January 11, 2010
keytech PLM V12: Product Lifecycle Management for SolidWorks
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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While a majority of design and engineering departments around the world have embraced CAD technologies, only a fraction of them have implemented a system in parallel for managing the resulting mountain of CAD data and documents. Here in 2010, why is this still largely the case? A number of reasons, really, and many departments and organizations still internally justify not having a true product document management (PDM) or product lifecycle management (PLM) system in place – product and implementation cost, training, the need for creating company-wide standards – the list goes on and on. The truth is that virtually every organization could benefit from implementing a PDM, or preferably, a PLM system that connects the engineering department to procurement to the factory floor, and so on. There’s really no good excuse anymore for not having some type of PLM system in place.

keytech PLM V12 is a little different than other PLM systems in the market in that it functions as a Product Lifecycle Management system in the context of a Data Lifecycle Management system that I found more easily understood and useable. In other words, keytech PLM V12 is all about data management, not only document management.

keytech PLM products are developed to manage a product from its conceptual phase through its disposal. All information, data and files associated with the product lifecycle are centrally managed and controlled by keytech PLM. The process of creating, changing, and maintaining all data and files is supported, controlled and documented in a secure environment. keytech PLM can store and manage a wide variety of 2D or 3D drawings and models and associated structures, bills of material (BOMs) MSOffice documents, as well as all of the associated metadata.

As you work with keytech PLM, title blocks are automatically filled in and BOMs are automatically created and written to associated drawings. This product operates well in most multi-cad environments. In addition to the standard PDM functionality required by any PLM system, keytech PLM V12 also features unique abilities such as managing both item structures and document structures interchangeably and allows for flexible previews with movable windows ideal for the multi-screen workstation.

Getting Started

I’m reviewing keytech PLM V12 integrated into SolidWorks Premium 2010 on an HP Elitebook 8730w mobile workstation. A couple of the key benefits of the 8730w are its generous keyboard and high-end DreamColor display with 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA) resolution. If you have to peer at a computer screen all day, the 8730w’s display offers welcome relief because of its resolution and brightness. Also a good keyboard and display make it well-suited for MCAD-related work.

Installing keytech PLM V12 is a straightforward process, and once that’s done, your ready for managing data. From within SolidWorks, you click the keytech PLM icon and login with a pre-assigned username and password. The integration with SolidWorks is strong and the information exchange between keytech PLM and SolidWorks is bidirectional.

The first screen displayed literally asks you “Where do you want to start?” This is always helpful, especially for new users like myself.

                                 keytech PLM Initial Screen

Its uncluttered UI is a benefit for learning keytech PLM in relatively short order. On most screens, the system prompts you by requiring that the only information that has to be entered is highlighted as yellow fields. The rest is optional, but experience has shown that the more information you enter, the better. One important aspect of the user experience I would like to see improved is keyetch PLM’s documentation. It’s too feature-oriented and not task-oriented enough, and this could provide new users with difficulties because although the UI is uncluttered, it is not completely intuitive and the data input process is fairly rigid, but adaptable. Online tutorials are available, but online or classroom training would definitely be helpful for most new users to get up to speed.

keytech PLM with an active project, a structure window for a trailer, and a document editor with a preview of the trailer assembly

Most users will begin with keytech PLM’s basic functionality – storing and loading parts and structures (parts, assemblies, and drawings).

Storing basically involves importing objects into keytech PLM from SolidWorks in this case (or other supported CAD systems) and saving them. For storing parts, you click Store on the keytech PLM toolbar. The Store dialog is displayed, select a store option for the part, enter the required information for defining the part, click Store to complete the process. Storing structures is basically the same, except that you must define Store Options (that define whether new items or documents are created, existing files and documents are overwritten, or revisioned) and Store Rules (for processing multiple models with a store option automatically assigned when the rule is applied). It’s a little more involved than that, but not too much.

Loading basically involves opening previously stored SolidWorks objects (parts and structures) with the keytech PLM Editor tab. Clicking a part or structure opens it in a new SolidWorks graphics window. For loading structures, you have three functional options:
  • Load Used Revisions – Loads a SolidWorks model structure and uses the revisions that are displayed in the feature structure tree.
  • Load Released Revisions – Loads a SolidWorks model structure and uses released revisions
  • Load Latest Revisions – Loads a SolidWorks model structure and uses the latest revision.
After storing and loading parts and structures, the bill of material (BOM) is an essential element for a fully functional PLM system. In keytech PLM, a BOM is an item structure or document structure and contains all of the items and information needed for actually producing a physical product. Because of the high level of integration, the keytech BOM interacts very well with the SolidWorks BOM, and allows for exporting a keytech PLM BOM, transferring position numbers from keytech PLM to SolidWorks, and adding a keytech PLM BOM with its attributes to a SolidWorks assembly loaded from keytech PLM. I noticed also that bills of items that comprise an assembly are automatically updated when an assembly is stored – a handy, no-brainer feature.

All in all, from a technical perspective, keytech PLM is a very capable, and easy to learn PLM system.

Pricing and Summary

Pricing for keytech PLM starts at $950 for the base module, and the SolidWorks integration is $540. These constitute keytech PLM’s least expensive combination, although probably not the most useful, because you'd want to at least add the BOM management module for an additional $540. So, for $2030 per seat you get a fully functional PLM system. You'll also need server application for supported databases (Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle) that runs around $3800, for an unrestricted number of clients.

keytech PLM also offers a wide variety of add-ins, such as Classification, Project Management, ERP integrations, and a wide range of supported CAD integrations beyond SolidWorks. This modular approach is a positive aspect and adds to keytech PLM’s flexibility and scalability. For example, the keytech PLM base module can be implemented with or without a SolidWorks implementation; a BOM Manager module could be added for the engineering department; and a Folders module could be implemented for program managers. In other words, keytech PLM ensures that the right people get the right PLM functionality for their specific purposes.

What this also means is that keytech PLM is more than what is available out of the box. It can be used as a plug-and-play application, but it can also be custom programmed with several possible ERP integrations, such as SAP, Oracle, BAAN, INFOR ERP, MS Dynamics AX or NAV,This customization can be developed internally by keyetch or by the customer, with a little guidance. This capability goes far beyond some competitors, who export product data to XML to and ERP system in a unidirectional manner.

With its capabilities and price point, keytech PLM is targeted to mid-size and large companies, so there is a large field in which to play.

Although I used keytech PLM V12 in a SolidWorks-only environment, the product is also well-suited for a multi-CAD environment, including CATIA, Inventor, SpaceClaim and SolidEdge. Again, a capability that will appeal to medium and large companies that almost certainly use multiple CAD systems.

The specific things I like best about keytech PLM and its approach are that it covers a product’s entire lifecycle via workflow; it is focused on data management, not just document management; and its levels of security, increasingly essential for protecting IP. Its unique process orientation, as well as modularity, and scalability help make it more approachable and affordable in the PLM space when compared with most of its competition.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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