Future CAD file management trajectories

July 1, 2014


CAD data is a core and one of the most fundamental parts of every manufacturing design. It all starts and dies from how your product looks and feels. In the past, 3D CAD was most focused on mechanical elements of design. Today, CAD systems are meshing into a complex conglomerate of data about shape, assembly, simulation and many other aspects of product design. Thinking even more broadly, CAD files are representing a significant part of engineering and product knowledge.

Despite overall significance, many manufacturing companies and engineering organization are missing the point of CAD files management. It is not unusual to hear that 60-70% of companies manage CAD files on shared network drives. Engineering.com article – The Risks of Manually Managing CAD Files speaks about what is a danger of keeping your CAD files not managed. The following passage makes it very clear:

Perhaps the most common way to manage CAD files is on a shared drive with a directory structure and file naming conventions. That can work in some situations, but it carries significant risks and limitations. "It was easy when it was just me, but when we added a second person it was difficult to have the same file structure," recalls Andy Homyk, the lead mechanical engineer at medical device company HemoSonics. "It was hard to get updates from his computer onto mine and ensure I had the right revision."

These manual approaches are better than nothing, but in all but the simplest scenarios lead to errors. As complexity and number of engineers increase, unmanaged approaches fall apart. Relying on individuals to consistently follow manual rules eventually leads to problems. This approach frequently results in the errors discussed earlier, specifically overwriting each other’s work, using the wrong version of a file, multiple people working on the same file, and lost productivity.

Article references e-Book written by Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity with more detailed discussion about how to choose write level of available CAD file management solution – from keeping CAD files on shared drives and up to full PDM system. Jim mentioned possible solution in between, which is CAD file sharing on the cloud. The article and e-book made me think about potential trajectories of future CAD file management solutions.

1- Cloud File Systems.

Quite a few companies these days are trying to virtualize file system and make transparent between on-premise and cloud storage. If it turns into reliable, fast and cost effective solution, engineers can just use this cloud file system to save files. I can see a good opportunity for cloud file systems to support revision history. So, it is almost PDM and these companies can start eating PDM lunch.

2- PDM with cloud file storage

The complexity of CAD data can make option #1 not very reliable. In that case, we can see a next turn in the evolution of existing PDM system – turn them to the cloud via IaaS and / or cloud hosting. Technologically, these solutions can be very similar to any existing PDM system. It might require some tuning to work with low latency and cloud file storage. But underlining idea will remain the same.

3- Engineering data platforms

This is one of the most interesting trajectory for me. Somebody would like to re-think the way engineering data (include CAD data) stored and managed in the cloud. The process of re-thinking can touch also technological aspects (databases and storage) as well as logical and functional aspects related to collaborative design and engineering and more.

What is my conclusion? One of the biggest challenges these days is how to leverage cloud system advantages on top of massive amount of CAD files. Every engineering organization is struggling to find an efficient solution to manage engineering data accumulated on desktops and network drives. Security, cost and scale – these are three most important elements every manufacturing company will be assessing to find an appropriate CAD file management solution. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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

June 20, 2014


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 eliminate PLM customization problems?

March 28, 2014


I’m following strategic visions of the major PLM vendors 2014+ publication by Jim Brown – well known analyst and my blogging buddy for last few years. It started as a publication covering Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, Siemens (vendors listed alphabetically). Last week, Jim expanded his PLM vision publications by adding Aras Innovator to the list. Navigate here to read about Aras 2014+ vision. Aras is well known by their Enterprise Open Source strategy. One of the interesting differentiation I captured in Jim’s article is related to Aras’ strategy to break rules of PLM customization. Here is the passage:

Aras has decided to break the rules [of PLM customization]. They aim to become the PLM company that defies the conundrum, allowing manufacturers to customize their software and still upgrade to future releases without major disruption. They can do this because customers can update the data schema, business rules, workflows, and forms without jeopardizing the integrity of the system. How does this work? Aras’ XML-based, model-oriented approach coupled with their willingness to provide customers with the business flexibility and tools to make it feasible. Aras has effectively morphed themselves into a PLM Platform with solid core functionality with a built in ability to be extended by customers and partners. To put this strategy into action, they have told me they are “putting their money where their mouth is.” They now include upgrade services as a part of their subscription service. I haven’t seen that from anyone else anywhere, particularly while encouraging people to enhance and modify the package. This is a clear differentiator and makes Aras unique in the PLM market.

PLM customization is a tricky deal. Honestly, nobody is dreaming to make PLM implementation with zero customization effort. It all starts from flexible data modeling, which imply certain level of data customization. Time ago, I posted – Is PLM customization a data management Titanic? Earlier this year, I’ve been discussing options and reasons on How to de-customize PLM? The story of PLM customization is tightly related to PLM system flexibility data modeling. Typically, every PLM implementation contains some portion of customization that usually done by service organization and/or internal IT department. Lifecycle rules, data import, workflows, integration with other enterprise systems – this is only a very short list of customizations done during PLM deployment. Another huge aspect of customization is related to system upgrades. That one is actually mentioned by Jim Brown in his Aras’ review.

So, is there a way to solve customization problem? In my view, the answer is – it depends. In my view, you cannot eliminate specific implementation activities. Adding of new features and infrastructure technologies (eg. RDBMS) will require certain upgrade activity to happen. However, if you are selling services, the interest will be to optimize this work. Cloud vendors have similar incentive to optimize infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, otherwise operational cost will go up. So, smart technology can optimize cost and customization efforts.

What is my conclusion? Business and technology are going together. To have good business incentive to optimize technologies is always helpful and can put pressure on development organization to optimize cost of infrastructure upgrades. Service based offering (open source and cloud) are two great examples where business interests of vendors and customers are going at the same direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

The Future Unbundling Strategies in CAD/PLM

November 6, 2013


Engineering software has a long history of aggregation and disaggregation. In CAD, it was long time about new features vendors added to CAD tools. Ultimately, it was a long run towards new features. Later in the history, CAD industry came to the idea of integrating of various add-on systems into CAD environment. So, we got simulation, CAM and many other features and systems. In addition to that, data management tools (PDM) drove their own road – first independent from CAD and later on more integrated. Later on, PLM ideas came and provide an additional set of tools, features and systems. The latest history of design and PLM tools development introduced even more "integrated product lines" with CAD, PLM and many other systems. These days leading vendors are providing product suites with huge number of tools and subsystems bound together.

I was reading Unbundling: AOL, Facebook and LinkedIn article and reviewed a very fascinating diagram about Craiglist. Here is an interesting quote:

There are a swarm of services, often mobile first or mobile only, trying to peel off parts of the Craigslist offer, or do things Craigslist should have been doing. AirBnB is only the most obvious. Chris Dixon has a good note about this here, and Andrew Parker produced this great graphic back in 2010.


Major CAD/PLM vendors are selling big product suites, which can be considered similar to Craiglist. CAD / PLM product suites are providing lots of functionality. However, each function or service is probably not "best in class". PLM analysts and duelists Jim Brown and Chad Jackson discussed it in their video blog – CAD: Granularity vs. Integrated Suites.

Another interesting interesting perspective was presented by Adam O’Hern in his blog – Why I will pay $1372 for a fillet tool? Adam is writing about tools diversification and CAD subscriptions value prop. Adam is bringing the example of Autodesk Fusion 360 as cost effective tool that can be used as a substitute for some of features of SolidWorks. Here is an interesting passage about CAD tool diversification:

I use whatever combination of tools offers me the best cost-benefit ratio for whatever task I’m trying to achieve. In my various corporate jobs I’ve used CATIA, UGNX, Rhino, and Alias for design work, and each has its own advantages. For the last five years or so I’ve found that a combination of SolidWorks and MODO–along with various plugins, scripts, and sidecar tools–has provided the best price:utility ratio for my specific 3D design needs.

The unbundling article made me think about what will happen if we will follow similar strategy for CAD and PLM. Here is my top 3 assertion:

1. CAD and PLM is too big to sustain as a one big aggregated solution provided by a single vendor. This is a polystate diversified space that needs to be covered by multiple solutions, features and vendors.

2. Vendors are never good enough to see what exact problem customers want to solve. Especially when it comes to large manufacturing companies and complicated supply chain eco-systems. That’s way armies of consulting services as well as diversified products must be applied to provide a final solution.

3. Customers often don’t know what problem to solve. For most of the situations product development is a complex problem. It requires the team of people to work on. In addition to that, large organizations are involved into politics and confrontation related to usage of different enterprise software and tools.

What is my conclusion? If my assertion is correct, future unbunlding of features and services from CAD/PLM product suites can provide a potential opportunity to diversify market and solution options available for manufacturing companies. Cloud and SaaS models will be very helpful in this process. It is much easy to use unbundled cloud services compared to old set of CAD/PLM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How to select PDM system in 5 simple steps?

July 3, 2013

Are you in the market for enterprise system? Traditionally, the process of enterprise software selection is long, complicated and expensive. The variety of requirements, combined with the complexity of systems, specific characteristics of company, vendors, implementation, support, licenses, etc. Whoever tried to do it at least once from any side (buyer or seller) will confirm you that it is not a simple thing to do.

Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity is well-known analyst in engineering and manufacturing software space published his research PDM Buyer’s Guide – Ensuring Maximum Value from Product Data Management. You can get an access to the summary paper by navigating your browser to the following link. If you want to get a full copy, you can do it here free of charge, but you will have pass you contact information to PTC. The guide provides a comprehensive overview of all aspects of PDM selection process started from the functional analyzes, vendor specific requirements, integration, scaling, sizing and many other aspects. Here is a picture, which outlines the framework proposed by Jim. If you are looking for PDM system, this paper is clearly "must read" materials.

One part of PDM buyer’s guide is related to integrations between CAD and PDM. Here is the passage you should pay attention.

PDM should be tightly integrated with underlying authoring tools such as 3D CAD in order to automatically manage the file relationships for assemblies. This is typically a key difference between solutions and should be evaluated closely, considering any multi-CAD control required. Tight integration with authoring tools should enable automatic revisioning, tracking, and traceability of design changes. Integration should include electronic design (ECAD) and software development in addition to mechanical CAD if those are applicable to your products.

PDM business was evolving for the last decade mainly around CAD business. CAD vendors leveraged the tight link between CAD and PDM solutions to deliver well integrated bundles. It was done to satisfy customers’ demands to control CAD portion of product data management. On the other side, it made a selection process sometimes silly and simple.

Jim’s paper made me think about how complicated and painful PDM selection process could be. At the same time, maybe we can pickup few important characteristics that will simplify the process for many companies? Here is my take on PDM Selection Tool for Dummies in 5 steps.

Step 1: If your company is using single CAD system, CAD/PDM bundle from the same vendor is your best choice.

Step 2: If your company is using multiple CAD systems, try to identify a strategic CAD system for your and follow CAD/PDM bundle from that CAD vendor. Check if other CAD integrations are supported as well before making a final choice.

Step 3: If your company has no dominant CAD systems (e.g. your company is a supplier and using multiple CAD systems required by you upper tier provider) and your company is looking how to manage CAD neutral product data structures (eg. BOMs), you need to look on PLM system.

Step 4: If your company is large and has multiple CAD systems, you probably want to have a dedicated PDM system managing every single CAD combined together with PLM or ERP system.

Step 5: If you company is looking how to manage product development processes beyond controlling and sharing CAD (product) data, you need to evaluate PLM system. Don’t make a PDM choice without making your PLM decision first.

What is my conclusion? Simplicity is a key. We can clearly see "simplification" as an important trend these days. Companies are looking for solutions to solve their problems, but they want to make it simple. CAD/PDM integration requirement is a reality of today’s PDM business. We cannot go away without integration between CAD and PDM/PLM. Even the number of characteristics is huge, by focusing on few specific ones, you can save lot of time during the selection process. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM, Product Cost and Bridge to Nowhere?

November 5, 2012

Product cost. Talk to any manufacturing company in the world and they will tell you that cost is one of the most important factors for them. Fundamentally, you need to produce goods to enable profitability of your enterprise. Sounds simple and straightforward. It looks like one of the first pieces of software any company should buy is "product cost software". Actually, in the reality, things look different. Many companies are talking about "cost-management" solutions, but it is not so easy to build one. Back last year, I’ve been posting about the product cost – CAD, PLM and Product Cost. I’ve been reading an article by Jim Brown, my blogging and twitting friend, about product costing – Product Cost Management as a link between enterprise systems. Navigate to the following link to read more. Jim is providing very interesting insight on cost management following the acquisition of Perfect Costing Solution by Siemens PLM. Jim provides his definition of cost:

Product Cost Management– An agreed, coherent, and publicized system of culture/goals, processes, people, and tools following the product lifecycle, that ensures the product meets its profit (or cost) target on the day that it launches to the customer.

Jim defines "product cost solutions" as financial bridges. Here is an interesting war-map between enterprise software vendors (domains) from Jim’s blog. Take a look below. Here is an important passage in my view:

Who will occupy the physical to financial bridges? Siemens has made the first move to acquire one of the bridges (Tsetinis). My educated guess is that a PLM company will be the next acquirer as well. However, there are eight or nine of the Product Cost Management bridges of varying width that link to the different stages of the engineering product life cycle. Given this variety, it is not unthinkable that one or more of the scenarios outlined above will occur simultaneously.

Jim’s war-map made me think about 3 main factors that in my view, prevents enterprise, engineering and manufacturing software vendors to build a good cost management solution. Here they are -

1. Information about cost is located in multiple systems. It is not easy to software companies in the enterprise world to give up on data ownership. So, despite multiple discussions and conversations about standards, I found still a lot of protectiveness to share data openly.

2. Design and engineering user experience is not cost-driven. Design and engineering activities provide a significant influence on cost. 60-70% of product cost is defined during the early design time. However, engineers and designers are not dollar-driven. Cost is more a "check-mark" for them and not a natural way to design and build products.

3. There are lots of cost-influence factors not captured by any system. Last, but not least. The information about what influence cost is very often not captured by any system and located in people’s head. The fact somebody (or few people) know something that can significantly impact cost, can make software useless and effort to create this software a joke.

What is my conclusion? It is hard to find a person who will tell you "cost is not important". However, nobody wants to take a responsibility for cost. In the world of enterprise software, vendors are protecting their islands and fortresses. As we know, to build bridges is not the best strategy to protect yourself. So, why PLM, ERP, SCM and any other TLAs in the enterprise software world will be interested to build a good bridge? At the same time, product cost is huge and very important issue. The pressure from customers will force PLM and other enterprise software vendors to solve a problem and build solutions. One of the possibilities to improve cost management is to make software more open to facilitate data exchange and data access. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Cost War Map picture courtesy of Tech-Clarity blog.

PLM Edutainment and Brushing Teeth with Wasabi Paste

September 20, 2012

Don’t you think enterprise software and PLM are boring stuff? I certainly agree. Take a look for all CAD, Simulation, 3D Printing and other goodies. It all looks very cool. When I’m attending trade shows and other live events, these booths usually drive most attention. Data management, PDM, PLM stuff is boring. Who wants to talk about check-in, check-out, release, workflows, processes, etc. Engineers are relying on IT and managers? On the other side, managers and IT are not interested and hope engineers will do their jobs anyway. Engineers and designers are doing cool stuff. Most of them hardly believe PDM/PLM is something they really need.

My good friends and blogging buddies Jim Brown and Chad Jackson decided to bring some controversy into PDM/PLM conversation. So they started Tech4PD show. Navigate to this link to read more about it. Here is the important passage about what is Tech4PD:

Seriously though, there are a lot of outstanding issues related to technology in product development. There are lots of executives and users out there trying to make the right decision with respect to technology, but its a very confusing place right now. We believe that the most valid points regarding a topic are the ones that stand up to scrutiny.

And here is a first episode of Tech4PD about granularity and integration.

PLM edutainment?

Edutaining is a term that was coined back in 1948 by Walt Disney Corporation. Since then it used by many organizations to present various topics such as health and teenager education. Navigate to Wikipedia link to read more. Here is the definition:

Educational entertainment is any entertainment content that is designed to educate as well as to amuse. Content with a high degree of both educational and entertainment value is known as edutainment. There also exists content that is primarily educational but has incidental entertainment value. Finally, there is content that is mostly entertaining but can be seen to have some educational value.

I can see a growing interest of software vendors in this topic. If you follow approaches like "for dummies", "in plain english" and some others, you can see some similarity here. There are lots of innovations in this place, and I’m sure we are going to see more.

What is my conclusion? Engineers like cool stuff and reject everything that bore them. In many cases, I see executives’ behavior similar to kids (seriously :)). So, we need to innovate in how to bring a message to both communities. Tech4PD edutaining approach makes sense to me. I don’t know how many people will immediately join the conversation about granularity and integration. However, I will come for sure to see how Jim (or Chad) will brush their teeth with wasabi paste. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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