How to build online community around CAD/PLM software?

October 13, 2014

community-engineers-CAD-PLM

There is one thing that seems make everyone interested and listen carefully these days – online communities. To build a successful community is a tricky thing. To make a money out of community is huge. Successful online communities can provide a lot of insight about how people are communicating, what is the value of community for different users and businesses. Communities are also a good reflection of business and software vendor ecosystem.

I’ve been discussing communities and marketplaces earlier on my blog. One of the most earliest discussion about that was Marketplace and Engineering software back in 2010. The interest of people to stay in the community is one of the most interesting factors to watch and learn. What will keep users to stay in the community and how to make it grow? Some of my earlier thoughts about that is here – PLM communities and let go threshold.

Online activity is a good indicator of community potential. I’ve been using blogging community as one of my own checkpoint about potential of users and customers to form a successful online community. Go online and try to find number of blogs about specific topic and their traffic. Do it for well-known MCAD packages (CATIA, Creo , Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, SolidWorks) as well as for PDM/PLM products. Google is of course not the best reflection of community size and activities. But it can give you some idea anyway.

CAD-PLM-communities-google-trends

Another interesting observation is related to how customers are sharing their knowledge. You can see very different behavior models. One of them is practically – share everything. This model is creating high viral content online. For this group it is not unusual to see how users are sharing their best practices and problems. Another group is conservative and closed. It is hard to get people to speak about this software. Most of information about it is curated either by software vendors and customers.

So, what are examples of successful in creating CAD/PLM communities? I can come with few examples. The list below is alphabetically sorted and I’m sure miss few communities (so, please don’t hesitate to suggest me additions to this group)

Aras. Back in 2007, Aras Corp. turned their Aras Innovator PLM product into so called “Enterprise Open Source”. This community demonstrated steady growth and I can see lots of information about Aras customers, open roadmap and open source development.

AutoCAD. The community of AutoCAD is big and reflect wide spread of this package in a very diverse set of verticals. I can see some association with community of users working with DWG. However, these users have the tendency to follow specific CAD packages developed around DWG formats.

GrabCAD. This is an interesting example of 1M+ engineers sharing 3D CAD models and related work online. GrabCAD website contains about 400K CAD models and this is probably one of the biggest in this kind.

SolidWorks. The community of SolidWorks is not a typical online (web) community. It was created around SolidWorks software back in before-web days. Nevertheless, this community demonstrated very high engagement level and shared lot of their work online in for the last 10+ years.

I guess “one million dollar question” is how to create a successful online engineering community. One of the myths of engineering world is that engineers are representing very anti-social group of people. The CreativeEngineer blog – A Few Common Myths About Engineers is actually bringing some opposite facts.

If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat. Here’s an except from Geoffrey C. Orsak, Dean of Engineering, SMU: In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.

So, is there an opportunity to create a larger community for engineers and users of CAD / PLM software? I guess the answer is yes. The shift towards online work is in a very beginning. My hunch existing engineering communities were just a beginning of future online working environment. The real community can be build around economic or social interest. In my view, the center of gravity will be moving from a specific CAD/PLM software towards companies and individuals. Internet is a new platform and community is a form to run business relationships on this platform.

What is my conclusion? Think about existing online communities: shoppers, open source software developers, education and many others. Try to make an analogy with manufacturing world. The economic and social interest is driving the most successful ones. I guess we just in the beginning of huge shift of engineering and manufacturing community towards online work. Economic interest will lead people to find new forms of business relationships and create new forms of CAD/PLM communities. Just my thoughts….

Best, Oleg


Cloud PDM ban lifted. What next?

September 24, 2014

cloud-pdm-pivoting

Once upon a time "cloud" was a taboo word in PLM domain. It was hard to believe manufacturing companies will share product information and manage processes using cloud tools. The situation is different today. For the last two years all major PLM vendors announced their support for cloud and developed their own cloud strategies. Some of my previous posts outlined my take on diversity of cloud PLM strategies: Autodesk enters PLM. Everything changed…; Why Siemens can develop PaaS option; Dassault is going to support all PLM cloud option by 2015+; PLM cloud switch and PTC final click. Some of CAD and PLM companies are mentioned on the top 500 cloud apps vendor list.

At the same time, one aspect of cloud and PLM was long time undeniable. It will be very hard (or even impossible) to think about using cloud system to manage CAD data. In other words, cloud PDM possibility was questionable. In the early days of On-demand (or SaaS) software, development of CAD integration between desktop CAD systems and web (on-demand) PLM tools was quite complicated. Several companies tried to do so, but results were questionable. Most of cloud collaboration and PLM tools developed for the last few years avoided management of CAD files and limited their functionality to publishing of CAD data mostly in CAD-neutral formats.

GrabCAD was first company eager to market cloud PDM solutions. GrabCAD Workbench was introduced earlier this year and focused on providing simple CAD data management solution to engineers in GrabCAD community and other companies.

grabcad-workbench-2

grabcad-workbench-1

You can read one of my takes on how GrabCAD wants to disrupt CAD file management few months ago.

Last week, at Autodesk PLM360 customer event in Boston, Autodesk’s Brian Roepke made an early preview of cloud (PDM) document management capabilities. Navigate to my blog from last week to learn more. Below you can see few pictures from demonstration.

plm360-cloud-pdm-2

plm360-cloud-pdm-1

By introducing PLM360 CAD data management capabilities such as versioning, relationships and embedded viewing, PLM360 is going to provide an alternative to traditional PDM systems. One of biggest challenges of the cloud is connection speed and ability to work with large files. Autodesk provided some hints on how the problem of large CAD files transfer will be solved. Trademarked as "Transfer Avoidance (TM)", this technology will optimize data transfer between desktop and cloud servers.

For long period of time, CAD and PDM integration was a very boring place. All PDM/PLM vendors developed their versions of CAD integrations. Competition was mainly focused on how to access CAD APIs in a timely manner as well as to support right versions and features of new CAD packages. I covered challenges of CAD/PDM integrations few months ago – How to re-invent CAD/PDM integration? After long period of time, GrabCAD was a first company introduced new concept of CAD integration. In my view, PLM360 document management capabilities open a new page in CAD/PDM innovation including new technological solution to optimize data transfer.

What is my conclusion? You cannot stop innovation. It was only matter of time for CAD/PLM companies to discover how to leverage cloud to improve CAD/PDM integration. My hunch, it is just a beginning of "cloud PDM" revolution. Cloud PDM ban lifted. Both GrabCAD and Autodesk are pioneers in this domain. I have no doubt, sooner than later, we are going to see what other PLM vendors will develop. There is a certain advantages to be "first mover". However, coming later to the game will allow to other PLM companies to learn from mistakes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m Autodesk employee. However, the views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions – expressed or implied – of my employer.


What cloud PLM cannot do for you?

September 19, 2014

no-cloud-magic-plm

It has been already few years since I started to discuss cloud PLM opportunities on my blog. I found one of my early blogs about PLM and cloud – PLM and cloud: hold the promise?

So, what changed since then? Actually, quite a lot… We’ve seen massive adoption of cloud and mobile by businesses in many domains. PLM cloud adoption is growing too. Cloud is on the roadmap of all PLM vendors. It is really a question of "how to implement cloud?" rather than a question of "do we need to support cloud"? We also seen few very interesting examples of cloud applications in CAD/PLM space. I want just to mention few of them – Autodesk design tool Autodesk Fusion360, Dassault SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual, Autodesk PLM360. Siemens PLM made their TeamCenter PLM available from IaaS infrastructure. Aras announced cloud strategy and introduced cloud product available via partnership with Infor ERP – Infor PLM Innovator. Cloud PLM pioneers, Arena Solutions, introduced several new cloud tools (BOM control and Quality management). Last but not least, GrabCAD, an open community of mechanical engineers released cloud PDM tool – GrabCAD Workbench. Earlier this week, GrabCAD was acquired by 3D printing company Stratasys. According to TechCrunch, article the deal was around $100M. I’m sure missed few products and companies…

Here are things that I discussed back in 2010 – cost of the solution, delivery model, global access, faster implementation, scaling. We learned a lot of about PLM and cloud for the last four years. Today, I want to make a reality check for list of things I discussed before in lights of what cloud PLM can or cannot do.

1- Cost

Cloud PLM made a mental switch in everything we knew about PLM before. According to Engineering.com article, cloud affected negatively on-premise PLM market. Cloud PLM created expectations for alternative pricing models and pushed all vendors to think how to turn PLM into service offering. Today, you can buy cloud PLM subscription with no upfront cost and hardware investment, which is a very good thing. However, I don’t think, total cost of ownership is different if you will calculate it on the period of 5 years. I’d love to see and learn more about that and love if you can share your comments.

2- Deployment, scale and IT

One of the best thing delivered by cloud PLM is related to deployment and IT cost. You can buy and deploy it instantly – almost similar to how you can open a new Gmail account. As a customer, you don’t need to worry about servers, setup cost, ordering hardware. You don’t need to negotiate with IT installation time. However, you cannot eliminate IT completely, especially if you are large company. For most of situations, you will have to discuss and make an alignment with IT about issues related to security and information access.

3- Faster Implementation

So, you can buy cloud PLM without upfront cost, you can deploy it overnight. What about PLM implementation? Implementation is an interesting thing. I’d like to speak about two aspects of implementations – 1/Configuration and customization; 2/ Implementations of business processes.

Four years ago, many companies were concerned about capability of web/cloud applications to deliver the level of flexibility, customization and configurations similar to on-premise PLM deployments. It is true, for most of situations, you cannot hack your cloud PLM with simple SQL script. However, I think, the flexibility of cloud PLM tools today is similar to on-premise PLM systems. However, flexibility of cloud PLM tools cannot provide real advantages compared to on-premise tools. Thanks for virtualization and modern collaboration technologies you can run your implementation remotely also for on-premise PLM systems.

Implementation of business processes is an interesting aspect of PLM implementation. In practice it means to define data structures and business processes. Cloud PLM won’t provide any advantages here. It is all about people, processes and organizational changes. So, the ugly truth is that cloud PLM won’t reduce your need of implementation services. In case of on-premise PLM, implementation will be done on site and collaborate with IT – installing, configuring and debugging customized software. In case of cloud PLM, you will need to work with cloud PLM vendor or hosting provider.

What is my conclusion? Cloud computing changed a lot in our life. PLM on the cloud can do many things differently. With much lower upfront cost and simple deployment, it opens PLM doors for many companies that never thought can buy and implement PLM systems before. However, when it comes to implementation and services, cloud PLM won’t do much different from on-premise PLM systems. You still need to implement it. It will require business process planning and implementation cost. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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


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