The complexity of Part Management in PDM

July 11, 2014

part-management-pdm-complexity

How to manage Parts? It sounds like a trivial and simple question. Every manufacturing companies and engineering organization is facing this problem. However, it is not as simple as you might think so. The information about Parts (aka Items) is often scattered between CAD drawings, multiple Excel files, PDM and ERP systems. One of the biggest problem is to how to manage revisions and changes for Parts. I captured this problem in some of my previous writings. Future CAD-PLM and Assembly Version Management; Why versioning is complicated in PDM?; PLM, ERP and Managing of Effectivity; Revisions in CAD/PLM/ERP: Old Problems or New Challenges?

Recent GrabCAD blog – Part Revisions: Deal or No Deal made me think again about why is so complex to manage parts in every PDM environment. The following passage explains what means Part has no revision:

Documentation can be revised, but the part itself should not. If a part changes, the revised part is issued a new part number. In the case of PMI, where the "documentation" portion is integral to the part, revisions are more esoteric. Allowable PMI revisions in that case depend on whether the documentation portion is being updated or the part model is being physically changed.

The following passage explains one of my 5 Don’ts in BOM management – Don’t use the same ID for Part Numbers and Drawing Numbers:

In many cases, the documentation is a fully dimensioned engineering drawing, though these days it might also be Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), if you’re riding the technology wave. In the case of a drawing, the documentation also carries an identifying number. While it may be tempting to make the part and drawing numbers the same, such an approach aims to misbehave. For example, a drawing is often changed for very different reasons than the part it describes, often in a fashion that has no impact on design. In addition, drawings may describe multiple parts. In other words, drawing and part life cycles are unique, so the identification number for each must also be unique.

Now, let me go back to the original question. Why is so complex to manage parts in PDM? Here are two main reasons:

1- Complexity of two lifecycles – CAD and Items

CAD documents and Part lifecycle is fundamentally different. PDM system manage CAD files revisions and dependencies between files. Parts (Items) requires Part Numbers and Effectivity to control FFF (Form, Fit and Function) also known as interchangeability rules. Revision can be applied, but it won’t be used to identify a part.

2- Disagreement about where is "master" of part information and cross system integration

Part information is scattered between PDM, ERP and supply chain management systems. Organizations are having hard time to agree WHO is controlling Part creation process. When changes happens or new parts is created, information must be synchronized between multiple systems. It raises the complexity of overall integration and data management.

What is my conclusion? Complexity of two lifecycle management is a key problem in part management in PDM. It is hard to combine part lifecycle including interchangeability rules and effectivity with proper management of CAD documents. The user workflows are getting complex and engineers are having hard time to use the system. While the reality of manufacturing is that both documents and parts need to managed in an appropriate way, PDM vendors facing real challenges to get efficient Part Management processes in place. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PDM weakest link

July 8, 2014

cad-file-transfer

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The article Are You Still Using FTP for CAD File Transfer? on Engineering.com by Scott Wertel caught my attention few days ago. The article compares FTP, cloud file sharing and cloud based PDM. Read the article and draw your opinion. I found something common between all these approaches – you need to transfer files between desktop or LAN server and some other (usually remote) locations – FTP, virtual cloud drive or similar storage used by cloud PDM. Here is my favorite passage:

Let’s look at a product development scenario. A designer has finished the preliminary design of a brand new widget. He is in a small design shop, so he keeps the files on his personal computer. He wants a rapid prototype of the design made so he emails the file to a service bureau. As the bureau is working up a quote for the prototype, the designer notices a few things and makes some tweaks. The file size is too big now, so he uploads it to his company’s FTP site and emails a notification to the bureau. But, because the project is still in development and no files have been released, the designer doesn’t change the revision on the file. It’s the same filename on the FTP site as was emailed previously to the service bureau. Now the bureau has two files downloaded to their system. Both with the same filename and both contain relatively the same time stamp caused by saving the email attachment at about the same time they downloaded the file from the FTP site. Rather than being able to quickly quote the part and begin shooting laser beams, they have to spend the time to reconcile the files, also taking up the designer’s time.

So, in my view, the need to send files between local computer and remote location is the weakest link to make that work efficient. Both PDM and any other file sharing service will face this challenge. And, forget the cloud and internet for a minute) it was the same challenge back in every PDM system developed in the past. PDM developers used different techniques to optimize file transfer, but the problem remains the same – slow connection and large files.

The move to the cloud, actually, doesn’t change much. The connection is still slow (relatively) and files are still big (or even getting bigger). As I discussed few days ago in my How to move CAD files to the cloud post, a special technology needed that will break CAD files synchronization process and make the process transparent. At the same time, user should be able to work on the same file to satisfy the scenario described in the beginning of this post. Whoever will be able to accomplish so, will take a huge advantage of knowledge about CAD files and improved user experience. Read more here – CAD companies and cloud storage strategy.

What is my conclusion? The weakest link of PDM is the ability to sync large multi-file design between local discs and cloud (server) storage. It was the problem back to PDM development in 1990s and it remains the problem today. Until now, cloud doesn’t change much, since most of cloud PDM and file-share vendors are taking CAD files with existing boundaries. To break these boundaries and develop technology to move file efficiently while allowing to user to work on the same files at the same time, can be a deal breaker and huge step to fix the weakest link. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What PLM Architects and Developers Need to Know about NoSQL?

July 7, 2014

plm-no-sql-guide

People keep asking me questions about NoSQL. The buzzword "NoSQL" isn’t new. However, I found it still confusing, especially for developers mostly focusing on enterprise and business applications. For the last decade, database technology went from single decision to much higher level of diversity. Back in 1990s, the decision of PDM/PLM developers was more or less like following – "If something looks like document, use Excel and Office. Otherwise, use RDBMS". Not anymore. My quick summary of NoSQL was here – What PLM vendors need to know about NoSQL databases. You can go more deep in my presentation – PLM and Data Management in 21st century. If you feel more "geeky", and considering maybe summer development projects, I can recommend you the following book – 7 Database in 7 weeks.

John De Goes blog post The Rise (and Fall?) of NoSQL made me think how to explain the need of NoSQL for PLM implementers, architects and developers. In a nutshell, here is the way I’d explain that – NoSQL databases allow you to save variety of specific data in a much simple way, compared to SQL structured information. So, use right tool for the right job – key/value; document; graph, etc.

So, NoSQL is accelerating development of cloud and mobile apps. It became much faster since some specific NoSQL databases tuned for particular type of non-structured data:

With NoSQL: (1) Developers can stuff any kind of data into their database, not just flat, uniform, tabular data. When building apps, most developers actually use objects, which have nesting and allow non-uniform structure, and which can be stored natively in NoSQL databases. NoSQL databases fit the data model that developers already use to build applications. (2) Developers don’t have to spend months building a rigid data model that has to be carefully thought through, revised at massive cost, and deployed and maintained by a separate database team within ops.

However, everything comes with price. The important insight of the article is to point on how data can be reused for reporting and other purposes. The following passage summarizes the most visible part of what is missing in NoSQL:

It’s quite simple: analytics tooling for NoSQL databases is almost non-existent. Apps stuff a lot of data into these databases, but legacy analytics tooling based on relational technology can’t make any sense of it (because it’s not uniform, tabular data). So what usually happens is that companies extract, transform, normalize, and flatten their NoSQL data into an RDBMS, where they can slice and dice data and build reports.

PDM and PLM products are evolving these days from early stage of handling "records of metadata" about files towards something much more complicated – large amount of data, unstructured information, video, media, processes, mobile platforms, analytics. CAD/PLM vendors are pushing towards even more complicated cloud deployment. The last one is even more interesting. The need to rely on customer RDBMS and IT alignment is getting lest restrictive. So, the opportunity to choose right database technology (aka the right tool for a job) is getting more interesting.

What is my conclusion? Database technologies universe is much more complicated compared to what we had 10-15 years ago. You need to dig inside into data management needs, choose right technology or tool to be efficient. One size doesn’t fit all. If you want to develop an efficient application, you will find yourself using multiple data management technologies to handle data efficiently. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Future CAD file management trajectories

July 1, 2014

cad-file-management

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


Box-Streem and new faces of cloud PDM competition

June 26, 2014

box-streem-pdm

The race toward efficient cloud sharing of files and other information is heating up. While typical photo sharing application is mostly relies on the ability of smartphone and photo app to capture and share photo, the story is completely different for CAD and engineering data. There are pros and cons to have special CAD file sharing tool. I covered it here last year.

The simplicity and cost of generic cloud services is competing with the ability to be integrated with CAD systems and provide CAD independent viewing services. However, here is a challenge both generic and special file sharing services are facing – how to connect to the massive amount of data located on desktop computers and enterprise network drives. To crunch CAD data, bring it up to the cloud and keep updated in sync with local storage is not simple task.

I’ve been reading about Box acquisition of Streem few days ago. Navigate to BOX blog to read more – Box Acquiring Streem: Bringing the Cloud to your Desktop. Box is an interesting outfit. The main difference from services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive is a complete focus on enterprise. And it explains their focus on desktop and other local data. Pay attention to the following passage:

Streem has developed amazing technology that allows you to mount a cloud drive onto your computer — making documents, presentations, videos and files available to you without the limitations of your local hard-disk, effectively turning the cloud into an “unlimited” drive. Rather than files living directly on your computer’s disk, they are instead securely “streamed” to you on demand when you need to interact with them. And to further optimize the experience and support low-bandwidth environments, Streem has developed enhanced video and media streaming technology to ensure content is accessible from the cloud as fast as it is locally.

Manufacturing (and not only) companies are clearly on the path of Box and Streem.

For customers across data-intensive industries like Media & Entertainment, Oil & Gas, Healthcare, and Manufacturing, this means instant access to far larger volumes of data than what your local drives can support. For enterprises in regulated industries like Life Sciences and Financial Services, it means better protection and control of information and where it lives.

BOX-Streem made me think again about PDM cloud competition. The ability to cope with massive amount of data can provide an easy path to sync all CAD (and related data) to the cloud using future BOX generic service. What called StreemFS (cloud file system) can generically support not only CAD files, which will simplify the work for IT-related people. The challenge for BOX will be to integrate viewer and other specific CAD related features allowing to manage CAD data in more granular way.

What is my conclusion? Cloud companies will keep challenging Cloud PDM services. Scale, simplicity and cost are clearly advantages on the side of companies like Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and Box. It will be very easy for cloud PDM vendors to bring more specific CAD -related functions. It was done in the past when CAD/PDM vendors competed with SharePoint and other content / document management systems. The result was bad – extra complexity and lower adoption rate. We are going to see future trajectories of specialized vendors to balance between features and complexity. Interesting balance to keep. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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

June 20, 2014

cloud-pdm-selection

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


PDM/PLM. Why The Cloud? Wrong question…

June 6, 2014

how-to-do-plm-on-the-cloud

You may think engineers like everything new. You may think it is so obvious. Engineers are developing all new technologies, gadgets and machines. All this new stuff… Literally everything… was actually developed by engineers. Engineers are in love from everything new they develop.

But, here is the problem. When it comes to the point of deciding about technology and software engineers use by themselves to develop products, it turns opposite. Engineers is probably one of the most conservative group of people to adopt new tech. It may take months to manufacturing company to decide about usage of enterprise software. When it comes to PDM/PLM system, the evaluation can take even longer…

I’ve been reading Manufacturing Business Technology Magazine article – Why The Cloud? Navigate here to read the article. It speaks about benefits of cloud technologies such as low license cost, fast deployment and ease of data sharing. It makes some points of advantages of cloud PLM tools. The last one is the most interesting, since it emphasize the ability to turn manufacturing and supply chain into connected eco-system. Here is my favorite passage:

As engineering and manufacturing data moves to the cloud, mid-sized manufacturers are finding that they can easily and automatically pull component and engineering data into their designs, transparently move those designs between different tools to ensure performance and manufacturability, and securely and directly publish data to suppliers worldwide for prototyping and production. Manufacturing data in the cloud is nimble: It can be connected into a larger ecosystem of cloud services and moved where you need it, when you need it.

This article made me think that the question "Why The Cloud?" is a little bit… outdated. I will try to explain what does it mean for me. For the last 3-4 years, we’ve seen a massive shift of IT into the cloud. It is clear to every CIO and IT manager these days that they can benefit from the cloud. All PLM vendors are developing cloud strategies and provide a way to deploy their software in the cloud in some ways. However, this is exactly the place that requires validation. Not "why the cloud?". This is wrong question. The right one is – how to implement the cloud? I can see 3 main groups of cloud PDM/PLM tools applicable for engineers and manufacturers

Mainstream cloud tools

IT people can disagree with me. I can see people every day are using consumer and other mainstream cloud tools for business. If your Exchange cannot handle large emails, Gmail most probably does. You can share CAD and Excel files via Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive and others. Most of these tools are free or very cheap and it is very hard to prevent people from using them.

IaaS based PDM/PLM tools

Many PDM/PLM vendors are choosing IaaS as a cloud strategy. I’ve been posted about it here. Nothing wrong with that. By leveraging elastic computing power and virtual servers, you can get PLM system deployed on private and/or public cloud. For most of cases, these we are talking about PLM solutions adopted to cloud IaaS infrastructure. While vendors can create a different licensing schema and get all advantages of cloud infrastructure, for most of the cases, these tools are still replicated the same "PDM/PLM story". The main difference – your server is on the cloud now. And some of your servers can be shared between multiple customers, so you can get cost advantage of shared resources, deployments and updates.

Specialized "born in the cloud" (PDM/PLM) tools

The main difference of these tools is that they were natively developed for the cloud. Tools in this category leverage not only computing infrastructure, but also social, functional and business aspects of cloud eco-system. Most of them are implementing the ability to support social interaction and communication. Also, these tools are focusing how to share information beyond the point of single organization.

What is my conclusion? The period of early adoption of cloud technologies is over. It is clear – cloud is going to stay with us. However, the question how to leverage cloud technologies and turn it into best products expanding customer ability to design and manufacturing best products is still in front of us. It is going to be a massive shift towards different approach in the way cloud will helps to build new products. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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