Visual Design Collaboration: Bundle vs Unbundle?

August 20, 2015


Collaboration in is an interesting topic. Whether you are a 3-person team or a 10,000 person OEM manufacturing company, some of the same rules for successful collaboration apply. The more you share what you know the more value it creates. To understand specific personal or use case context is absolutely critical to successful collaboration regardless on what technology you may use.

The rules of collaboration are changing these days. New collaborative technologies coming from web, mobile and social network experience are coming to disrupt what traditionally considered as a good collaboration practice. In the past, we used an old “mom test” for collaboration software – collaborative application should be easy enough for my Mom to use it (she is smart and well educated, but she didn’t grew up with computers). That was probably a good idea back in 1995 when desktop computers and Windows disrupted office environment.

Fast forward into 2015, many rules established by desktop computers where broken by web and mobile products. The disruption in a workspace is coming from younger generation. The Content Strategist Blog brings an interesting comparison of how differently Milleninals, GenX and Boomers are consume content. They same rules apply to collaboration. If the old “Mom test” spoke about simplicity that Mom can get, the new rules my trigger a question about what collaboration style new generation of people can get. Maybe it is a question how to bring SnapChat type of collaboration into design process?

All together made me think about what is the optimal strategy for design collaboration that will better address the needs users in engineering and manufacturing scaling from needs of individual makers to large OEM manufacturing shops.

Traditional design collaboration approach is going around 3D design. Most of the tools developed by CAD and PLM vendors for the last 10-15 basically created a way for users to access 3D product representation with additional set of functions like redline, comments, etc. The core complexity of these tools related to seamless access of diverse set of information – 3D, 2D, specification documents and contextual information coming from data management tools. These bundling made it complex to develop and use.

Unbundling is an interesting business strategy used in many application domains these days. Read my earlier blog about that – The future unbundling strategies in CAD / PLM. The potential of unbundled services can be significant. Existing bundles are complex and inefficient. People don’t use all functionality and look for something simple and easy to grasp. However, unbundle can be hard. Read my Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors? As much as people are valuing simplicity and ease of use today, vertical integration remains a very important thing for many companies.

Last year I started a discussion about PLM tools, bundles and platform. Since then, few new interesting products and came to the market that pursue the value of design collaboration – I should mention two cloud CAD products Onshape and Autodesk Fusion 360. Also, I have to mention engineering communication and collaboration tools provided by GrabCAD. However, I want to bring to examples today to show two distinct approaches in development of design collaboration products – bundle vs. unbundle.

The first one is Visual Collaboration product Aras Corp. introduced in the last version of Aras Innovator. Navigate to the following link to read more. In the following video you can get a full demo of visual collaboration fully integrated with PLM product. The approach taken by Aras to bring visual collaboration to all users is absolutely valuable. Everyone in an organization can collaborate in the 2D/3D and any other design context.

My second example came from new startup company founded by ex-Facebook product designers – Read more about story on TechCrunch – Designers Ditch Perfectionism For Instant Feedback With Wake. The idea to solve a problem of collaboration in a community of product designers made them think about product that capture and share a very simple design collaboration process. The following video can give you an idea of that about:

What is my conclusion? Both bundling and unbundling approaches have pros and cons. Vertical integration is important, but simplicity and capturing a specific design workflow without overwhelming users with additional information can be valuable too. In my view, unbundling is trending. This is the way to create new products solving painful problems. The same collaboration problems engineers and other people are experiencing when designing products can be applied to other places as well. An example of is a hint to CAD and PLM companies to think where future disruption can come from. The same way Slack disrupted existing collaborative approaches practiced by companies today, new products like can disrupt future of 3D and engineering collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image credit GrabCAD



PDM and future trajectory of versions comparison

June 11, 2015


Version control is one of the most important function in PDM. Regardless on what type of data you are managing, the capability to manage changes and to have an access of history of versions is important. Version control was the first functionality every PDM system developed in the past. The following video can show you how SolidWorks Enterprise PDM is solving version management challenges

The functionality like you can see in EPDM is provided nearly by every PDM system (or maybe I should say, good PDM system). In the following video, you can see how you can compare parts in CATIA V5.

What is important and I guess you’ve seen it on both example – comparison of geometry is an important element of versions comparison. For many of us, the fact that somebody made a change is almost meaningless and we want to understand what was the change and to have an access to more specific information which is geometrical when it comes to 3D design.

The modern cloud based PDM systems are focusing on good user experience. Compare versions is a functionality that can become a significant differentiator for customer to purchase a product. In one of my previous blog posts about GrabCAD Workbench, I put an example of how GrabCAD Workbench is visualizing differences between CAD file versions.

You may ask what happens if you don’t have PDM environment. In that case, versions are just different files on the disk, server or cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Doc. You can use available 3D CAD file comparison products. The following CAD Digest blog – Overview of CAD Geometry Comparison Tools gives you a list of products to compare 2D/3D CAD files. The article is a bit long, but I found very useful.

One of the tools you can consider to use to compare revisions is KeyCreator Compare by Kubotek. Watch the video below. The interesting aspect is the list of CAD formats that KeyCreator Compare can support. Navigate here to see the list

If you want to integrate revision comparison in your own solution, you can consider a product from LEDAS – a software outfit located in Russia with a history of providing development services for companies in CAD/PLM industry domain. The product LGC (Geometric comparison) can give you a library of functions to use in your project. Product is available for OEM.

Modern cloud-based CAD systems are providing integrated PDM functions as part of their core product. Two best examples are Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape.

The following video shows Autodesk Fusion360. You can clearly see how revision management became a natural part of Fusion360 functionality. You can browse revisions and visualize it. Unfortunately I didn’t find an example how to compare versions (If you’re aware about such command, please let me know in comments).

Onshape is providing an integrated product data management (PDM) functions. Recent Onshape release introduced new “compare function”, which can give you a possibility to compare revisions and see what happened during the changes. Onshape user experience is slick. However, as I can see from a video, Onshape is probably only capable to compare changes made using Onshape (I will try to discover more about this functionality in the next weeks).

What is my conclusion? Versions comparison is an important function. In the past the functionality was often split into two domains. PDM was managing versions and storing history of changes and files. Viewing technology was focusing on how to compare 3D files visually and functionally. New trends in cloud CAD development made PDM functions embedded into design environment. It improves usability and makes it easier for customers. At the same time, it might not cover all functional use cases such as comparison of CAD files created without history of features, which can be a case for supply chain systems sharing files. I can see an increased role of versions comparison to streamline design workflows and change management. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM, mass-customization and 3D printed high heels

June 3, 2015


What is connecting  high heels and airplane landing gear? Some people can find a commonality and special ones can build a business around it. My attention caught by the following BI article – A former SpaceX exec is reinventing the high heel with the help of an astronaut and a rocket scientist. Meet Dolly Singh and Thesis Couture. Dolly spent 6 years working at SpaceX as a recruiter in southern California, matching those who could build rockets with the companies who wanted to enter the next frontier before deciding to redesign high-heels. The outdated design is just a metal plate, a metal shank and compressed cardboard.

The definition of the problem is a key. This is a moment of time high-heels are getting a direct connection to the airplanes and landing gears. The following passage is explaining that.

They took a cue from Musk and broke the problem down to the fundamental laws of physics acting on high heels, or chassis depending on your approach. When it comes to high heels, there’s three: how the shoe distributes weight, what happens when it hits the ground and the friction between your foot and the shoe.

Those are the only design constraints, Singh said. The basic shape of the high heel and its materials — a metal plate, a metal shank and compressed cardboard — haven’t changed in many years. “A skinny metal rod and cardboard is basically all you’re standing on when you’re wearing stilettos, so it doesn’t take a lot for scientists to see that it’s not a particularly sophisticated structure from an engineering standpoint,” Singh said. Instead of asking for help with high heels, she approached them with an engineering problem: how would they redesign a chassis to support a human’s weight and range of motion?

According to the article, Thesis Couture is planning to 3D print high heel shoes. You can learn more on their website.


The story about Thesis Couture made me think about data driven mass customization. Mass customization is an interesting trend these days in manufacturing. The demand for customization is high. Customers are looking for more products tailored for specific customer needs and requirements. Now, think for a moment that the design of high- heel shoes is customized for your weight, body and (just dream for a moment) for the way you walk. This is an enormous potential to create a custom build high-heel show.

However, mass customization created large number of challenges for manufacturers. Product lifecycle management technologies are standing just in the middle between engineering and manufacturing. In many situations, this is a center piece of mass customization challenges. Some of my previous articles can give you some idea about these challenges – The role of PLM in mass customization; PLM, mass customization and ugly truth about vertical BOM integration; Mass customization is the real reason for PLM to want MBOM.

What is my conclusion? Maybe I’m just dreaming and 3D printed mass customizable high-heel shoe is not what customer wants. Maybe the biggest problems of mass customization are coming from aircraft, automotive and some other industries. However, just think for a moment – one of the most custom built product in the world is our body. To tailor products to our body is a big challenge. And high heels is just one example. We are going to see more examples in the future. And PLM vendors should think how to make their engineering and manufacturing technologies capable to handle people body configurations as well. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

pictures credit BI article and Thesis Couture website

Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?

August 26, 2014


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


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.


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


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:

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


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 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, 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, 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


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