Traditionally, CAD/CAM has been considered a distinct market area or application sector, with CAD and CAM being related but somewhat independent sub-segments. Applications under this umbrella include the authoring tools to create conceptual designs, product designs, tool designs and product documentation, and the NC software programs used to generate and visualize the tool paths necessary to machine a part. Both the CAD and CAM markets are clearly definable. The value of user purchases and vendor revenues for CAD and CAM applications are routinely estimated by firms such as CIMdata.
In parallel with the continued development of CAD/CAM applications, a Product Data Management (PDM) function was established during the 1980s, the primary objective being to manage the data generated during the design process.
The PDM concept was subsequently broadened during the 1990s to encompass the full product definition life cycle. Product definition includes the entire set of information that defines how a product is designed, manufactured and serviced. It is an intellectual asset of a business that can be captured, maintained and leveraged. Product definition resides not just within an individual company, but also across an extended enterprise, including suppliers, partners and customers. This expanded definition of PDM is termed Collaborative Product Definition Management (cPDm) by CIMdata, but other terms are also used. The term cPDm does not include CAD/CAM applications.
However, within the past several months, firms such as IBM/DS and EDS (UGS) have broadened the PDM and cPDm concepts still further and now use the term Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). They view the product life cycle beginning at the earliest point of customer requirements and product concept and extending until a product is obsolete and field support has ceased. PLM includes the definition of the complete product and manufacturing processes, from mechanical and electronic components to software and documentation. The functions are typically independent of whether the data relate to design, prototypes, fabrication, operations or maintenance.
IBM/DS and EDS include many functions performed within a manufacturing company under the PLM term. Whereas PDM and cPDm focused on management of information created by authoring tools, PLM also includes the authoring tools. More specifically, their definition of PLM includes CAD/CAM applications. Of equal significance, the new EDS business unit created by the combination of UGS and SDRC is being called PLM Solutions.
As such, the definition of PLM as now employed by both IBM/Dassault and EDS, PLM Solutions includes a broad range of functions such as CAD, CAM, CAE, PDM, visualization, collaboration, document management, process planning, factory layout and quality management.
The world of CAD/CAM continues to evolve, and new acronyms, definitions and viewpoints abound. Once a stand-alone entity, CAD/CAM is now being considered as a component of PLM. This concept could require end users and vendors alike to adjust their thinking and place CAD/CAM in a different perspective. The focus in major manufacturing companies could be a PLM initiative, with CAD/CAM being one element in the initiative. Organizational decision making responsibilities could change, and product requirements could be expanded to accommodate a larger scope program. The benefits of a fully integrated PLM function are probably increased.
Nevertheless, even in an ever-changing environment, CAD/CAM remains as a critical and core application for all manufacturers and their suppliers.