Why cloud CAD is closer to solve some PLM problems than you think

July 18, 2015


One of the topics I’m following closely these days is cloud CAD development trend. To make cloud CAD work from the cloud, vendors must solve some fundamental data management and PDM problems first. The two most visible players in cloud CAD domain today are Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape. Although Fusion360 was released almost 3 years ago, I can see some similarity in the way fundamental data management problems will be solved by both products. Note, that Fusion360 is using Autodesk A360 platform for data management. You might be interested to catch up with some of my previous writing about these systems – Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus and How Fusion360 and Onshape are solving fundamental CAD collaboration problem.

To continue, I want to have a conversation about cloud CAD and Product Lifecycle Development. 3D CAD World recently published an article Onshape: Future of CAD – or Future of PLM? The article brings good points about Onshape built with data management in mind. Here is an interesting passage:

Steve Hess, another member of Onshape’s UX/PD team, followed up Gallo by posting: “As you know Onshape was built with data management in mind. The data management features of Onshape are at the core of the product and will become more exposed as Onshape matures. “In time, Onshape will be the system of record for all types of data & meta-data (data about the data) allowing you to run analysis and simulations…without having [to] copy or reproduce the information in another system. The data stored in Onshape will be visible and accessible to your other enterprise systems.”

Autodesk and Onshape are in a different time phases related to enterprise deployments. While Onshape just started with public beta version back in March, Autodesk released cloud based PLM 360 back in 2012. The last blog from Onshape can give you some interesting perspective on what cloud CAD and Onshape can offer to enterprises out of the box. Navigate to the following link – 5 Ways to advance your career with Onshape. Yes, it speaks about career opportunities, but I want to focus your attention on some technological and product capabilities of Onshape. It related to the native ability of Onshape to share 3D data using browser. One of the uses cases – introduce 3D to manufacturing. Here is my favorite passage:

Stop using email, FTP and Dropbox to share files. Let’s face it, every time you send a copy of a file to someone you create issues with file compatibility, data security or version control. Human error adds to the problem when assemblies are sent without part files, old versions are used, or email size limits are exceeded. There is a better way with Onshape. Just upload your existing CAD data into Onshape and hit “Share.” Now everyone can reference the same data, translate on demand when needed, and you can easily revoke a person’s access if you choose. You will reduce daily frustration while increasing your company’s control of its data.

Introduce 3D to the manufacturing team. Too often, there are a few licenses of 3D CAD being used for product design, while the people designing the fixtures and tooling are using older 2D systems – or even pencil and paper. With Onshape, the entire manufacturing team can experience the benefits of 3D design. You will introduce design efficiencies and give others the tools to drive innovation.

One of the functional requirements for PLM is to make data widely available and used across all teams in the company and extended enterprise. Although, it sounds simple, it was a challenging requirement for many PLM products. Two main reasons – product complexity and expensive licensing mechanism. Onshape has some good news here such as sharing data similar to Google Drive and free licensing model (according to my understanding when engineer shares model with somebody, person is getting free license automatically). The licensing issue is probably require some additional validation. I’m not sure what happens when number of shared document with a single person will grow beyond 5 documents limit. Of course, companies in specific industries might have a problem with public cloud both A360 and Onshape are using.

What is my conclusion? Cloud CAD is getting close to solve some fundamental 3D sharing problems. These problems caused traditional PLM to slow down in their ability to spread across company departments. It is web based, simple and (there is a chance) free or has affordable cost. So, both Onshape and Fusion360/A360 can solve problems that addressed today by premium features of traditional PLM systems. In my view, this is an interesting shift that can disrupt current PLM status quo. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit Wikipedia Data Share article

Fra.me and bridge to CAD & PLM cloud

July 15, 2015


Back to my trip to Develop3D Live conference earlier this year, I shared my thoughts about future of cloud competition. The cloud space in CAD is getting more dynamic. It also shakes other traditional applications surrounding CAD – product data management, simulation, etc.

In my first slice of PLM cloud service comparison, I provided a view on how PLM companies are applying different cloud architecture approaches to get into cloud business – from just leveraging IaaS layer to run existing system and up to full rebuilt of systems from grounds up. While traditional applications doesn’t fit very well new cloud technological schemas, it gives a way to come faster with mature implementations. On the other side, to build system from scratch takes time (especially in rich applications such as CAD and PLM).

One of the approaches that driving some attention is virtualization of existing applications via browser. Since my Develop3D live conference, I’ve been following Fra.me – software outfit building technologies allowing to virtualize and run any existing desktop software in a browser. Earlier, at Siemens PLM world in Dallas, I’ve seen how Siemens PLM is running SolidEdge on the cloud using Fra.me.

My attention caught by SolidSmack article – Frame Secures $10 Million to Put All of Your Apps (Yes, Including SolidWorks) in the Cloud. It looks like Fra.me is up to provide a bridge to existing mature CAD and potentially PDM products to the cloud. Fra.me is planning to provide 3 levels of service – personal, business and platform. Here is the passage, which outlines Fra.me strategy:

While there are dedicated Cloud-based apps, Bozinovic’s Frame allows users to install their own software on the company’s servers which can then be used in real-time from any device with a web browser – which effectively gives users the power of a finely-tuned desktop PC workstation within their much lighter $200 netbooks or a Macbook Air.

“After we previewed Frame at Develop3D LIVE in March, we were blown away by the interest to run SOLIDWORKS and other CAD software on Frame from users and businesses from around the world,” said Bozinovic in an email to SolidSmack. “We’re in the middle of the biggest computing platform shift in decades and we’re excited to be bringing the power of the cloud to engineers and designers everywhere.”

It made me think about virtualization service as a bridge to the cloud for existing CAD and PLM vendors. While building new software architecture takes time and resources, to run existing applications using service like Fra.me can be a good shortcut vendors would like to us.

What is my conclusion? The advantages are clear – same software, no need to change and re-architecture things. However, it comes with price. In case of CAD, users will keep existing paradigm of file storage. It will require some additional effort to enable collaboration between users (feature that usually comes natively with cloud CAD platforms today). I can see some opportunity for PDM vendors to run existing PDM/PLM platforms using Fra.me. However, the architecture of such deployments as well as customization / configuration can be tricky. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cloud CAD/PDM and mass customization future

June 25, 2015


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


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.


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".


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

“True SaaS” PLM – the devil is in details

June 23, 2015


My earlier attempt to compare PLM vendors and cloud services raised many comments online and offline. I want to thank everybody who commented and shared your insight – it helps me to build a next version of comparison table. Also, I can see an importance of open discussion for the future of cloud PLM industry.

One of the most debate topic is the definition of SaaS. The questions and opinions are keep coming. Can we qualify a particular solution as SaaS? What are characteristic of SaaS product from technological and business perspective? And finally… can we define what is “true SaaS”? I want to step back and talk about SaaS first. Below is the definition by Wikipedia. You can learn more here – Software as a Service.

Software as a service (SaaS; pronounced /sæs/ or /sɑːs/) is a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted. It is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”. SaaS is typically accessed by users using a thin client via a web browser.

This definition leaves a lot of flexibility and, of course, doesn’t reflect multiple aspects of product and technology – the core source of disagreement about what is “true SaaS”. I want to focus on some of them – product portfolio, subscription business model, IaaS and hosting, product versions and releases, upgrades and thin/think client access.

1- Product portfolio. This is a question about cloud and on-prem portfolios. Do you believe company can be providing both traditional PLM software and cloud (SaaS) software. For large companies it is mostly part of their strategy. It is a tricky balancing act of selling existing products and moving into the future. For smaller companies, it is a question about their focus.

2- Subscription business model. Most of subscription-based products are tagged with a price per user / per month. Is it a model you want to follow? Do you expect paying monthly? Is it just a way to advertise the price? What is the additional cost associated with product deployment, operation, support and services.

3- IaaS and Hosting. There are multiple sources of infrastructure for cloud software these days. You can run it using services like AWS and Microsoft Azure. Alternatively, you can host it using variety of hosting providers. If your business is large enough, the question about company datacenter can come .

4- Product versions and release. An important question about availability of multiple versions and configuration of your products. The option to keep a single version of truth for your cloud product has lot of advantages. But at the same time, it can raise a concern from IT folks thinking about how to make cloud product compatible with other software running by a company.

5- Upgrades. The topic of software upgrades is painful. Who is responsible to upgrade your environment when product is moving to the next release? Cloud software vendors are traditionally responsible for infrastructure and upgrades. But some specific customizations and configurations can complicate things.

6- Thin vs. Thick clients. Do you think “cloud” is equal “browser”? For some people, the answer is clear yes. Do you think browser access is an ultimate characteristic of “true SaaS” software? You can decide what is important for you, but consider the implication of managing software installed on mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers.

What is my conclusion? The devil is in details and SaaS definition brings many questions. I’m working on a next version of PLM cloud services comparison between vendors. It is a competitive space and vendors will have to work to explain their products and technology. To say “cloud” is not enough. SaaS has no simple definition. To understand multiple characteristics of SaaS is important to take a right decision about what is a right solution for you. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PS. If you have specific questions, please reach me out via email – oleg [@] beyondplm [.] com

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

PLM vendors are in risk to follow ERP dinosaurs

June 22, 2015


When it comes to PLM and ERP, you may always get some feeling of rivalry at the air. PLM and ERP domains are not competing. However, ERP and PLM vendors are clearly competing for customers strategic mindset. After all, it always comes to the competition for strategic budget allocation.

For many years ERP vendors came first to the corner office of CIO. These days some ERP dinosaurs are fighting for surviving in a new era of cloud computing and SaaS software. Toolbox.com article – 6 Reasons Why The Dinosaurs of ERP Are About To Go Extinct provides an interesting perspective on what happens in ERP software domain and industries today. 6 reasons in the article is the answer why traditional on-prem software solutions provided by companies like PeopleSoft are eaten by rivalry of cloud newcomers.

The article made me think about trajectory of some implementations and vendors in PLM domain. I can clearly see some similarities. Do you think some 20-30 years old PLM vendors will follow the path of the dinosaurs of ERP? Here are some of my thoughts about PLM domain and on-prem / cloud trends.

1- Old platforms need to retire

For the last 15-20 years, manufacturing companies adopted 2-3 generations of PLM software. For some of them (especially very large companies), the process of adoption was long and expensive. It took time to align processes and systems together. At the same time, technology is moving forward. To move forward, many customers need to drop old products and move to support new operational systems, hardware, devices, internet browsers, etc. It is obviously raises a question of how to retire old platforms. But this is a very painful question for many companies.

2- IT managers and upgrades

Upgrades are painful and IT is the department that traditionally spending a lot of resources and cost to upgrade all systems for a company. Cloud systems are going to change it. Since data centers and cloud infrastructure are owned by software vendors, they are also taking responsibilities for the upgrade. Some innovative PLM vendors such as Aras is including upgrades into their subscription also on on-prem installations.

3- Mobile and site independence

Our working environment is changing. 10-15 years ago, out work was mostly on site. These days the workforce is distributed. People don’t need to be at their desk to do a job. Multiple locations is a reality even for small companies. Mobile devices are in everyone pocket. To have a system that capable to work in such environment is an imperative for every company.

4- How to get small customers on board

PLM vendors made multiple attempt to provide a solution for smaller companies. It never worked. I can list number of products that were announced, retired and discontinued. However, the importance of smaller companies will only increase. New technologies and online market communities are making smaller manufacturing more competitive. It will bring an additional need for cloud PLM systems.

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing companies are slow in their adoption of new technologies. PLM never been a first place to innovate for cloud companies. But the reality of the outside world and online business are bringing manufacturing companies to the point that they will need to have a competitive software for product development and manufacturing. Old systems won’t survive and will have to retire. It is a time for PLM vendors to think about innovation and new platforms. Otherwise, it might to be too late to build and too expensive to buy. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How PLM can avoid cloud integration spaghetti?

June 18, 2015


Enterprise integration is a messy space. It is always complex – applications, databases, new and legacy systems, complexity of requirements. People usually need to run at least dozen of applications to run things smoothly. It is never done out-of-the-box and it is always requires circles of implementations and professional services.

I caught the following picture tweeted yesterday by Stan Przybylinski of CIMdata. It provides an excellent view of integration complexity. Unfortunately, in many situations, integration is a major challenge in PLM adoption. To get full value of PLM, company should spend a fortune integrating data and processes – CAD, Bill of materials, ECO, etc.


Cloud is coming to enterprise these days. In many ways it creates a new way to think about data, software, services and maybe integrations too. The new technologies and eco-system of services can make a difference. It also creates a significant demand for openness and interoperability. This is a main reason why PLM need to learn web APIs. Web services and REST APIs are changing the way integration can be done.

Technology can make a difference. However, integrations are still hard. Few months ago, I shared my thoughts how to prevent cloud PLM integration mistakes. It comes down to three main things – 1/ lost data semantics; 2/ limitation of data transfers; 3/ transaction management in distributed and cross site environment.

Unfortunately, cloud is not a silver bullet to solve integration challenges. The demand for holistic integration continuum is still in the future. In practice, cloud applications today are replicating bad siloed behaviors of on premise applications. I captured the following picture earlier this week at Boston New Technology meetup.


This picture is the great demonstration of how bad aspects of siloed on premise applications are moving to cloud environment. Migration of applications on cloud infrastructure such as IaaS can simplify IT’s life. However, it won’t make life of users simpler. From end user standpoint, applications will still run in a silo.

What is my conclusion? The danger is to move established on premise PLM paradigms to the cloud. Technologically new cloud systems can give an advantages in terms of integrations. REST API is one example – it is much easier to code integration scenarios using REST APIs and modern web based tools. At the same time, closed data paradigms and data duplication between silos can bring well-know data spaghetti from on-premise applications to the cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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