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

 


Cloud CAD infrastructure is getting more PDM-ish

March 2, 2015

fusion360-cloud-pdm-cad-branches

PDM was long time a step child for many CAD systems. To deal with CAD files, their relationships and dependencies including multiple revisions of document was complex and painful. So, many customers just gave up and stored files on shared drives. It was okay until the our life was disrupted by a new way to get work done – online, connected, collaborative.

The initial intent of collaborative cloud systems was to solve the problem of collaboration and data sharing. The idea to provide a value on top of existing CAD desktop file systems was interested. So, specialized cloud CAD file sharing and collaboration systems got focus and attention.

At the same time, CAD vendors got to think about longer term solutions. CATIA was one of the first systems that announced the disconnect from a traditional file systems. I posted about that few years ago – The future of CAD without files.

These days, the race towards cloud CAD is accelerating development of data management and CAD collaboration technologies for the cloud. Few weeks ago, I shared some of my thoughts about importance of PDM technologies for cloud CAD. Cloud CAD vendors are clear about their intent to make PDM part of their core product technology.

My attention caught Autodesk Fusion360 article – Fusion System Architecture Changes Coming in the Next Release – Why and What. Read it, because it contains some very interesting pieces of information about how files are going to disappear into future cloud infrastructure. Here is the passage I captured:

With the coming release of Fusion, we will be introducing significant changes to Fusion Cloud Service architecture that lays a strong foundation on which we can build an environment that is rich in WIP DM. As part of this change, we are introducing the Autodesk Work In Progress Cloud Service which is designed to model and manage complex relationships that are associated with a design. The service is highly scalable, highly available and optimized for performance. Another important change in the February release is significant improvements to the Fusion Object Storage Service. Taken together, these changes will result in immediate benefits in the way of performance gains and high reliability in the Fusion upload and download data pipeline, and allow the Fusion team to deliver rich DM workflows in subsequent releases.

Another article from Fusion360 blog brings an excellent explanation what these date services mean for end user. These are functions that belonging to PDM system in a traditional file based CAD / PDM setup.

…it solves so many common design problems that we’ve heard from the community, both in Fusion 360 and other programs, and improves workflows for both teams and single designers. Branching and merging lets you easily:Work in parallel with other members of your team. Explore changes or alternatives to a project and keep changes that make sense while leaving behind changes that don’t. Understand how your project evolved over time and what decisions were made (and why). Restore or reuse any design(s) in your project from any point in your project. Use any point in your project as a starting point for a different project.

What is my conclusion? It is hard to bring a value of cloud design collaboration without re-thinking the way CAD-PDM bundle is operating. For new type of cloud CAD systems it means to embed core PDM collaborative function and make it part of CAD system. It sounds like a very exciting time- many collaboration and data management problems are going to be solved by that. However, here is a question. What will happen when two cloud CAD systems will have to collaborate together? Looks like a topic for another blog. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The future of free PDM

February 12, 2015

free-pdm-suff

Free is an interesting trend. As we always said, there is no free lunch. But, last decade introduced us to a new way of thinking about FREE. I recommend you to read a book – Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. Free trend is interesting and has many opportunities. It is, of course, not a silver bullet to solve any problem. I can define two main use cases for free service or software: 1/ multi-level business schema in which monetizing is enabled by free product. The best example is Google. More generic use case is any ads selling in social networks; 2/ freemium model in which free product used to increase market share and product reach. Despite many discussions about significant potential of freemium models, it didn’t change the grand business schema in PDM/PLM. Most of “free” examples are coming into option #2 I mentioned above. PLM is a system that must be “sold” opposite to other products that can be “bought”. However, PDM is a bit different. Last 2-3 years indicated some shifts in PDM development. The value became more clear, the functionality is more standard and cloud file sharing and storage tools gave some vision for the future of PDM. In parallel, CAD/PDM integration became more integrated and customers are often assume that it must be provided by CAD vendors.

Today was a big day for customers looking for PDM solutions. First news came from SolidWorks World 2015. Here is the news – I picked it up from #SWW15 tweet feed – SOLIDWORKS 2016 package will include Standard PDM.

sw2016-free-pdm-1

Second news came from GrabCAD. A short email from GrabCAD this morning informed me that GrabCAD Workbench is now completely free. According to Hardi Meybaum, GrabCAD CEO here is why GrabCAD decided to make Workbench free.

…the reason is a focus on growing the community. “Our goal with this change is to reach more people. Returning to the free model of Workbench will increase the speed of adoption and support uninhibited product design collaboration.”

These two events made me think about future trajectories of PDM value proposition and pricing. Few interesting data points – if you are listening to companies developing cloud CAD solution, you can get the message – future cloud CAD won’t require PDM. More specifically, PDM will be a fundamental part of cloud CAD allowing people to collaborate on design. Even more, it will be much more transparent and intuitive than today. On the other side, generic cloud file sharing and collaboration tools are getting much more smarter and can quietly become ready to manage CAD files. Last, but not least – the complexity of CAD / PDM integration is well know fact. The trend towards simplification of integration and an attempt to re-imagine the way PDM can be integrated with PDM gain some support from both software vendors and customers. It might end up by removing check-in/out commands or tight bundling of CAD/PDM solutions coming from CAD vendors.

What is my conclusion? Everyone needs to manage CAD data, but nobody wants to implement CAD data management. My hunch, GrabCAD decided to give away Workbench to reach more customers and learn more future potential of GrabCAD business models. SolidWorks is trying to gain more market share from own customers without PDM solutions before they will implement free cloud PDM from other vendors. SolidWorks customers will get standard PDM package for free, which is a good news for large amount of companies having 2-3 SolidWorks seats. It looks like we are in the beginning of PDM market disruption. I can be wrong, but users are winning and this is what mostly important. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Cloud CAD will have to solve PDM problems at first place

February 10, 2015

ds-solidworks-cloud

The race towards CAD in the cloud is getting more interesting every day. I’ve been watching SOLIDWORKS World 2015 live streaming this morning. Overall SOLIDWORKS show was very impressive, as usual. I look forward to keep watching it following days.

However, what caught my special attention today is a presentation of a new cloud product – SOLIDWORKS Industrial Design. Couple of interesting facts about new product – works on top of Dassault 3DEXPERIENCE platform (in many aspects, think about it as ENOVIA V6); focus on free design with no traditional CAD constraints; leveraging cloud approach for social connection between users and collaboration. And… it is complimentary for SolidWorks users. Demo of product presented few scenarios in which design flow went between new cloud product and old SolidWorks connected by 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Sounds like a big deal.

The story about new SOLIDWORKS/3DEXPERIENCE product took me back to my comparison of Onshape and Autodesk Fusion360 visions few days ago – Carl Bass and Jon Hirschtick are in agreement about future of CAD. In my view, changes in design world towards distributed teams and ability to work effortlessly on any device without installation and manual upgrades are two main driving factors behind new cloud solutions. The story about Autodesk Fusion360, Onshape and SOLIDWORKS made me think about interesting priorities all creators of cloud CAD are thinking about. It was well articulated during SolidWorks World 2015 first day keynote – supporting any device, information is up to date all the time, users are connected (see picture above).

It makes a perfect sense to me, since it is a great reflection of modern cloud paradigm you can see well developed in products such as Google Apps, Office 365 and others. However, this is a place where complexity of CAD data requires from cloud products to be more sophisticated. Traditionally, CAD project is combined of multiple files – assemblies, parts, drawings, etc. As you start making changes you very quickly end up with a complexity of many-to-many relationships between different versions of parts, assemblies and drawings. Move it to the cloud – the complexity won’t disapear. Therefore, you can see both Autodesk Fusion360 and SolidWorks Industrial Design are trying to solve. I had no chance to see Onshape product yet, but my hunch Onshape will try to solve this problem too.

Autodesk Fusion360: revision control, branching and collaboration

autodesk-fusion360-rev-branches

carl-bass-fusion-360-au2014-2

SolidWorks Industrial design: 3DEXPERIENCE collaboration, branches, revision merging

solidworks-industrial-design-1

solidworks-industrial-design-2

What is my conclusion? In a traditional CAD world, the problem of file revisions, collaboration and data control was part of PDM solution. Historically, CAD vendors were reluctant to solve PDM problems unless it became absolutely necessarily. PDM was complex, required services, special pre-sale process, etc. However, cloud is creating a new demand and constraints for new CAD in the cloud paradigm. With the absence of file system exposed to end user, cloud CAD system will have to solve a PDM problem first. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


3D printing of electronics can change product data management

February 5, 2015

voxel8-12

3D printing is changing the way we can manufacturing products. Which potentially means changes in how companies are going to manage product development processes. While it is still unclear how it may happen, I wonder if 3D printing can also change the way we manage data about product.

Forget about 3D printing as a way to make plastic covers for mobile devices and furniture for dolls. Medium article – 3D Printed Electronics Have Arrived speaks about very interesting innovation in 3D printing – Voxel8 printer capable to produce a complete electronic device as a single piece. Here is a high level explanation about printing process:

The printer uses a modular design to print both circuitry and plastic parts. One printer head extrudes PLA plastic, building the bulk of the object, while another head prints out circuitry using a very conductive ink. As the printing process goes along, the printer automatically pauses (thanks to some nifty software from Autodesk) to allow the designer to insert electrical components like motors and resistors into the print. Once the component is placed, the printer automagically resumes printing where it left off.

What future scenario you can think about? The following passage is proposing “printing phones in store” as an option:

This printer is important because this is your future. Eventually the price for circuit-printing printers will come down, and we will see electronics shops that print phones in the store, rather than buying them from a 3rd world sweat shop. I expect that within a decade average users may even be able to customize the shape and color of their phone to their liking.

voxel8-3

The story made me think about how a new 3D printing approach can influence the way we are managing data about products. Currently, the design is done separately for electronics and mechanical parts. Think about PCB design, electrical components and plastic body. You have data managed separate in these systems. Then you have to bring all elements of product together to create an engineering and manufacturing bill of materials. The new approach can change some fundamental principles companies are managing data today. It is hard to say how it will work, but my hunch that composed bill of material should be available at much earlier stage. It might influence the integration of design and assembly tools.

What is my conclusion? Changing paradigms. This is probably the easiest way to describe a potential change that devices like Voxel8 can bring. It can change product data management fundamentals by requiring to manage product structure differently. It can potentially change processes between engineering and manufacturing as well. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

A CT scan of a 3D Printed drone (courtesy: Voxel8)


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