Andreessen Horowitz $80 Million Funding in Onshape is a BIG deal

27 Sep 2015

During a conversation I had with John McEleney, President of Onshape last Monday, he told me why it was a big deal to Onshape.

Onshape was not actively looking for additional investment. Their original investment of some $60 million was sufficient for at least the next year. Rather, Andreessen Horowitz approached them. Of course, McEleney was excited that Onshape was able to more than double its investment, and with the backing of Andreesen Horowitz, raised some $80 million in the round.

What is very attractive is that this investment round comes from the leading high tech investment firm and they get why Onshape is different. You can read about why Andreesen invested in Onsape from Peter Levine’s article entitled “CAD Emerges from the Stone Age to Finally Join the Mobile Era.” Levine is a partner at Andreesen Horowitz. Levine, in the article claims that Onshape truly changes the game in CAD for the first in the last 20 years. Not that the last two decades have not contributed substantially to the field; it’s just that this time has been spent working with the same old, stand alone computer technology. In this new era, systems that embrace document sharing, collaboration, cloud storage, and being mobile-native will rule the roost. Of course this perfectly describes the path taken by Onshape.

What’s surprising to me is that none of Onshape’s competitors seem to have any existing or planned offerings in this arena. It’s not like this is a big surprise either. We have known about Onshapes plans for several years now. I guess, as has been common in the past, it may take several more years, and substantial revenue loss before they wake up to these rapidly approaching changes.

As always, I welcome comments.

Ray Kurland

The future is cloud-y for engineering data management

Feb 2015

Lately I have been deluged with the announcement of or introduction to a series of cloud based data management systems for design engineering that are also focusing on collaboration. I plan this blog to be the first in a series that explores new PDM/PLM (PxM) solutions for product design.

Before I begin, we need to clarify the differences between PDM and PLM. PDM manages design changes during product development while PLM manages engineering and other changes made after the production release of the product for manufacturing and other downstream processes. Using this definition, PDM can be used to store all sorts of information during the design or work-in-process stage. Such information might include, but not be limited to: product specs, preliminary designs, analyses and simulation, product versions, QC specs, engineering BOMs, material types, etc. PLM manages engineering and other changes made after the release of the product from engineering. PLM systems might include PDM data managed during design as well as other data, such as, manufacturing BOMs, manufacturing instructions, NC data, service tracking, cost data, customer level documentation, etc. I think you get the picture.

PTC’s recent announcement of PTC PLM Cloud, a webinar I attended about GrabCAD Workbench and Onshape’s inherent use of a cloud-based solution — all piqued my interest. I began wondering about the differences between them and how one might choose a solution for a mid sized firm. One obvious differentiator is how cloud based PxM software connects to CAD software, be it desktop CAD or cloud based CAD. By the way, if you have not seen Onshape’s Dave Corcoran’s blog about the “The blue screen of death,” then I urge you to read it now. http://www.onshape.com/cad-blog. Corcoran discusses some of the benefits of a cloud based PxM – CAD implementation.

A true cloud based system allows full use of easily extensible computational capability and virtually unlimited storage

A PxM system cloud based system may not be much different from the tired old server based software that has been promoted for years. Adding a web based interface and hierarchical data storage in the cloud, masks an antiquated architecture. The old approach of bolting external data management software into CAD simply does not work well enough. It’s too laborious, takes extra time, and makes little use of design info developed automatically during the design cycle. It’s lack of adoption to date verifies this assumption.

A true cloud based system should be radically different in architecture allowing full use of cloud system flexibility. For instance, one reason I always disliked the previous generation of PDM/PLM was their outdated reliance on text-based interfaces. I would expect modern PxM systems to be graphically oriented offering comprehensible and visual navigation within the product structure. It should offer a tight connection to related CAD systems and automate much of the data management function. Automatic backup and easy restore of historical data are mandatory functions, as are easily distributed design among partners along with IP (intellectual property) protection.

The vendors are all moving quickly to position (or re-position) their PxM systems as cloud based

The plethora of cloud based data management systems for engineering and CAD include the following (plus some I haven’t yet discovered): Autodesk PLM 360, Onshape, GrabCAD Workbench, PTC PLM Cloud, and Kenesto as well as Dropbox and related cloud drive systems. More traditional software is offered by ARAS, Dassault Systemes and Siemens PLM software. What follows is a summary of how some of these vendors are positioning their software.

  • Onshape promotes distributed design. Using cloud based CAD along with a fully integrated cloud PDM system allows a brand new perspective on how modern CAD systems should work. Essentially all costs for compute power and data storage are greatly minimized, easily increased, even ”borrowed” for a short duration.
  • GrabCAD’s Workbench calls itself “The fast, easy way to manage and share CAD files without PDM’s cost and hassle.” The company goes on to state “Workbench allows teams on any CAD system to work smoothly together by syncing local CAD files to cloud projects, tracking versions and locking files to prevent conflicts.” The enterprise version costs $89 per month.
  • PTC recently announced PTC PLM Cloud, stating “this solution leverages the power of PTC Windchill, while simplifying PLM adoption with a flexible, hosted subscription offering, deployable at a pace that matches the needs of SMBs.” I am not exactly sure what this means, but expect to clarify this when I speak with PTC this week.
  • Very soon, Kenesto plans to announce a cloud based system that, Steve Bodnar – VP of Strategy, calls a terrific solution for small shops, enabling them to replace their server based, in-house error prone, file based systems with a much higher function cloud based system that requires minimal change to the way CAD users work, yet improves the reliability of their data management.

Alas, how can an engineering organization differentiate which PxM technology to buy and invest their time and money in? More detail about various implementations and my assessment of them will be forthcoming in future blogs.

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Ray Kurland — I have returned to consulting and analyzing systems for TechniCom, from an early and erstwhile retirement.

References:

Onshape: I have seen it and it is good!

21 Jan 2015

I cannot yet discuss Onshape details, having agreed, as did all others who viewed the product, to an all-encompassing non-disclosure agreement.

But surely, others must have noticed the recent activity from Onshape. After more than two years of secrecy, their executives and others in the company are finally reaching out to the public. Just last week I had three calls from Onshape execs, all wanting to make sure I was aware of their product beta. Within the past two weeks they have started a blog, which now has two posts. See it at www.onshape.com. The first posted just two weeks ago was from Jon Hirschtick, Founder and Chairman of the Board at Onshape. A second blog post from Dave Corcoran, Co-Founder and the Vice President of Research and Development at Onshape reveals some new faces among the development staff along with a remark about the company’s cloud centric approach.

I must admit being somewhat skeptical when I heard the new company was founded. After all, after being around the CAD business for more than 25 years, what could possibly be new? Yet I was still frustrated after these many years with some CAD software systems general fundamentals: the software was hard to use, PDM was a pain in the butt to use, the software was still too costly and often unreliable, all vendors still wanted to lock in their users and multi-CAD usage was rare, new releases became more and more difficult to install because existing data needed to be “migrated”, PDM’s big brother (PLM) promised the moon but seldom delivered without great expense and manpower, the benefits of cloud computing was relegated to special cases because the software was designed for interactive desktop computing.

Does Onshape solve all these BIG problems? I can’t divulge any details yet, but some are being directly addressed. You can get a few clues if you carefully read Dave’s blog; there you will find some hints about where Onshape is heading.

With all this recent activity my guess is that Onshape is getting ready for a public announcement.

More to follow.

What’s up with Belmont Technology?

9 Sep 2013: Last week Siemens PLM Software announced that “Belmont Technology, a venture backed software start-up founded by CAD industry veterans, has licensed Siemens’ Parasolid® software and D-Cubed™ software components to be the foundation of a new generation of cloud-based applications for the computer-aided design, manufacturing and engineering (CAD/CAM/CAE) market. The Belmont team, which includes Founder and Chairman, Jon Hirschtick, and CEO John McEleney, will use Parasolid and D-Cubed components to provide the solid modeling and geometric constraint solving capabilities that are fundamental to modern CAD/CAM/CAE applications. Parasolid and D-Cubed components are developed by Siemens’ PLM software business unit.”

So that’s news. We have not heard from Belmont in some time. Note this verbiage: “a new generation of cloud-based applications for the computer-aided design, manufacturing and engineering (CAD/CAM/CAE) market.

As I recall, this mirrors the way SolidWorks started – a long time development followed by a brilliant piece of software, delivered at the right time and making the best use of existing and soon to be future computing technology. The company, in its early stages also was brilliantly managed and established new ways to market along with a close customer-vendor relationship. Today, SolidWorks – the company, for many reasons no longer has the many of these characteristics.

So, I am speculating about the possible new product. Perhaps my 20+ years in the CAD/CAM market allow me some perspective on what might be coming. Also, I think I have a pretty good understanding of what the sticking points are in existing products. So here goes:

  • Cloud based
  • Much easier to use
    • Model building guidance that encompasses user methodology
    • Speech recognition for commands
    • Automatic initiation of model veracity as you build
    • Real time collaboration with other designers
  • Automatic management of major topology changes
  • Fully integrated with PLM from the start
  • Easy upward migration from existing CAD systems and data formats
  • Built-in simulation and analysis software
  • Real time, full time shading and visualization
  • A flexible pricing structure
  • Combines both history and non-history based modeling
  • Easier use of vendor libraries
  • A new collaboration schema among internal and external designers
  • More flexible modeling allowing easier to redesign models
  • Incorporation of requirements at the early stages of design

Even if Belmont incorporated all of these, would it be enough to convince users to move or even migrate to a new system? After all, today’s CAD systems work and pretty much can design anything. Let’s take a quick look at the past.

What convinced new customers to migrate to SolidWorks at its introduction, was its new use of variable driven modeling and history based design. The logic was that if you correctly designed the model, than changing a few variables could change the resulting design, possibly resulting in a massive savings of design engineering. Many users bought into this, including me.

Unknown to us at the time, were the inherent drawbacks to such designs. The primary one being that this only worked for MINOR changes in the variables: one that caused few topology changes. There was no way to account for major topology changes without extensive programming, an undesirable way to manage the problem. Many confusing workarounds were built to significant CAD systems that are in use today.

Another problem was how to “unwind” the history and variables when changes are desired that cannot be handled parametrically. Thus, design re-use became only marginally workable. SpaceClaim solved this by totally eliminating design history, sacrificing much of its power, yet allowing users to manage deigns more easily.

Conclusions

Belmont Technology needs to hit a home run in making mechanical design engineering and re-design engineering better than today’s systems by orders of magnitudes.

Let’s see where we stand today with major mechanical CAD software:

  • Siemens PLM Software with NX, Solid Edge and Teamcenter.
  • Dassault Systemes with CATIA, SolidWorks and Enovia
  • PTC with Creo and Windchill
  • Autodesk with AutoCAD, Inventor and Autodesk PLM 360

Each has strong offerings and are large well funded companies with global sales and marketing, large well-funded development teams, and many customers. Can a newcomer easily overturn them? It has certainly been done in the past and certainly some are more vulnerable than others. All but Autodesk have made only limited accommodations for cloud based computing, while Autodesk has gone “whole hog.” Just today, Autodesk announced monthly pricing for its entire design suite, a big change from past pricing models.

IMHO, all of these vendors MAY be vulnerable to a fundamental change in technology. But it will have to be huge or promise to be huge, while at the same time require a unique difficult to copy technology.

I look forward to hearing more.

What are your thoughts?

Kenesto 2013 now focuses on Social Business Collaboration

28 Jan 2013: Last week I had the opportunity to meet, via the web, with Stephen Bodnar and Maya Olsha-Yehiav of Kenesto, the startup featuring Mike Payne as CEO. Bodnar is Vice President, Products and Marketing; Maya Olsha-Yehiav is Director of Customer Success.

The topic under discussion was the announcement yesterday of what Kenesto calls their Unified Social Business Collaboration Platform, a substantial change from their former business strategy offering a cloud based workflow based system.

For some background information readers can review my two previous blogs about Kenesto.

Kenesto was formerly a cloud based workflow system. Here, from my previous “what is it” blog, is a description of what they formerly did. “Aimed at the category called business process automation, this cloud-based application allows asynchronous spawning of processes. Different from similar systems that try to model processes, Kenesto builds processes on the fly. Users wanting to track a process they are initiating, for instance an ECO, initiate a process, attach documents to it, and add users to the next process by adding their email addresses. Different types of “next processes” can be defined, such as “review and approve.” At each step in the process the recipient can add additional processes that add steps to the overall process. Kenesto builds the process diagram as steps are added. Note that this differs significantly from the BPM (Business Process Modeling) approach that models processes using a cumbersome programmatic approach. Kenesto calls it Business Process Automation (BPA).”

Kenesto 2013’s Kenesto Social Business Collaboration platform expands on their workflow system by adding extensive capabilities that vastly expands their offering by adding collaboration on documents, document storage sharing and control, team building and messaging collaboration among the team, and a text based team capture and audit trail. Users can also build multiple teams, and invite users to teams. Documents automatically link to related viewers and more than 200 are currently offered, including special extensions for viewing of Revit documents.

Pricing

Pricing has now changed from buying of bundles of processes to a more traditional user based pricing. This chart is taken directly from the Kenesto.com website.

Kenesto Pricing chart

Definitions of interest (from Wikepedia)

  • Social collaboration refers to processes that help multiple people interact, share information to achieve any common goal.
  • A social networking service is an online service, platform, or site that focuses on facilitating the building of social networks or social relations among people who, for example, share interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life connections.

Conclusions

Bodnar described what they are doing as both social business and collaboration. For companies to realize social business they usually have to deploy 3 to 7 separate technologies. For example: specialty social business sites include: Yammer, Chatter, Socialtext, Nuage, file sharing sites like Dropbox, etc. Kenesto incorporates many of these into one.

While I am a CAD/PLM guy, not a social collaboration expert, I can see quite a few things in the Kenesto demo that seem really useful. You can organize teams, add people to it, add documents that can be shared, and record textual comments of the entire team. Of course, documents can be any type of document. Different than a doc sharing site such as Dropbox, you have limited control of access to the document, for instance, viewing only. Other elements can be added, such as workflow. Bodnar states that Kenesto is “**highly** complementary to the existing PDM/PLM tools.” It seems to me that this offers more ready access to design data than many PLM systems of today. While PLM systems are more rigid in document control, they are often very difficult to navigate. Perhaps there might be some middle ground by coupling the two systems.

In summary, different than many other social business sites, Kenesto provides multiple capabilities. It’s a cloud based, secure document sharing site, has team groups, document (including CAD) viewing for team members, task management, and a history audit trail of team communication.  Yet, the solution is a general solution applicable to many areas other than engineering and design.

Try it yourself by joining the free Kenesto Community at http://www.kenesto.com .

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SolidWorks founders start new company

11/01/12: You heard it first here! Earlier today I received a call from John McEleney, the former CEO of SolidWorks. John explained that he and five of the original founders of SolidWorks started a new company that will explore and develop solutions for the product development space. He shared with me that this includes: Jon Hirschtick, Dave Corcoran, Scott Harris, and Tommy Li.

Hirschtick, Harris, and Li were among the original founders of SoldWorks. McEleney joined a few years later. Corcoran led product development, while Harris was a key architect. In the early years, I was most impressed with the way the entire team was focused on a single perspective and all pulled together to accomplish their common goal. Since then I have seen many a company flounder, not because their product was flawed, but because the team was unable to work cohesively together.

McEleney further explained that the company has just been initiated today. They are obviously, in the super early stages of development. John would not discuss their products. He said they are still exploring many alternatives.

He went on to say that he was contacting many of the people in the CAD and product development space who will be able to promote the fact that their company was beginning its development. People like myself.

With a team like this, I don’t doubt that they can be successful. Hmmm, but what will they turn out? Keep tuned for further information.

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More confusion from Versata on think3

I was just going through some of my old email, trying to cull out the old ones. I came across one from Austin Scee of Versata from early this year and wanted to see if anything was new. I found out that Scee is out as the former GM and a new GM (Shannon Willems) is managing what’s left of the acquisition, which ain’t much. The links on the think3.versata.com site don’t work and there seems no way to get info on the products.

I had the chance to speak with Willems earlier today, hoping that I could get some additional info on their plans and how the relationship with the Italian think3 organization is being resolved. Alas, I learned little that was new. To Willems’s credit he stated that “he and Versata were excited about the think3 software and that they were investing substantial resources in the product.” I repeatedly pressed Willems for more information about what substantial was, but could not get any details, other than that they had development firms in Boston, Russia and Italy working on the product.

If you go to think3.com it leads you to a page with lots of complex court filings, with no reference to Versata or their website. No real surprise here since Versata did not acquire think3, just the intellectual property (IP)- the think3 software. One look at the Versata website at think3.versata.com leads me to believe that Versata is putting as little resource into the acquisition as possible. Clicking on the products page reveals not one link to another page for more info. What could be more revealing about their intent?

Versata think3 product page has NO links

Willems indicated that there is still revenue being derived from maintenance from existing customers. The US courts seem have decided that Versata owns the worldwide IP for the products. But, the Bologna, Italy courts seem to have made a similar decision for the Italian company. Customers can get the software from either company except where local legal decisions have been made supporting Versata’s claim, notably Japan and Dubai. Even then policing installations seems virtually impossible.

My conclusion is that Versata continues to provide minimal support and virtually no product enhancements for think3. The legal machinations continue to be fought around the world, apparently aimed at Versata preventing the Italian organization from gaining revenue.

On the other hand, the Italian site appears operational and moving ahead.

In addition, there were many LinkedIn contacts showing think3 as their active company, mostly from India and Italy.

My first choice as a customer would be to abandon this mess and go with other well-supported software. Lacking that choice, I would choose to do business with the think3 provider that is most open about the product and its future.

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