Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?

August 26, 2014

3d-cad-unbundle-plm-1

Unbundling is an interesting trend in many industries these days. It is relatively new marketing and business activity that helps to create new business offering, packages and product configurations. In many situations "unbundling" is a disruptive factors in many industries. Here is how it explained in Wikipedia article:

Unbundling is a neologism to describe how the ubiquity of mobile devices, Internet connectivity, consumer web technologies, social media and information access[1] in the 21st century are affecting older institutions (education, broadcasting, newspapers, games, shopping, etc.) by "break[ing] up the packages they once offered, providing particular parts of them at ascale and cost unmatchable by the old order."[2] Unbundling has been called "the great disruptor".[3] "Unbundling" most basically means simply the "process of breaking apart something into smaller parts."[4] In the context of mergers and acquisitions, unbundling refers to the "process of taking over a large company with several different lines of business, and then, while retaining the core business, selling off the subsidiaries to help fund the takeover."[5]

Enterprise software is well known by existing large "bundled" application suites. For long period of time, vendors developed large set of packaged applications. On the other side, customers’ demand was to achieve high level of vertical integration between product lines and product families. Last year, I explored some perspective on the future of unbundling in enterprise software and PLM. One of the drivers behind future "unbundling" is related to interests of customers to get better optimized software environment, focus on specific groups of users and driving faster ROI and fast implementations.

My attention caught my Aras blog post – If all you have is Teamcenter Everything Becomes a 3D CAD Problem. The article speaks exactly about the problem of bundles in engineering software. It discusses different needs of users in an organization. The split Aras introduced by Aras goes between people that need to get on 3D CAD software and rest of organization. Here is the passage, which explains that.

The 3D CAD vendors have created very complex file configuration management problems. Independent of how you manage your enterprise product lifecycle, you have to worry about breaking the configuration integrity of these fragile 3D CAD systems. Given the unique complexity of the 3D CAD problem, do you really expect that a single enterprise tool will be able to manage the entire product information data set and processes? Or is it better to manage CAD with the PDM system provided by the CAD vendor, and use a more suitable enterprise system to manage the majority of the product information and processes? Thousands of end users managing the true majority of product information and use cases have been asked to wait decades while exotic 3D CAD centric PLM systems are deployed to the specification and requirements of the few design engineers. But what is the missed opportunity cost to the business?

I can see Aras’ marketing and business message for "unbundling". As non-CAD PLM vendor, Aras is looking how to disrupt integrated suites provided by PLM vendors such as Siemens PLM and maybe others. At the same time, for customers looking how to solve a specific set of problems outside of engineering organization, to deliver such unbundled solution can be an interesting and efficient strategy.

There are lot of questions that customers will raise as soon as vendors like Aras will unbundle specific 3D CAD functionality from broader scope of process management. To achieve both vertical integration and granularity in platform and tools is very hard and this is a weak point in Aras strategy compared to integrated PLM suites. Few weeks ago, I debated that topic with Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insight. Read about debates here – CAD: Engineering bundles vs. granular apps. More of my ideas and thoughts about the same topic is here – PLM: Tools, Bundles and Platforms.

What is my conclusion? To unbundle complex engineering applications suites as PLM is not easy. Vertical interesting is very important and it will be hard to give up them. Flexibility and agility are on the top priority lists for IT managers when it comes to management of application and resources these days. It looks like an interesting topic to put on the list for PLM vendors and software architects these days. Unbundling was very disruptive in many domains. Will PLM domain can be disrupted by unbundling into platforms and granular apps. Will 3D CAD become the first tool to unbundle from PLM? It is a good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM: Tools, Bundles and Platforms

August 11, 2014

plm-tools-bundles-platforms

I like online debates. The opportunity to have good online debates is rare in our space. Therefore, I want to thank Chad Jackson for his openness to have one. I don’t think Chad Jackson needs any introduction – I’m sure you had a chance to watch one of his Tech4PD video debates with Jim Brown of TechClarity.

Here is my post that ignite the debates – CAD: Engineering bundles vs. Granular Applications. In a nutshell, I caught Chad by saying that his idea of bundling of MCAD and ECAD in a single application might go against another idea of granular integrated application he articulated before.

chad-jackson-beyondplm-blog-fight

Here it starts! Chad twitted it a blog fight… whatever. I saw it as a good opportunity to debates what is the future engineering landscape might be. In a world where large CAD and PLM players are aggressively acquiring companies, products and technologies, the idea to combine MCAD and ECAD application can be quite disruptive.

However, my intention is not to discuss who is buying whom in CAD/PLM world. There is relatively limited number of MCAD and ECAD vendors. You can see them by navigating to the following links – 3D CAD, ECAD.

Chad’s main point – Granularity and Integration are not diametrically opposite. I agree with the statement. I also find examples of 3DEXPERIENCE, PTC and Transmagic very relevant. I found very important to clarify the differences between so called "granular apps" and "data integration". Here is my favorite passage from Chad’s article:

Granular Apps offer a limited set of capabilities that are focused on a specific job. These apps are more accessible to different roles in the company because their limited set of functionality requires less training and retention in terms of how they work. They are valuable in the network of roles that participate because they are so accessible. Data Integration means that multiple software applications work against a single set of data in a coordinated fashion. There can be value in this in propagating change and enabling collaboration across the network of roles that participate in overall product development.

The way article presents the combination of integration and granularity made me think about some interesting trajectories in future development of engineering software. I’d like to classify things into 3 distinct categories – Tools, Bundles and Platforms.

1- Tools.

The history of engineering applications goes back into development of tools that helped engineering to be more productive – drafting tools and calculation tools. You can find many of these tools in the past – 2D CAD, 3D CAD, Simulation and analysis tools. If you look on current software landscape, you can find most of the tools are still here.

2- Bundles and/or Suites

One of the biggest challenge with tools is related to the fact how customers can use them together. The topics of data integration and interoperability are very often discussed in the context of ability to use multiple tools, especially when these tools are developed by different vendors. The problem of interoperability is well recognized by vendors. One of the answers is to provide so called "suites" or application bundles with special focus on how tools are integrated together.

3- Platforms.

Platform is a lovely word in a lexicon of software developers. For most of them, this is an end game in the maturity of software tools. How to become a platform that can be used by other developers? There are so many advantages you can unlock as a provider of a platform. Easy to say, but very hard to do. The critical characteristics of platforms are hard to achieve – openness, data integration, maturity of data standards, tools and APIs and many others.

What is my conclusion? My guess, Chad is speaking about the opportunity to provide a unified product development platform that combines MCAD and ECAD tools. His statement about data integration indicates that tools can be still granular but become part of an integrated platform. I don’t think everybody will see it in the same way. I want to see mechanical engineer is using ECAD type environment for his work. I hardly can imagine some ECAD related work done in 3D environment. 3D view can be potentially cumbersome and confusing for most of electronic design. I believe IT and PLM architects might appreciate platform thing, but engineers can disagree. Where is the middle ground? It made me think more about what future engineering and manufacturing platforms will look like. I guess Chad Jackson might have some ideas about that and he would like to share them. I will work on my list to compare notes too. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Pintrest will teach CAD companies to search

April 29, 2014

pinterest-guided-search

Search is a difficult problem. Especially when it comes to enterprise and organization. According to researches, more than 2/3 of people searches are not returning satisfactory results. Enterprise is messy, complicated and contains lot of unstructured data these days. CAD and other 3D files are part of this messiness. For many years, we generally thoughts of web and enterprise search as a place where text begot text – you input some text, press search, and get a bunch of relevant results, also in text form. However, in many places, and 3D and CAD is one of them, search by keywords is not very efficient.

Company have been trying to innovate in 3D or Shape search for the last decade or so. Read my old blog – 3D Shape Search in CAD and PLM. Despite many available solutions in 3D search, I can see a low adoption rate. In connection to that, I saw the opportunity to rethink 3D search.

The following article caught my attention earlier this week – In Challenge To Google, Pinterest Launches Guided Search. Pinterest is a visual discovery tool that people use to collect ideas for their different projects and interests. People create and share collections (called “boards”) of visual bookmarks (called “Pins”) that they use to do things like plan trips and projects, organize events or save articles and recipes. According to the article

At an event at Pinterest headquarters Thursday evening, CEO Ben Silbermann announced Guided Search, a new visual way to explore Pinterest’s more than 30 billion pins—links or images chosen by users and assigned by them to topical collections. Unlike most search engines, where you must choose a precisely constructed string of keywords for what you want to find, Guided Search offers suggestions as you go, based on the associations Pinterest has learned to make between all the objects in its database.

You can learn more about how guided search works here and on the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DHxkoXR0RM

The idea of "discovery" is very compelling in the engineering discipline. In many situations it is very hard to formulate a specific keyword based query to find a result. Therefore the ability to classify, categorize, slice and dice data can be very powerful to search and navigate 3D data.

What is my conclusion? Guided search is not a completely new idea. You can see that in some old enterprise search systems. However, to combine together with visual data corpus provides some fresh experience in results. The combination of technology and experience is important. Web is slowly becoming a future platform for engineers. We are spending more time online and getting additional web experience. Some web tools are providing ideas, technologies and solutions that can be re-used in engineering and product development. I think Pinterest guided search is one of examples. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool

October 8, 2013

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There are almost as many cloud storage services as clouds in the sky these days. Cloud opens a huge opportunity to simplify data sharing. The need to share data is clear. The demand for CAD data and files sharing is growing as a result of trends such as – globalization, design supply chain, outsourcing, and many others. CAD vendors put a significant focus on how to help engineers to share and collaborate. Just remind you hugely successful eDrawing tool from SolidWorks, DWF data format from Autodesk, JT from Siemens PLM and maybe few more.

The idea is simple and execution is getting simpler these days. However, the choice of file sharing maybe different if you do it for individual or business needs. eBIzMba published an October 2013 list of most popular file sharing website. Navigate here to take a look. Among many of available services, there are clear leaders. Another writeup by techradar.pro can give you a comparison of top 10 of the best services for sharing big files. Business needs clearly can make a difference, so some of file sharing services are focusing on specific versions that can provide value for small businesses. Small business computers publication provides a comparison of the best tools Small business file storage, sharing and syncing services.

However, engineers are different. Most of you would agree. Therefore, when discussion comes to the point of sharing and exchange of design data and CAD Files specifically, it is not unusual to hear about special needs and characteristics of these tools. Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD shared his perspective on that in his blog – Why using Dropbox, Github or Box for CAD sharing is a mistake. Read the article and draw your own conclusion. Here is my favorite passage from Hardi’s blog post:

[Instead of Box, Gmail, YouSnedIt]…SaaS cloud tools allow you to share your CAD design, even if your customers or manufacturers don’t have CAD software. A specialized CAD tool allows them to spin, section, measure, explode, and give you feedback where the CAD files are. They keep your design review process in one place, to save you time. It makes for a much better user experience for you and your clients.In the new SaaS world where there are better APIs, it’s easier than ever to connect applications. Target the right tool for the job and make sure your engineers have exactly what they need. Integrating multiple apps just requires more coordination and management, but it’s worth it.

GrabCAD blog as well as growing attention to specialized cloud tools for engineers made me think about what are potential advantages of using specialized CAD file sharing tools and services. I decided to summarize it below as my top 3 pros and cons to have special CAD file sharing service on the cloud:

Top 3 pros:

1. Viewer.

This is clearly one of the top reasons why company would decide to use special CAD service. CAD software is not cheap and to have it installed up and running cost licenses. Embedded viewer or viewer integration can be a significant driver to convince customers to share CAD files using specialized service.

2. File Dependencies

CAD design is rarely located in a single file. Usually, CAD files have dependencies – assemblies, sub-assemblies, parts, drawings. Depends on your working environment, it is hard to share everything you need.

3. Special publishing services

Depends on the purpose of CAD file sharing, you may need to eliminate some information from CAD files. It might be related to specific details, manufacturing specific or just to provide a subset of data to your design supplier. To have such service can be clear differentiation that provide a value vs. generic services like Dropbox, Box.net and others.

Top 3 cons:

1. Trust / Security

Individuals and especially businesses put a lot of focus on how trustful you cloud software providers. It is especially important when you share CAD data that usually represent your corporate IP. Large and well-known brands have established polices and in general can be considered as more trusted service providers.

2. Cost

Cloud storage cost is getting cheaper every day. Nevertheless it still cost money. When you run on scale, numbers can be significant. In cloud business, scale is clearly matters. You can easy run your own comparison of how much free storage you can get from mainstream companies like Google, Dropbox, Box.net and others as well as how much do you need to pay to growth and compare it to specialized data sharing services.

3. Scale (Performance, availability, etc.)

As I mentioned before scale does matter in cloud business. Mainstream brands such as Google, and others backed up by large finance has more power to provide reliable service. It doesn’t mean specialized services cannot scale, but I assume capability of global cloud companies is level up from specialized vertical service providers.

What is my conclusion? Vertical specialized service providers can put more focus and attention on details and functional needs. Nevertheless, scale and cost are also matter. At the same time, cloud business is tricky. Nobody is guaranteed from a failure and you can potentially get HTTP 404 from mainstream and specialized providers. The only question is what is a probability of this event. There is no silver bullet these days. Depends on your needs and priorities, you may decide to use different services for different purposes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


GitHub PDM: Is It For Real?

September 19, 2013

GitHub is a well known social network for programmers. According to Wikipedia article, GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. GitHub offers both paid plans for private repositories, and free accounts for open source projects. As of May 2011, GitHub was the most popular code repository site for open source projects. If you in a development space these days, it is hard to believe you are not aware about GitHub. The statistic of GitHub usage is amazing – On 16 January 2013, GitHub announced it had passed the 3 million users mark and was then hosting more than 5 million repositories.

GitHub made an initial 3D entrance earlier this year by providing support for 3D. You might notice my article – 3D printing, GitHub and PDM erosion. However, if you are mechanical engineer, GitHub is probably new territory for you. However, the question I want to task today – for how long? Navigate your browser to the following TechCrunch article – GitHub Adds 3D Modeling Features That Make It A Printer-Agnostic Choice For Object Sharing. In a nutshell, it means you can use GitHub to manage your STL files. The new feature allows you to compare geometry and by doing that, create sort of 3D revision management functionality on top of GitHub. Here is how this functionality explained by GitHub folks:

How does this work? We take both versions of the model, and using binary space partitioning, we compute the added, removed, and unchanged parts. This is done using csgtool, a C library paired with a Ruby gem via FFI. These pieces are cached and displayed by the 3D viewer we already have, though we color them differently and play with their transparency to help illustrate the changes.

The new functionality announced by GitHub made me think again about the potential opportunity GitHub can discover in manufacturing space. The first time, I shared it in my post exactly one year ago – What is behind GitHub for CAD marketing buzz? That story wasn’t specifically about GitHub. I mentioned few companies that actively using "GitHub" buzz to market their new approach in PDM/PLM space – GrabCAD, Sunglass.io. I can confirm that all companies made some progress towards delivery of new online work paradigm. It obviously includes new PDM paradigms as well. One of them is GrabCAD Workbench. The ideas how to convert close engineering CAD/PDM world into open and dynamic environment is widely discussed among vendors and industry pundits. The idea of viewing of 3D models on GitHub is getting traction too.

PDM + SCM = ?

Traditionally, Product Data Management (PDM) was focused on the world of mechanical engineers. EDM, TDM, PDM… these are systems that originally were born to manage mechanical CAD documents. Opposite to that, software configuration management (SCM) was established as a separate domain to provide source and revision control for software projects. Will these two worlds continue to be distinct and manage data in a separate way? When the number of software code is skyrocketing in every manufacturing product, I can easy see how PDM and SCM domains will converge in a new software discipline sooner than later.

What is my conclusion? The idea of innovation in PDM space is getting some traction. Even, an old fashion PDM systems are still "safe harbor" for most of manufacturing companies and engineers these days, I can clearly see new trends and interest from engineers how to manage data in a different way. CAD/PDM vendors need to take note before they will find mechanical engineers using GitHub repositories to manage CAD data. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


2D-3D CAD Transformations and Design Interaction

September 13, 2013

I want to continue the topic of design interaction started in my CAD and Design Interaction: 50 years in 3 videos post. CAD software started as a vision to replace drawing board and, eventually, it was 2D. 3D CAD and the vision of 3D design came later in the game. It wasn’t simple to create 3D objects in first 3D wireframe CAD packages. Solid feature parametric modeling was a huge innovation open a new page in 3D design and design interaction. However, I can see a new trend – we can re-create 3D objects from physical objects and / or photographs of physical objects. To have an easy way to recreate 3D objects can increase the level of adoption of 3D design software. Until now, my only experience in this field was Autodesk 123d Catch.

By itself, it is an amazing tool to create 3D objects. However, if you’ve been listening to startup pitches, you probably familiar with the phrase "there is a better way". From Huff post publication few days ago, I learned about Israeli company 3-sweep claiming they can create 3D objects from a single 2D photo by making only few selections. Watch the video. It is cool and impressive.

Here is how founders of the company defines their approach:

"Our approach combines the cognitive abilities of humans with the computational accuracy of the machine to solve this problem. Our technique provides the user the means to quickly create editable 3D parts– human assistance implicitly segments a complex object into its components, and positions them in space."

Read another article from Singularity Hub. Here is an interesting passage confirming the intent of 3-Sweep technologies:

Ariel Shamir, of the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, and Daniel Cohen-Or and Tao Chen of Tel Aviv University hope to knock that barrier down with software they’ve developed that allows the user to extract the beginnings of a 3-D model of an object from a single photograph. “The key idea is that you could create 3D objects based only on single images,” Shamir told Singularity Hub. “We wanted a model that would be simple for almost anyone to use.”

What is my conclusion? The debates about moving from 2D into 3D are already couple of decades long and jury is still out. In last few years 3D scanning became an interesting trend. While price of 3D scanners is going down together with 3D printers, the opportunity of 3D object creation from existing physical objects becomes real. However, the size is still matter. Also, it is not always possible to scan a physical object. The ability to recreate 3D objects from simple 2D photos can revolutionize design process by bringing another way to interact and design objects. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD and Design Interaction: 50 years in 3 videos

September 7, 2013

My father was engineer. As a child, I’ve been coming to my dad’s office to watch how engineers designed metallurgical plants and heavy industrial machines. Back that days, the design was all about drawing boards and paper. Fast forward in our days. Lots of things changed. Our design interaction is not with a paper anymore. Computers made a revolution by transforming design interaction completely. Since first graphical displays were introduces back in 1960s, the idea of how people can interact with design system evolved into completely different process.

First, it moved from paper to 2D CAD. Later it transformed from 2D into 3D. It started from graphic pen and digitizers, evolved into use of different styles of mouses, moved to multi-touch displays. Finally, modern devices introduced a completely new way to interact with design systems and computers. We started to think about how to design using some magic hands gestures.

Earlier this week, I watched a very interesting video by Elon Musk, founder of Tesla motors. Read this post – Elon Musk on the future of design: motion gestures, 3D viewing and 3D printing. Thanks SolidSmack for sharing this video.

Here is how this technology explained – SpaceX is exploring methods for engineers to accelerate their workflow by designing more directly in 3D. This device is integrating sensor and visualization technologies to view and modify designs more naturally and efficiently than we could using purely 2D tools. This is just a beginning, but eventually SpaceX hope to build the fastest route between the idea of a rocket and the reality of the factory floor.

This video made me think about distance CAD industry passed since first invention of graphic design interaction. It was always about simplicity and user experience. The very early appearance of graphic design interaction is dated by 1963 when Ivan Sutherland presented his Sketchpad.

Here is a description of the technology. This work was seminal in Human-Computer Interaction, Graphics and Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), Computer Aided Design (CAD), and constraint/object-oriented programming. It is important to remember what type of the computer you see in this video. It was TX-2 computer (built circa 1958) on which the software ran was built from discrete transistors (not integrated circuits -it was room-sized) and contained just 64K of 36-bit words (~272k bytes).

Now, let’s move forward 30 years. Back in 1990s, Microsoft Windows became a mainstream platform. SolidWorks was pioneering in creation of design interaction using standard Windows technology. The idea was to make it easy to learn and use by engineers. Watch another remarkable video (thanks Rick Chin for making it available on Youtube). In this video John Hirschtick (SolidWorks founder) and Rick Chin are demonstrating SolidWorks on Windows together with Bill Gates.

I found Rick’s commentary to this video on Youtube interesting. In 1998, Microsoft had an event to show the world that Windows NT was ready for industrial strength enterprise work. Jon Hirschtick was invited to demonstrate SolidWorks to Bill Gates on stage as part of this event. I was incredibly fortunate to join them and be a part of the demo. As you will see in the demo, Jon Hirschtick is a master at making the complex simple, compelling, and very relevant to everyone watching.

What is my conclusion? It is amazing to see the speed of innovation in design interaction. These three videos demonstrated a huge distance computers and design technologies passed for the last 50 years. However, you cannot stop the innovation. Just look around. New computers, new interaction devices, cloud, mobile – all these elements can create a new generation of design interaction these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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