How long will take GrabCAD to develop full-blown PLM solution?

August 18, 2014

grabcad-plm-beyondplm

Time is running fast. It has been two years since I posted GrabCAD: from Facebook for engineers to PLM. If you are in the engineering community, the chances you will come to PLM are very high. Like in the past all roads lead to Rome, I guess all future development roads for PDM solution lead to PLM. Even if you don’t like to brand your solution as PLM… Nevertheless, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Just few months ago, GrabCAD moved into "PDM" segment by introducing GrabCAD Workbench. Earlier today, GrabCAD made another "quack" towards PLM by adding BOM support. Navigate your browser to the following link to read – BOMs Away! Workbench Adds BOM Management. The following passage outlines what GrabCAD BOM can do today:

We’ve added an easy-to-use BOM export capability to Workbench, enabling any Workbench user to generate a Bill of Materials with just a few clicks. This means that your engineering team and manufacturing team will always be on the same page. Now your purchasing manager or supplier liaison doesn’t need to bother a CAD engineer to generate a BOM, and doesn’t need to enter items individually into Excel each time you change a revision. It’s as simple as two clicks to get the list of components into Excel!

grabCAD-bom-plm

Introducing BOM functionality is a very logical step many PDM systems did. However, it doesn’t come easy. The complexity of system is growing. From what I can see now GrabCAD is an early beginning and just touching BOM functionality to balance customers demand and complexity of full-blown BOM management solution.

What is my conclusion? To extract BOM from CAD drawing is a very neat functionality. My hunch it was requested by many GrabCAD users. However, BOM functionality introduction was a challenge for many PDM systems in the past. The complexity of Part management, multiple BOMs – this is only two visible parts of the iceberg. GrabCAD strategy reminded me what SolidWorks did in the past with PDM – added functionality when it was absolutely requested by majority of customers. I think it worked for SolidWorks… It would be interesting to see how it will work for GrabCAD. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why now is the right time to reinvent PDM?

August 15, 2014

re0invent-pdm-now

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD files and their revisions.

For long time, PDM was recognized as somewhat you only need to consider if a size of your engineering department is large enough. Even starting price to implement PDM solution went down significantly for the last 20 years, my hunch average PDM solution starting cost for engineering organization with 10-15 people will be about $30-50K. Cost and implementation complexity made PDM business limited to larger companies and was mostly handled by resellers with special skills and knowledge. Most of them associated with a specific CAD vendor channel.

CAD vendors recognized the need and complexity of PDM. For most of vendors the answer on PDM demand was to develop (or acquire) a dedicated PDM system bundled with their CAD software. As a result of that, most of PDM players were acquired. Most of existing (remaining) PDM vendors are either focusing on a specific geographical niche or developed additional solutions usually branded with "PLM" buzzword and strategy.

My hunch is that until last year, PDM market was somewhat stalled and focusing on replacing of outdated versions of PDM software as well as support of new CAD software releases. Then something happens… For the last months, I can see an increased interested in PDM software. I noticed few focused researches and articles in the field of PDM – Expert Guide to the Next Generation of PDM; TechClarity Expert Guide for Basic CAD management and few others.

Also I want to mention few activities by vendors focusing on basic PDM functionality. It started from more traditional OOTB approach made by PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, SolidEdge SP focusing on SharePoint platform leverage and GrabCAD Workbench using "cloud platform" as a differentiation strategy.

Consilia Vector published CAMScore report for GrabCAD Workbench where CAMS stands for Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social. In my view, these major trends are making a renaissance in the space of PDM.

As I mentioned before, because of cost and complexity, PDM software was out of reach for many smaller companies and engineering departments. DIY (Do it yourself) PDM approach combining network file share, Excel files and FTP is a solution for probably 60-70% of market. For many years, to share files using network and USB drives was "good enough solution". But the era of file sharing changed forever with coming trend of social networks, mobile and cloud. So called YAPSA (Yet Another Photo Sharing Apps) became widely available in our everyday life. The question why PDM is so complex and why we cannot manage and access CAD data similar to what we do with photos and videos brings PDM solution back to the innovation room.

What is my conclusion? Cloud, web and social technologies in consumer space reached the level of maturity. It comes to the point where new tech and awareness of cloud and social approach are going to challenge a traditional PDM space. In addition to that, looks like an existing approach to use network drives and file sharing to manage CAD files is coming to logical end. People will be looking how to copy YAPSA approach into PDM space. So, it is time for PDM to change. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What makes “cloud” a good alternative for PDM system?

June 20, 2014

cloud-pdm-selection

It has been a year since I published my How to select PDM system in 5 simple steps? Engineering.com article The Difference Between Cloud-based and Traditional PDM made me think it is a good time to re-evaluate my writing and see if I need to correct my recommendations. Note, Engineering.com article is paid promotion by GrabCAD. However, as stated in the bottom of the page – GrabCAD haven’t had an editorial input to the post.

The article makes a comparison between traditional PDM and Cloud PDM for three different customer segments – small, medium and large. It brings some very good characteristics of these environments in terms of how companies work, IT capacities, process maturity, etc. Nevertheless, with different pros and cons, after all, the conclusion is simple and straightforward – Cloud PDM maybe an option for all these companies. Here is a passage which explains that:

Whether you are a part of small, medium, or large business, it is clear that cloud-based PDM has a lot more to offer than file system management and in some cases more than traditional PDM. While traditional PDM has been around long enough to be a mature product, there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf installation. Traditional PDM requires experts trained in the front-end and back-end administration. It also requires significant investment in hardware and infrastructure.

The article is long and contains comparison tables. It took me some time to review all of them. I’ve been looking how to capture the enhancement of my simplified PDM selection process. After few reads of the documents, I finally got what I need. Here is my +3 points to PDM selection process:

1. Global access to CAD data: If global access to CAD data is important, you can get significant advantage from cloud PDM system. You will have much simpler access including mobile application option.

2. CAD / PDM integration. Cloud PDM still requires integration with CAD environment and this is important for all types of companies (in my view, this is a missing point in the article, which points on integration needs only for medium-size companies). So, in case, there is no specific CAD plug-in for cloud PDM, you might prefer traditional PDM environment.

3. Cost. Cloud PDM will shift your PDM expenses into operational cost. It is hard to say something about TCO and ROI, but clearly, you will be able to run PDM environment with much lower upfront cost.

If you are interested to read more about Cloud PDM alternative, I can recommend you the following article – Lightweight CAD Management using the Cloud by Jim Brown. The following passage is my favorite:

Living in an unmanaged, manual environment is highly inefficient and prone to errors. For companies that have outgrown chaos and are tired of crossing their fingers and hoping they don’t order or produce the wrong part, it’s time for a practical solution. Fortunately, there are more options available today than ever before, including new cloud-based tools. It’s time for a rational discussion to explore the basic requirements for CAD data management and discuss whether they can be achieved without the cost and complexity that make traditional solutions impractical for many smaller manufacturers.

What is my conclusion? If you have reliable internet connection and not very complicated IT landscape you can find cloud PDM gives you overall advantage in terms of cost and accessibility. If you have complex integration requirements, traditional PDM will be a better option for you. Larger companies might decide to implement multiple PDM systems anyway to match multiple CAD systems environment and/or facilitate work with suppliers via cloud PDM options. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture courtesy of GrabCAD.com


How to re-invent CAD / PDM integration?

May 19, 2014

cad-pdm-integration-future

In the beginning was CAD and CAD was the only important system for engineers. Then came PDM… In my view, the topic of CAD/PDM integration is one of the most fascinating ones in the history of CAD, data management and collaboration. From many standpoints, PDM makes sense to become a best friend to CAD and engineers – don’t lose CAD files, manage revisions, re-use previous designs, collaborate with peers. However, it is not happening easy… For the last 10-15 years, most of PDM systems introduced a huge headache to CAD sales, engineers and corporate IT managers. Yes, some of PDM systems misbehaved less than others, but the trend is clear.

The integration between CAD and PDM was one of the key elements for PDM system to success. Bringing PDM system into CAD and accessing PDM system from CAD (File) menu was considered as the right way to integrate CAD and PDM. CAD vendors always tried to provide a better PDM / CAD integration to their own CAD tools. Nevertheless, integration story in Multi-CAD world was and still is a challenge. I covered it in the past in my Multi-CAD & PDM integration: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. In my view, even after two years, that blog post is still very relevant.

I can see CAD API openness as one of the key elements of future trajectories of CAD / PDM integrations. Opposite to that, the option to build CAD / PDM bundles is possible and CAD vendors are trying to push towards that (examples from Dassault Catia Enovia and SolidEdge SP are probably the most relevant).

However, do you think a traditional multi-CAD PDM option is done? Apparently it is not done yet. Usage of advanced viewer and 3D collaboration solution was the most straightforward way to solve the problem in multi-CAD PDMs. However, integrate into CAD interface was always a challenge.

Last week announcement by GrabCAD about licensing of Siemens PLM Parasolid library is an interesting refresh is CAD / PDM world. Navigate to the following link to read the announcement press release by Siemens PLM. Siemens blog article GrabCAD demonstrates cloud based collaboration for engineers at SEU14, selects Parasolid puts some more lights on what GrabCAD is planning to do -

GrabCAD has licensed Siemens’ Parasolid® software to provide 3D model interrogation, inspection and visualization within their Workbench application for cloud-based product data management.

Another GrabCAD article – Everyone calm down, we are not going to develop CAD system brings additional explanation. Here is an important passage:

How can we use a geometry engine to improve the PDM experience? There are actually a lot of things you can do with geometry that don’t require a CAD system. For example:Precise measurements, Interference checking, Mass properties; Projected geometry calculations; Boolean operations.

Time will show what does it mean in details. My hunch is that 3D model interrogation can add few additional points to GrabCAD Workbench in the way Workbench integrates with Parasolid-based (and not only) 3D CAD systems. I can see clearly SolidWorks and SolidEdge are on the top of the list.

What is my conclusion? To find an efficient and easy way to integrate CAD and PDM software was a significant challenges for many PDM companies in the past. It looks like GrabCAD are trying to innovate and find an unusual way to do so. Will GrabCAD end up by developing a very advanced geometrical solution to collaborate with 3D data or build their own CAD system? Time will show. What is clear that to find a way to unlock CAD data for better collaboration remains the first priority for PDM developers. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD Collaboration & Cloud: Chat With GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum

March 12, 2014

hardi-oleg-collaborative-collage

I had new kind of experience yesterday. It was on demand webinar. To me it was more like live blogging conversation. In case you following my twitter closely, you probably noticed Engineering.com webinar yesterday – CAD Collaboration & the Cloud: On-Demand Webinar with GrabCAD & Beyond PLM. I had a chance to meet and talk to GrabCAD CEO Hardi Meybaum. That wasn’t our first meeting. Hardi and I had many conversations in the past. The first one was back in October 2010 when we spent couple of hours in nearby Starbucks shop speaking about what GrabCAD is up to. This is an old post with my thoughts after that conversation. I’ve been blogging about GrabCAD and related topics such as CAD files sharing, Collaboration, Cloud and others a lot. Somehow, Hardi and I developed an intensive conversation via blogs and twitter. So, yesterday webinar was a first experience to turn our online social experience into live conversation.

If you want to listen to the record of our conversation, navigate your browser to this link with webinar recording. I found myself in agreement with Hardi about many related to CAD, Collaboration and cloud. I captured top 5 things to outline my agreement with Hardi:

1- CAD collaboration is very relevant and cloud is a right way to improve the collaboration among individuals in engineering and manufacturing companies. The fundamental questions related to how people can work together are still with us.

2- Globalization create an additional need to improve collaboration. Even small companies these days are not located in one place. Engineering and manufacturing can be done in multiple places to optimize for the cost. Individuals can work from home. This is an absolutely different environment and eco-system compared to what we had 10 years ago.

3- Expectations of people about collaboration, usability and speed of communication are changing these days. The reason is a lot of technologies and products developed in consumer, social and mobile space for the last decade.

4- Engineering workflow is absolutely important. CAD collaboration tool must be focused on how to make collaborative workflow painless and simple.

5- IT and other parts of organization must be focused on how to simplify communication and collaboration and stop behave as "police force" and focus on policies and restrictions to make collaboration more complex.

One of the feedback I’ve got after webinar is that it went too peacefully. It was also final Hardi’s conclusion – we need to disagree more. So, to inspire future conversations, I wanted to bring top 5 things to outline my disagreement with Hardi:

1- Hardi: File is primary things people are working on and file will be still important.

I think by keeping "files" in focus, we’re increasing the complexity of user workflows. If you think about social tools and web today, files are getting less and less important. Think about photo sharing. It was complicated when the scenario required to download files from SD card and publish it on the website. With development of modern mobile applications, photo sharing skyrocketed. One of the reasons – the ability to bypass "file" representation and publish directly from phone/camera. So, file must disappear and software vendors must do it by deep integrating with CAD and other tools.

2- Hardi: There is no technical challenge to get CAD data to the cloud.

The challenge of getting files to the cloud is significant. CAD and engineering data is very complex. Today it is resided on PCs and corporate network drives. It is huge (in size) and complex (in terms of dependencies). To make this data available online for collaboration via slow speed connections is one of the major competitive differentiation specialized vendors can develop against mainstream collaboration tools like Dropbox, Box.net and others.

3- Hardi: Goto market & price is a challenge

Price is not a challenge- cost is a challenge! The challenge is how to keep cost of CAD collaboration services low. Despite the common perception of web as a free resource, cloud is expensive. Storage, viewing, communication, global access, etc. – this is only short list of factors that can push cost of CAD collaboration services up. Dropbox and other mainstream vendors will use scale as a factor to bring cost down. So, to succeed in CAD collaboration and compete with mainstream vendors, every vendor needs to develop technologies to keep cost of the solution down.

4- Hardi: To develop tools with good user experience sounds like an ordinary development task.

User experience is never easy. To get data to the cloud seamlessly is very complicated tasks. Most of CAD engineers today are using Windows based desktop CAD tools. Majority of people are saving data locally. Asking engineers to bring data to the cloud can be a challenge. Another challenge is how to make desktop based design tools seamless connected with cloud environment without disrupting traditional engineering CAD desktop workflow.

5- Hardi: Local PDMs are not allowing to non-engineers to use the data.

I want to defend existing PDM technologies and products. So-called "local PDMs" developed multiple tools to allow people outside of corporate firewall to stay connected with data. Most of them developed web clients or mobile apps. In SolidWorks community, e-Drawing is another successful tool to share and collaborate on CAD data. Yes, these tools are not ideal. But companies are using them a lot in production these days.

What is my conclusion? I think CAD Collaboration is very interesting and still very relevant. There are lot of challenges and lot of opportunities. Seamless communication and efficiency are clear priority for companies and individual. The demand for new business models and pricing will push company to develop cost-effective services to support it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

February 19, 2014

cad-engineers-community

Remember our life before internet? The meaning of community was about social group that shares common values. Actually, the history of communities is longer than history of CAD software :). So called "Community Rules" were mentioned in one of the first scrolls found in Qumran Cave. Community word often explains common geography or environment. However, in human communities it is usually comes down to needs, belief, intent, risks, etc. Internet expanded borders of social groups and made possible to create virtual communities. The result – massive creation of online communities (social networks). Some of them, such as Facebook, started as a virtual continuation of physical social groups (academic organization). Social networks today represent huge segment of online internet activities.

The success of social business and social networking raised multiple questions among developers of business software. Collaboration still remains one of the biggest problem in organization. Geographical distribution is another reason why companies are looking how to improve communication. Software vendors are coming with the ideas of software to collaborate similar to social networking web sites. In addition to that, community creation is related to customer activities. This is where a potential to link collaboration in an organization and customer activities.

So, what is the secret of successful community creation? I was reading The collision of communities few days ago. Article brings some interesting perspectives on community organizations and some driving factors behind community work. Among them, article speaks about Jelly (Q&A search), Wut and Secret (anonymous status apps). These are communities too. Author compares these communities with communities companies are creating these days. Fundamentally, in order to be successful, communities are sharing the same common behavior and interest. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement. Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule: He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.

Engineering software companies are joining the bandwagon community building. Social CAD, Social PLM, Social Collaboration – for the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how community driven (social) software will change the way we do business. We can only speculate about successes and failures of social software. However, I want to bring two examples of communities related to engineering software – SolidWorks Users and GrabCAD.

SolidWorks has large and successful community. Nobody can argue. The common interests and needs among them is to share knowledge and experience of how to use SolidWorks. In my view, it was extremely important to all participants since it allowed to them (engineers) to get CAD system support. Most of SolidWorks users are working for small firms that had no budget and engineering IT to help them.

GrabCAD is an interesting example. Started few years ago as "Facebook for Engineers", it succeeded to gather about 1 million engineers to share CAD files online. Here is my pure speculation how it was done. Re-use is one of the fundamental engineering behavior. You can save a lot of time by re-using existing design even if you will modify it. Back in my university years, to have an old similar project was a huge time saving factor in every project I did. GrabCAD provided to engineers models to reuse CAD models for the best price – free. In addition to that, it helps engineers to self-promote their work.

Think about these two examples. In both cases, focus on identification of "community rule" was a key to success. It should be something that will drive common interests and benefits of all participants. Wikipedia article about organizational communication can be a good source of learning and additional information. Here are few assumptions I captured:

All we really need to understand communication in organizations is (a) observable and replicable behaviors that can be transformed into variables by some form of measurement, and (b) formally replicable syllogisms that can extend theory from observed data to other groups and settings. Organizations are mechanical things, in which the parts (including employees functioning in defined roles) are interchangeable. What works in one organization will work in another similar organization. Individual differences can be minimized or even eliminated with careful management techniques.

What is my conclusion? Ask two engineers about how to do a project – you will get 3 options. To work with engineers is like herding cats. Nevertheless, the focus should be on identification and capturing of behaviors that can help engineers in their everyday life. Be prepared to discover something different from traditional organizational goals like "improve quality" or "decrease cost". By capturing and replicating engineers’ behaviors you can find a recipe to organize a successful engineering community. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Do we need a new TLA for PDM?

February 14, 2014

pdm-cpd-grabcad-disruption

Product Data Management (PDM) is not a new buzz. Lots of things where written and spoken about how to manage CAD files, revisions and related data. Decades were spent on how to create a better way for engineers to "collaborate" or work together. Nevertheless, I can see few companies are trying to disrupt PDM space and introduce some kind of "PDM renaissance" these days.

GrabCAD blog – PDM is a technology of the past, CPD is the future is a good example of PDM disruption. GrabCAD is coming with Workbench cloud application to help engineers to share CAD data, manage file revisions and collaborate. GrabCAD article claims a new approach called CPD (Collaborative Product Development) to become an an alternative to PDM and PLM that don’t work the way you [engineers] do. Article has a strong marketing flavor. At the same time, it provides a good background of why do you need PDM and what are current challenges with many of existing PDM systems. Here is a passage that summarizes what is wrong with existing PDM:

Your team is distributed… PDM requires a central server and often makes it hard to access files remotely, You work from home, PDM requires a VPN to access files, You want to spend time designing not filling out forms… PDM requires forms and configuration and overhead for each project, You want to get going immediately… PDM requires installation, configuration, and training, Your team want to be engineers not act as IT admins… You need to collaborate with non-CAD users outside your company … PDM requires someone to configure, manage, and maintain, PDM requires every user to have a paid seat, You have a limited budget… but PDM requires large upfront license, service and hardware expenses.

It made me think again about problems with existing PDMs. I can classify all of them using two main groups – (1) complexity of use; (2) complexity to administer. In my view, the need to pay for license is a separate story and not really important for the purpose of this discussion. Many PDM seats in the past were promoted and sold as bundle with CAD licenses.

Rest of PDM problems mentioned by GrabCAD blog are very annoying. At the same time, I want to defend few existing PDM systems with successful user experience mimicking Windows Explorer interface. So, speaking about usability, PDM systems seen some success in the past also by combination of Windows Explorer user paradigm with CAD user interface (integrated plug-ins). GrabCAD Workbench developers are actually agree with that as well – you can see GrabCAD Workbench integration with SolidWorks (I assume GrabCAD is doing work with other CAD systems as well). However, here is a new problem I can see these days – engineers work is going far beyond Windows Explorer. Web, mobile, global – these are characteristics of modern work environment. GrabCAD brings new web-based user experience, which is what people are looking for these days. Existing CAD/PDM vendors have hard time to adopt their existing systems. So, native web is a good differentiation factor for Workbench. We’ve seen some PDM/PLM system provided web access in the past as well. However, devil is in details. What is really matter is how well CAD/web integration works. In the past, I’ve seen lots of difficulties to integrated both web and CAD/desktop environment. These days technologies are different. Also, we can see CAD is moving to web/cloud, which is another good reason to look for PDM/web interface.

The significant differentiation of GrabCAD workbench comes from the side of administration. GrabCAD is not only native web, but also cloud based application. By brining cloud, GrabCAD is solving all problems related to IT, servers, configurations, etc. In my view, this is a place where Workbench is bringing major improvement, comparing to existing PDMs.

Now let me come to the question I raised in the title of my post – do we need a new acronym for PDM? I have to say, CPD (Collaborative Product Development) is not a completely new term. A little bit Google work and I found few records of "collaborative product development", cPDM, etc. by CAD/PDM/PLM vendors in the past decade. Here are few links – Lockheed Martin Space Systems Selects PTC’s Windchill As Collaborative Product Development Standard, Dassault Systemes Announces IBM to Sell Complete SmarTeam Portfolio for Collaborative Product Data Management Across the Supply Chain, IBM and Dassault Systemes Introduce New Release of ENOVIA Portal to Enhance the Collaborative Product Development Process. I’m sure you can find more. So, new acronym is not very new, actually.

What is my conclusion? Do we bring new meaning to PDM by introducing it as CPD? Do you think engineers care? Meh… So, what does matter? In my view, engineers don’t like to be disturbed by data management systems. Everybody needs to manage data, but nobody wants to spend time on this and lose productivity. This is where future PDM systems should go. GrabCAD Workbench clearly brings some improvements here. TLAs doesn’t matter much, but needed for fresh marketing. So, leave it to marketing fellows. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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