planning (MRP) systems, as illustrated in the image below, provided by Autodesk.


It’s about the process. The goal is to help customers bring standard products with options to market faster with less expense to have an advantage over the competition while providing value to the end customer.

Increase Collaboration with Autodesk Streamline

Efficient sharing of designs is crucial for maximum project visibility and collaboration. Autodesk Streamline provides an on-demand collaborative project management solution that enables users to connect, share, and collaborate with external team members, all at minimal complexity and cost. By providing a single location to securely access shared files and collaboration tools, Autodesk Streamline makes up-to-date design information available to customers and suppliers anywhere.

Share Designs with Autodesk DWF

The compact and easy-to-use Autodesk DWF file format for sharing designs offers a free and simple way for team members to publish any Autodesk design to DWF. The free Autodesk DWF Viewer allows anyone, including customers and suppliers, to easily view and print even the most complex 2D and 3D designs. Autodesk Design Review, available for a modest cost and included free with each copy of Productstream, accelerates the design review process by providing an all-digital way to review, mark up, and revise designs without the original design creation software.

Most Autodesk CAD applications include Vault at no extra charge. As you will see by the end of this discussion, it is therefore a no-brainer to use Vault instead of a file based system. We recommend that all users immediately begin the evaluation process to install

Other Autodesk Products

Here are few more write ups we have made about autodesk and autoCAD products



Use Autodesk Vault. The benefits are enormous (as you will see from the following discussion), the risk minimal, and only a nominal initial cost for help in getting started. Here are some more details on why we came to  this conclusion.

  • Managing the myriad file types and inter-related files describing the CAD design created by Inventor is a complex task. The file types include .IPT (part files), .IAM (assembly files), .IDW (drawing files), and .IPN (presentation files). Why worry about where they are located and which have changed? Vault does all that for you.
  • Vault maintains its data in a secure fashion. Someone with administrative permissions assigns privileges to appropriate users to move data in and out of the Vault. Thus data is delivered only to authorized personnel.
  • Vault is a no charge feature of all Autodesk design applications!
  • Vault provides a common location for backing up your valuable data. Not only that, but the availability of previous versions allows potentially recovering from major design errors.
  • Vault automatically saves and advances to new versions when design changes are made. Assurance that you are always working with the correct released data is enormously valuable.
  • Vault’s copy design function allows users to readily create new designs from existing ones, saving time and encouraging reuse of designs and parts.
  • Vault lays the groundwork for using Productstream, a straightforward, yet sophisticated release management system.
  • Vault data can be searched, the result being increased productivity by finding the correct data faster, and better reuse of existing parts.
  • It is easy to get started. Qualified Autodesk resellers offer a complete installation package including existing data migration to the Vault, training, and installation for $7,500.

When you are ready for the next step, Autodesk offers the Productstream release management system. This includes Bill of Material Management, Release Management and Change Management. While all of these can be installed and operational at once, it might be easier to take an incremental implementation approach, recommended by Autodesk. Designed to go beyond the task of maintaining the correct version, for which it requires Vault, Productstream offers many additional advantages. Only a few of these follow. Users are sure to find many more.

  • The install process takes only a few minutes. When we installed from scratch, it took only 13 minutes to install from the Productstream CD. At the conclusion of the installation, we had the free Microsoft SQL server (MSDE) installed as well as the Productstream application.
  • The ability to electronically track the status of ECO’s (Engineering Change Order) and open work can improve the management of engineering processes.
  • The ECO process can be changed by monitoring the routing of reviews and approvals, thus possibly eliminating bottlenecks in the process. This is impossible with a manual system.
  • The bill-of-material compare capability promises an easier review of in-process and better accuracy of completed ECOs.
  • Enacting rigorous controls for approvals allows more traceability and avoids “lost”


  • And many more, as you will discover when reading the rest of this document.


Description of the functionality of Autodesk Vault and Productstream

In case these descriptions whet your appetite for seeing more details of the software, contact your appropriate Autodesk representative or reseller. Autodesk contact information is at the end of this paper. You can also contact the author with feedback at

Productstream provides an out-of-thebox ready solution by supporting a limited number of standard operating workflows, which can be modified.

TechniCom’s descriptions and conclusions derive from discussions and demonstrations with Autodesk technical personnel and executives. We were able to interact closely during demonstrations and discussions of the functions discussed below.

Since this is a very visual business, a few screen images are included below to expand on the text. This should enable the reader of this paper to obtain an introductory “feel” for the functions.

The Autodesk PDM product family consists of Vault, Productstream and Streamline. These are buttressed by the ability to view Inventor and other Autodesk data files using the DWF file format, including DWF viewer and the new Design Review , for more see our Guide to Selecting a Mechanical CAD System for Small and Medium Businesses

Use Vault for work-in-process data management

Vault offers a work-in-process Product Data Management System capable of automatically producing versioning, primarily controlling file-oriented data. As you will see by the end of this discussion, it is therefore a no-brainer to use Vault instead of a file based system. We recommend that all users immediately begin the evaluation process to install and use Autodesk Vault. The benefits are enormous (as you will see from the following discussion), the risk minimal, and only a nominal initial cost for help is needed to get started.

Managing the myriad file types created by Inventor is a complex task. The file types include .IPT (part files), .IAM (assembly files), .IDW (drawing files), and .IPN (exploded assembly files). Why worry about where they are located and which have changed? Vault does all that for you.

Productstream adds additional capability to Autodesk Vault

Productstream adds additional capability to Autodesk Vault, most notably, bill-of-material management, release management and change management. As opposed to versioning, it produces revisions and operates on objects called items.

A typical work flow might be as follows. For a customer operating in the vault environment, when the work in progress is considered complete and ready for release, it would be released into the Productstream environment where changes and revisions would be managed. Productstream has a considerable amount of workflow capability. It is however, not a completely customizable system, but one oriented toward specific standard operating procedures, which can be modified. By doing so, Productstream provides a more out-ofthe-box ready solution.

Productstream requires Vault as a pre-requisite. Installing Vault requires an SQL server, the Microsoft product for database management. If not installed previously, installing Productstream automatically installs one for you. Productstream not only stores data from Inventor, it stores any file format such as that from Microsoft Office. Without understanding the content, it can manage versions for any file. In addition, Productstream understands the product structure of SolidWorks and Pro/Engineer by integrating directly to these applications using their APIs. Of course, CAD authors have access to their data. But non-authors can access Productstream data from other areas of the company, such as manufacturing, purchasing, and sales, etc. Such access is granted through rich clients called Creator, Reviewer, and the browser-based Explorer. These are chargeable items ranging from $1,795 per network license for Autodesk Productstream Creator down to as low as $200 for Autodesk Productstream Explorer.

Streamline, the third product, is primarily a host-based product, oriented towards allowing supplier and customer access for those companies that are not part of the originating enterprise for the data. It acts as a security barrier when data is uploaded; customers can only view that data for which they have access. Built-in security provides encryption for uploading data and storage and a permissions matrix. Streamline also provides an activity log, performance monitoring information, and the ability to extensively search for data, including internal access to metadata (additional descriptive data) and content data within, for instance, drawings. Data is “pushed” (manually uploaded) from Productstream to Streamline, or this process could be automated with a minimal amount of Autodesk services consulting.


Using Productstream to complete the ECO

Productstream helps manage the ECO through its approval, review, and modifications stages.

Image 8 – The ECO Routing tab defines The revision we made above primarily centered around CAD, creating and controlling the parts and assemblies to build a new design. Thus, we used the Autodesk Vault work-inprocess functions. Now, with the CAD design complete, we need to move into the release phase. Our next tasks, thus involve administration of the BOM, release management, and change management, all part of Productstream.

Assigning item numbers

First, we execute an “assign item” wizard function to change from the engineering part numbers to item numbers. The system automatically assigns item numbers that meet company standards sequentially or using a mapped numbering scheme. For instance, in our case, this was ASKA XXXX, with the four-digit number sequentially numbered by the system for every new item. Alternatively, item numbers can be derived from file names. We call these item numbers rather than part numbers, because items may include not only parts, but other objects in the bill-of-material besides in-house manufactured parts, such as electronic documents, purchased parts, specifications, etc.

Changing from a part number to an item number still retains all the CAD part relationships; the CAD files are now attached to the item.

To complete the engineering change for our clamping fixture, we have design work remaining beyond the geometric CAD design — performing an FEA analysis, adding cable ties, and the approval and release of the design. The following steps now become more process-centric, rather than CAD-centric, but are key steps in completing the design process.

Sending automated notifications

In each case where we changed the state of the ECO (for instance, from in-process to design complete) or initiate ECOs, the system initiates and sends e-mail notifications to the appropriate parties, as controlled by routing information previously defined during the creation of a new user, by the administrator.


who participates in the ECO process and

what roles they play. Multiple routings can be created to define different

processes. The ECO Status Tab (shown here) shows the workflow process. The

yellow box indicates the current step.

Reviewing and marking up the ECO

Typically, the reviewer would work with a DWF file, adding suggestions for changes, as shown in Image 9. Editing the ECO allowed us to access the proposed design using Autodesk’s design review capability (Design Review 2007), included with Productstream. Markups are stored as part of the ECO, retaining a history of the design. At any stage of the ECO, we are able to access the markup. The ECO moves through a series of stages

TechniCom, Inc. – 970 Clifton Avenue – Clifton, NJ 07013 USA (973) 470 9110 –

Your rating: none
Rating: 0 - 0 votes

Add Comment