Managing an engineering group’s data is a chore….
It sounds simple; everybody keeps their own assemblies on their local hard drives while they work on them and then they copy them up to a network drive for the boss to look at when they are done. But if you do it that way, you start running into all sorts of problems, like production files getting overwritten by accident, or people loosing work on their local PC when their hard drive crashes, and keeping track of all the different versions of a design.
Thus, Product Data Management (PDM) was born. PDM is a way to safely store and manage all your data in one location (a file vault on the network) while still allowing people to safely work with it. SolidWorks offers two primary Product Data Management (PDM) systems, SolidWorks Workgroup PDM (Workgroup) and SolidWorks Enterprise PDM (Enterprise), to help companies organize and control their engineering data. Both programs perform these basic functions – they just differ in complexity and scalability.
Workgroup is the older of the two programs and comes standard with SolidWorks Professional and Premium. It is designed for small engineering groups where everyone is on the same network. The maximum number of recommended users is difficult to calculate generally SolidWorks recommends no more than 10 users.
In Workgroup, the files and the associated file information (AKA metadata), like Part Number and Description, is stored in a managed folder structure on the Workgroup Server. The metadata information is not stored in a database but rather in separate text based files for each revision of each file. On the plus side, this means you don’t have to worry about configuring and maintain a relational database like Microsoft SQL, but that also means you don’t get any of the benefits of SQL, like robust searching.
Workgroup is fully integrated with SolidWorks – users can retrieve data from and save data to the file vault – either from within the SolidWorks application or using SolidWorks Explorer. Non-SolidWorks users can also access the vault using SolidWorks Explorer with a separately purchased license.
Enterprise PDM, as the name implies, is for larger organizations (up to 500 users on a single server) with more users, more sites and more needs than just basic file management. In addition to being fully integrated with SolidWorks, it is also fully integrated with Windows Explorer. This means both CAD and (more importantly) non-CAD users can navigate within the vault just like a regular Windows folder.
Enterprise has much stronger security and audit controls than Workgroup, built in support for multiple workflows, Bill of Materials management, and multiple file types can be managed by the system (not just SolidWorks files).
Finally, Enterprise uses a Microsoft SQL database (included in the purchase price) to store the file metadata. Because of this, the search feature is twice as fast and more robust in Enterprise than in Workgroup. Also, in Enterprise, the SQL database and the actual files themselves do not need to reside on the same server. This provides much greater scalability because the searching and file operations can be handled by separate servers.
Because it’s not all tied to one server, if you have more than one office that needs to access the vault, you can set up a file vault server at each location and replicate data to it. In practical terms, this means users in a field office can get files from a vault on their local network, rather than having to retrieve them from the home office over the WAN.
Because of its basic structure, Workgroup is an extremely easy product to implement and manage. Enterprise is also easy to set up and configure but does involve more training and implementation time than Workgroup. However, when compared to other PDM systems, Enterprise is vastly easier to set up and manage.