Accelerate 2014: PLM360 and the state of manufacturing industry

September 18, 2014

accelerate-plm-360-event

I’m attending Accelerate 2014 PLM360 event these days in Boston. This is the first ever live gathering of Autodesk PLM360 community. According to Ron Locking who kicked the event yesterday, it comes to a total number of about 200 attendees combined of customers, partners and industry analysts.

So, why Boston? The welcome joke triggered by analysts Chad Jackson, Jim Brown and Stan Przybylinski speculated – it was all about “beer innovation” that inspired Autodesk people to have this even in Boston. However, in my view, we have more reasons for that – high concentration of PLM companies around PLM highway, vibrant community of manufacturing companies and startups as well as cross-road location between Europe and U.S. Event is taking place in Boston District Hall in the middle of Seaport district. The place brought my memories back to Smart Summit (first SmarTeam customer event in 2000). Back that days, the only building in Boston Seaport district was Seaport Hotel. Now, Seaport district looks completely different.

boston-seaport-district

Getting back to “beer innovation”, I found an interesting association between U.S. beer craftsmanship and state of PLM and manufacturing industry these days. It comes to empowering of small companies to innovate. It happened to small breweries in U.S. back in 1978. It is a good lesson to learn. Here is a passage about brewery innovation:

On October 14, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337 into law, which legalized the home production of a small amount of beer or wine for personal consumption.Since then, the United States has witnessed a resurgence of brewing culture and the widespread proliferation of small breweries. By March 1986, five brewpubs had opened in the United States. The total number of breweries rose from 42 in 1978 to over 2,750 in 2012, reaching or exceeding the number of breweries estimated to have existed during the colonial period. Virtually all of this growth is attributable to small, independent breweries.Today, the U.S. craft beer industry employs over 100,000 individuals brewing 15.6 million barrels of beer per year, generating roughly $14.3 billion in retail sales.

Back to the event itself. Who attended? I found a very interesting mixture of companies attended the event. First and most important is to see a diverse set of manufacturing companies using PLM360 and sharing their stories. Second – a very interesting bunch of partners and service providers representing new “cloud” ecosystem. The last, but probably the most interesting are companies that related to so called “new manufacturing companies”. These days small manufacturing are starting to make difference. And actually, you can see it very well by looking on the list Accelerate 2014 attendee list – Quirky, Dragon Innovation and few others. These companies represents a complete new story in manufacturing industry. Enabled by internet and modern technologies, new manufacturing companies are representing a complete new way to develop products. And, their demand is to have new design and engineering tools.

Specifically I wanted to focus on how PLM can help to new manufacturing startups. Manufacturing is hard. To get from zero to one in manufacturing is not simple. However, to come from one to many is probably even more challenging. It requires a complete new approach and new tools.

manufacturing-is-hard

Agility, speed and flexibility. This is probably a word that explains in a best way how manufacturing companies are using PLM360. It is interesting to see that these definitions are common between both group of customers – larger established manufacturers and new growing startups. Large companies are learning how to solve specific product development business problems using tools like PLM360. At the same time, small companies are learning how to bring some order in their ad-hoc product development environment. So, both groups have something to learn from each other and it looks like PLM360 can give them some common grounds to innovate as a community.

small-vs-big-anagnost-manufacturing

Innovation was one of the most frequently discussed topics during these two days. The product innovation panel discussion gathered a diverse set of attendees – analysts, customers, vendors.

innovation-product-panel

PLM360 is one of the tools coming as an answer on “manufacturing challenge”. However, it doesn’t come alone. PLM360 comes as part of new cloud eco-system Autodesk develops these days – Autodesk A360, Autodesk Fusion360 and some others.

autodesk-cloud-eco-system

What is my conclusion? The modern manufacturing world is a complex combination of new challenges and old problems. New manufacturing companies, communities, new type of products, unprecedented level of product complexity even for small manufacturing – all together representing a new state of manufacturing industry. It requires new approach in design and product collaboration tool. PLM360 gives some good examples and lesson learned in that space. Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m Autodesk employee. 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.


Will future PLM order parts for makers?

September 10, 2014

makers-plm-order-parts

Have you heard about "makers"? If you are in manufacturing business, you probably should pay attention to that. You may hear about "makers movement" these days as a new industrial revolution changing the way people are making stuff. I can recommend you Chris Anderson’s book to read more about that.

New digital technologies are going to change the way we design and manufacturing products. It appears today largely as a new group of manufacturing entrepreneurs, startup companies and small manufacturing firms. PLM vendors are not very successful in providing solutions for SME companies. Historically it was a tough call for PLM vendors. It was too competitive and confusing with major PLM business – large OEMs and suppliers. With new manufacturing eco-system, the situation is getting very interesting. One of the objectives of PLM is to help company to innovate and delivery new products fast. It sounds like a very compelling reason for new manufacturing startups. Read my earlier blog – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? This is an opportunity for new PLM solutions. However, it looks like something that PLM vendors are missing for the moment – PLM and Manufacturing Startups: Potential Mismatch? We have a complexity of new manufacturing products, multiplied by a complexity of new type of manufacturing processes. It looks like an existing enterprise software doesn’t fit very well a new and growing eco-system of manufacturing companies.

Let me take an example of PLM and ERP system breakdown. The traditional split between PLM and ERP is usually presented as "innovation vs. transactions". PLM system is responsible for engineering part of the business and takes hands off from ordering by moving business process to ERP. This is works well for traditional manufacturing companies. However, PLM v ERP interplay is a very challenging and complicated process in every company. Would it be the same for new type of manufacturing entrepreneurs? This is a good question to ask… I’m pretty sure that new manufacturing companies can question a need to have multiple systems- they will be looking for some sort of intelligent online solutions that can easy interplay together and cover both engineering and manufacturing piece.

My attention was caught by Fortune article – In B2B e-commerce, Alibaba has solved the one problem Amazon can’t. Read the article. I found it very interesting. It is not about PLM. However, I captured a passage that speaks about B2B and supply chain communication.

But there is one true giant in the category: Alibaba, the Chinese retail darling that last week revealed plans for a $21.12 billion initial public offering, which has dominated in B2B e-commerce. I was reminded of this over the weekend while listening to Planet Money’s entertaining explainer of the Alibaba wholesale market. Through Alibaba.com and 1688.com, the company provides to people everywhere access to the Chinese supply chain. This means tinkerers, builders, entrepreneurs, and small businesses can order custom motors and parts from Chinese factories without having to travel there, find a scout, and forge a relationship with a manufacturer before doing business. It opens up the world of international suppliers to people who wouldn’t normally have access to it. They can buy in bulk through Alibaba, which acts as a trusted third party, vouching for the transaction.

It made me think about a potential of PLM software to get connected to online e-commerce systems to process orders and even more- optimizing product design and engineering solution based on that. It probably sounds crazy. However, who knows… Many things that we knew as a separate parts in the past, now unified as a single products. Think about iPhone, which replaced many existing devices. Today’s Apple Watch and Apple Pay announcements are hinting about future transformation of well-known habits. There are some other examples as well.

What is my conclusion? I like to quote Mark Andreessen for the conclusion – "Software is eating the world". There are lot of traditional system breakdown that are going to be transformed and disappear in the future. What looks like a right split between product innovation (PLM) and order-transaction (ERP) today, can be challenged in the future. So, who knows? Maybe tomorrow PLM systems will order parts from Amazon B2B e-commerce web services? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Existing data prevents companies to improve Part Numbers?

August 15, 2014

historical-part-numbers

Part Numbers is a fascinating topic. I’m coming back to blog about what is the best approach to manage Part Numbers. My last post about it was – Part Numbers are hard. How to think about data first? was just few weeks ago. In that article, I outlined few principles how to keep PN separate from surrounding data focusing on different aspects of parts – description, classification, configurations, suppliers, etc.

Yesterday, my attention was caught by ThomasNet article – Are Part Numbers Too Smart for Their Own Good? The article nailed down a key issue why companies are still having difficulties with management of Part Numbers. Nothing works from scratch in engineering companies. Complexity of characteristics and history of existing Part Numbers and products are making real difficulties to adopt new PN management concepts. The following passage explains the problem:

Another problem with descriptive numbering is that the description can become out of date and irrelevant over time. Individual parts can have their own life cycles; if a part has been identified according to the product, what happens if that product is discontinued but the part continues to be used in a newer product? Or what if a manufacturer changes vendors and the part number contains the name of the vendor that originally provided the piece?

Gilhooley admits that some Ultra Consultants clients have decided that switching from descriptive to auto-generated numbering would require too much organizational change. Some companies stick with old systems, and some opt for hybrid systems that perhaps retain descriptive numbers for existing parts but use auto-generated numbers for new parts.

It looks like there is no single solution or best practice to solve the problem. The "traditional" engineering approach to keep options to manage a diverse set company configuration looks like the only possible way to solve this problem in existing PLM/ERP systems.

What is my conclusion? History keeps customers from moving forward. There are two aspects of complexity in Part Numbers: 1/ complexity of definition and data classification; 2/ historical records of PN in every company including catalogs and existing products. Together, they create a block to make any changes in existing PN schema and prevent companies from migration towards new approaches. New data modeling technologies must be invented to handle existing data as well as supporting customers to migrate into modern PLM and ERP solutions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will public clouds help enterprises to crunch engineering data?

August 6, 2014

google-data-center-crunches-engineering-data

The scale and complexity of the data is growing tremendously these days. If you go back 20 years, the challenge for PDM / PLM companies was how to manage revisions CAD files. Now we have much more data coming into engineering department. Data about simulations and analysis, information about supply chain, online catalog parts and lot of other things. Product requirements are transformed from simple word file into complex data with information about customers and their needs. Companies are starting to capture information about how customers are using products. Sensors and other monitoring systems are everywhere. The ability to monitor products in real life creates additional opportunities – how to fix problems and optimize design and manufacturing.

Here is the problem… Despite strong trend towards cheaper computing resources, when it comes to the need to apply brute computing force, it still doesn’t come for free. Services like Amazon S3 are relatively cheap. However, if we you want to crunch and make analysis and/or processing of large sets of data, you will need to pay. Another aspect is related to performance. People are expecting software to work at a speed of user thinking process. Imagine, you want to produce design alternatives for your future product. In many situations, to wait few hours won’t be acceptable. It will be destructing users and they won’t use such system after all.

Manufacturing leadership article Google’s Big Data IoT Play For Manufacturing speaks exactly about that. What if the power of web giants like Google can be used to process engineering and manufacturing data. I found explanation provided by Tom Howe, Google’s senior enterprise consultant for manufacturing quite interesting. Here is the passage explaining Google’s approach.

Google’s approach, said Howe, is to focus on three key enabling platforms for the future: 1/ Cloud networks that are global, scalable and pervasive; 2/ Analytics and collection tools that allow companies to get answers to big data questions in 10 minutes, not 10 days; 3/ And a team of experts that understands what questions to ask and how to extract meaningful results from a deluge of data. At Google, he explained, there are analytics teams assigned to every functional area of the company. “There’s no such thing as a gut decision at Google,” said Howe.

It sounds to me like viable approach. However, it made me think about what will make Google and similar computing power holders to sell it to enterprise companies. Google ‘s biggest value is not to selling computing resources. Google business is selling ads… based on data. My hunch there are two potential reasons for Google to support manufacturing data inititatives – potential to develop Google platform for manufacturing apps and value of data. The first one is straightforward – Google wants more companies in their eco-system. I found the second one more interesting. What if manufacturing companies and Google will find a way to get an insight from engineering data useful for their business? Or even more – improving their core business.

What is my conclusion? I’m sure in the future data will become the next oil. The value of getting access to the data can be huge. The challenge to get that access is significant. Companies won’t allow Google as well as PLM companies simply use the data. Companies are very concerned about IP protection and security. To balance between accessing data, providing value proposition and gleaning insight and additional information from data can be an interesting play. For all parties involved… Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

Photo courtesy of Google Inc.


PLM, ERP and the death of over the wall engineering

July 31, 2014

plm-erp-death-of-thraw-over-the-wall-engineering

Do you remember "throw over the wall of manufacturing" statement? This is a traditional engineering world. Pretty much sequential. Engineers are doing their job and throw it over the wall to the next stage. Traditional manufacturing was driven by sales forecast. This is was the world that formed a traditional domains of PDM/PLM and ERP. The engineering job was a black box – product design delivered to manufacturing. Manufacturing people supposed to take design and make it work to production. The processes required lots of back and forth communication. The result you know – skyrocketing cost of change requests, suboptimal design and after all production delays.

There are lot of changes in manufacturing environment these days. One of the most interesting example is growing number of smaller manufacturing companies / startups. I wrote about that few months ago in my post – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? Today, I want to speak more about that. LineShapeSpace article – Manufacturing Inventory Management: How Much Inventory Do You Need? caught my attention. The question sounds obvious. However, article speaks about looking on inventory from completely different perspective – engineering and growth.

Growth is an essential part of every startup. This is probably one and the most important goal to stay focused on. However, the specific part of manufacturing company is the cost of parts and size of the inventory. To hack the growth path is not simple. To go on the wrong path means to literally to die. Here is my favorite passage from the article

This mismatch is expensive. It usually means high inventory carrying costs while you chase down a lot of little customers and invest resources into getting—and keeping—their relatively small orders. The inverse relationship impacts cash flow and energy level significantly, as well as your ability to feed yourself. Long term, this kind of business will most likely be a hobby, not something that sustains you, absent significant investment or luck.

In order to develop a successful product and find a right inventor path, you need to re-think a traditional engineering-manufacturing process. No more over the wall process. You need to design for optimal manufacturing, sourcing, inventory and many other factors. Which means engineering and manufacturing team to work together. My hunch, there is no traditional PLM/ERP boundary any more. Here is another quote to emphasize that:

“We used every fancy prototyping technology, investigated multiple production scenarios, and ultimately landed our production with great manufacturing partners near Hong Kong…utilizing ‘traditional manufacturing’ for production [was] an ordeal to set up, but yields quality, repeatable parts thereafter. The decision to move at this scale of production required that we grow a global sales and fulfillment network.

That wasn’t exactly an ambition for a first our product…but it’s certainly an interesting, if occasionally harrowing, game.” The takeaway from all of this? Do your best to match the inventory risk to your channel risk. It’s a lot easier, faster, and cheaper to go back to the design drawing board than it is to return a container ship to China.

What is my conclusion? We are going to see the world of manufacturing changing in front of us these days. It may change (and probably already changing) the traditional engineering, production planning and manufacturing boundaries. What was true in an old PLM/ERP world will change. The new forms of manufacturing will require re-thinking of current software. Interesting time for PLM and ERP analysts, product managers and vendors. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM and Manufacturing Startups: Potential Mismatch?

July 14, 2014

hardware-mfg-startup

Selling PLM for SME was always a very controversial topic among PLM vendors. No consensus here. I wrote about it few months ago in my Why PLM stuck to provide solution for SME post and got interesting follow up conversations with few industry pundits.

Every PLM vendor has some special product offering ready for SME market segment. But did it work well to anybody? My hunch, most of "successful PLM SME" implementations are focusing on basic CAD/PDM features. Very few SME organizations successfully implemented a complete PLM system including BOM, change management, configurations, manufacturing integration, requirement management and more. If you got a chance to see one, it is typically result of huge effort of people in the organization itself committed to make it work.

One of the most typical reasons for PLM vendors to sale to SME was high cost of implementation and sales multiplied by absence of IT people ready to handle PLM implementation. In my view, PLM vendors have a great hope to make it easier with modern cloud based PLM offering, but jury is still out to watch results.

Meantime, manufacturing landscape is getting even more interesting. Hardware is the new software. Nest, GoPro, Beats, Jawbone, Oculus… You’re welcome in the world of manufacturing startups. I touched it in my earlier post – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? Yesterday, my attention was caught by TechCrunch article – Hardware Case Study: Why Lockitron Has Taken So Long To Ship. Read the article – I found it very interesting. The following passage explains basically that from "limited assembly", manufacturing startups are moving towards full manufacturing cycle:

In our initial RFQs (“request for quote”) we leaned heavily towards manufacturing entirely in the United States. Our impetus for this was largely around logistics; if we could make everything domestically, we wouldn’t have to travel far and wide to ensure the quality we expected. It quickly became apparent that manufacturing domestically would cost far beyond what we had budgeted for. Given the number of parts, required touch time (the amount of time it takes someone to assemble a product), various materials and processes used, building entirely in the U.S. wasn’t viable. Potential domestic suppliers still looked East for most of the components we needed, albeit with longer lead times.

However, even more interesting quote is the following one explaining the level of challenges during the development processes.

We spent the next few months redesigning our gearbox to reduce noise while increasing power to deal with sticky or hard-to-close locks. While the choice was the right one to make, it cost us valuable time; a few parts had to be retooled and there were cascading effects on our electronics and supplier choices. We selected an ultra-efficient, powerful motor to place at the lock’s heart, but this also impacted our timeline. Most challenging, however, was the meshing of electronic and mechanical worlds. An initial circuit board design proved overly complex and underpowered.

As you noted the complexity of product including mechanical and electronic parts is very high. In addition to that, even it wasn’t stated explicitly by the article, I can see a growing complexity of integration between electromechanical and software components.

What is my conclusion? The complexity of manufacturing startups is growing. To scale product development and manufacturing is a very challenging job. And all must be done in a craziest timeline – the reality of every startup. Manufacturing startups is an interesting niche that clearly different from typical SME organizations we’ve seen before. The challenge of PLM with a typical manufacturing SME is to compete with a status quo of existing processes and tools. Manufacturing startups are different – absence of processes, startup culture and an absolutely need to get job done in a very short timeframe. It would be interesting to see a growing demand for PLM tools as well as growing complexity of product development and supply chain in these organizations. What PLM tools will provide an answer? Good question for PLM strategists these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Best Practices and Henry Ford Mass Production System

April 6, 2014

henry-ford-assembly-line

If you are in PLM business, I’m sure you are familiar with term called "best practices". The term is widely used to explain how PLM system can be deployed, how to manage data and how to organize and optimize product development processes. So, where are roots of PLM best practices and why PLM vendors like them so much? Remember, the original PLM (and even PDM) systems started as a glorified data management toolkit with elements of CAD and ERP integrations. To get such system in product was very expensive and it required lot of time and implementation services. The reason is simple – every manufacturing company is different. It takes time for service provider to understand company landscape, processes, data requirements, legacy systems and suggest a solution. Put heavy price tag next to this activity. You can think about this process as something similar to organizing mass production assembly line. It is costly and complicated. Once you’ve get it done, your objective will be simple – run it to the largest possible quantity without re-configuration (which will cost you money, again). The same happened with first large PLM implementations.

The invention of "best practices" helped to figure out how to move from heavy and complicated PLM assembly line to more configurable and flexible mechanisms of PLM deployment. Technologically, toolkit approach was a underline product foundation. PLM companies and especially service providers and PLM consultants liked the approach. To create OOTB (out-of-the-box) pre-configured environments was relatively easy based on the practices gathered from existing large customers. However, to get it to the field and implement wasn’t so simple. Marketing and sales used OOTB environments to demonstrate and make sales. However, implementations and fine tuning was failing to apply it after that. The implementation devil was in details and service teams were required to bring to production. Similar to manufacturing mass production environment, customizing and services was a straightforward answer to solve the problem of product and requirement diversity.

As we know from the history of manufacturing, mass customization won and left mass production system in a dust. What was clear innovation 100 years ago was replaced by new forms of manufacturing, customization and flexible manufacturing units. I believe this is still very hot topic in the industry and every manufacturing company. The diversity of product requirements is skyrocketing, product lifecycle is getting even shorter. To produce PLM system that will fit this type of environment is probably one of the most important innovation that might happen in engineering and manufacturing software technologies these days.

What is my conclusion? I think software companies can learn something from the history of manufacturing companies. The move from from mass product to mass customization is one of them. PLM software made a turn from from complicated preconfigured assembly lines to expensive data management toolkits that require services. Manufacturing is getting different these days. Next step can be hardly achieved by pure technology or process organization. My hunch it is going to be a hybrid of new data management technologies empowered by crowdsourcing and customer innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Photo source.


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