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

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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)


What I learned about PLM from six years of daily blogging

February 3, 2015

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Here is my personal story about blogging. I started to blog more than six years ago. The idea of blogging came to me from intensive meetings with customers that I had as Dassault SmarTeam CTO. I spent time discussing implementations and problems customers are experiencing with PLM solutions. These discussions inspired me to spend more time online. One thing I discovered immediately about PLM industry back in 2007 – the amount of online information about PLM implementations, products and technologies was very limited. Customers and vendors didn’t share much online. At the same time, outside of PLM domain, blogosphere was booming by large number of blogs sharing information about programming, web technologies and other topics.

My recent Cadalyst interview made me think again about the time I started to blog. Honestly, I almost shutdown the blog after I left Dassault in 2009. However, after speaking with some of my readers, I came to conclusion that I cannot stop it. I discovered and connected with many readers. I found how my readers are learning from my blog and I learned how to learn from them. The blog outgrew the original plan to share “one PLM topic to discuss” as Daily PLM Think Tank. I registered new domain beyondplm, which was a better reflection of what I’m writing about.

I’ve written about 1815 posts, which is probably equal to 10-15 full length books. During that time I learned a great deal about blogging and people (this is probably a topic for another blog post). What was amazing is how blogging helped me better understand customers, manufacturing and PLM business.

So, here are seven important things I learned about PLM after writing probably more than 1’000’000 words about PLM.

1. PLM is extremely conservative domain. You think engineers love new products and tech. Yes, engineers are loving to develop new products and technologies. But, it is a bit different when you speak to them about new product development tools. When it comes to adopting of new PLM tools, as a solution provider, you compete mostly with status quo – existing working processes, outdated implementations, legacy systems, Excel spreadsheets.

2. The adoption lifecycle of PLM products, ideas and technologies is much longer than you can imagine. Think about years or even decades. There are some great examples in the industry that can prove it. PLM industry first movers are competing with evolution of existing products.

3. The biggest PLM implementation challenge is customer learning process. Customer is discovering bad things about the way company is running business and managing product development processes. It is not easy for people to manage their own guilt. Somebody is actually responsible for the mess. From that point, all you need to do is to help company to understand their business and find ways PLM technologies and products can improve it.

4. Tables with data are boring. Visualization is absolutely important. Customers are asking about variety of data and processes management issues, but nothing can excite them more than 3D visualization of their own products – cars, airplane interior, engine, fashion collection, etc.

5. Cost is important. Everything customers will tell you about the fact price is not important and manufacturing companies have money to pay is a biggest illusion. Typically, you are talking to engineering IT and these people are interested how PLM technology and products can solve their problems. But, it will come down to price and must be prepared for tough cost related discussions. I think, one of the biggest reasons of PLM low adoption is high solution cost.

6- Data import and integration with other systems are two key technological challenges you need to solve to successfully accomplish PLM implementation. Customers rarely have an opportunity to start “from scratch”. Also, don’t think about import/export of Excel spreadsheets as you mainstream integration strategy. Most of PLM implementations are ending up with integration service providers hardwiring data exchange between applications.

7- You should think about ROI and how to connect to CIO. However, don’t forget to deliver one “extra feature” that will help engineers to feel proud of your PLM solution. You will become “engineering hero” and engineers will sell your PLM systems to rest of the company.

What is my conclusion? One of the best parts of blogging is that you can learn a lot. In many cases, I came back to topics I already discussed and shared what I learned to spark a conversation. Sharing knowledge is an amazing experience. PLM industry changed for the last 6 years. Companies are sharing more and it is easier to get information online. All together we can do industry better. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to transform old CAD-PDM integration paradigms

January 23, 2015

cloud-pdm-paradigm

Integration of CAD and PDM is a field with long history of battles, innovation and failures for the last 15-20 years. You can hardly undervalue the importance of integration between CAD and data management tools. For some time in the past CAD and PDM were separate systems. Engineers had to switch from CAD to PDM to perform specific tasks related to data management functions. To integrate PDM tools inside CAD was one of the greatest ideas of 1990s, which improved significantly what we call today “user experience”.

However, the complexity of data management interfaces was always something that made engineers uncomfortable. Another innovative approach that was introduced in the field of integration between CAD and PDM was to embed PDM tools into File Explorer user interface. One of the companies that did it back in 2000s was Conisio (later SolidWorks Enterprise PDM). The idea got lot of traction and allowed to engineers to work with a familiar file based interface while in fact using PDM tools.

People are hard. Especially, when it comes to adopting of new paradigms. Dassault System blog SOLIDWORKS and PLM: No Fear Required brings an interesting perspective on integration between ENOVIA PLM and SolidWorks.

3DEXPERIENCE platform offers a fresh approach to this problem. Recognizing that our existing Enterprise PDM solution has been greatly accepted by the design community, the same R&D group has designed a new product that offers the usability of EPDM but actually stores the data in a broader and more capable PLM solution. The result is the SOLIDWORKS Collaborative Innovation Connector, a product that works and acts much like a workgroup solution would but gives the designer just enough access to the PLM functionality to innovate their processes beyond what they can do today in a PDM environment.

The following video is one of the confirmation for that. You can see how ENOVIA PLM traditional web interface is morphing to provide File-Explorer user experience for SolidWorks users. What I found specifically interesting is that you can hardly distinguish between ENOVIA PLM and SolidWorks EPDM, which has very similar user experience for both file explorer and SolidWorks UI.

The video about ENOVIA SolidWorks integration made me think about what can be a new PDM paradigm as we move forward into cloud future. I’d like to bring few references to new products and companies in that space – GrabCAD, Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape.

Fusion360

At recent Autodesk University in Las Vegas, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass presented the evolution of Fusion360 and its connection with cloud services such as Autodesk A360. According to Carl Bass, you can think about Fusion is a GitHub for engineers. Combined with A360, Fusion is a full digital re-imagination of how designers and engineers will collaborate – online and social. What is important to understand is that A360 provides data and collaboration backbone for Fusion360, so engineers are not facing file-based operations like in traditional desktop CAD tools.

carl-bass-fusion-360-au2014-2

Onshape

Onshape is a new company re-imagining CAD for Google era. Large group of Onshape founding team is coming from SolidWorks. Last week, Onshape started to blog. One of the things I captured from Onshape blog is their claim to rethink PDM role and appearance for cloud CAD. You can read some of my thoughts here – Future CAD won’t require PDM. Here is quote from Onshape blog:

on-shape-world-changed

We tried with traditional PDM, but fundamentally the architecture of copying files around, to and from servers and desktops, is just not a good basis for solving version control and collaboration problems. We think we have a better way to solve the problems, and no PDM system is needed.” Mac, Windows, phone or tablet. No PDM system needed. The files stay in one place. Different UI look. Now those sound like interesting and wonderful things. We’ll continue to anxiously anticipate what they have planned and what you have to say about it.

GrabCAD

GrabCAD workbench is another system that introducing a different experience by merging cloud and file-based data management operations. GrabCAD didn’t develop CAD system as it was predicted by some CAD industry insiders. However, GrabCAD Workbench is a PDM system on the cloud that can remind you some elements of Dropbox combined with CAD viewer and ability to control file revisions.

grabcad-workbench

What is my conclusion? Existing paradigms are hard to change. In my view, engineers are one of the most innovative groups of people. However, when it comes to their own tools, engineers are very conservative. You can easy expect the following vision for data management from an engineer – “I want to work with my designs (files), please leave me alone and stop selling me PDM tools”. However, here is the thing – collaboration can make a difference. The integration of data management and collaboration can provide a significant advantage to engineers in a modern mobile and distributed environment. This is a key thing, in my view. Cloud and mobile collaboration will change CAD /PDM integration paradigm in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Cloud PDM: stop controlling data and check shadow IT practices

January 21, 2015

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An interest of customers in cloud PDM solution is growing. I guess there are multiple factors here – awareness about cloud efficiency and transparency, less concern about cloud security and improved speed and stability of internet connections. If you are not following my blog, you can catch up on my older blog articles about cloud PDM – Cloud PDM ban lifted. What next?; Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools; Cloud can make file check-in and check-out obsolete. The confluence of new technologies around cloud, web, mobile and global manufacturing is creating a demand for cloud (or web based) solution helping distributed design teams.

So, where is a challenge for cloud PDM? My hunch, the biggest one is how to sell cloud PDM to manufacturing companies. I can divide all customers into two groups – larger manufacturing companies that already implemented PDM solutions and smaller manufacturing firms that are still managing CAD design with folders, FTP and Dropbox accounts.

Analysts, researchers and PDM marketing pundits are trying to convince companies that cloud PDM can become a great enabler for collaboration and leaving CAD data “not managed” can bring even greater risk to organization. There is nothing wrong with that… PDM was build around the idea of how to take a control over data. However, the idea of “control” is not something engineers like. Ed Lopategui is speaking about engineers and control in his last blog – The day the strength of PDM failed. Here is a passage I liked:

The second reason, which is not so legitimate, is a loss of control. The reason so many engineers pine about the days of paper-based PDM in document control departments (or instead nothing at all) is that world could be circumvented in a pinch. It was flawed because it was run by humans, and consequently also replete with errors. Replaced with immutable and uncaring software, engineers working in groups nonetheless become irritated because they can’t just do whatever they want. You see this very conflict happening with regard to source control in software development circles. The order needed to manage a complex product necessarily makes manipulating pieces of that engineering more cumbersome. It’s one thing to be creating some widget in a freelance environment, it’s another matter entirely when that end product needs traceable configuration for a serialized certification basis. And that will happen regardless of how the software operates.

Here is the thing… Maybe cloud PDM should stop worry about controlling data and think more about how to bring a comfort to engineers and stop irritating users with complex lifecycle scenarios? It made me think about practice that known as “shadow IT”. For the last few years, shadow IT and cloud services have lot of things in common. Don’t think about shadow IT as a bad thing. Think about innovation shadow IT can bring to organizations.

Forbes article “Is shadow IT a runaway train or an innovation engine?” speaks about how shadow IT can inject some innovative thinking into organization. This is my favorite passage:

As we reported last month, one corporate employee survey found that 24% admit they have purchased and/or deployed a cloud application — such as Salesforce.com, Concur, Workday, DropBox, or DocuSign. One in five even use these services without the knowledge of their IT departments.

The rise of shadow IT may actually inject a healthy dose of innovative thinking into organizations, at a time they need it most. The ability to test new approaches to business problems, and to run with new ideas, is vital to employees at all levels. If they are encumbered by the need for permissions, or for budget approvals to get to the technology they need, things will get mired down. Plus, shadow IT applications are often far cheaper than attempting to build or purchase similar capabilities through IT.

What is my conclusion? Stop controlling data and bring a freedom of design work back to engineers. I understand, it is easy to say, but very hard to implement. To control data is a very fundamental PDM behavior. To re-imagining it require some innovative thinking. It is also related to the fact how to stop asking engineers to check-in, check-out and copy files between different locations. Maybe, this is an innovation folks at Onshape are coming with? I don’t know. In my view, cloud PDM tools have the opportunity to change the way engineers are working with CAD data. Many new services became successful by providing cloud applications and making existing working practices much easier than before. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg
photo credit: Dean Hochman via photopin cc


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