PLM and Manufacturing Startups: Potential Mismatch?

July 14, 2014

hardware-mfg-startup

Selling PLM for SME was always a very controversial topic among PLM vendors. No consensus here. I wrote about it few months ago in my Why PLM stuck to provide solution for SME post and got interesting follow up conversations with few industry pundits.

Every PLM vendor has some special product offering ready for SME market segment. But did it work well to anybody? My hunch, most of "successful PLM SME" implementations are focusing on basic CAD/PDM features. Very few SME organizations successfully implemented a complete PLM system including BOM, change management, configurations, manufacturing integration, requirement management and more. If you got a chance to see one, it is typically result of huge effort of people in the organization itself committed to make it work.

One of the most typical reasons for PLM vendors to sale to SME was high cost of implementation and sales multiplied by absence of IT people ready to handle PLM implementation. In my view, PLM vendors have a great hope to make it easier with modern cloud based PLM offering, but jury is still out to watch results.

Meantime, manufacturing landscape is getting even more interesting. Hardware is the new software. Nest, GoPro, Beats, Jawbone, Oculus… You’re welcome in the world of manufacturing startups. I touched it in my earlier post – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? Yesterday, my attention was caught by TechCrunch article – Hardware Case Study: Why Lockitron Has Taken So Long To Ship. Read the article – I found it very interesting. The following passage explains basically that from "limited assembly", manufacturing startups are moving towards full manufacturing cycle:

In our initial RFQs (“request for quote”) we leaned heavily towards manufacturing entirely in the United States. Our impetus for this was largely around logistics; if we could make everything domestically, we wouldn’t have to travel far and wide to ensure the quality we expected. It quickly became apparent that manufacturing domestically would cost far beyond what we had budgeted for. Given the number of parts, required touch time (the amount of time it takes someone to assemble a product), various materials and processes used, building entirely in the U.S. wasn’t viable. Potential domestic suppliers still looked East for most of the components we needed, albeit with longer lead times.

However, even more interesting quote is the following one explaining the level of challenges during the development processes.

We spent the next few months redesigning our gearbox to reduce noise while increasing power to deal with sticky or hard-to-close locks. While the choice was the right one to make, it cost us valuable time; a few parts had to be retooled and there were cascading effects on our electronics and supplier choices. We selected an ultra-efficient, powerful motor to place at the lock’s heart, but this also impacted our timeline. Most challenging, however, was the meshing of electronic and mechanical worlds. An initial circuit board design proved overly complex and underpowered.

As you noted the complexity of product including mechanical and electronic parts is very high. In addition to that, even it wasn’t stated explicitly by the article, I can see a growing complexity of integration between electromechanical and software components.

What is my conclusion? The complexity of manufacturing startups is growing. To scale product development and manufacturing is a very challenging job. And all must be done in a craziest timeline – the reality of every startup. Manufacturing startups is an interesting niche that clearly different from typical SME organizations we’ve seen before. The challenge of PLM with a typical manufacturing SME is to compete with a status quo of existing processes and tools. Manufacturing startups are different – absence of processes, startup culture and an absolutely need to get job done in a very short timeframe. It would be interesting to see a growing demand for PLM tools as well as growing complexity of product development and supply chain in these organizations. What PLM tools will provide an answer? Good question for PLM strategists these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The complexity of Part Management in PDM

July 11, 2014

part-management-pdm-complexity

How to manage Parts? It sounds like a trivial and simple question. Every manufacturing companies and engineering organization is facing this problem. However, it is not as simple as you might think so. The information about Parts (aka Items) is often scattered between CAD drawings, multiple Excel files, PDM and ERP systems. One of the biggest problem is to how to manage revisions and changes for Parts. I captured this problem in some of my previous writings. Future CAD-PLM and Assembly Version Management; Why versioning is complicated in PDM?; PLM, ERP and Managing of Effectivity; Revisions in CAD/PLM/ERP: Old Problems or New Challenges?

Recent GrabCAD blog – Part Revisions: Deal or No Deal made me think again about why is so complex to manage parts in every PDM environment. The following passage explains what means Part has no revision:

Documentation can be revised, but the part itself should not. If a part changes, the revised part is issued a new part number. In the case of PMI, where the "documentation" portion is integral to the part, revisions are more esoteric. Allowable PMI revisions in that case depend on whether the documentation portion is being updated or the part model is being physically changed.

The following passage explains one of my 5 Don’ts in BOM management – Don’t use the same ID for Part Numbers and Drawing Numbers:

In many cases, the documentation is a fully dimensioned engineering drawing, though these days it might also be Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), if you’re riding the technology wave. In the case of a drawing, the documentation also carries an identifying number. While it may be tempting to make the part and drawing numbers the same, such an approach aims to misbehave. For example, a drawing is often changed for very different reasons than the part it describes, often in a fashion that has no impact on design. In addition, drawings may describe multiple parts. In other words, drawing and part life cycles are unique, so the identification number for each must also be unique.

Now, let me go back to the original question. Why is so complex to manage parts in PDM? Here are two main reasons:

1- Complexity of two lifecycles – CAD and Items

CAD documents and Part lifecycle is fundamentally different. PDM system manage CAD files revisions and dependencies between files. Parts (Items) requires Part Numbers and Effectivity to control FFF (Form, Fit and Function) also known as interchangeability rules. Revision can be applied, but it won’t be used to identify a part.

2- Disagreement about where is "master" of part information and cross system integration

Part information is scattered between PDM, ERP and supply chain management systems. Organizations are having hard time to agree WHO is controlling Part creation process. When changes happens or new parts is created, information must be synchronized between multiple systems. It raises the complexity of overall integration and data management.

What is my conclusion? Complexity of two lifecycle management is a key problem in part management in PDM. It is hard to combine part lifecycle including interchangeability rules and effectivity with proper management of CAD documents. The user workflows are getting complex and engineers are having hard time to use the system. While the reality of manufacturing is that both documents and parts need to managed in an appropriate way, PDM vendors facing real challenges to get efficient Part Management processes in place. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Dassault is going to support all PLM cloud options by 2015+

July 10, 2014

cloud-options

For the last few years, I’m following cloud strategies of main PLM vendors – Aras, Arena, Autodesk, Dassault, Siemens PLM, PTC and few others. You can find some of my early notes here – PLM vendors, IT and cloud strategies. The variety of cloud options made statement "Cloud PLM" practically useless. I had a chance to cover all four cloud PLM options here during Siemens PLM analyst event. One of the most challenging decisions for PLM vendors remains the "duality" of PLM cloud options – public vs. private. After few years of slow ramp up, all PLM vendors today are placing "cloud options" on their roadmap. So, the question "How to implement PLM cloud?" is the the one that you need to focus on when thinking about what is right PLM option for you.

I’ve been following Dassault #3DXforum for the last few days via twitter. The following slide caught my attention, since it presents clearly the spectrum of PLM deployment options Dassault is going to support – public cloud, private cloud, on premise cloud and on premise. It also gives you some idea about timeline. On premise, public and private cloud by 2014 and on premise cloud for 2015+.

ds-dfl-all-clouds

It looks like Dassault doesn’t want to miss the cloud movement and makes public and private cloud a priority. It would be interesting to see more about architecture specific, data centers, supported IaaS and PaaS options. The only information I can get from the Develop3D tweet is 6 global locations. Which sounds like a very impressive achievement. It is not clear what is behind on premise cloud option. I can guess about some combination of data storage location or mix of application deployed from multiple clouds. This is just a guess -not much you can see online.

What is my conclusion? Cloud is here to stay. However, cloud architecture and deployment options will evolve and morph actively for the next few years. It is hard to run on all options. Therefore, to focus on right match between customer interests and operation maturity looks like to direction PLM companies are trying to follow.Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: Dassault didn’t sponsor and didn’t not influence the content of this post.


Will GE give a birth to a new PLM company?

July 9, 2014

ge-datamanagement-initiative

Navigate back into histories of CAD and PLM companies. You can find significant involvement of large aerospace, automotive and industrial companies. Here are few examples – Dassault Systemes with Dassault Aviation, SDRC with US Steel, UGS with McDonnell Douglas. In addition to that, involvement of large corporation as strategic customers, made significant impact on development of many CAD/PLM systems for the past two decades. Do you think we can see something similar in the future?

Inc. article GE’s Grand Plan: Build the Next Generation of Data Startups made me think about some potential strategic involvement of large industrial companies in PLM software business. The following passage can give you an idea of how startups will be organized.

A team from GE Software and GE Ventures has launched an incubator program in partnership with venture capital firm Frost Data Capital to build 30 in-house startups during the next three years that will advance the "Industrial Internet," a term GE coined. The companies will be housed in Frost’s incubator facility in Southern California.

By nurturing startups that build analytical software for machines from jet engines to wind turbines, the program, called Frost I3, aims to dramatically improve the performance of industrial products in sectors from aviation to healthcare to oil and gas. Unlike most incubator programs, GE and Frost Data are creating the companies from scratch, providing funding and access to GE’s network of 5,000 research assistants and 8,000 software professionals. The program has already launched five startups in the past 60 days.

This story connects very well to GE vision and strategy for so called Industrial Internet. The following picture can provide you some explanations of what is the vision of GE industrial cloud.

industrial-internet-applications

What is my conclusion? Industrial companies are looking for new solutions and probably ready to invest into ideas and innovative development. Money is not a problem for these companies, but time is very important. Startups is a good way to accelerate development and come with fresh ideas of new PLM systems. Strategic partnership with large company can provide resources and data to make it happen. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit of GE report.


PDM weakest link

July 8, 2014

cad-file-transfer

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The article Are You Still Using FTP for CAD File Transfer? on Engineering.com by Scott Wertel caught my attention few days ago. The article compares FTP, cloud file sharing and cloud based PDM. Read the article and draw your opinion. I found something common between all these approaches – you need to transfer files between desktop or LAN server and some other (usually remote) locations – FTP, virtual cloud drive or similar storage used by cloud PDM. Here is my favorite passage:

Let’s look at a product development scenario. A designer has finished the preliminary design of a brand new widget. He is in a small design shop, so he keeps the files on his personal computer. He wants a rapid prototype of the design made so he emails the file to a service bureau. As the bureau is working up a quote for the prototype, the designer notices a few things and makes some tweaks. The file size is too big now, so he uploads it to his company’s FTP site and emails a notification to the bureau. But, because the project is still in development and no files have been released, the designer doesn’t change the revision on the file. It’s the same filename on the FTP site as was emailed previously to the service bureau. Now the bureau has two files downloaded to their system. Both with the same filename and both contain relatively the same time stamp caused by saving the email attachment at about the same time they downloaded the file from the FTP site. Rather than being able to quickly quote the part and begin shooting laser beams, they have to spend the time to reconcile the files, also taking up the designer’s time.

So, in my view, the need to send files between local computer and remote location is the weakest link to make that work efficient. Both PDM and any other file sharing service will face this challenge. And, forget the cloud and internet for a minute) it was the same challenge back in every PDM system developed in the past. PDM developers used different techniques to optimize file transfer, but the problem remains the same – slow connection and large files.

The move to the cloud, actually, doesn’t change much. The connection is still slow (relatively) and files are still big (or even getting bigger). As I discussed few days ago in my How to move CAD files to the cloud post, a special technology needed that will break CAD files synchronization process and make the process transparent. At the same time, user should be able to work on the same file to satisfy the scenario described in the beginning of this post. Whoever will be able to accomplish so, will take a huge advantage of knowledge about CAD files and improved user experience. Read more here – CAD companies and cloud storage strategy.

What is my conclusion? The weakest link of PDM is the ability to sync large multi-file design between local discs and cloud (server) storage. It was the problem back to PDM development in 1990s and it remains the problem today. Until now, cloud doesn’t change much, since most of cloud PDM and file-share vendors are taking CAD files with existing boundaries. To break these boundaries and develop technology to move file efficiently while allowing to user to work on the same files at the same time, can be a deal breaker and huge step to fix the weakest link. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What PLM Architects and Developers Need to Know about NoSQL?

July 7, 2014

plm-no-sql-guide

People keep asking me questions about NoSQL. The buzzword "NoSQL" isn’t new. However, I found it still confusing, especially for developers mostly focusing on enterprise and business applications. For the last decade, database technology went from single decision to much higher level of diversity. Back in 1990s, the decision of PDM/PLM developers was more or less like following – "If something looks like document, use Excel and Office. Otherwise, use RDBMS". Not anymore. My quick summary of NoSQL was here – What PLM vendors need to know about NoSQL databases. You can go more deep in my presentation – PLM and Data Management in 21st century. If you feel more "geeky", and considering maybe summer development projects, I can recommend you the following book – 7 Database in 7 weeks.

John De Goes blog post The Rise (and Fall?) of NoSQL made me think how to explain the need of NoSQL for PLM implementers, architects and developers. In a nutshell, here is the way I’d explain that – NoSQL databases allow you to save variety of specific data in a much simple way, compared to SQL structured information. So, use right tool for the right job – key/value; document; graph, etc.

So, NoSQL is accelerating development of cloud and mobile apps. It became much faster since some specific NoSQL databases tuned for particular type of non-structured data:

With NoSQL: (1) Developers can stuff any kind of data into their database, not just flat, uniform, tabular data. When building apps, most developers actually use objects, which have nesting and allow non-uniform structure, and which can be stored natively in NoSQL databases. NoSQL databases fit the data model that developers already use to build applications. (2) Developers don’t have to spend months building a rigid data model that has to be carefully thought through, revised at massive cost, and deployed and maintained by a separate database team within ops.

However, everything comes with price. The important insight of the article is to point on how data can be reused for reporting and other purposes. The following passage summarizes the most visible part of what is missing in NoSQL:

It’s quite simple: analytics tooling for NoSQL databases is almost non-existent. Apps stuff a lot of data into these databases, but legacy analytics tooling based on relational technology can’t make any sense of it (because it’s not uniform, tabular data). So what usually happens is that companies extract, transform, normalize, and flatten their NoSQL data into an RDBMS, where they can slice and dice data and build reports.

PDM and PLM products are evolving these days from early stage of handling "records of metadata" about files towards something much more complicated – large amount of data, unstructured information, video, media, processes, mobile platforms, analytics. CAD/PLM vendors are pushing towards even more complicated cloud deployment. The last one is even more interesting. The need to rely on customer RDBMS and IT alignment is getting lest restrictive. So, the opportunity to choose right database technology (aka the right tool for a job) is getting more interesting.

What is my conclusion? Database technologies universe is much more complicated compared to what we had 10-15 years ago. You need to dig inside into data management needs, choose right technology or tool to be efficient. One size doesn’t fit all. If you want to develop an efficient application, you will find yourself using multiple data management technologies to handle data efficiently. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD companies and cloud storage strategy

July 7, 2014

cad-cloud-storage-strategy

Cloud storage is changing fast these days. From relatively small portion of our life limited mostly by online email, cloud storage is growing into space where majority of our activities are happening these days. Email, photo storage, online documents, calendars, shopping – this is only a short list. Changes are coming to corporate world as well. New York Times article Google, Microsoft and Others Delve Deeper Into Cloud Storage for Businesses speaks about trajectories of cloud storage and business. Here is an interesting passage:

Soon, keeping your digital goods will also be the means for tech companies to understand who does what inside a business, just the way they understand consumers by watching what they do on the web. “Storage is where the stickiness is,” said Jeffrey Mann, vice president for research at Gartner. “It’s how they hold a customer. If they store your stuff, they get to know you better.”

So, you may think the strategy is to hold data and keep customers as hostages for storage. It might sounds like a strategy for short term. However, web giants don’t see storage as something that will hold companies strategically. The following passage can give you a feeling of direction:

“Cloud storage is a temporary market,” said Scott Johnston, director for product management for Drive, Google’s online storage, document creation and collaboration business. “In the future it will be about elevating productivity: How do we look for patterns? What does it mean if a document is read by 10 percent of the company? What does it mean if you haven’t read it yet?" It’s a strategy that Microsoft is also pursuing with its OneDrive product. Dropbox, a storage site popular with consumers, and Box, a storage and collaboration site specifically for business, are both also working on ways to turn data storage into something that provides greater insight into how people are working. Dropbox started a business offering last year.

This point of view made me think about what can be a potential strategy of CAD companies related to cloud storage and operations of CAD systems. The majority of CAD business today is not in the cloud. CAD files and related information is stored on desktop computers and local area networks. How big this data and how easy and transparently companies can move this data to the cloud (private and public) and make it available for collaboration? The demand for better collaboration is huge. CAD vendors are working on cloud CAD systems. But this work is just in the beginning. Cloud storage of CAD files and seamless access by existing desktop CAD systems can be a short term CAD file management strategy. The most interesting part is coming next. If I will follow Google’s logic, companies can make analysis of massive amount of CAD data and use it for future product design improvement and better work organization.

What is my conclusion? Data is a fuel for future growth. Whoever will capture CAD data these days will have an ability to run analytic work and make that data part of future design strategy. In most of cases today, companies have very limited capability to re-use design, make analysis and predict future improvements. Cloud storage can be a first step towards future data-driven design. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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