The digital life around us is changing. It was a time when everything we did was running around desktop computer. You do your job, Save As… and, yes(!) put it in a file that can give you control over the result of your job. That’s the reason why engineers are in love with CAD files and Excel spreadsheets – it gives them full control of what they do. Excels are getting messy within time, but we can start a new file or open a new Excel spreadsheet.
Rob Cohee of Autodesk reminded me how much engineers are in love with files in his LinkedIn article – My Name is Rob, and I’m Addicted to Files. I captured few passages from Rob’s article before. He brilliantly explains the full engineering enjoyment of control over design and related information.
It started out small with a .DWG here, a .DOC, there with a sprinkle of .XLS files in between.
I had the freedom to create all this data, and the power is nothing short of addicting. Critical design requirements, tolerance, specification, and performance requirements, assembly instructions, a digital folder of file after file containing all of this critical information. I was the Michelangelo of AutoCAD R13 C4, the DWG was my canvas, safety was my muse.
The drawing file became everything. It was my design, requirements document, revision control, my parts list, my BOM, my supplier and procurement instructions, my cut list, my everything. All that data, all in one place locked away in my CAD file that only I had access to make modifications. The control was dizzying, euphoric at times. Any change to the drawing file had to go through me and me alone.
Rob’s article reminded me some of my old posts – The future of CAD without files. I still like very much a diagram I placed there from O’Reilly Radar article – Why files need to die. Here is my conclusion back into 2011.
The fundamentals of CAD and design systems are files. We use them to store assemblies, parts, drawings. In addition to that, we use them as a reference in many places. Do think “file” paradigm will live with CAD and other design systems forever? The movement of CAD vendors seems to me the obvious application of modern web principles to the world of design and engineering. The initial signals are here. CATIA V6 pushed the limits and eliminated files by connecting CATIA system directly to Enovia back-end. Autodesk cloud experiments with systems like AutoCAD WS made existence of files on the disc obsolete. PTC introduced Creo Apps. It will be interesting to see if PTC will come with the future idea of eliminating files. I think the computing and information paradigms are shifting from file-oriented to data (and web) oriented. The initial signs are here. The speed of this movement is questionable. Manufacturing is slow changing environment and engineers are very reluctant to changes.
PDM (Product Data Management) was a solution to end CAD file mess. PDM systems came to hunt for CAD and other files. The intent was to bring files into order, manage revisions, share data and… after some time, to eliminate files. We can see it started to happen now in some high-end systems such as CATIA V6. So, why PDM failed to detox engineers from files? Here is the thing… PDM was invented to help engineers to manage and control data. It sounds like engineers should like PDM, since it helps them to control files. But it didn’t go according to the plan. PDM added "frictions" into engineering freedom to create data in the way engineers want. Name control, check-in/out, approvals, etc. As a result of that, PDM failed to become a friend and turned to be engineers’ nightmare. Engineers don’t like PDM and in many situations engineers were forced to use PDM.
Working environment is changing fast. We are getting disconnected from files in our digital life. Our everyday workflows are getting distributed, mobile, disconnected from desktops and… files. We want to get access to data and not to files. To make this process successful, we need to think how to remove frictions. When you go to engineering school, you learn about importance of frictions. But software is different. Especially these days. Frictions can slow down the process of software adoption.
What is my conclusion? Engineering and manufacturing is slow changing environment. Engineers are conservative and design minded. Therefore, many PLM tools failed to become a favorite engineering data management and collaboration tool. Large teams accepted PDM tools because they had no choice. I believe, the future won’t belong to files. We are going to see more data-driven environment around us. To establish such environment is one of the main challenges for PLM companies today. To make it happen, PLM vendors must think how to remove frictions between users and PLM tools. Just my thoughts…