How to build online community around CAD/PLM software?

October 13, 2014


There is one thing that seems make everyone interested and listen carefully these days – online communities. To build a successful community is a tricky thing. To make a money out of community is huge. Successful online communities can provide a lot of insight about how people are communicating, what is the value of community for different users and businesses. Communities are also a good reflection of business and software vendor ecosystem.

I’ve been discussing communities and marketplaces earlier on my blog. One of the most earliest discussion about that was Marketplace and Engineering software back in 2010. The interest of people to stay in the community is one of the most interesting factors to watch and learn. What will keep users to stay in the community and how to make it grow? Some of my earlier thoughts about that is here – PLM communities and let go threshold.

Online activity is a good indicator of community potential. I’ve been using blogging community as one of my own checkpoint about potential of users and customers to form a successful online community. Go online and try to find number of blogs about specific topic and their traffic. Do it for well-known MCAD packages (CATIA, Creo , Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, SolidWorks) as well as for PDM/PLM products. Google is of course not the best reflection of community size and activities. But it can give you some idea anyway.


Another interesting observation is related to how customers are sharing their knowledge. You can see very different behavior models. One of them is practically – share everything. This model is creating high viral content online. For this group it is not unusual to see how users are sharing their best practices and problems. Another group is conservative and closed. It is hard to get people to speak about this software. Most of information about it is curated either by software vendors and customers.

So, what are examples of successful in creating CAD/PLM communities? I can come with few examples. The list below is alphabetically sorted and I’m sure miss few communities (so, please don’t hesitate to suggest me additions to this group)

Aras. Back in 2007, Aras Corp. turned their Aras Innovator PLM product into so called “Enterprise Open Source”. This community demonstrated steady growth and I can see lots of information about Aras customers, open roadmap and open source development.

AutoCAD. The community of AutoCAD is big and reflect wide spread of this package in a very diverse set of verticals. I can see some association with community of users working with DWG. However, these users have the tendency to follow specific CAD packages developed around DWG formats.

GrabCAD. This is an interesting example of 1M+ engineers sharing 3D CAD models and related work online. GrabCAD website contains about 400K CAD models and this is probably one of the biggest in this kind.

SolidWorks. The community of SolidWorks is not a typical online (web) community. It was created around SolidWorks software back in before-web days. Nevertheless, this community demonstrated very high engagement level and shared lot of their work online in for the last 10+ years.

I guess “one million dollar question” is how to create a successful online engineering community. One of the myths of engineering world is that engineers are representing very anti-social group of people. The CreativeEngineer blog – A Few Common Myths About Engineers is actually bringing some opposite facts.

If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat. Here’s an except from Geoffrey C. Orsak, Dean of Engineering, SMU: In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.

So, is there an opportunity to create a larger community for engineers and users of CAD / PLM software? I guess the answer is yes. The shift towards online work is in a very beginning. My hunch existing engineering communities were just a beginning of future online working environment. The real community can be build around economic or social interest. In my view, the center of gravity will be moving from a specific CAD/PLM software towards companies and individuals. Internet is a new platform and community is a form to run business relationships on this platform.

What is my conclusion? Think about existing online communities: shoppers, open source software developers, education and many others. Try to make an analogy with manufacturing world. The economic and social interest is driving the most successful ones. I guess we just in the beginning of huge shift of engineering and manufacturing community towards online work. Economic interest will lead people to find new forms of business relationships and create new forms of CAD/PLM communities. Just my thoughts….

Best, Oleg

What cloud PLM cannot do for you?

September 19, 2014


It has been already few years since I started to discuss cloud PLM opportunities on my blog. I found one of my early blogs about PLM and cloud – PLM and cloud: hold the promise?

So, what changed since then? Actually, quite a lot… We’ve seen massive adoption of cloud and mobile by businesses in many domains. PLM cloud adoption is growing too. Cloud is on the roadmap of all PLM vendors. It is really a question of "how to implement cloud?" rather than a question of "do we need to support cloud"? We also seen few very interesting examples of cloud applications in CAD/PLM space. I want just to mention few of them – Autodesk design tool Autodesk Fusion360, Dassault SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual, Autodesk PLM360. Siemens PLM made their TeamCenter PLM available from IaaS infrastructure. Aras announced cloud strategy and introduced cloud product available via partnership with Infor ERP – Infor PLM Innovator. Cloud PLM pioneers, Arena Solutions, introduced several new cloud tools (BOM control and Quality management). Last but not least, GrabCAD, an open community of mechanical engineers released cloud PDM tool – GrabCAD Workbench. Earlier this week, GrabCAD was acquired by 3D printing company Stratasys. According to TechCrunch, article the deal was around $100M. I’m sure missed few products and companies…

Here are things that I discussed back in 2010 – cost of the solution, delivery model, global access, faster implementation, scaling. We learned a lot of about PLM and cloud for the last four years. Today, I want to make a reality check for list of things I discussed before in lights of what cloud PLM can or cannot do.

1- Cost

Cloud PLM made a mental switch in everything we knew about PLM before. According to article, cloud affected negatively on-premise PLM market. Cloud PLM created expectations for alternative pricing models and pushed all vendors to think how to turn PLM into service offering. Today, you can buy cloud PLM subscription with no upfront cost and hardware investment, which is a very good thing. However, I don’t think, total cost of ownership is different if you will calculate it on the period of 5 years. I’d love to see and learn more about that and love if you can share your comments.

2- Deployment, scale and IT

One of the best thing delivered by cloud PLM is related to deployment and IT cost. You can buy and deploy it instantly – almost similar to how you can open a new Gmail account. As a customer, you don’t need to worry about servers, setup cost, ordering hardware. You don’t need to negotiate with IT installation time. However, you cannot eliminate IT completely, especially if you are large company. For most of situations, you will have to discuss and make an alignment with IT about issues related to security and information access.

3- Faster Implementation

So, you can buy cloud PLM without upfront cost, you can deploy it overnight. What about PLM implementation? Implementation is an interesting thing. I’d like to speak about two aspects of implementations – 1/Configuration and customization; 2/ Implementations of business processes.

Four years ago, many companies were concerned about capability of web/cloud applications to deliver the level of flexibility, customization and configurations similar to on-premise PLM deployments. It is true, for most of situations, you cannot hack your cloud PLM with simple SQL script. However, I think, the flexibility of cloud PLM tools today is similar to on-premise PLM systems. However, flexibility of cloud PLM tools cannot provide real advantages compared to on-premise tools. Thanks for virtualization and modern collaboration technologies you can run your implementation remotely also for on-premise PLM systems.

Implementation of business processes is an interesting aspect of PLM implementation. In practice it means to define data structures and business processes. Cloud PLM won’t provide any advantages here. It is all about people, processes and organizational changes. So, the ugly truth is that cloud PLM won’t reduce your need of implementation services. In case of on-premise PLM, implementation will be done on site and collaborate with IT – installing, configuring and debugging customized software. In case of cloud PLM, you will need to work with cloud PLM vendor or hosting provider.

What is my conclusion? Cloud computing changed a lot in our life. PLM on the cloud can do many things differently. With much lower upfront cost and simple deployment, it opens PLM doors for many companies that never thought can buy and implement PLM systems before. However, when it comes to implementation and services, cloud PLM won’t do much different from on-premise PLM systems. You still need to implement it. It will require business process planning and implementation cost. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

February 19, 2014


Remember our life before internet? The meaning of community was about social group that shares common values. Actually, the history of communities is longer than history of CAD software :). So called "Community Rules" were mentioned in one of the first scrolls found in Qumran Cave. Community word often explains common geography or environment. However, in human communities it is usually comes down to needs, belief, intent, risks, etc. Internet expanded borders of social groups and made possible to create virtual communities. The result – massive creation of online communities (social networks). Some of them, such as Facebook, started as a virtual continuation of physical social groups (academic organization). Social networks today represent huge segment of online internet activities.

The success of social business and social networking raised multiple questions among developers of business software. Collaboration still remains one of the biggest problem in organization. Geographical distribution is another reason why companies are looking how to improve communication. Software vendors are coming with the ideas of software to collaborate similar to social networking web sites. In addition to that, community creation is related to customer activities. This is where a potential to link collaboration in an organization and customer activities.

So, what is the secret of successful community creation? I was reading The collision of communities few days ago. Article brings some interesting perspectives on community organizations and some driving factors behind community work. Among them, article speaks about Jelly (Q&A search), Wut and Secret (anonymous status apps). These are communities too. Author compares these communities with communities companies are creating these days. Fundamentally, in order to be successful, communities are sharing the same common behavior and interest. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement. Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule: He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.

Engineering software companies are joining the bandwagon community building. Social CAD, Social PLM, Social Collaboration – for the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how community driven (social) software will change the way we do business. We can only speculate about successes and failures of social software. However, I want to bring two examples of communities related to engineering software – SolidWorks Users and GrabCAD.

SolidWorks has large and successful community. Nobody can argue. The common interests and needs among them is to share knowledge and experience of how to use SolidWorks. In my view, it was extremely important to all participants since it allowed to them (engineers) to get CAD system support. Most of SolidWorks users are working for small firms that had no budget and engineering IT to help them.

GrabCAD is an interesting example. Started few years ago as "Facebook for Engineers", it succeeded to gather about 1 million engineers to share CAD files online. Here is my pure speculation how it was done. Re-use is one of the fundamental engineering behavior. You can save a lot of time by re-using existing design even if you will modify it. Back in my university years, to have an old similar project was a huge time saving factor in every project I did. GrabCAD provided to engineers models to reuse CAD models for the best price – free. In addition to that, it helps engineers to self-promote their work.

Think about these two examples. In both cases, focus on identification of "community rule" was a key to success. It should be something that will drive common interests and benefits of all participants. Wikipedia article about organizational communication can be a good source of learning and additional information. Here are few assumptions I captured:

All we really need to understand communication in organizations is (a) observable and replicable behaviors that can be transformed into variables by some form of measurement, and (b) formally replicable syllogisms that can extend theory from observed data to other groups and settings. Organizations are mechanical things, in which the parts (including employees functioning in defined roles) are interchangeable. What works in one organization will work in another similar organization. Individual differences can be minimized or even eliminated with careful management techniques.

What is my conclusion? Ask two engineers about how to do a project – you will get 3 options. To work with engineers is like herding cats. Nevertheless, the focus should be on identification and capturing of behaviors that can help engineers in their everyday life. Be prepared to discover something different from traditional organizational goals like "improve quality" or "decrease cost". By capturing and replicating engineers’ behaviors you can find a recipe to organize a successful engineering community. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

CAD cloud colalboration from Autodesk, GrabCAD and SolidWorks

February 4, 2014


Collaboration was always in the focus of engineering software. Started earlier with CAD and product data management, software vendors tried to create an environment where engineers can easy collaborate and share information about design. The boundary of collaboration never been limited to engineering department. You might remember “extended enterprise collaboration” stories back in 2000s. That was probably first attempt to provide an easy way to share information among engineering and other teams. In my view, early collaboration software provided by CAD and PLM vendors had two main diseases – complexity of user interface (or how we call it these days – user experience) and complexity of computer infrastructure needed to be installed and maintained by IT departments.

The situation is going to change these days. User interface is clearly getting in focus of development teams. Most of CAD and PLM companies are recognizing the importance of smooth user experience. The demand of users set by public web giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and not by old-school enterprise software vendors. Cloud technologies are going to simplify IT jobs and provide new generation of IT infrastructure.

So, design collaboration space is getting hot. Established CAD vendors and newcomer start-up companies are trying to innovate by providing new environments and collaboration philosophies. I picked up 3 companies that in my view can provide a good example of the future CAD cloud design collaborative environment – Autodesk, GrabCAD and Solidworks.

Autodesk 360

Autodesk introduced Tech preview of new Autodesk 360 product. Core77 blog article Autodesk 360 Tech preview: it’s like Facebook for designers provides a very good coverage and screen shots. Here is the passage summarized what Autodesk 360 does:


The company has created a Facebook-like interface for projects and design teams; collaborators log on to a cleanly-designed dashboard page containing “all of the data, projects, people, tasks, discussions, activities, issues and alerts that are associated with design or architecture projects that they are working on.” Clicking on a project, for instance, is like clicking on someone’s Facebook wall; you get a linear view of all developments concerning that project, with your fellow collaborators’ updates taking the place of comments. People can upload relevant files as updates, and anyone with access can view any file, regardless of whether it’s an Autodesk format or not. (This includes non-design data, like spreadsheets and such.) And yes, Autodesk 360 can also be used from your phone or tablet, just as with Facebook.

GrabCAD Workbench (Partners Space)

GrabCAD is a newcomer in CAD collaboration space. Started as a space for engineers to collaborate few years ago (funny enough, it was mentioned many times as a “Facebook for engineers”), these days GrabCAD is moving fast to become CAD collaboration solution provider with their GrabCAD Workbench product. GrabCAD blog – Why GrabCAD created a next-generation release process? can give you some insight on GrabCAD strategy and philosophy. Here is what I captured:


GrabCAD started as a way for engineers to collaborate on engineering projects. Over time, we engineered the secure system GrabCAD Workbench first for external collaboration, then, with CPD, for PDM-style internal collaboration. Unlike PLM systems, which mostly started as CAD-centric data management tools, we have approached the problem by first understanding the social and business problems our customers need to solve. This unique perspective caused us to partition the private engineering workspace from special “Partner Spaces” that make sharing such data secure and foolproof. While the engineering team is working away, each partner has access to the version released to them. The Partner Space also contains a limited and more appropriate set of tools for external collaboration, so the partner sees only what they need to.

SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (Dashboard)

Last week at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego, Dassault SolidWorks made an announcement about new product SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). The product was long awaited and raised lots of discussion and controversy in blogosphere and CAD press. My single best link to follow different opinions about SWMC is SolidSmack’s article – What we found out about SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual and Future of SolidWorks. Another good reference is Graphic Speak article – The business case for SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. What captured my attention in SWMC announcement is introduction of so called – 3DEXPERIENCE 3D Space. Here is how it was explained by Graphic Speak:


Mechanical Conceptual introduces a new way of sharing data that’s integral to the 3D Experience Platform. Called the 3D Dashboard, it functions like the Windows Explorer for SolidWorks or any other desktop application. All models are saved to the dashboard in a so-called workspace that can be shared with co-workers or customers. The dashboard is accessible by a Web browser. Clients who don’t have Mechanical Conceptual can simply log in to view models

What is my conclusion? Customers have huge demand to improve collaboration. People are expecting collaboration should be as easy as sharing your photos on Facebook. However, complexity of design environment is much higher than sharing photos. This is a clear challenge for all vendors regardless on their status and experience. The simplicity is the hardest thing to deliver. However, it is not all about future of collaboration. In my view, cost will become the next important challenge. Who will be able to provide the best combination of features, user experience and cost will probably lead future CAD collaboration space in the cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

CAD-PDM Integration, Transparency and Cloud Pain Killer

January 28, 2014


CAD/PDM integration is a very important topic. It is a piece of software that helps to establish a connection between core engineering world using CAD systems and rest of the world using design data. It was a place where lots of data management innovation happened in the past. It is also one of the most frequently debated topic, especially when it comes to how manage connectivity between CAD and PDM/PLM system. It created lot of successes to companies introducing data management to engineering departments and probably created as many failures to companies that didn’t do it well or messed up with management of PDM and CAD releases.

In my view, it remains hot topic these days. Cloud brings new stream of innovation into CAD-PDM space. Cloud and CAD files management is heavily debated among different communities these days. Navigate to read my What end of local storage means for CAD? and catch up on CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems. One of my active opponents in the discussion about how to introduce cloud to CAD data management is GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum – Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools.

Earlier this week, GrabCAD made an announcement about GrabCAD Workbench availability for SolidWorks. It came aligned with SolidWorks World 2014 that is taking place these days in San Diego, CA. The following two articles provide good coverage of what SolidWorks GrabCAD Workbench integration does – GrabCAD workbench rolls new CAD file management features and Busy Week in the Cloud: GrabCAD and Autodesk 360 . Here is an interesting passage

…GrabCAD Workbench provides a cost-effective and easy-to-implement PDM/PLM alternative for small- to mid-sizes businesses. GrabCAD Workbench now also offers a SolidWorks add-in and neutral file translator, opening up even more options in file types for users. Workbench users can now upload and download files as well as resolve conflicts from within SolidWorks…

SolidWorks user community is hot PDM opportunity for the cloud. I remember my post two years ago SolidWorks, Cloud and Product Data Management speaking about potential cloud infusion of PDM in SolidWorks eco-system.

The interesting part of GrabCAD Workbench / SolidWorks plugin is the way it was integrated in SolidWorks. Below I put few screenshots of different PDM systems providing integration to SolidWorks. All of them are integrating PDM plug-in immersively into CAD (SolidWorks) environment to simplify user experience:



SolidWorks EPDM (formerly Conisio)




Siemens TeamCenter:


It made me think about the way cloud is probably going to be introduced to engineering community of CAD users – painless plug-in connecting CAD system you are familiar with to the cloud infrastructure, servers and eco-system. The beauty of the approach is that it helps to hide from engineer "cloud nature of the system". CAD user experience remains the same – familiar to engineers for many years. The potential danger is plug-in behavior in case of network low speed and cloud connectivity outage.

What is my conclusion? Data management transparency is a key for success. To serve users with familiar user experience and to sneak cloud servers into CAD system is a very nice approach that can provide a lot of potential. It holds the same risk old PDMs have – failure of servers or disruption / slowdown of CAD user experience. If it happens, user will boot out PDM system of CAD environment doesn’t matter of future cloud potential. It happened in the past with old PDM systems and won’t be different these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

The Future Unbundling Strategies in CAD/PLM

November 6, 2013


Engineering software has a long history of aggregation and disaggregation. In CAD, it was long time about new features vendors added to CAD tools. Ultimately, it was a long run towards new features. Later in the history, CAD industry came to the idea of integrating of various add-on systems into CAD environment. So, we got simulation, CAM and many other features and systems. In addition to that, data management tools (PDM) drove their own road – first independent from CAD and later on more integrated. Later on, PLM ideas came and provide an additional set of tools, features and systems. The latest history of design and PLM tools development introduced even more "integrated product lines" with CAD, PLM and many other systems. These days leading vendors are providing product suites with huge number of tools and subsystems bound together.

I was reading Unbundling: AOL, Facebook and LinkedIn article and reviewed a very fascinating diagram about Craiglist. Here is an interesting quote:

There are a swarm of services, often mobile first or mobile only, trying to peel off parts of the Craigslist offer, or do things Craigslist should have been doing. AirBnB is only the most obvious. Chris Dixon has a good note about this here, and Andrew Parker produced this great graphic back in 2010.


Major CAD/PLM vendors are selling big product suites, which can be considered similar to Craiglist. CAD / PLM product suites are providing lots of functionality. However, each function or service is probably not "best in class". PLM analysts and duelists Jim Brown and Chad Jackson discussed it in their video blog – CAD: Granularity vs. Integrated Suites.

Another interesting interesting perspective was presented by Adam O’Hern in his blog – Why I will pay $1372 for a fillet tool? Adam is writing about tools diversification and CAD subscriptions value prop. Adam is bringing the example of Autodesk Fusion 360 as cost effective tool that can be used as a substitute for some of features of SolidWorks. Here is an interesting passage about CAD tool diversification:

I use whatever combination of tools offers me the best cost-benefit ratio for whatever task I’m trying to achieve. In my various corporate jobs I’ve used CATIA, UGNX, Rhino, and Alias for design work, and each has its own advantages. For the last five years or so I’ve found that a combination of SolidWorks and MODO–along with various plugins, scripts, and sidecar tools–has provided the best price:utility ratio for my specific 3D design needs.

The unbundling article made me think about what will happen if we will follow similar strategy for CAD and PLM. Here is my top 3 assertion:

1. CAD and PLM is too big to sustain as a one big aggregated solution provided by a single vendor. This is a polystate diversified space that needs to be covered by multiple solutions, features and vendors.

2. Vendors are never good enough to see what exact problem customers want to solve. Especially when it comes to large manufacturing companies and complicated supply chain eco-systems. That’s way armies of consulting services as well as diversified products must be applied to provide a final solution.

3. Customers often don’t know what problem to solve. For most of the situations product development is a complex problem. It requires the team of people to work on. In addition to that, large organizations are involved into politics and confrontation related to usage of different enterprise software and tools.

What is my conclusion? If my assertion is correct, future unbunlding of features and services from CAD/PLM product suites can provide a potential opportunity to diversify market and solution options available for manufacturing companies. Cloud and SaaS models will be very helpful in this process. It is much easy to use unbundled cloud services compared to old set of CAD/PLM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

What Cloud CAD-PDM Hybrid Means for PLM?

February 10, 2013

To predict future is tough. Not many people are trying to do so. Especially in tech. Companies are juggling with buzzwords, powerpoints and software. At the same time, analysts are trying to swim into the social information stream of provocations, facts and opinions. There are two terms in manufacturing and product development software that created most of confusion for the last decade – PDM and PLM. Navigate to the following link to find lots of publications about the topic. To my taste, the topic PDM vs. PLM became boring. I’d even suggest to add it to the list of boring PLM topics introduced by Jos Voskuil.

However, here is some news. My blogging buddy and analyst Chad Jackson is predicting PDM revolution. Navigate your browser to read about future PDM Revolution. Chad’s take on PDM revolution smells cloud and two new cloud design systems – Fusion 360 and SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. This is my favorite passage that summarizes Chad’s crystal ball prediction of Hands-Free PDM:

If you take a look at Fusion 360 and Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual, at least in my exposure to it, there’s no step where you explicitly save your design or model. It’s done automatically in the background. When you close your model? The latest version will be there when you return. What happens when you create variations on a design that amounts to branching? Look at the model history and you’ll see those various branches tracked for you. So if you think about it, it is essentially hands-free. It does the brunt of the work automatically and practically invisibly for you.

Sounds like revolution to you? I think yes. However, here is a deal. It impose a significant threat to the future implementations of PLM. The mess of data in your local CAD-PDM now moves to the next step of the product development. Until now, companies implementing PDM took an advantages of their PLM solutions from the same vendors to manage BOM and ECO processes integrated with CAD data. Cloud CAD systems are not there yet and probably will not be there. Integration becomes an imperative to make hands-free PDM successful.

What is my conclusion? Cloud CAD and hands-free PDM is a signal to think about BOM management. In a different way. They key words are "single" and "integrated". Without that, we will enter into the messy world of structure mapping and synchronizations. If you are vendor, you need to think about openness and web APIs. If you are a potential customer of a cloud CAD/PDM hybrid, ask vendors how flexible and granular is "save" function that turns your work into stream of information stored in database. The ugly truth is that until now, file structure was doing integration job for you. Not any more. It is gone. Forever. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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