Cloud CAD/PDM and mass customization future

June 25, 2015

mass-customization-cad-cloud-3d-local-motors

The era of mass production is near the end. The demand for mass customization is coming. We can see signs of customizable products everywhere – e-commerce configurators, personalization in apparel industry, individual shoe design, personalization in medical devices etc.

At the same time, the opportunity around mass-customization is facing challenges in engineering and manufacturing environments. I shared some of my thoughts about PLM, mass customization and BoM vertical integration last year. The problem with management of bill of materials to support manufacturing integration is real. We can achieve an improved product customization by improvement of BOM management and providing configurable BOM solution integrated with manufacturing systems. However, in many situation, product configuration capabilities are defined in the core of product design – CAD system.

You can manage product configurations using CAD system. Most of 3D mechanical CAD systems are supporting the ability to create some sort of product variations. But here is the thing, it is very hard to connect CAD product configurations to engineering and manufacturing systems.

My attention was caught by an article Building Adaptable CAD Databases—How and Why written by Chris Loughnane. In a nutshell, it speaks about how to make a traditional CAD design more data driven. The idea is fascinating and goes much beyond discrete configuration parameters. Here is my favorite passage explaining that.

Adaptable databases. By implementing additional techniques on top of traditional best practices, design intent is able to be so thoroughly baked into an adaptable database that its flexibility is no longer limited to a few discrete parameters. Instead, it’s able to read user-specific scan data and adjust the height, length, width, and surface curvature such that the resulting database is now custom-fit to the user.

It made me think about potentially mind blowing future of adapting CAD models. Imagine CAD design that can be changed based on customer data scanned using your mobile phone. Whoa… that would be amazing, but I stopped dreaming for a moment… The data integration chain in engineering and manufacturing systems is broken in many ways. CAD design is hardly integrated with PDM databases. Engineering BOMs are not synchronized with manufacturing BOM and shop floor and production facilities. To connect dots is possible, but it is a very complicated and expensive process.

The industry is discovering cloud CAD systems these days. One of the significant advantages of cloud CAD is the fact it includes data management functionality. In fact, these data management functions are giving us an option to control design on a very granular level. You can see an example of how cloud CAD systems are capable to control versions and collaboration between people.

Cloud based CAD systems can leverage data management capabilities to control more design parameters and product features. By doing that, it will enable better integration between design configuration and product features. Today most of these parameters are hardly can be captured. New cloud CAD systems can provide data driven environment to control important design parameters and to support data-driven design.

What is my conclusion? Mass customization and personal product developing is a future. One of the problems to solve in order to make it happen is to integrate engineering and manufacturing environments. The wall between design models and manufacturing product configuration should be removed. The first step into that direction is done by cloud CAD / PDM systems today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture Strati BAAM 3D printed car. (c) Photo courtesy of Local Motors.

 



How Fusion360 and Onshape are solving fundamental CAD collaboration problem

June 24, 2015

3d-puzzle-design-collaboration

For many years, design collaboration and change management was an ultimate requirement for PDM tools. To manage revision history, share data in the team and apply changes made by different team members was a dream for many users. I’ve seen many attempts to solve this problem by PDM developers with questionable results. The challenge for PDM system was to connect two islands of data – CAD files and PDM database. More successful implementations in this space are belonging to CAD/PDM bundles provided by a single vendor in the situation when both CAD file structure and PDM data is controlled by a single tool.

Cloud CAD technologies are breaking the barrier of existing CAD/PDM bundles by introducing embedded PDM functionality as part of CAD tools. You probably remember my earlier post – Cloud CAD will have to solve PDM problem first. Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape are two cloud CAD products today that are supposed to turn design collaboration dream into reality. Earlier in my blog I explained why I think Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus. There are differences in data management approaches, offline mode support and application technologies used by both vendors. But, at the same time, it is very interesting to compare how both products are solving similar problems.

Autodesk Fusion360 blog – June product update review by keqingsong speaks about functionality added to Fusion360 to support distributed design and allows collaboration in distributed teams.

fusion360-distributed-design

The following passage can give you a good description of what means distributed design for Fusion360 including usage of reference geometry and specific version inside of the project. What is interesting is how Fusion360 holds top down relationships between different elements of the project.

This release lays the foundation for distributed designs that will allow for future enhancements. In this update, you will able to insert referenced geometry that is part of the same project. Models outside of the project you are working must be moved or copied to your current project before they can be referenced. When a referenced model is inserted into another model, a reference image appears before the name identifying which components are being referenced.

A “component is out-of-date” notification will appear when a referenced part is updated. You will then have a choice to update and receive the change or keep the current version in your model. Simply right click on the referenced component and select “Get latest”. This intended workflow allows for designs that are in production to reference one version of a model while other versions are being created for a future design. If a component is inside a model that is referenced by another model you must update the sub model first, save it, and then go to the top level and update.

At the same time, my attention was caught by Onshape blog – Under the Hood: How Collaboration Works in Onshape by Ilya Baran gives you a deep insight on how Onshape is managing changes by introducing a concept of "microrevisions".

onshape-microversions

The following passage is explaining how microversions technique applies into distributed environment with multiple users.

For a given Part Studio, at each point in time, the definition is stored as an eternal, immutable object that we internally call a microversion. Whenever the user changes the Part Studio definition, (e.g., edits an extrude length, renames a part, or drags a sketch), we do not change an existing microversion, but create a new one to represent this new definition. The new microversion stores a reference to the previous (parent) microversion and the actual definition change. In this way, we store the entire evolution of the Document: this is accessible to the user as the Document history, allowing the user to reliably view and restore any prior state of an Onshape Document.

These definition changes are designed to be very robust: a change stored in a microversion is intended to apply to the parent microversion, but could be applied to a different one. For instance, if the change is “change the depth of Extrude 1 to 4 in,” as long as the original feature exists (identified using an internal id, so it can be renamed), this change can be applied. As a result, changes coming simultaneously from multiple collaborators can simply be applied to the latest microversion without interfering with each other. Traditional CAD systems based on saving an ever-changing memory state into files cannot do this, even if run on a remote server or with a PDM system attached: the data itself has to be collaborative.

What is my conclusion? Fusion360 and Onshape are trying to solve the problem of design collaboration. Both systems are leveraging cloud data management backend (Autodesk A360 and Onshape) to create robust mechanism to manage data, changes and relationships between design components and projects. The advantage of cloud architecture is that all "implementation mechanics" will be hidden from end users, which is absolutely great news. At the same time, it would be interesting to see how robust these approaches for use cases where Fusion360 and Onshape will have to manage CAD data coming from other CAD systems. To avoid "double PDM tax" is a challenge both systems will have to deal with. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Cloud CAD and Offline Internet

May 29, 2015

online-offline-cad

I had a chance to attend Google I/O extended 2015 event in Cambridge, Mass yesterday. If you follow up Google I/O, you might be already up to the speed with all Google announcements around Android, Wear, Internet of Things, Photo, etc. If not, check Google I/O 2015. What caught my special attention is Google’s focus on offline. Offline is starting to be important, since Google is thinking about future internet expansion. Think about questions like – how to search on mobile when Internet connection is weak? or How to navigate using Google Maps with no internet connection?

Offline is an interesting topic. We want to have our life connected and collaborative. But at the same time, we are trying to think how cloud applications will work with absence of internet connection or in the situation when internet connection is very weak. TechCrunch article Google Quest to bring the internet to 7 billion people can give you some brief about what Google plan to do. The following Gizmodo article specifically talks about YouTube offline and Maps offline.

offline-google-maps

Another thing that Google did is optimized download time for bad network connections. I’ve seen a demo and it really makes a difference.

optimized-download

It made me think again about offline topic in the connection of cloud CAD. The “offline” topic is one of those things Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape are different these days. Read my earlier post – Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus. For the moment Fusion360 is an app that requires installation and it works connected with Autodesk 360 cloud platform. It can remind you Evernote – you can install it and it will sync data instantly and keep your records so you can access it from any device. Onshape is taking a different route – full cloud CAD application and it works completely in the browser. You can think about it as Google Apps and Gmail-like approach.

Al Dean of Develop3D shared his opinion on strategy and technology of both Onshape and Fusion360 in his article The cloud – a bright future ahead. Here is the passage addressing the “offline” topic.

Eventually, Fusion will be available via the browser (I’d put a fiver on that being before the end of the year). DS’ next generation SolidWorks products will get better and more accessible. Though strangely, this is the unknown in the calculations as DS is reluctant to talk about the whole thing, presumably to protect its dominance with SolidWorks.

And hopefully, OnShape will have a way of working when you’re offline, as well as internet connected. Finally, I’d hope that DS is much more open about getting its customer’s access to the tools it is developing . The excuse that “They’re using our resources so they should pay” simply won’t cut it as these tools need to be played with, discovered and explored. At the moment, they’re not getting the exposure that they deserve — leaving a whole new market open to Autodesk and Onshape.

What is my conclusion? Will CAD vendors take Google way to make cloud CAD offline? This is an interesting place to watch. Google made several attempts for offline work in Google Apps. It didn’t work in the past, but these days I can save my work offline in Google Drive and it is magically getting in sync when my computer connects back to the internet. Google Maps is a great example how to address specific offline needs. I guess cloud CAD vendors can learn a lesson from Google. It seems to me Autodesk and Onshape will be coming to offline mode from two separate directions. However, focus on customers can be a good guidance to see what is important and when. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Google I/O pictures credit Gizmodo.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Re-imagining PLM: One Business Process at a Time?

May 28, 2015

Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins shared her (almost) traditional presentation about internet trends yesterday. The presentation is available here – don’t miss that. In my opinion, if you follow technologies, this is “must see” piece of information.

Among different topics, there is a whole section of presentation focused on enterprise software. It starts from a very clear message of changing business process “one segment at a time”.

mary-meker-change-business-processes

The following inspirational quote of BOX founder Aaron Levie made it even more clear – the shift from process improvements to the opportunity of software to change the work itself.

aaron-levie-enterprise-software-2015

Next few dozen of slides are bringing examples of changing of work processes – Slack, Square, Stripe, Domo, DocuSign, Intercom, Gainsight, Directly, Zenefits, Anaplan, Greenhouse, Checkr, GuideSpark, Envoy. These are great examples of companies that bringing technology into existing inefficient processes and completely turning them around.

It made me think about segmentation of engineering and manufacturing software. The trend for the last year was to consolidate portfolios. PLM vendors were focused on making their portfolio broader and more integrated. For many of them, it was a very successful move. The portfolios were growing, which helped them to grow revenues and increase number of customers. And it was appreciated by customers that were looking how to decrease number of vendors and simplify IT management. The demand for vertical integration between tools was another factor. If you buy PDM/PLM system from the same CAD vendor, the chances are CAD-PDM integration will be better.

The domain of CAD, PDM, PLM and beyond is complex. Customers have high demand for integration. So, how to apply the idea of changing of “one segment at a time” can be even possible? So, I put few ideas below how to make it happen.

1. Cloud Applications

Cloud and SaaS applications are changing the landscape of enterprise software these days. What we have these days is second generation of cloud applications. The first one is clearly associated with first appearance of Salesforce.com. Today we can new apps leveraging from mobile and open source technologies delivering new services for engineers and designers. It took PLM vendors few years to recognize the potentials. There are leaders and more conservative vendors, but the trend is clear.

2. Unbundling Services

In my earlier post – Unbundling strategies in CAD/PLM almost two years ago, I’ve been giving the example of how Craiglist lists were disrupted by multiple companies providing services for a specific vertical niches. The same strategy can potentially work in CAD/PLM space.

craiglist-unbundled-services-1024x768

3. Platforms vs Apps separation and Upgrades

Today’s PLM technologies and products approached their limits in terms of their functional capabilities and speed of ROI. As a result, the organic growth in PLM implementation was very limited, in my view. The upgrades and implementations are taking long time. Large manufacturing companies are not capable to move into new applications and versions.
The idea of split between “platform” and “apps” is not new. But today it became really critical. Large OEMs cannot afford platform changes more often than 3-5 years and it slows everything down. In my view, PLM vendors are working on how to make it happen.

Earlier this month at Siemens PLM Connection 2015, I’ve been watching examples of how TeamCenter strategies to deliver multiple releases and services packs to make adoption of new apps on top multiple platform versions. It is not a simple change for existing platforms.

teamcenter-platform-vs-apps

Aras Corp claims that Aras Innovator model-based approach is solving upgrades problem for many customers. More about that is here. Aras subscription is including upgrade services,so it makes an upgrade transparent for customers.

PLM software delivered using SaaS model has some advantages because of platform, apps and upgrade complexity are hidden behind “cloud wall”. But it doesn’t make it less complex at the same time.

What is my conclusion? Enterprise software is going through the time of changes. The existing status quo cannot stay up to the demands of customers in terms of speed, agility and cost. So, we can expect new apps and services to disrupt existing segments. As we can see from Meker’s presentation it is already happening. How it will come to engineering and manufacturing domain. Will PLM segment survive as a “whole piece”? Are we going to repeat the trajectory of PLM software development again by reimagining CAD, Data Management, processes, BOM, change management, etc.? I don’t think we have an answer now. The changes are in front of us. The disruption can come from any place. In consumer segment, the innovation came from a garage environment. PLM vendors, watch carefully for garage innovators. The chances are competition will come from that place. Gradually and then suddenly. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How much does it cost to manage CAD data?

May 14, 2015

cad-free-pdm

CAD files. Everyone who is dealing with design and engineering is familiar with this type of data. Large files, many dependencies, hard to store, share, change. That was the place where originally Product Data Management – PDM was born (if you long enough in this industry you might remember EDM or TDM acronyms too). Until very recently, PDM tools were hard to install, configure and use. Engineers didn’t like them and tried to avoid it as much as possible.

There are some good news on the horizon. CAD and PLM vendors are recognizing the need to release engineers from PDM pain and focusing on how to improve it from both user experience and license cost. If you recall one of my earlier blogs this year, I was talking about some interesting changes in PDM licensing from GrabCAD and SolidWorks – The future of free PDM.

Recent announcement from Autodesk about changes in Fusion360 packaging is not directly related to PDM. In a nutshell, it was about moving bunch of premium Fusion360 features into standard package with subscription price $25/month. At the same time, Fusion360 is providing PDM functionality and it is part of the subscription license which cost you 25$/month. Navigate here to learn more.

Another my post “Onshape quietly developed Google Drive for CAD” will give you a perspective from another cloud CAD disruptor – Onshape. A set of CAD data management (PDM) functionality is part of Onshape product. The subscription has free option as well as $100/month option. Navigate here to learn more.

It made me think about how much are we going to pay to manage and share CAD files in a near future?

The more “traditional” CAD / PDM approach is bundling CAD data management and integration functions into PDM/ PLM products. It forms a group of relatively expensive CAD data management tools. Navigate the following links to see examples – Aras CAD data management, Autodesk Vault, ENOVIA CAD data management, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, SolidEdge SP, Siemens TeamCenter PDM, Windchill PDM Link. The license cost and TCO is not always obvious and transparent (not very different from many examples of on premise enterprise software). At the same time, the functionality of these packages are often goes much beyond just managing revisions and sharing CAD files.

Another group of vendors and products are formed by new “cloud products” that can give you an option to manage and share CAD data. All of them are subscription based. For some of them, PDM is an integral part of a bigger product. There are products with free subscription option under some conditions. Here is the list of vendors – Autodesk Fusion360, Autodesk A360, GrabCAD Workbench, Onshape, Kenesto Drive, Team Platform. I’m sure missed some of new cloud outfits, so please let me know about new cool names to be added.

What is my conclusion? I can see a strong trend for making CAD data management ubiquitous and near free is a reality we might face very soon. Cloud CAD vendors will lead this trend because PDM is an fundamental part of cloud CAD delivery mechanism. It will take trajectory of cost for CAD data management and collaboration to zero. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Onshape quietly developed “Google Drive for CAD”

May 11, 2015

onshape-vision

Cloud storage and CAD files. This topic always created lot of controversy and questions. File sizes, speed, security, CAD formats and viewing. At the same time, the need to collaborate and share files is obvious. In my early blog – PLM Cloud Concerns and Dropbox Reality for Engineers 3 years ago, you can find some interesting statistics about how engineers are using Dropbox services. I don’t have updated numbers, but my hunch that usage of public cloud storage services is not decreasing.

GrabCAD was probably the first widely adopted CAD storage and share service. I debated usage of specialized CAD storage and collaboration service – 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool. You can find some more comments in my chat with Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD.

Onshape cloud storage and collaboration

I’ve been watching recording of . It is a bit long, but if you have time, watch it. Here is a skimmed version with my comments .

Onshape developed a platform that allows users to store, view and collaborate with CAD files. It allows to export and import files, manage revisions, view and edit models and drawings. The list of export and import file formats is not comprehensive yet, but in my view can easy cover the needs of many small and mid size manufacturing shops.

There are 4 main scenarios explained in the webinar – 1/ use Onshape as cloud storage tool; 2/ vendor collaboration; 3/ design review; 4/ access for people with no CAD (viewer). Slides below can be give you some additional explanations.

1-cloud-storage-tool2-collaborate-with-vendors3-design-review-tool4-increase-access-nocad

There are few interesting things that are not obvious in my view if you think about Onshape as CAD tool only.

You can upload and store any type of files to Onshape. Embedded browser viewer is available and you can see them online (you need to convert file into Onshape geometry for viewing). The ability to share and comment on files inside of browser brings “social element” into collaboration. Revisions will help you to keep baselines of files shared with subcontractors.

Onshape’s pricing model can support collaboration. I guess, as soon as somebody with paid Onshape license will share file with you (via email), it will give a free access after registration steps.

What products Onshape is competing with?

Onshape is clearly not the only vendor to support collaboration and storage of CAD files. I just want to mention few of them. I mostly focus on public cloud tools. I’m sure missed few tools, so please feel free to add them in the comments to the blog post.

[Update: 11-May 2015] As expected, I’m getting comments about tools I forgot to mention in this section. So, I’m re-arranging the list. It is alphabetical and will be expanded. Watch for updates…

Autodesk A360 is a cloud project collaboration tool that can support different CAD formats, viewing and collaboration. Navigate here to learn more.

GrabCAD (even after acquisition by Stratasys) is around and after GrabCAD announced Workbench is free, it can be an attractive option too.

Kenesto is an outfit that recently announced the availability of “Kenesto Drive” – cloud tool that can help you to collaborate on CAD files instead of using shared network drive. I’ve been sharing my thoughts about Kenesto here. You can get more info here.

TeamPlatform is a tool that was acquired by 3DSystem. More info is here. It can give you a set of viewing and collaboration capabilities with CAD files.

What is my conclusion? The think I like the most with Onshape is simplicity. The ability to follow Google Drive or Dropbox scenario of File download, Save As, Translate and browser (URL) based model is something you can appreciate if you are doing a lot of work online. Onshape feature set is limited and it is not clear how fast it will grow. It can be a good opportunity to discover what Onshape can give you, but you should consider Onshape beta status. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Bad PDM experience? After all, it is CAD systems’ fault…

May 4, 2015

bad-pdm-experience

PDM. Product Data Management was one of the topics engineers are really hating. It was always about slow implementations, complex user experience, slow check-in and check-out, unsupported CAD versions and many other things. The relationships between PDM and CAD vendors aren’t simple either. I shared some of my thoughts about that in my blog – How CAD vendors “murdered” PDM business.

So, what is the root of PDM complexity? Actually, it goes deep to the nature of CAD system. Jon Hirschtick, founder of Onshape, speaks about PDM complexity in his last blog – Say Goodbye to CAD File Checkout & Copies. Here is my favorite passage

REMEMBER: IT’S NOT PDM’S FAULT. Even when engineers and designers love their CAD system, the odds are high that they’re grumbling about their PDM. I frequently hear the word “hate” come up in conversations about PDM, regardless of vendor or brand. But as frustrating as file checkout and file locking can be, it’s not PDM’s fault that you’re angry.

Traditional CAD systems were never designed for distributed teams. We know because we built traditional CAD. It used to be that a product was designed and manufactured under the same roof. Today, the design and manufacturing chain is often distributed across the country or even across the world.

Jon’s blog post made me think again about how cloud can transform engineering environment and solve some very painful engineering problems related to collaboration. It took me back to my post – Cloud PDM can make file check-in and check-out obsolete from last year. The power of cloud technologies can eliminate complexity of data transfer and scenarios. I was talking about PDM, but cloud CAD can take it even future by eliminating the need to transfer files to the desktop and operate from any device.

What is my conclusion? Cloud technology will change the traditional workflows of engineering systems. It is related to the amount of data moving between desktop and servers as well as the way system and people are accessing information. In my view, cloud technology can bring a paradigm shift and will allow engineers to focus on their work and less worry about check-in, check-out and data complexity. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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