How to build online community around CAD/PLM software?

October 13, 2014

community-engineers-CAD-PLM

There is one thing that seems make everyone interested and listen carefully these days – online communities. To build a successful community is a tricky thing. To make a money out of community is huge. Successful online communities can provide a lot of insight about how people are communicating, what is the value of community for different users and businesses. Communities are also a good reflection of business and software vendor ecosystem.

I’ve been discussing communities and marketplaces earlier on my blog. One of the most earliest discussion about that was Marketplace and Engineering software back in 2010. The interest of people to stay in the community is one of the most interesting factors to watch and learn. What will keep users to stay in the community and how to make it grow? Some of my earlier thoughts about that is here – PLM communities and let go threshold.

Online activity is a good indicator of community potential. I’ve been using blogging community as one of my own checkpoint about potential of users and customers to form a successful online community. Go online and try to find number of blogs about specific topic and their traffic. Do it for well-known MCAD packages (CATIA, Creo , Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, SolidWorks) as well as for PDM/PLM products. Google is of course not the best reflection of community size and activities. But it can give you some idea anyway.

CAD-PLM-communities-google-trends

Another interesting observation is related to how customers are sharing their knowledge. You can see very different behavior models. One of them is practically – share everything. This model is creating high viral content online. For this group it is not unusual to see how users are sharing their best practices and problems. Another group is conservative and closed. It is hard to get people to speak about this software. Most of information about it is curated either by software vendors and customers.

So, what are examples of successful in creating CAD/PLM communities? I can come with few examples. The list below is alphabetically sorted and I’m sure miss few communities (so, please don’t hesitate to suggest me additions to this group)

Aras. Back in 2007, Aras Corp. turned their Aras Innovator PLM product into so called “Enterprise Open Source”. This community demonstrated steady growth and I can see lots of information about Aras customers, open roadmap and open source development.

AutoCAD. The community of AutoCAD is big and reflect wide spread of this package in a very diverse set of verticals. I can see some association with community of users working with DWG. However, these users have the tendency to follow specific CAD packages developed around DWG formats.

GrabCAD. This is an interesting example of 1M+ engineers sharing 3D CAD models and related work online. GrabCAD website contains about 400K CAD models and this is probably one of the biggest in this kind.

SolidWorks. The community of SolidWorks is not a typical online (web) community. It was created around SolidWorks software back in before-web days. Nevertheless, this community demonstrated very high engagement level and shared lot of their work online in for the last 10+ years.

I guess “one million dollar question” is how to create a successful online engineering community. One of the myths of engineering world is that engineers are representing very anti-social group of people. The CreativeEngineer blog – A Few Common Myths About Engineers is actually bringing some opposite facts.

If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat. Here’s an except from Geoffrey C. Orsak, Dean of Engineering, SMU: In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.

So, is there an opportunity to create a larger community for engineers and users of CAD / PLM software? I guess the answer is yes. The shift towards online work is in a very beginning. My hunch existing engineering communities were just a beginning of future online working environment. The real community can be build around economic or social interest. In my view, the center of gravity will be moving from a specific CAD/PLM software towards companies and individuals. Internet is a new platform and community is a form to run business relationships on this platform.

What is my conclusion? Think about existing online communities: shoppers, open source software developers, education and many others. Try to make an analogy with manufacturing world. The economic and social interest is driving the most successful ones. I guess we just in the beginning of huge shift of engineering and manufacturing community towards online work. Economic interest will lead people to find new forms of business relationships and create new forms of CAD/PLM communities. Just my thoughts….

Best, Oleg


Importance of PLM and PIM bridge

October 11, 2014

online-product-information-pim-plm

PIM. Product Information Management. Sorry for brining yet another three letter acronym into discussion today. PIM stands for a discipline to manage data about products available outside of the company. Here is Wikipedia description:

Product information management or PIM refers to processes and technologies focused on centrally managing information about products, with a focus on the data required to market and sell the products through one or more distribution channels. A central set of product data can be used to feed consistent, accurate and up-to-date information to multiple output media such as web sites, print catalogs, ERP systems, and electronic data feeds to trading partners. PIM systems generally need to support multiple geographic locations, multi-lingual data, and maintenance and modification of product information within a centralized catalog to provide consistently accurate information to multiple channels in a cost-effective manner.

Kalypso article Viewpoints on Innovation Is Your Data Holding You Back? Product Information Management for Retail brings a topic of PIM importance for retail industry. It explains about omnichannels business model, leveraging “big data” and making data available across multiple channels and business initiatives. Article recommends building central data repository for product information as well as integrate and streamline all processes related to product information. Here is a passage from the article.

Integrate and streamline all processes that relate to product information. For most retailers this means integrating all the processes that have to do with setting up items in a given system. There are three that are the most important – product development, merchandising, and eCommerce. Integrating and streamlining these processes will remove duplication of work, and improve communication and efficiency.

Build a centralized repository for all product information. Product information lives not only in product development, merchandising and eCommerce systems, but also in the warehouse management system, marketing systems, and even in ad hoc desktop databases such as Microsoft Access and Excel. Creating one centralized location for all product-related data ensures a single version of the truth that all functional groups can access.

The story about PIM importance in retail reminded me about latest purchase on Amazon. It was a sofa for kids playroom. Nothing special, but it came disassembled as most of furniture you buy on Amazon. Sofa itself had special plastic feet assembled for transportation purposes. feet were packed separately. Package itself supposed to have also screws. The picture below shows you product assembly guide. Screws were absent and the number of screws specified on the picture is wrong. In addition to that, mounting positions for feet and construction of feet clashed (it was wrong welded). Until Amazon sent a set of missing screws, I was trying to find more information about the products, screws and mounting online. It wasn’t very successful. You can easy get part number, but to find more specific information about mounting was not possible.

example-poor-pim-plm

The example above is not unique, in my view. The information about products is often missed online and on e-commerce website. It is hard to identify products and find relevant information that you are looking for. These days is directly translated in bad channel performance and customer satisfaction. One of possible steps to improve it is to bridge product development systems and information systems supplying product data to outside world. Think about product documentation, manufacturing identification (like Part Numbers) and many others. The information about products typically stuck in engineering department, variety of databases and excel spreadsheets. To bring it online in a structured way can be an interesting opportunity.

What is my conclusion? Correct product information is a huge power to improve everything from sales to support and maintenance. With growing online sales in both B2C and B2B domains, it becomes absolutely important to maintain correct online information. CAD/PLM/ERP systems are primarily source of this information today and it is still very hard to get right information and bring it to business users and customers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


MBOM collaboration and cost of change

October 9, 2014

mbom-collaboration

The only thing that is constant is change. This is very much applies to everything we do around BOM. Engineering and manufacturing eco-system are full of jokes about engineering changes. You maybe heard about renaming "engineering change order" into "engineering mistake order" as well as the correlation between number of engineers and number of ECOs in a company. However, the reality – change orders are one of the central elements of engineering and manufacturing life. And it is primarily related to bill of materials. Once defined, we keep changing BOMs through the lifecycle of the product. ECOs are helping us to do so.

In my yesterday post (Manufacturing BOM dilemma), I discussed the complexity of manufacturing BOM. Fundamentally, MBOM is reflecting manufacturing process, which is by itself defined by both – product information coming from engineering department and by part and other related information coming from manufacturing systems (MRP / ERP). The collaboration between these two systems is never easy. This is one of the reasons why MBOM management process is struggle to find the right place in many companies.

One of the suggestions made in comments was to use PLM system as BOM manager and run ECO/ECR processes each time we need to make a change in bill of material. Such process will insure ERP will be always updated with the last information about BOM. My initial thinking – this is very straightforward way to manage it and I’ve seen it in many companies. On second thought, maybe there is a better way to manage that.

As I mentioned before, changes to the bill of material are a controversial topic. My hunch every company should have a policy how to manage BOM changes. From my experience I can classify three major type of changes to bill of materials: 1/mistakes; 2/materials and/or parts changes; 3/arbitrary changes (liabilities, etc.). In many situations, BOM changes can lead to significant cost related to material scrap, additional material planning, etc. On the other side, every change related to materials, process optimization and manufacturability should be synchronized back into PLM system. So, maybe, ECO/ECR is not a right way for engineering/manufacturing collaboration these days?

The life was good when engineers were able to through BOM over the wall of manufacturing department and finish their job. This is not a reality we live in today. Engineering and manufacturing should maintain a very close relationships by developing and optimizing manufacturing processes. Sometimes, the solution is purely manufacturing. However, very often, redesign or additional level of product engineering optimization required to reduce product cost or bring product to market faster. Maybe it is a time for both engineering and manufacturing department to develop new practices how to collaborate on BOM? Abandoning old fashion ECR/ECO processes for engineering/manufacturing collaboration can be a first step into this change.

What is my conclusion? Engineering and manufacturing process planning are tightly coupled these days. In many situations both product development and engineering planning must go in parallel to achieve desired level of optimization. It requires new type of processes and software enabling new level of BOM collaboration. Old fashion ECR/ECO method may not work. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Manufacturing BOM dilemma

October 9, 2014

mbom-dilemma

Manufacturing process optimization is one of the biggest challenges in product development these days. Companies are looking how to low the cost, optimize manufacturing process for speed and to deliver large variety of product configurations. The demand for these improvements is very high. The time when engineering were throwing design"over the wall of engineering" is over. Engineering and manufacturing people should work together to optimize the way product is designed and manufactured at the same time. Which, in my view, leads to one of the most critical element of this process – Manufacturing BOM (MBOM).

In one of my earlier posts, I addressed the challenges PLM systems has to manage BOM. PLM vendors are recognizing the importance of manufacturing solutions. However, it is hard to deliver MBOM in PLM. It related to CAD roots of PLM products, historical disconnect of engineers from manufacturing processes, complexity of synchronization between multiple BOMs and problems of integrating with ERP systems. Vendors are encouraging companies to use PLM technologies to manage MBOM and to push right product MBOM information to ERP for execution. The advantage of that is the ability of PLM to deliver accurate product information derived from design and engineering BOM.

However, there is another side in this story- manufacturing planning. Fundamentally, MBOM is created by manufacturing engineers and it reflects the way product is built. It usually structured to reflect manufacturing assembly operations, workstations, ordering process, etc. In other words, MBOM is a reflection of manufacturing process based on information from product design. Company can decide to improve manufacturing process for existing product. It means most probably no changes for CAD design and EBOM, but will require to create a new version of MBOM.

As a result of that, MBOM has dual dependence of both correct engineering information from PLM system and manufacturing constraints and part information management by ERP. Both are absolutely important. By placing MBOM in PLM system company can create a complexity of manufacturing process planning in ERP. At the same time, ERP system (more specifically manufacturing modules) are not providing dedicated BOM planning tools capable to handle information from EBOM and MBOM simultaneously.

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing BOM is stuck between a rock and a hard places. It must reflect manufacturing process and stay connected to both PLM and ERP environment. It creates a high level of complexity for existing technologies and tools. To create a cohesive environment to manage MBOM is tricky and usually requires significant services and customization. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The future role of voice in PLM processes

October 7, 2014

mobile-voice-plm-process

Processes and workflows is a big topic in PLM. If you think about PLM as a way to manage a full scope of product development processes in organization, workflow is a foundation part of technologies and tools to implement that.

The definition of PLM process is usually complex and can come as workflow or rule-based. You may ask – why is it complex? Very often the answer is simple – enterprise organization is complex as well as communication between people is complex too. However, this is still not a reason to keep them complex in the future. In one of my earlier posts about PLM processes and implementation confusions, I shared my classification of PLM processes into design collaboration and change processes. People are still one of the most complex part of process implementations. Especially, if you speak about engineers. To manage engineering processes is like herding cats. Read more in my PLM and Engineering (task) process management post. One of my conclusions – we need to simplify process management.

In a real life, email remains one of the key players in process-driven implementations. There is nothing wrong in email and the requirement to integrate PLM processes with email is still on the top of PLM process requirement list. I honestly think that I need to update my workflow dream list.

The question how to simplify workflow and make collaboration easy is on the top of workflow and process management professionals. Some of PLM mindshare companies are focusing primarily how to improve process management.

One of my previous ideas around process simplification was related to mobile technologies. Earlier today, my attention was caught by Benedict Evans blogVoice is the next big thing in mobile. Article speaks about different form of communication – text messages, instant messaging and vocie. Here is the passage I liked:

…there is a lot of scope to innovate around the actual voice experience in much the same way that we have seen around messaging apps.In messaging we have seen two levels of innovation in experience. WhatsApp delivers ‘SMS 2.0′ – it does the things that telco technologies like IMS were supposed to add close to a decade ago, but not much more, so far. On the other, we have things like Line, Wechat, Kik and Snapchat that actually change what messaging is, even before you look at the platform elements of their offerings. I suspect (but no more) that it is harder fundamentally to change what voice is than to create alternatives to a snippet of text, and so the basic voice experience might change less – the innovation, like WhatsApp, may be more about the handling and routing and setup. That is, it kills the dialer. That’s one way to look at Talko – it rethinks what ‘dialer’ mean when there is no DTMF (or pulse), and builds value around that.

I specially like the idea of "setup simplification" to make a call. Sometimes, to make a dial is complex or even impossible. Imagine, you have engineers and service technician working on the same problem. They are located in separate places. Modern 3D collaboration technologies can share visual information between them. They can even share photos or camera. But "chatting" or "IMing" in such situation can be a complex thing. To be able to establish voice communication can be a killer function.

Another example can be related to "change process" approval. The description of problem is often complex and requires clarification. Very often it leads to going back and forth in approval process between people with messages and explanation. To setup one minute voice communication can solve a problem.

What is my conclusion? Voice and mobile can become a killer approach to simplify communication and streamline PLM process management. It can decrease number of messaging loops, speed up approvals or improve customer service. PLM vendors are very much behind in mobile innovation. Voice is part of this gap. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM and growing community of fabless manufacturers

October 6, 2014

plm-fabless-global-communities

There are so many interesting trends to watch these days in manufacturing. I’ve been blogging about Kickstarter projects and manufacturing startups. Another interesting topic to speak about is so called "fabless manufacturing".

A bit history. Fabless manufacturing is not a new thing. Navigate to the following Wikipedia about Fabless Manufacturing to refresh your knowledge. Fabless manufacturing roots are going back to semiconductor manufacturing.

Prior to the 1980s, the semiconductor industry was vertically integrated. Semiconductor companies owned and operated their own silicon-wafer fabrication facilities and developed their own process technology for manufacturing their chips. These companies also carried out the assembly and testing of their chips, the fabrication. Meanwhile, with the help of private-equity funding, smaller companies began to form, with experienced engineers exercising their entrepreneurial prowess by establishing their own IC design companies focused on innovative chip solutions.[citation needed]

As with most technology-intensive industries, the silicon manufacturing process presents high barriers to entry into the market, especially for small start-up companies. So, Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDMs) had excess production capacity. The smaller companies began to take advantage of the opportunity- relying on IDMs to manufacture the chips they were designing. These conditions underlay the birth of the fabless business model. Companies were manufacturing integrated circuits (ICs) without owning a fabrication plant. Simultaneously, the foundry industry was established by Dr. Morris Chang with the founding of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC). Foundries became the cornerstone of the fabless model, providing a non-competitive manufacturing partner for fabless companies.

With latest development in global manufacturing, internet and 3D printing, we can probably see "fabless" model going beyond IC manufacturers. What was true for semiconductors, today is applying on other manufacturing segments as well. Many analysts and strategists these days are referencing developing of new forms of manufacturing as a next industrial revolution. Companies like Local Motors, Quirky and others are energizing community of developers to innovate and heavy outsource, or to be more correct – collaborate with fabrication and 3D printing facilities.

So, you can ask me – where it comes to PLM? Here is the thing. Such neo-manufacturing activity is obviously looking for software tools to support new type of collaboration between community of designers and fabrication companies. Most of existing PLM tools are focused on companies rather than on new type of manufacturing communities. Aerospace and automotive industries with intensive design and manufacturing supply chain can be a good reference of similar activities. But, very often, it serves a closed community or specific project/program to collaborate on. More radical changes needed. Recent turn of some CAD/PLM vendors towards cloud is a good starting point to change PLM collaboration model.

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing industry is changing. Companies are less vertically integrated these days. New type of manufacturing communities will require new design and collaboration tools to connect designers, engineers, suppliers and manufacturing into single connected eco-system. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How cloud pricing war will affect PLM?

October 3, 2014

plm-and-cloud-price-war

Large infrastructure cloud providers are slashing prices. TechCrunch article Nobody Can Win The Cloud Pricing Wars is providing some additional details about the situation. The same article speaks about the moment when CIOs won’t be able to ignore the pricing advantage:

Earlier this week, Google lowered prices 10 percent across the board on their Google Compute Engine cloud platform . The cost is getting so low, it’s almost trivial for anyone to absorb the costs of running infrastructure in the cloud, but you have to wonder as the cloud pricing wars continue, how low can they go and if it’s a war anyone can win.

In spite of the low prices, there are still plenty of companies talking about the cloud with disdain and fear, but the fact is how long can CIOs ignore pricing as it goes this low? It doesn’t make good business sense, and whatever risks a large enterprise believe they might face with cloud services, it has to be offset by the plunging costs.

Are you confused by comparison of cloud infrastructure prices? You are not along. GigaOM article provides one easy chart that will help you to demystify cloud prices.

RBC’s formula condenses cloud services into one unit price based on “total spend per GB of RAM,” which includes storage, compute, memory, I/O and other base features. That makes it easier to compare cloud pricing across vendors. Per a research note from RBC analyst Jonathan Atkin this week, the second half of 2014 saw less price cutting than the first half — which included a round robin of competitive cuts from Google, Amazon and Microsoft in March.

RBC-cloud-price-per-GB-RAM1

The devil is in details and I’m obviously interested to see how it will impact (or not) PLM vendors. When it comes to "cloud", not all PLM vendors are the same. While most of them are publicly announced cloud strategy, the diversity of cloud solutions is pretty much high – public cloud platform, leveraging IaaS cloud layer and developing of colo-hosting solutions.

It is important to see business aspects of cloud PLM. Thomasnet article by Verfi Ogewell PLM Market Faces Challenges, Hints at Possibilities provides an interesting perspective on PLM market and impact cloud PLM created. Read the following passage:

One problem in assessing PLM investments for 2013 and beyond has to do with the changing licensing models, a matter which to some extent is connected to merging technology platforms, like the cloud. Increasingly, vendors are moving from paid-up licensing models to subscription models. Paid-up models have annual maintenance fees in the range of 18 to 22 percent of the license purchase price. Subscription models demand payment each year that is in the range of 30 to 40 percent of today’s list software pricing.

Has the hype around PLM in the cloud resulted in customer investments? So far, the answer is no. In fact, it may be the other way around. The cloud has affected the pricing and results on the on-premise market negatively, plus, while many PLM vendors have offerings, most have yet to see any real returns on their investments. Meanwhile, the discussion of SaaS (software-as-a-service) has created expectations of at least more effective pricing models. This picture may change quickly if the new business models for delivery and support of PLM act as triggers for greater investments.

So, what will cloud infrastructure price drop means for PLM vendors? My hunch, this is a good news for PLM vendors hosting their solution on IaaS infrastructure. This is very costly option, especially with existing "on-premise" single tenant PLM architecture. Lower price will allow to PLM vendor to adjust their expenses. It can be even more beneficial for vendors building optimized cloud PLM multi-tenant architecture. However, it probably won’t impact vendors focusing on private and hybrid cloud infrastructure. While regardless on PLM architecture, 50% of PLM project is services cost provided by vendors and implementers, the overall impact of infrastructure cost will have less impact.

What is my conclusion? Cloud pricing war will impact customer mindset. It will increase customer demand to lower cost of PLM solutions. It will shift CIO’s perspective on how to leverage cloud infrastructure in their business. Low cloud infrastructure cost won’t make cloud PLM software free tomorrow. At the same time, it will help PLM vendors to adjust overall cost of PLM services and implementations. Better architecture of cloud PLM solutions will help vendors leverage offsets in infrastructure cost to bring more cost effective PLM cloud services. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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