What’s New SOLIDWORKS PDM 2021

It’s time to see what SOLIDWORKS is offering in the new release of SOLIDWORKS PDM. SOLIDWORKS PDM is by now a mature product, but SOLIDWORKS still manages to provide some meaningful enhancements with each new release. SOLIDWORKS PDM 2021 does the same.

Many of the enhancements are on the front-end (user-facing), but there have also been back-end performance enhancements that users will appreciate.

Performance Enhancements

While performance can vary from environment to environment, SOLIDWORKS reports that adding files to the vault is 1.5 to 3 times faster in PDM 2021. On average, this is approximately a twofold increase in performance.

Halving the time it takes to add files to PDM is likely enough to drive many companies to update to PDM 2021 immediately, but there are additional performance gains. Checking-in files and changing state operations are now approximately 25 percent faster. For large assemblies and drawings, a 25 percent decrease in the time needed to perform these operations will save a significant amount time. Destroying files and folders is also reported to be many times faster. While this operation is performed far less often than other operations, PDM administrators will appreciate the reduced time it will take to purge deleted files.

Breaking down these performance gains further, SOLIDWORKS has significantly improved performance in the following operations.

 For folders containing a very large number of files:

  • Check-in and check-out of a file.
  • Adding a new file by dragging, or by copying and pasting.
  • Creating a new file from a template.

For assemblies with a large number of components at a single level (i.e.: assembly, subassembly), when working in SOLIDWORKS:

  • Opening files.
  • Saving files.
  • Switching windows.
  • Editing a target file name in the Copy Tree dialogue box in a high latency environment.
  • Using Copy Tree when a user setting is added to clear variable values.

User-Facing Front-End Enhancements

Beyond these notable performance enhancements in SOLIDWORKS PDM 2021, there are some great front-end enhancements that many users will appreciate.


The first of these is the customization of columns. In PDM Administration, the columns node is used to add Column Sets that are displayed in the PDM Explorer View and the Search View. Before SOLIDWORKS PDM 2021, there were essentially two column types that could be defined, one for the PDM Explorer and the other for the search window. Each user or group could have assigned one Explorer Column Set and one Search Column Set. This changed slightly in PDM 2020, when SOLIDWORKS introduced Quick Search. This resulted in a new column for the Quick Search Results.

In PDM 2021, columns have seen a complete makeover. First, there are now several predefined Column types that correspond with file details, file operations and searches.

Column node in PDM administration.

The column types do not contain column sets themselves, but instead act as templates that are used to create a column set. For instance, under Files >Details >Columns, right-click on Contains to create a new column set and populate predefined Columns.

These columns display information which many find useful when the Contains tab in the PDM Explorer view is selected. Of course, these existing columns can be deleted, and additional columns can be added. This allows you to configure what information your company’s PDM users will see.

Customizable columns.

The new column types are:

  • File Details Columns, which includes Contains and Where Used.
  • File Operations Columns, which are geared to PDM operations such as Change State, Check-in, Check-out, Get and Undo Check-out.
  • File List Columns, which is the same one used for Explorer, in previous releases of PDM.
  • Quick Search Result Columns to accommodate Quick Search, which was introduced in PDM 2020.
  • Search Result Columns, which was also available in previous releases of PDM.

These additional columns mean that your company’s PDM users can access the information they need when performing many common PDM operations. For instance, as an administrator, when you need to perform an Undo Check-out, you can more easily access important information such as the ‘Local Version’ and ‘Referenced as.’

Previously this information could also be added to a multiuse, single column set, but this made for a PDM Explorer View that required scrolling to the left or right to see a required column. Now, this information can be accessed from a purpose-built column set.

In PDM 2021, users and groups are also no longer limited to having one column set per column type.

To accommodate this new functionality, the columns node interface in PDM administration has been updated. Columns and permissions now have their own tabs. Previously, permissions were defined in a panel on the right side of the column node interface.

Updated column node interface.

Column sets can still be assigned to users and groups, but the interface is much cleaner. And since users and groups can be assigned multiple column sets, a preferred column sets can be defined for each user and group. There are also now convenient search fields for users and groups.

Column node permissions tab.

In PDM Explorer, a PDM user can switch between column sets assigned to them from a right-mouse menu.

Changing column sets in PDM Explorer.

PDM File Explorer

The PDM File Explorer has itself gone under a facelift and been given some additional functionality.  First is the introduction of new short-cut keys:

  • Ctrl-I (I as in India) for check-in
  • Ctrl-O for check-out
  • Ctrl-U for undo check
  • Ctrl-T change state

The PDM Quick Access toolbar has been made more customizable.

PDM Quick Access toolbar.

In PDM Administration, by right-clicking a user or group and selecting settings, you can define what will appear in the Quick Access toolbar for each user or group.

Quick Access settings.

To allow for additional customization as a user, you can control what appears in your Quick Access toolbar from a pull-down on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar.

Modifying the PDM Quick Access toolbar in PDM Explorer.

The language used and About information can now be conveniently accessed from the Log Out icon at the top right of the PDM File Explorer.

New Log Out icon options.

A handy little addition to PDM 2021 is the ability to navigate Back and Forward from the address bar of PDM Explorer to previously selected files. This is similar to the behavior in Microsoft Windows File Explorer.

Back and forward from the PDM Explorer address bar.

It is also now possible to use View commands as well as some other commands from the ribbon control of Microsoft Windows File Explorer.

Workflow States

To give your States some added pizazz, new icons are available for Workflow States. Beyond pizazz, and likely of greater importance, the additional icons can make states graphically easier to recognize. Along with new icons, existing icon graphics have been reworked. These changes to icons can be seen when editing or creating a Workflow State. There is now an abundance of icons available to States, broken into categories.

New workflow state icons.

Treehouse Display

Treehouse displays the parent-relationship of references through a graphical representation and is an alternative to the default table view. A treehouse display can make it easier to understand the structure of your assemblies and drawings. Previously, treehouse was available from the Contains tab of PDM File Explorer. In PDM 2021, treehouse is also available from the Where Used tab.

Treehouse display in Where Used.


When you define a BOM in PDM Administration, you can now choose to Include Derived Part References in a computed BOM.

Include derived part references in a computed BOM.

For those who may not be familiar with derived parts, a derived part is referenced in another part as an external reference. The derived part will be the first feature in the part in which it is referenced.  Derived parts are useful when we want to use an existing part as the base for a new part. If the derived part is changed, those changes will propagate to the referencing part.

Another new feature to BOMs is the ability to include cut list references in a computed BOM.

Include cut list references in a computed BOM.

We will finish our look at what’s new for SOLIDWORKS PDM 2021 with another new feature in PDM BOMs. PDM 2021 can now use the bill of materials component display settings defined in SOLIDWORKS for configuration specific properties.

The Promote option will dissolve a subassembly in the SOLIDWORKS BOM and display the subassembly’s child components. In PDM, the Computed will display the same.

Configuration properties.

Similarly, if the ‘Link to Parent Configuration’ option for ‘Part number displayed when used in a bill of materials’ is selected in SOLIDWORKS, the PDM Computed BOM displays the same. The ‘Link to Parent Configuration’ option sets the configuration to use the same part number as the parent configuration.

Now that we have looked at what is new in SOLIDWORKS PDM 2021, we see that with significant increases in performance, a cleaner interface as well as some useful new functionality, SOLIDWORKS has once again improved PDM.

For more information on how SOLIDWORKS PDM improves efficiency and shortens time to market, check out the eBook Gain Competitive Advantage with Product Data Management.

About the Author

Joe Medeiros is a Senior Applications Engineer at Javelin Technologies, a premier SOLIDWORKS reseller, servicing customers throughout Canada and offering SOLIDWORKS customers expertise in implementing and using SOLIDWORKS solutions.

Joe has been involved in many aspects of the SOLIDWORKS product family since 1996. As an award-winning blogger, he regularly writes about SOLIDWORKS.

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