How to close collaboration gaps in CAD and PDM

September 10, 2015


We don’t have to share the same room to work together these days. Business are discovering globalization option following customers across the globe, skilled workforce, capital and supply chain option. In such environment, it is an imperative goal to develop reliable collaboration option.

There are many technologies these day that can support global teams with variety of collaborative options. However, with all respect to technologies and products, our ability to correlate the work with do on everyday basis with other people in the team is not following the demand for collaboration.

How can we better connect our business output with the work teams and individuals are doing in different offices and locations? Conference calls, video conferences, webcasts, instant messages, social tools. All these tools are supposed to help, but in fact very often these tools are one of the biggest productivity drains. After all, fancy collaborative tools are becoming an expensive and inefficient “file share” servers and most of our effort is how to keep these complex shares in sync between teams and locations. When it fails, companies are creating new data silos to help people to coordinate their work.

There are many examples of how CAD and PLM tools are solving collaboration problems in design, engineering and manufacturing. I just want to bring two that just came to me yesterday.

I captured my first example at Siemens PLM Analyst Event in Boston. Siemens PLM and Teamcenter has big plans to develop variety of tools to support supplier participation in high-value business processes. My human translation – Teamcenter will help organizations and people to collaborate.


The following example of Design Data Exchange shows specifically how portion of data can be retrieved and shared for collaboration with a supplier. Rules are supporting automatic data retrieval from Teamcenter.


This is not very unique process. The devil is in details and the way data can be extracted and shared in the context of work done by other people at the same time is critical. I hope to learn more about that later today.

My second example comes from the blog post about new feature developed by Onshape (a new software outfit founded by Jon Hirschtick and few other members of early Solidworks team). The fundamental premises of Onshape cloud CAD tool is support online collaboration between people working on the same design.The design teams spread across the room or across the world can collaborate on the same CAD model at the same time. You can learn more about Onshape collaboration functionality here. The last Onshape functionality – Onshape Teams allows to share information with a group of people and simplify the process of sharing.



What is my conclusion? You can get around using different tools to collaborate by sharing information between users and groups. What seems to me important is to be able to manage information boundary for collaboration. You can do it using variety of technologies on premise or cloud. However, the most important thing is to create a real time collaborative context. It can be tricky. To get data export / import and exchange information can be relatively easy, but it won’t help you to collaborate on the same piece of data at the same time. To support real time collaborative context can be a potential gap. By developing technologies to support it we enable a greater level of collaboration efficiency in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

Why “collaborative change” can challenge PLM platforms?

August 27, 2015


The only permanent thing in life is change. The same is very true for engineering projects. We are changing things all the time. New products are introduced as a modifications of existing ones. Customers are demanding improvements. Mistakes can happen. There are many situations when change is required.

Teamcenter blog introduced an interesting classification of changes in the article – The Future of Change Management. One of the issues mentioned in this classification caught my special attention and it is related to concurrent or collaboration. Here is the passage explaining specific "collaborative change":

Since products can have many interdependencies, it is not always good to stay isolated. Engineers must be able to coordinate their changes. Change systems will support several types of collaboration. If changes are tightly coupled, they will have the ability to work on the same branch, always seeing the latest working versions of content in that branch.

In other cases, more ad-hoc collaboration is needed. An engineer is working on a change when the system identifies that some reference content (maybe a connected component) has an open change. The engineer will be able to pull the contents of that change into the current working context to ensure there are no conflicts.

There is also need to share working content among several changes. Engineers will be able ‘promote’ their working content into a sharable space, where other users may access all shared content. This can be used for virtual reviews, where the latest working content of the product or a system must be integrated.

Collaboration is such an interesting word. We apply it to some many situations and it comes in so many flavors. The technologies for collaboration developed intensively for the last few years and it was driven by multiple factors. One of them is the demand for more connected application behavior – our life is getting more connected. We are applying modern web and social network behavior in our business scenarios. At the same time engineering and manufacturing business is demanding better collaboration between silos – engineering, manufacturing and supply chain to improve product cost and quality.

It made me think about some potential challenges for PLM platform in supporting highly demanded collaborative scenarios. A traditional data management approach assumed data locking that prevented data from being changed by more than one users. It is an efficient technique, but it potentially can result in not very pleasant user experience or limitation on how people can address changes collaboratively. Many applications in such situations are ending up with brutal "synchronization" buttons or similar behaviors.

Another complexity aspect is related to notifications. We like to be notified about changes. Notification is a challenge for many PLM developers trying to make it user friendly. However, in a highly collaborative environment, notifications can become a nightmare of users. Who wants to get thousands of notifications every day?

What is my conclusion? Business environment is demanding higher level of collaboration and coordination. It can improve business workflows, product quality and lower product cost. At the same time, it can create new challenges to PLM platforms that historically designed to work in a transactional way and can be not ready to support new collaborative application nature. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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



Onshape quietly developed “Google Drive for CAD”

May 11, 2015


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.


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

Will cloud CAD inherit data interoperability problem?

March 3, 2015


Cloud and CAD are probably getting to the point where it starts become a real thing. Autodesk Fusion360, Onshape, SolidWork Industrial design. It is likely to absorb some PDM functionality to make collaboration, branching, revisions and other data management tasks easier. Cloud CAD means no files, so engineers have nothing to mess with… Life is getting more Googley if you read John McEleney Onshape blog.

However, here is the thing… What if (for some crazy reason, which is easy to imagine when you deal with engineers :)), customer will decide to do a work with two cloud CAD systems? It is not unusual to see multiple desktop CAD systems in engineering organizations, so why cloud CAD will be any different.

In my yesterday blog – Cloud CAD infrastructure is getting more PDM-ish, I draw the picture of cloud CAD/PDM bundle helping us to collaborate and manage revisions. Now how two cloud CAD systems will work together? I’ve been trying to bring my cloud imagination and thought about Google Docs and Office 365 services co-existence. Actually, it is not very nice story- I can easy get my files distributed between my Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive accounts. So, what if my parts will be stored on Google Drive and Assembly on Dropbox? Not sure I will like it…

Similar problem in PLM world created many debates and issues. Do you remember Dassault CATIA V6 story, which required ENOVIA backend to run it? It made few customers unhappy when they discovered that they need to run two PDM/PLM systems. I can see some similarity with multiple CAD/PDM cloud bundles co-existence and interoperability.

What is my conclusion? How engineers will collaborate using multiple CAD cloud software? Cloud technology is great, but it looks like cannot magically resolve some old fundamental problems of multiple systems, collaboration and interoperability. I wish cloud CAD / PDM vendors will think about it upfront before customers will find themselves in the middle of messy CAD / import/export/migrate data scenarios. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How CAD and PLM vendors will compete with “Facebook at Work”

November 18, 2014


Social software was hot topic in engineering software ecosystem for the last few years. The results are somewhat mixed. Start-up companies and well established CAD/PLM vendors learned by mistakes, some of them failed and some of them is still in process of developing new type of collaborative engineering software. I captured some of my thoughts about that here – Why Social 1.0 failed

One of the most famous messages of social software was to create “Facebook for XYZ”. Many companies tried to deliver this message in variety of forms in engineering software. The most impressive one was GrabCAD, which created a community of about 1.5M engineers sharing 3D CAD files. Even so, GrabCAD put their focus on development of cloud PDM software – to find a way to monetize. Some of my comments on what GrabCAD did are here – GrabCAD – from Facebook for engineers to PLM. GrabCAD is probably a company that unofficially can own the tag of “Facebook for engineer”. Google search is a good confirmation for that.

A very interesting news came from “original” Facebook. Earlier this week, Facebook leaked the information about Facebook’s intent to create so called “Facebook at Work”. Forbes article gives you some details about Upcoming Facebook at Work service will rival LinkedIn and Slack.

Facebook is preparing Facebook at Work, a service aimed at enterprise customers that will allow them to chat with colleagues and “collaborate over documents,” according to a new report in the Financial Times which cites anonymous sources.

Social business wasn’t an easy job for many companies. For the last few days, I see many speculations and reports about how easy (or not, actually) Facebook can capture a new business niche. Here is the article from ReadWrite – Why Facebook For Work Will Be A Hard Sell To Employers. This is my favorite passage:

Users will be able to chat with coworkers, collaborate on projects, and build catalogues of colleague’s contacts, with each of these services directly competing with Microsoft’s Yammer, Google’s Drive, and LinkedIn. All the services Facebook at Work will offer already exist. Slack, Google Drive, and LinkedIn already do these features well, and have the market for these respective services cornered. If Facebook at Work is going to have a chance of competing, it’ll need to extremely improve on its competitors’ services. And from the little we’ve seen of the service (with Facebook declining to comment), it’s hard to tell if Facebook for Work even has a chance.

“Facebook at Work” news made me think about what it means for engineering software ecosystem? First of all, it reminded me how is dangerous profession of industry analyst. It is still unclear how successful Facebook at Work is going to be, but Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity should be probably concerned about his 5 years old statement – We are not Going to Design an Airplane on Facebook!

All engineering vendors (CAD and PLM companies) just got a new mindshare competitor in everything that can be considered as social and collaboration. In my view it will be hard for Facebook to focus on “project collaboration” for design and engineering teams. The space is too narrow. At the same time, “social collaboration pond” is not as safe as it was before such a big fish as Facebook jumped into it.

My special attention caught by feature related to document sharing and collaboration. In my article – The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive, I mentioned few examples of companies working on how to leverage cloud for CAD files storage and collaboration. Cloud file storage is an interesting place and I expect to see many changes in this domain in coming years. Every engineering company will have to think about pros and cons to have a special CAD files sharing tool. Facebook is just another behemoth convincing companies to store files on their servers and developing slick user experience to collaborate and share project information.

What is my conclusion? Facebook just captured a piece of attention for social project collaboration from everyone. “Facebook at Work” won’t compete directly with engineering software businesses. However, most probably, CAD and PLM vendors have to review their sales and marketing presentations. How to differentiate engineering collaboration software from Facebook? I will put security and CAD viewers on the top of my list of differentiators. Facebook won’t be able to change security perception overnight. Also, it will be challenging to develop 3D viewing solutions. Some specialized vendors can decide to jump and partner with Facebook about 3D CAD viewers. At the same time, there is one thing, which will challenge CAD and PLM vendors already tomorrow. Together with Google, LinkedIn and other web giants, Facebook will challenge engineering teams by setting even higher bar for project collaboration user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: aldoaldoz via photopin cc

Competitive edges of SharePoint and PLM collaboration

November 5, 2014


SharePoint is an interesting product and technology. I’m following it already few years. I can see some kind of love and hate relationships between PLM vendors and Microsoft SharePoint business. You can catch up on some of my thoughts about SharePoint in my previous posts – SharePoint PLM Paradox; Why PLM should care of SharePoint?; PLM SharePoint thoughts. SharePoint technology was successfully used by some PLM products (eg. SolidEdge SP) and discontinued by others (eg. PTC ProductPoint). With these two extreme examples, I guess most of CAD/PDM/PLM vendors are keeping neutral position with regards to SharePoint. Most of them are supporting some sort of integrations typically done by partners and service providers.

One of the issues that makes many customers and vendors confused is a comparison and sometimes even competitive positions of SharePoint. With increased demand for enterprise collaboration and information sharing, many customers are concerned about how both technologies can interplay in the organization. I put some of my thoughts about that in my post last year – How to stop comparing PLM and SharePoint?

Real story group blog SharePoint is no longer a swiss army knife caught my attention and made me think about SharePoint and PLM again. Also, chart shows SharePoint usage by different type of application. It also made a highlighting of new, mature and light usages.


The following two categories – project oriented collaboration, document management and simple file sharing shows probably a dominant place of SharePoint mature usage. From my experience, these categories demonstrates why many companies are confused about PLM and SharePoint. For many of them, the initial phase of PLM – project collaboration and CAD file management can create a feeling of functional overlap.

The situation is getting even more interesting with new wave of cloud products developed by CAD/PLM companies and new startups. The focus of some of them is clearly to solve a problem of document management for engineers, file sharing and project collaboration. It is not obvious that these companies are going after the same market niche as Microsoft. At the same time, I can smell some levels of competitiveness there.

What is my conclusion? SharePoint is mature and successful technology. Microsoft has strong enterprise positions and with new Microsoft strategy for enterprise cloud can become even more dominant player. My hunch, PLM companies should make another round of thinking how to live together or compete with Microsoft SharePoint and connected social collaboration products. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit Microsoft SharePoint and RealStoryGroup


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