Cloud CAD/PDM and mass customization future

June 25, 2015

mass-customization-cad-cloud-3d-local-motors

The era of mass production is near the end. The demand for mass customization is coming. We can see signs of customizable products everywhere – e-commerce configurators, personalization in apparel industry, individual shoe design, personalization in medical devices etc.

At the same time, the opportunity around mass-customization is facing challenges in engineering and manufacturing environments. I shared some of my thoughts about PLM, mass customization and BoM vertical integration last year. The problem with management of bill of materials to support manufacturing integration is real. We can achieve an improved product customization by improvement of BOM management and providing configurable BOM solution integrated with manufacturing systems. However, in many situation, product configuration capabilities are defined in the core of product design – CAD system.

You can manage product configurations using CAD system. Most of 3D mechanical CAD systems are supporting the ability to create some sort of product variations. But here is the thing, it is very hard to connect CAD product configurations to engineering and manufacturing systems.

My attention was caught by an article Building Adaptable CAD Databases—How and Why written by Chris Loughnane. In a nutshell, it speaks about how to make a traditional CAD design more data driven. The idea is fascinating and goes much beyond discrete configuration parameters. Here is my favorite passage explaining that.

Adaptable databases. By implementing additional techniques on top of traditional best practices, design intent is able to be so thoroughly baked into an adaptable database that its flexibility is no longer limited to a few discrete parameters. Instead, it’s able to read user-specific scan data and adjust the height, length, width, and surface curvature such that the resulting database is now custom-fit to the user.

It made me think about potentially mind blowing future of adapting CAD models. Imagine CAD design that can be changed based on customer data scanned using your mobile phone. Whoa… that would be amazing, but I stopped dreaming for a moment… The data integration chain in engineering and manufacturing systems is broken in many ways. CAD design is hardly integrated with PDM databases. Engineering BOMs are not synchronized with manufacturing BOM and shop floor and production facilities. To connect dots is possible, but it is a very complicated and expensive process.

The industry is discovering cloud CAD systems these days. One of the significant advantages of cloud CAD is the fact it includes data management functionality. In fact, these data management functions are giving us an option to control design on a very granular level. You can see an example of how cloud CAD systems are capable to control versions and collaboration between people.

Cloud based CAD systems can leverage data management capabilities to control more design parameters and product features. By doing that, it will enable better integration between design configuration and product features. Today most of these parameters are hardly can be captured. New cloud CAD systems can provide data driven environment to control important design parameters and to support data-driven design.

What is my conclusion? Mass customization and personal product developing is a future. One of the problems to solve in order to make it happen is to integrate engineering and manufacturing environments. The wall between design models and manufacturing product configuration should be removed. The first step into that direction is done by cloud CAD / PDM systems today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture Strati BAAM 3D printed car. (c) Photo courtesy of Local Motors.

 



PDM and future trajectory of versions comparison

June 11, 2015


CAD-PDM-versioning

Version control is one of the most important function in PDM. Regardless on what type of data you are managing, the capability to manage changes and to have an access of history of versions is important. Version control was the first functionality every PDM system developed in the past. The following video can show you how SolidWorks Enterprise PDM is solving version management challenges

The functionality like you can see in EPDM is provided nearly by every PDM system (or maybe I should say, good PDM system). In the following video, you can see how you can compare parts in CATIA V5.

What is important and I guess you’ve seen it on both example – comparison of geometry is an important element of versions comparison. For many of us, the fact that somebody made a change is almost meaningless and we want to understand what was the change and to have an access to more specific information which is geometrical when it comes to 3D design.

The modern cloud based PDM systems are focusing on good user experience. Compare versions is a functionality that can become a significant differentiator for customer to purchase a product. In one of my previous blog posts about GrabCAD Workbench, I put an example of how GrabCAD Workbench is visualizing differences between CAD file versions.

You may ask what happens if you don’t have PDM environment. In that case, versions are just different files on the disk, server or cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Doc. You can use available 3D CAD file comparison products. The following CAD Digest blog – Overview of CAD Geometry Comparison Tools gives you a list of products to compare 2D/3D CAD files. The article is a bit long, but I found very useful.

One of the tools you can consider to use to compare revisions is KeyCreator Compare by Kubotek. Watch the video below. The interesting aspect is the list of CAD formats that KeyCreator Compare can support. Navigate here to see the list

If you want to integrate revision comparison in your own solution, you can consider a product from LEDAS – a software outfit located in Russia with a history of providing development services for companies in CAD/PLM industry domain. The product LGC (Geometric comparison) can give you a library of functions to use in your project. Product is available for OEM.

Modern cloud-based CAD systems are providing integrated PDM functions as part of their core product. Two best examples are Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape.

The following video shows Autodesk Fusion360. You can clearly see how revision management became a natural part of Fusion360 functionality. You can browse revisions and visualize it. Unfortunately I didn’t find an example how to compare versions (If you’re aware about such command, please let me know in comments).

Onshape is providing an integrated product data management (PDM) functions. Recent Onshape release introduced new “compare function”, which can give you a possibility to compare revisions and see what happened during the changes. Onshape user experience is slick. However, as I can see from a video, Onshape is probably only capable to compare changes made using Onshape (I will try to discover more about this functionality in the next weeks).

What is my conclusion? Versions comparison is an important function. In the past the functionality was often split into two domains. PDM was managing versions and storing history of changes and files. Viewing technology was focusing on how to compare 3D files visually and functionally. New trends in cloud CAD development made PDM functions embedded into design environment. It improves usability and makes it easier for customers. At the same time, it might not cover all functional use cases such as comparison of CAD files created without history of features, which can be a case for supply chain systems sharing files. I can see an increased role of versions comparison to streamline design workflows and change management. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How much does it cost to manage CAD data?

May 14, 2015

cad-free-pdm

CAD files. Everyone who is dealing with design and engineering is familiar with this type of data. Large files, many dependencies, hard to store, share, change. That was the place where originally Product Data Management – PDM was born (if you long enough in this industry you might remember EDM or TDM acronyms too). Until very recently, PDM tools were hard to install, configure and use. Engineers didn’t like them and tried to avoid it as much as possible.

There are some good news on the horizon. CAD and PLM vendors are recognizing the need to release engineers from PDM pain and focusing on how to improve it from both user experience and license cost. If you recall one of my earlier blogs this year, I was talking about some interesting changes in PDM licensing from GrabCAD and SolidWorks – The future of free PDM.

Recent announcement from Autodesk about changes in Fusion360 packaging is not directly related to PDM. In a nutshell, it was about moving bunch of premium Fusion360 features into standard package with subscription price $25/month. At the same time, Fusion360 is providing PDM functionality and it is part of the subscription license which cost you 25$/month. Navigate here to learn more.

Another my post “Onshape quietly developed Google Drive for CAD” will give you a perspective from another cloud CAD disruptor – Onshape. A set of CAD data management (PDM) functionality is part of Onshape product. The subscription has free option as well as $100/month option. Navigate here to learn more.

It made me think about how much are we going to pay to manage and share CAD files in a near future?

The more “traditional” CAD / PDM approach is bundling CAD data management and integration functions into PDM/ PLM products. It forms a group of relatively expensive CAD data management tools. Navigate the following links to see examples – Aras CAD data management, Autodesk Vault, ENOVIA CAD data management, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, SolidEdge SP, Siemens TeamCenter PDM, Windchill PDM Link. The license cost and TCO is not always obvious and transparent (not very different from many examples of on premise enterprise software). At the same time, the functionality of these packages are often goes much beyond just managing revisions and sharing CAD files.

Another group of vendors and products are formed by new “cloud products” that can give you an option to manage and share CAD data. All of them are subscription based. For some of them, PDM is an integral part of a bigger product. There are products with free subscription option under some conditions. Here is the list of vendors – Autodesk Fusion360, Autodesk A360, GrabCAD Workbench, Onshape, Kenesto Drive, Team Platform. I’m sure missed some of new cloud outfits, so please let me know about new cool names to be added.

What is my conclusion? I can see a strong trend for making CAD data management ubiquitous and near free is a reality we might face very soon. Cloud CAD vendors will lead this trend because PDM is an fundamental part of cloud CAD delivery mechanism. It will take trajectory of cost for CAD data management and collaboration to zero. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Bad PDM experience? After all, it is CAD systems’ fault…

May 4, 2015

bad-pdm-experience

PDM. Product Data Management was one of the topics engineers are really hating. It was always about slow implementations, complex user experience, slow check-in and check-out, unsupported CAD versions and many other things. The relationships between PDM and CAD vendors aren’t simple either. I shared some of my thoughts about that in my blog – How CAD vendors “murdered” PDM business.

So, what is the root of PDM complexity? Actually, it goes deep to the nature of CAD system. Jon Hirschtick, founder of Onshape, speaks about PDM complexity in his last blog – Say Goodbye to CAD File Checkout & Copies. Here is my favorite passage

REMEMBER: IT’S NOT PDM’S FAULT. Even when engineers and designers love their CAD system, the odds are high that they’re grumbling about their PDM. I frequently hear the word “hate” come up in conversations about PDM, regardless of vendor or brand. But as frustrating as file checkout and file locking can be, it’s not PDM’s fault that you’re angry.

Traditional CAD systems were never designed for distributed teams. We know because we built traditional CAD. It used to be that a product was designed and manufactured under the same roof. Today, the design and manufacturing chain is often distributed across the country or even across the world.

Jon’s blog post made me think again about how cloud can transform engineering environment and solve some very painful engineering problems related to collaboration. It took me back to my post – Cloud PDM can make file check-in and check-out obsolete from last year. The power of cloud technologies can eliminate complexity of data transfer and scenarios. I was talking about PDM, but cloud CAD can take it even future by eliminating the need to transfer files to the desktop and operate from any device.

What is my conclusion? Cloud technology will change the traditional workflows of engineering systems. It is related to the amount of data moving between desktop and servers as well as the way system and people are accessing information. In my view, cloud technology can bring a paradigm shift and will allow engineers to focus on their work and less worry about check-in, check-out and data complexity. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Cloud CAD can solve hardest PDM problem

April 3, 2015

cloud-data-management

Document management is hard if you do it manually. To manage versions of documents requires you to follow some rules or naming conventions. I remember one of my first lessons in configuration management many years ago. It was about how to use file names in versions. Simple rule for starters – never ever use words “last” or “final” in names, otherwise (guess what) all you versions will be “last” of “final”.

To manage versions of CAD files is harder than manage Word documents. For many engineering organizations, it was the main reasons to bring PDM tool. I can tell you endless stories about people spending days of work because overwriting the deleted version or companies losing weeks of work trying to restore project baseline in their communication with subcontractors.

Unfortunately, to manage CAD files using PDM is a hard job too. CAD projects are combining multiple files. These files are interconnected and it is hard sometimes to resolve the complexity of these connections together with management of proper versions. The main reason for that was related to the need to keep multiple files in some location on your computer (usually called workspace) and switch between these files in order to get a desired version of your project with right parts and sub-assemblies.

Here are some good news, in my view. Cloud and more specifically cloud CAD systems can finally solve hardest PDM problem. The main reason for that – cloud CAD system should build a solid data management foundation to manage CAD data in the cloud. So, it will fix a broken link between CAD files saved on your computer and PDM storage.

The main outcome of cloud CAD data management is the ability to manage versions and merge branches design. In my view, this is a functionality CAD / PDM users dreamed for years. I remember many requests to support the ability of branching revisions and applying changes done by two engineers together.

In the past I speculated about future of CAD / PDM data management and how cloud can simplify management of design versions. You can read my old posts from 2010 – PDM and management of CAD files and Future CAD and Assembly version management. The technologies are getting mature and we can see some interesting results these days. I captured two recently published videos from Autodesk Fusion 360 and Onshape demonstrating how you can branch design, collaborate and merge results using cloud data management tools.

Autodesk Fusion 360

Onshape

What is my conclusion? Back in 2010, I was dreaming and speculating about “invisible CAD data management”. Fast forward in 2015 – it is a time to see changes in new products. Cloud technologies are reshaping traditional boundaries of engineering tools. For many years, CAD and PDM tools were separate. Integration between CAD and PDM was complex and painful. Cloud allows us to focus on user experience and hide data management form users. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Do we need super cloud PDM? But wait, we already have PLM…

March 30, 2015

super-cloud-pdm

Cloud is transforming businesses and technologies. CAD and PDM are going to be transformed too. If you had a chance to follow my blog last week, you probably read my thoughts from Develop3D LIVE conference in Warwick, England. If you missed, navigate to my previous post – Develop3D LIVE set the stage for cloud CAD competition.

I found it interesting, but cloud CAD is coming at first to solve old PDM problem – multiple file copies, revision management, branching, data sharing and collaboration. If I look on both Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape, I can see that PDM functionality is coming included. By doing that, new future price of PDM licenses is finally set to zero. However, there are some complications too.

Does cloud CAD/PDM solve all data management problems? There is no simple answer on this question. Here is the thing. If you think about single system – Fusion360 or Onshape, you can think about PDM as a solved problem. However, if you zoom out in your company business, the first question you can ask – what happens if I want to use both systems? Should I get two clouds? What will be interoperability between these two and future cloud CAD systems? Some of my thoughts about that are here – will cloud CAD inherit data interoperability problem?

Actually, cloud CAD systems are not alone in this multi-cloud challenge. My attention caught by TechCrunch article – BetterCloud Raises $25 Million From Accel To Create Universal Tools For Monitoring The Office Cloud. The opportunity BetterCloud is related to management multiple cloud services used by the same organization. While Google Docs and Office365 are much widely used than Fusion360, Onshape and cloud SolidWorks, the problem is very similar. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

That competition has been great for corporate IT departments in providing choice, but the diversity of options has also dramatically increased the complexity of managing these clouds within a corporate environment. Identities need to synchronize across platforms, and monitoring the performance and security of these services is challenging, particularly in a time of austerity in many IT budgets.In short, managing multiple clouds – or even just one – requires a whole new set of tools.

The association with Google Docs and Office is especially helpful, since Onshape is using Google Docs paradigm to demonstrate core principles of new cloud CAD architecture.

Manufacturing companies are familiar with the situation when they need to manage multiple PDM systems. Very often, this is a CAD/PDM/PLM configuration for companies using multiple CAD systems and central PLM/ERP systems. In such situation, companies are managing CAD data with PDM developed by each CAD vendors. It helps to maintain CAD version compatibility and support multiple CAD systems. Does it mean that double PDM tax will be coming to the cloud too?

What is my conclusion? Cloud systems are slowly became reality in many businesses these days. However, while solving one problem, it can bring new problems. Or, actually, it takes an existing problem and moves it to another place – to the cloud. Engineers will have to work with multiple cloud systems and leverage their advantages. However, it also creates new level of data management complexities. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of sumetho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


How CAD vendors “murdered” PDM business

March 23, 2015

cad-ambush-pdm

Here is the passage I captured during my weekend reading – We only sleep at night because Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Elon Musk don’t want our businesses. Yet. It came from the Warren Ellis’ article The New Tech Disruption: Murdering Businesses and Haunting Their Corpses. The article is a very nice summary of examples demonstrating the dynamics of businesses these days and aggressiveness towards earlier partners and future competitors. It is must read for everyone who is building business these days. Here is one example:

If you build your business on top of someone else’s system, eventually they’re going to notice. Just last week, the livestreaming app Meerkat, which uses Twitter to transmit, felt a cold breeze pass through the room when Twitter bought the competing system Periscope, which will doubtless be baked into Twitter as soon as possible. Digital businesses can murder and haunt their own parasites.

The article made me think more about what happens in product data management (PDM) businesses. Let me go back in time into 1990s or maybe even earlier. Do you remember the beginning of PDM (product data management) or how it was called TDM (technical data management)? PDM was born to manage CAD files. The fundamental idea was to solve a problem created by CAD system. CAD systems used files to store data. But, as you know, most of CAD systems are not creating single file, but use MANY files to store data. These files are interconnected for different purposes – parts are used by assemblies, drawings are created out of parts. If you are user of AutoCAD, you must be familiar with the mess that can be created by usage of XREFs. Trying to re-use and share design was painful. You can hear customers screaming for decades about how to find a last revision of a document.

So, the problem was clear identified. The pain was here and PDM vendors came up with a value to help customers – data management system that can keep record of all these files and provides a set of functions to search, share, change, etc. More than 2 decades later, there are no so many PDM companies left. Most of them (successful) were acquired by CAD vendors, many of less successful disappeared. However, what I found mostly interesting is that pain is still here. Users are struggling to manage CAD files, revisions, re-use, search and share files.

During last few years, we had a renaissance of PDM driven mostly by cloud technology. Cloud is an ideal paradigm to share data. So, the idea to develop cloud products to share and view CAD data was appealing to many companies. Some of them developed very good products customers really like, but I can carefully state that none of them turned into sustainable businesses.

So, what happened? Here is my guess – all PDM businesses were murdered… by CAD vendors. Think about acquisition as a kind of murder too. Each CAD vendor acquired (or developed) PDM product, which was “the best for a specific CAD”, but never provided an equally good solution for multiple CAD systems. Most of “other CAD integrations” are developed by partners because of limitations of licensing and partnership agreements. Independent PDM vendors put their focus on developing of multi-CAD strategies and struggled to keep up with CAD features development and API support.

The things are getting more interesting these days. The new era of cloud CAD systems is coming. The most interesting part of cloud CAD systems is that in order to make them successful, CAD vendors will have to solve fundamental PDM problem – to store design data, manage revisions, search and re-use existing designs. You can read more about this in my earlier post – Cloud CAD will have to solve PDM problem at first place.

Last week I attended Onshape webinar where Jon Hirschtick explained why Onshape decided to develop new generation of CAD systems using cloud platform and new browser based technologies. You can see recording here. . The following slide caught my attention. You can clearly see – Onshape is going to provide PDM functionality with no additional license cost to all Onshape users.

onshape-data-management

Autodesk, which is strategically focusing on development of cloud technologies and applications for the last five years, is coming with the similar functionality in their Fusion360 product. I captured the following table at Autodesk Fusion360 website. As you can see core PDM functionality is included into Fusion360 subscriptions.

autodesk-fusion360-pdm-functions

The following video is a good demo of Fusion360 data management.

What is my conclusion? PDM business is built on top of CAD systems. In the past, CAD vendors had “love-hate” relationships with PDM businesses. Depends on the time and specific situation, PDM was out of CAD priorities. In some periods PDM businesses helped CAD vendors to collaborate and compete. Things are changing today. Data management is very critical for CAD business. CAD vendors cannot avoid it and let other companies to manage their data. Data management (PDM) is an essential part of cloud CAD success, since it is a part of their “platform” and data management strategies. I can see some interesting competition in front of us about how to get data management done right from cost and user experience standpoints. If your technology knows how to manage CAD data in the cloud, you can be a valuable asset for CAD vendor. If you are building PDM business, you probably will be a target for a future murder. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 


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