Product Metadata

In the good (?) old days of the industrial revolution, the drawing artifact carried the abstract product definition. The drawing was a physical and tangible thing, which made it easy to understand and manage mentally. The drawing represented the shape of the part/assembly, but not only that, all other properties as well. Many assembly drawings were very complex and the drawing sets were supported by Bill of Material (BOM) list for the representation of the assembly structures.

When the digitalization of the production started in the ’70s the first part of the product definition that was addressed was the BOM and the changes of that one overtime/batch/….


Most of the Part/assembly definition stayed on the drawing. With the introduction of CAD, there was a possibility to separate the shape property from the rest of the properties. Some industries working in very competitive situations started to do that in the ’90s when most of the non-shape related properties of a part were moved out of the drawing and defined instead in regular text documents. At the same time, the identity of the drawing was separated from the identity of the part/assembly. The part/assembly definition was truly abstract at this point.

The first generation of Product Data Management (PDM) supported that step in the development by its focus on part/part structures, document/document structures and change management of these. To be able to search for parts and documents some properties were extracted from the drawings and the documents as “meta-data” and made searchable in the PDM database. From a knowledge management point of view, the extraction is questionable since it is by itself an application of a view of the product definition by that itself restricts the possibility to make conclusions outside that view. This is a fundamental problem for the utilization of existing product knowledge captured in the product definitions of companies.

Much of this concern is addressed by the attempts to move to Model-Based Development. Drawings are no longer used and the product definition is managed in standardized formats including models for behavior and shape.

What to do with all old and current product definitions?

A large step forward is achieved in ShareAspace by integrating a “meta-data” search of all PLM objects with free text search of documents. This means that the restrictions inherent in predefined views are avoided and the scope of product data knowledge available will increase dramatically.

A typical problem that is addressed by the combination of “meta-data” and full-text search is when engineers document the result of their work, often under time pressure, in a way they understand and store it in a place where they can find it later. Engineers working in later phases of the product life cycle will never find it and instead, they need to discuss their issues with the defining engineers and often fund an internal project to resolve whatever has become the current issue with the initial design. By combining the search for parts in the PLM “meta-data” layer with a search for the same parts in documents a more complete view of the existing product information intelligence will be available while costly and time-consuming processes are avoided.

If full-text search and pattern recognition are combined, virtual links can be created between documents viewed to PLM data content featuring automatically creation of clickable documents during import of documents. That would ease the move from document-centric design, production and maintenance processes to object-oriented.