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


CAD cloud colalboration from Autodesk, GrabCAD and SolidWorks

February 4, 2014

cad-collab-cloud

Collaboration was always in the focus of engineering software. Started earlier with CAD and product data management, software vendors tried to create an environment where engineers can easy collaborate and share information about design. The boundary of collaboration never been limited to engineering department. You might remember “extended enterprise collaboration” stories back in 2000s. That was probably first attempt to provide an easy way to share information among engineering and other teams. In my view, early collaboration software provided by CAD and PLM vendors had two main diseases – complexity of user interface (or how we call it these days – user experience) and complexity of computer infrastructure needed to be installed and maintained by IT departments.

The situation is going to change these days. User interface is clearly getting in focus of development teams. Most of CAD and PLM companies are recognizing the importance of smooth user experience. The demand of users set by public web giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and not by old-school enterprise software vendors. Cloud technologies are going to simplify IT jobs and provide new generation of IT infrastructure.

So, design collaboration space is getting hot. Established CAD vendors and newcomer start-up companies are trying to innovate by providing new environments and collaboration philosophies. I picked up 3 companies that in my view can provide a good example of the future CAD cloud design collaborative environment – Autodesk, GrabCAD and Solidworks.

Autodesk 360

Autodesk introduced Tech preview of new Autodesk 360 product. Core77 blog article Autodesk 360 Tech preview: it’s like Facebook for designers provides a very good coverage and screen shots. Here is the passage summarized what Autodesk 360 does:

autodesk360

The company has created a Facebook-like interface for projects and design teams; collaborators log on to a cleanly-designed dashboard page containing “all of the data, projects, people, tasks, discussions, activities, issues and alerts that are associated with design or architecture projects that they are working on.” Clicking on a project, for instance, is like clicking on someone’s Facebook wall; you get a linear view of all developments concerning that project, with your fellow collaborators’ updates taking the place of comments. People can upload relevant files as updates, and anyone with access can view any file, regardless of whether it’s an Autodesk format or not. (This includes non-design data, like spreadsheets and such.) And yes, Autodesk 360 can also be used from your phone or tablet, just as with Facebook.

GrabCAD Workbench (Partners Space)

GrabCAD is a newcomer in CAD collaboration space. Started as a space for engineers to collaborate few years ago (funny enough, it was mentioned many times as a “Facebook for engineers”), these days GrabCAD is moving fast to become CAD collaboration solution provider with their GrabCAD Workbench product. GrabCAD blog – Why GrabCAD created a next-generation release process? can give you some insight on GrabCAD strategy and philosophy. Here is what I captured:

gc-collaboration-cad

GrabCAD started as a way for engineers to collaborate on engineering projects. Over time, we engineered the secure system GrabCAD Workbench first for external collaboration, then, with CPD, for PDM-style internal collaboration. Unlike PLM systems, which mostly started as CAD-centric data management tools, we have approached the problem by first understanding the social and business problems our customers need to solve. This unique perspective caused us to partition the private engineering workspace from special “Partner Spaces” that make sharing such data secure and foolproof. While the engineering team is working away, each partner has access to the version released to them. The Partner Space also contains a limited and more appropriate set of tools for external collaboration, so the partner sees only what they need to.

SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (Dashboard)

Last week at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego, Dassault SolidWorks made an announcement about new product SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). The product was long awaited and raised lots of discussion and controversy in blogosphere and CAD press. My single best link to follow different opinions about SWMC is SolidSmack’s article – What we found out about SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual and Future of SolidWorks. Another good reference is Graphic Speak article – The business case for SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. What captured my attention in SWMC announcement is introduction of so called – 3DEXPERIENCE 3D Space. Here is how it was explained by Graphic Speak:

3dexperience-3dspace

Mechanical Conceptual introduces a new way of sharing data that’s integral to the 3D Experience Platform. Called the 3D Dashboard, it functions like the Windows Explorer for SolidWorks or any other desktop application. All models are saved to the dashboard in a so-called workspace that can be shared with co-workers or customers. The dashboard is accessible by a Web browser. Clients who don’t have Mechanical Conceptual can simply log in to view models

What is my conclusion? Customers have huge demand to improve collaboration. People are expecting collaboration should be as easy as sharing your photos on Facebook. However, complexity of design environment is much higher than sharing photos. This is a clear challenge for all vendors regardless on their status and experience. The simplicity is the hardest thing to deliver. However, it is not all about future of collaboration. In my view, cost will become the next important challenge. Who will be able to provide the best combination of features, user experience and cost will probably lead future CAD collaboration space in the cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD-PDM Integration, Transparency and Cloud Pain Killer

January 28, 2014

cloud-pdm-integration

CAD/PDM integration is a very important topic. It is a piece of software that helps to establish a connection between core engineering world using CAD systems and rest of the world using design data. It was a place where lots of data management innovation happened in the past. It is also one of the most frequently debated topic, especially when it comes to how manage connectivity between CAD and PDM/PLM system. It created lot of successes to companies introducing data management to engineering departments and probably created as many failures to companies that didn’t do it well or messed up with management of PDM and CAD releases.

In my view, it remains hot topic these days. Cloud brings new stream of innovation into CAD-PDM space. Cloud and CAD files management is heavily debated among different communities these days. Navigate to read my What end of local storage means for CAD? and catch up on CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems. One of my active opponents in the discussion about how to introduce cloud to CAD data management is GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum – Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools.

Earlier this week, GrabCAD made an announcement about GrabCAD Workbench availability for SolidWorks. It came aligned with SolidWorks World 2014 that is taking place these days in San Diego, CA. The following two articles provide good coverage of what SolidWorks GrabCAD Workbench integration does – GrabCAD workbench rolls new CAD file management features and Busy Week in the Cloud: GrabCAD and Autodesk 360 . Here is an interesting passage

…GrabCAD Workbench provides a cost-effective and easy-to-implement PDM/PLM alternative for small- to mid-sizes businesses. GrabCAD Workbench now also offers a SolidWorks add-in and neutral file translator, opening up even more options in file types for users. Workbench users can now upload and download files as well as resolve conflicts from within SolidWorks…

SolidWorks user community is hot PDM opportunity for the cloud. I remember my post two years ago SolidWorks, Cloud and Product Data Management speaking about potential cloud infusion of PDM in SolidWorks eco-system.

The interesting part of GrabCAD Workbench / SolidWorks plugin is the way it was integrated in SolidWorks. Below I put few screenshots of different PDM systems providing integration to SolidWorks. All of them are integrating PDM plug-in immersively into CAD (SolidWorks) environment to simplify user experience:

GrabCAD:

GrabCAD-SolidWorks-Add-in-copy

SolidWorks EPDM (formerly Conisio)

pdmworks_enterprise1_lg

SmarTeam:

solidworks-smarteam

Siemens TeamCenter:

Teamcenter-Integration-for-SolidWorks

It made me think about the way cloud is probably going to be introduced to engineering community of CAD users – painless plug-in connecting CAD system you are familiar with to the cloud infrastructure, servers and eco-system. The beauty of the approach is that it helps to hide from engineer "cloud nature of the system". CAD user experience remains the same – familiar to engineers for many years. The potential danger is plug-in behavior in case of network low speed and cloud connectivity outage.

What is my conclusion? Data management transparency is a key for success. To serve users with familiar user experience and to sneak cloud servers into CAD system is a very nice approach that can provide a lot of potential. It holds the same risk old PDMs have – failure of servers or disruption / slowdown of CAD user experience. If it happens, user will boot out PDM system of CAD environment doesn’t matter of future cloud potential. It happened in the past with old PDM systems and won’t be different these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD Collaboration: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?

January 23, 2014

cad-collaboration

Collaboration is not a new buzz in engineering domain. CAD and PLM companies are using this term already few decades in order to explain how their products can help designers, engineers and other people in a company to communicate and be efficient. Recently so called "social technologies" came to disrupt this space. For the last few years, we’ve seen many tries to introduce new type of "social collaboration". However, most of them didn’t change much – it was still about "how people can work together".

At the same time, social technologies and (specifically) communities of users raised again an important question related to the value of "asynchronous collaboration". On my long redeye flight back from San Francisco tonight, I was reading 3DCAD World article – CAD Goes Social. Article speaks about challenges of synchronous collaboration using CAD systems. Here is the passage, which explains potential challenges of "working together on the same 3D CAD model".

Nanosoft’s Evan Yares said, “Previous collaboration features were technically interesting, but they failed to impact the market. However, improved standards along with other more advanced enterprise applications might now make the concept more realistic. In fact, current research at Brigham Young University uses existing high-end CAD packages and ties them together with a ‘game engine’ framework. Students work together as if in a multiplayer game to edit 3D models while wearing headsets that let them talk together as they work. The researchers claim that such simultaneous group access leads to significant productivity improvements.”

To understand the concept better, consider the simple analogy of editing a document in Google Docs, a cloud-based application that lets enabled users simultaneously open and edit a document from anywhere. The approach works well as long as measures are in place to prevent users’ edits from “colliding.” But editing a CAD model poses more challenges because models are often built using a recipe of uniquely related and ordered features. Any change in a defining parameter by an uninformed user could cause the model to crash.

Social networks, photo sharing, professional community and online communication are raising question of increased value of asynchronous collaboration. GrabCAD is a community of engineers, open engineering marketplace and provider of GrabCAD Workbench (Collaborative Product Development) tool. The following passage explains some differentiators of GrabCAD approach (including quotes from GrabCAD VP Marketing Stevens):

“From the collaboration angle, our users are professional engineers who want to share their designs with a small group and work together on a project,” said Stevens. So that everyone in the world can’t see the work, we launched Workbench, a private visualization tool for CAD. GrabCAD is almost like a Facebook because it includes a stream of comments about a design. Users can leave for a day, come back, login and see that ‘Bob’ uploaded a new version of a design, ‘Sarah’ didn’t like the color, and ‘Henry’ says it’s too expensive to manufacture. All this is happening in a secure location.”

According to Stevens, the company provides some synchronous tools that let users see who is online, but users are more interested in asynchronous features. “That’s because it’s rare for everyone to be online at the same time,” he said. “What companies are really worried about is how to move projects forward faster by avoiding the lengthy delay of getting busy engineers to take screenshots.”

These two examples made me think about two approaches and use cases that might stand behind. After all, I don’t think synchronous and asynchronous are mutually exclusive.

The main driver of synchronous approach is to put everybody on the same page at the same time. Time is important because not everything can be written. Sometimes, you need to explain the problem and actually show it in the model / assembly. Complex geometry, decision making, analysis, design suppliers situations – these are typical examples when synchronous access to CAD models will provide huge value. It doesn’t mean people will be actually editing models together.

Opposite to that, asynchronous approach can help people to collaborate around the same context regardless on their time and location. This approach can be invaluable for teams working on large projects to improve communication, track decisions and change management. Asynchronous tools can help to crowdsource ideas and sparkle discussion in global teams.

What is my conclusion? Seamless collaboration is key to success in a team. Global teams is a reality in a modern engineering and manufacturing world. The situation is not going to change in foreseeable future. So, companies will continue to invest in how to improve collaboration. The scenarios and use cases can be different and it will require variety of approaches – synchronous and asynchronous. The simplicity and cost are two key elements of successful collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Social PLM and domain-restricted Google+ communities

January 7, 2014

plm-google-private-communities

Social topic might have another interesting turn. During few days off I had last week, I was reviewing unread social feeds and found an interesting article speaking about new Google+ feature – an additional security layer. New configuration of domain restricted communities can insure only people from a specific organization are able to join. Google is clearly striking against Microsoft Yammer features that are going to be embedded into SharePoint.

Here is the TheNextWeb article. It provides a glimpse of what Google+ does. Here is the passage I found very important if I think about PLM, engineering and manufacturing.

Yet it goes further than administrators merely being able to set restricted communities as the default for the whole organization. Employees can also choose to create communities open to people outside of their domain, so clients, agencies, or business partners can join in the discussion. Once a community is created, an employee can share files, videos, photos, and events from Google Drive. Community owners can change settings, manage membership, or invite other team members to join.

The ability to add people from outside of the domain can make new feature applicable for supply chain communities. Work connected to Google Drive with the ability to share large files can help to share CAD files and other information.

Google Enterprise blog article Private conversations with restricted Google+ communities provides more information and screen captures. Google article helps you to understand types of communities and access layers that can be created – open, private and public. I found a short video which demonstrates Google+ private communities.

What is my conclusion? The way Google+ develops community can potentially fit very well to expand in the engineering and manufacturing organization. Google+ user experience is well known and adoption level can be high. In my view, the absence of security layer was a showstopper. Google Drive can help to share large file. Specialized CAD sharing networks like GrabCAD and Autodesk 360 will still have an advantage of CAD viewers and special design tools integration. How long will take to integrate the same tools into Google+? A good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


From CAD file versions comparison to cloud PDM

December 21, 2013

compare-cad-versions

A trend towards moving design related work to the cloud is growing. Despite a chorus of security, speed and connectivity concerned people, we can see how companies are growing their cloud data management solution towards supporting more robust features online. Few months ago, I was posting about Github moving towards the support of 3D models – GitHub PDM: is it for real? The ability of GitHub to work with 3D models together with core SCM functionality created an interesting tool for a specific market niche. Data management for individual designers, 3D printing offices and small teams.

Yesterday, my attention was caught by TechCrunch article – GitHub Adds 3D Modeling Features That Make It A Printer-Agnostic Choice For Object Sharing. Article speaks about GitHub adding a very specific 3D feature – ability to compare and finding difference in models. The following passage explains how it works.

…basically it takes each version and then overlays over the next using some nice transitions. Not unlike code diffs – the processes of comparing two iterations of a piece of software – this gives you far more control over the design process and lets you see where someone screwed up (or did something amazing).

Picture below shows how it looks like in the user interface:

github-rev-slider

Interesting enough, this feature reminded me another solution – GrabCAD CPD. GrabCAD recently introduced Workbench as part of their collaborative product development (CPD) suite. You can read my blog from last month – GrabCAD CPD wants to disrupt CAD file management. One of the GrabCAD Workbench features – visualization and comparison of versions.

grabcad-version-compare

Both GrabCAD and GitHub features made me think about new trend in cloud PDM development going bottom up and starting from very simple storage, file manipulation and sharing. Now it comes to revision comparison. Opposite to PDM dinosaurs trying to establish full top down file control and data management, these online tools are trying to find a right “feature” that will give them wide customer adoption.

What is my conclusion? Cloud provides an interesting opportunity to develop old solutions differently. GitHub and GrabCAD are not selling PDM first, but provide platforms for share data and compare revisions. Between these two, GrabCAD is probably looks more like a traditional PDM. GItHub popularity among software developers and SCM feature set can create an interesting perspective for different people in organization – software engineers, mechanical engineers, etc. to share the same platform. It means broader adoption – PDM industry was looking for these last 2 decades. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


GrabCAD CPD wants to disrupt CAD file management

November 19, 2013

grabcad-workbench

Three years ago I sat together with Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD is one of Starbucks coffee shops near Brookline, Mass. We’ve been talking about GrabCAD social networks, communities, openness, engineers and CAD libraries. You can find some of my thoughts after this conversation here – Marketplaces and Engineering Software. Since that time, I’ve been following GrabCAD trajectories closely and had a chance to meet with Hardi many times. You can probably remember some of my previous posts – Manufacturing Crowdsourcing and Cloud PLM opportunity, GrabCAD, Collaboration and Dropbox, GrabCAD and Open Engineering Source: Dream or Reality?

However, GrabCAD trajectory recently started to show some changes. From open CAD library and “Facebook for engineers”, GrabCAD is moving towards maybe more traditional space – design and collaboration. GrabCAD introduced Workbench – the product that supposed to help engineers collaborate during the design phase. You see my first GrabCAD Workbench experiments here. All around GrabCAD Workbench started to look and smell document and product data management – PDM: reinvent the wheel or innovate?

Lately, Hardi and I had a very active discussion about different aspects of CAD file sharing, collaboration and integration – CAD File Sharing and Integration Challenges, Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tools.

And here is finally come. Early today, GrabCAD published a press release announcing future GrabCAD PDM solution – GrabCAD Workbench brings CAD file management into 21st century. Navigate here () to read press release. So, the name of the game is CPD (Collaborative Product Development) and here is how it explained in GrabCAD press release:

Today GrabCAD announced that it has expanded the capabilities of the cloud­ based Workbench solution to a complete platform for Collaborative Product Development (CPD), enabling users to manage, share and view CAD models with zero IT investment. More than ten thousand users have already signed up to use Workbench to share CAD models with suppliers, customers and partners. With the expansion of file management capabilities, these users will be able to automatically sync their desktop files to cloud projects, track file dependencies, visualize version differences and resolve conflicts. With these additions, Workbench is now the ideal tool to help small to mid-­size companies manage CAD files.

It all comes to the advantages of the cloud – to get service without installation, configuration, maintenance and other related hassle. Here is another passage I captured.

As a cloud­ based service, Workbench requires no dedicated server, no configuration, no maintenance, and no IT hardware or support. While legacy PDM/PLM solutions take weeks or months to install and configure, Workbench users are up and running in minutes.

Few screenshots below can give some additional impression about what GrabCAD Workbench CPD is supposed to provide. According to GrabCAD, service will become available first as a beta for everybody and later will become available for flat fee of 25$ or 45$ per month depends on the plan.

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On of the very interesting features of GrabCAD CPD and Workbench is Viewer Diff functionality that is able to visualize and show difference between CAD file versions.

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What is my conclusion? Technology and people. These are two components of future changes in almost every place. I’m always saying – technology is much easier than people. In engineering and manufacturing business it is probably specially true. Engineers are main consumers of CAD and PDM products and it is very hard to change their behaviors. PDM has probably one of the worst records in enterprise software, especially among small companies and individuals. Engineers recognized PDM as something that hurts them and doesn’t help. It would be interesting to see if new cloud services such as GrabCAD CPD will change the trend. The name (CPD) isn’t new, so hope to product itself will deliver the difference. I’m looking forward to join the service as a beta and test it. So, stay tuned for future posts.

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: GrabCAD didn’t pay me to write this post and in no way influence my opinion about what GrabCAD Workbench CPD can do.


Future of PDM: complexity, functionality and open source

November 1, 2013

engineering-community-pdm

Product Data Management (PDM) is recently getting more focus and traction. You might think why so? PDM is a mature field with well known behavior, functions and value proposition. For example, if you follow Jim Brown of TechClarity, you can find a very nice infographic explaining the value of product data management (PDM). Another publication of TechClarity  - The business value of product data management can be found here. Note, the research was sponsored Siemens PLM, so you will need to get registered on Siemens PLM website to get access to the full report.

However, world is changing and so the technology around us. I’ve been reading GrabCAD blog earlier today - Interview: What hardware developers can learn from software developers. Read the full story and you will find some interesting facts related to development of Poppy Project - robot using an open-source humanoid platform based on robust, flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. The part of the article I specially like was related to how engineers at Poppy Project are using PDM and other collaborative tools such as software source control. The comparison between PDM and SCM tools was stroke me as something very interesting. Here is my favorite passage:

With software development version control is important. Our software team uses Git, for example.  Now I can’t work without it even for CAD. Our robotics project is open source so I need to use developmental branches for this type of work. I use Git flows to keep repositories organized. What else have you used to manage your files? I tried SolidWorks PDM but it’s not great. For one, its too complicated. A simple interface is important because we want to attract people to participate not scare them away. I couldn’t find anything like SVN (Apache Subversion) or any modern source control system. At this point it looks like we’re probably going to use Git for individual work and GrabCAD Workbench for sharing work with others.

It is absolutely not surprising to hear about complexity of PDM tools. Even my truly believe, SolidWorks PDM is not the most complicated PDM tool, it was still okay to say SVN is simpler. However, what is specially interesting, Poppy Project people found PDM tool lacking some important functions such as branching, forking and merging requests. The following passage is nailing down the difference between collaboration of people in traditional engineering processes compared to open source projects.

With an open source project, especially an open source robot, people are making their own modifications but they don’t have editing rights for the main repository. They need to be able to make merge requests- send notifications from their repository to ours so their changes can be merged upstream. That’s better than everyone working on the exact same version.

It made me think more about why PDM should change these days. Our working environment is changing fast. What was strictly prohibited yesterday, becomes a norm today. Open source is one of these things. The new trend is to re-use models, software code and other elements of design from outside of your organization (or in the community). This is a new field for engineering organization and manufacturing companies these days. It brings a new requirement to PDM.

CAD/PDM integration and new functional challenges

New PDM functional requirements will point back on some fundamental problems of PDM such as deep integration with CAD tools. Navigate to one of my previous articles Multi-CAD PDM integration: yesterday, today and tomorrow. The complexity of CAD/PDM integration is going to be tightly dependent on functionality of CAD that needs to be supported by PDM. The ability of branch and merge version is tightly coupled with this cross CAD-PDM functional bundle. In my view, to merge CAD models is much more complicated task than merging software source code text files. There is no reliable technology today that can help you to do it easy.

What is my conclusion? Even PDM is 25+ years mature technology, it is a time for PDM to change. The changes are coming from the huge demand for simplification driven by consumer tools and technologies. At the same time, new functionality driven by trends such as social product development, open source and development communities will be challenging PDM vendors. In particular, CAD-PDM integration will be one of them. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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