The PLM State: Resurrecting PDX and extending the value chain

October 31, 2013 By:

the-house-of-frankensteinGiven the time of year and the approach of Halloween I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss resurrecting PDX. PDX or Product Data eXchange standard is a xml based format that is governed by IPC, the Association for Connecting Electronics Industries. This export standard is an underutilized key to fully leveraging the data trapped in Product Lifecycle Management systems and communicating more precisely with supply chain vendors in lieu of providing direct access to your PLM system. The format has languished for some time as a niche solution mainly leveraged in the high tech electronics space. This article will further define the capabilities of the format and why it has been somewhat neglected and how it can be leveraged as a powerful solution to extend the value chain beyond PLM. As Dr. Frankenstein likes to say, “It is Alive”.

The first order of business is to better define what exactly PDX is. I will site the source from the IPC Committee Page on Supply Chain Communication, “The format, identified as Product Data eXchange (PDX), is documented in the standard series IPC-257X. The effort is focused on communicating product content information between Original Equipment Manufacturers, Electronics Manufacturing Services providers, and component suppliers. The standard is based on XML DTD (Document Type Definition) and provides a simple flexible way to encode structured data into a format that is both human and machine-readable. The PDX standard consists of the Generic descriptions (IPC-2571), the as built descriptions (IPC-2576), and product design configuration data (IPC-2578). What this means in simpler terms is that PDX enables the export of product data in the form of a bill of material, meta-data (i.e. attributes) and actual file attachments all organized in a single file. The majority of PLM and ERP systems in the industry support the import and export of this file type and there are stand-alone viewers and editors as well that can leverage the format. Obviously, having this information directly exported from a PLM system and maintained in a single file could be of immense value as a means to communicate with manufacturing or design partners and there are companies today that leverage this format for that purpose. However, in spite of the promise this format offers it still remains somewhat obscure with a small following mainly leveraged by electronics companies for supply chain partners.

The format was originally created by Agile PLM prior to their acquisition by Oracle. Early on Agile had targeted electronics suppliers as a target market and was very successful in establishing a substantial beachhead among electronics companies and contract manufacturers. PDX was a key element in their strategy since it enabled effective ways to share data and streamline the manufacturing process for these companies. As Agile matured as a company and began to gain more market share in other industries they were less aggressive about promoting the format and it took on more of a life of its own. Most PLM vendors view PDX as a necessary evil but do little to encourage their customers to adopt it since it means less license revenue for them. Both Arena and Aras have announced recent initiatives around PDX and Oracle announced an upgrade to their PDX viewer but for the most part PDX remains a fairly well kept secret in most industry segments outside of electronics.

One of the bigger problems with PDX is that the viewer technology has lagged substantially. The original Agile eXpress viewer from Oracle required major hurdles to even install and even the newer solutions from Arena and others are limited in their ability to view large PDX files and can also struggle with files exported from different systems. Moreover, the Arena tool is online so that creates some security concerns and access to the web is required for interaction with the tool. Other issues around performance and ability to manipulate the data once it is in the viewer have limited the adoption of this file format as a means to share information with external partners who do not have access to a company’s PLM tool.

As a PLM consultant we encourage our clients to develop security models to allow external partners to access their product information directly but it is rarely done. Most companies are concerned that even with security enabled that external companies could gain access to information they are not supposed to see. There is also push back from the supply chain partners about having to learn someone else’s system and then there is the cost associated with having to purchase additional licenses for all your partners. Some companies like Arena offer supplier licenses at a discount but most PLM vendors do not offer any special considerations for external users. I discussed this shortcoming in an article titled “The Price is Right… or is it” back in 2010. The next effect is that very few companies gain a lot of benefit from the investment they make in PLM when they engage with external companies for design or manufacturing services. Excel, email and IGES rule the day when it comes to exchanging information with external partners and this creates a dangerous environment prone to error and IP loss.

To address some of these shortcomings we have partnered with a development organization to introduce PDXState. This application addresses the shortcomings of current PDX viewers and allows for a robust performance while supporting output from all major PLM solutions. We are currently evaluating use cases for the editor piece and offering interested companies the opportunity to test out the viewer for free. Please view the demo on our website and if you are interested in evaluating the viewer and providing feedback for additional editing capabilities click on the download box and will arrange for you to get access to the application. PDX is a sleeping giant when it comes to enabling better communication with the supply chain. We want to bring it back to life and allow it to reach its full potential. What better time to announce a plan like this than Halloween.


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