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:

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?

Steve Bodnar leaves Autodesk for Kenesto

Stephen Bodnar joins Kenesto as Vice President, Products and Marketing

—See ‘My Take’ below—

WALTHAM, MA–(Marketwire – Sep 18, 2012) – Kenesto Corp., provider of cloud-based Social Process Management solutions today announced that Stephen Bodnar has joined the company as Vice President of Products and Marketing.

“We are very pleased to have Stephen join our team. As the demand for cloud-based business solutions continues to grow, Kenesto’s Social Process Management solution is gaining increased market traction,” said Kenesto’s CEO Michael Payne. “We are excited to begin a significant growth phase under Stephen’s marketing and products leadership.”

“I am extremely excited by the opportunity to join the Kenesto team,” said Mr. Bodnar. “Companies in industries such as manufacturing, architecture, engineering, and others are increasingly looking to leverage cloud, social, and mobile technologies to improve productivity. By automating day-to-day business processes such as managing Change Orders, managing Engineering Change Requests (ECR), and communicating bid proposals, Kenesto enables our customers to increase agility, responsiveness, and productivity across the value chain.”

Mr. Bodnar comes to Kenesto with a 24-year career in B2B technology development and marketing. Prior to joining Kenesto, he served as the Vice President of Product Data Management (PDM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) at Autodesk, Inc., where he led the growth of Autodesk’s Vault PDM business by 15x over four years. Most recently, Mr. Bodnar oversaw the launch of Autodesk into the discrete PLM market with the introduction of the cloud-native PLM 360 solution.

Mr. Bodnar began his career serving Chrysler Corporation in its Engineering and CAD/CAM/CAE groups. After eight years with Chrysler, Mr. Bodnar joined Control Data System’s Manufacturing/PDM division where he served as a sales engineer, product architect, and product manager for Control Data’s PDM solutions: EDL and Metaphase.

Mr. Bodnar later helped create Auxilium, Inc., a software company that pioneered the creation of composite web applications which connected to a variety of back-end systems, including most established ERP and mainframe solutions. After Auxilium’s acquisition by Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), Mr. Bodnar joined PTC as Director of Product Marketing for the Windchill solutions group. Mr. Bodnar later re-joined the Metaphase team after it had been acquired by Structural Dynamics Research Corporation (SDRC) as the Vice President of SDRC’s Collaborative Solutions Group. After SDRC’s acquisition by Electronic Data Systems, Mr. Bodnar joined MSC Software Corporation, a leading provider of structural, thermal and multi-body dynamics engineering analysis solutions, where he served as Vice President of Marketing and Product Management.

To learn more about Kenesto, download An Introduction to Kenesto at http://www.kenesto.com/intro.

About Kenesto
Kenesto (www.kenesto.com) is a cloud-based Social Process Management tool which empowers people and teams to automate business processes across the value chain. By automating day-to-day business processes such as issuing Requests for Quotes (RFQ), managing Engineering Change Requests (ECR), and generating quotes & bid proposals, Kenesto enables manufacturing, architectural, engineering, and construction companies to expedite responsiveness to customers, increase productivity of internal resources, and better manage supply chain partners.

Contact:
Stephen Bodnar
steve@kenesto.com

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My take:

I know that Kenesto has been looking to fill this slot for some time. While I have not yet spoken to Bodnar, it seems that the turmoil at Autodesk and the attraction of a startup run by Mike Payne were enough to convince him.

Bodnar’s role at Kenesto should enable Kenesto to reach the next level of success.

Readers might also want to read our previous blog on Kenesto.

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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Cloud PLM Systems ease collaboration

While there have been several articles negatively discussing using cloud software for CAD, users should be aware that for the PLM aspects of collaboration a cloud based system is by far the best way to go. Okay, there are a few cons to using a cloud system for access, such as concerns over security and potential downtime over which users have no control. Security may be a major concern for government projects requiring super high levels of secure data requirements. For 98% of users this should not be a concern. That does not mean that you should blithely ignore what security your chosen cloud vendor provides – by all means make sure that your concerns are met. But today’s security and encryption seem more than adequate for most users, providing that it is properly executed and monitored. You might even want to consult with independent security experts prior to committing to a solution.

Nevertheless, there are a quite a few benefits that far exceed the other alternative — that of maintaining an internal server capability.

First I need to make an assumption that a typical user installation has the following situation:

  • More than one engineering facility at which design is done
  • Multiple suppliers that need some type of restricted access to the design data

 

Assuming this is the case (and I’ll bet that more than 80% of users fit in this category), then here are only a few advantages cloud based PLM software accrues:

  • Little or no IT required for installation, setup, updates to the software, or backups.
  • A single copy of the database that does NOT require synchronization among multiple servers.
  • Easy management by database administrators
  • Lower software costs??
  • No personnel and space costs for servers or multiple servers
  • Ready internet access via various speed connections worldwide
  • No special costs for high speed telecomm connections

 

I can think of only two PLM systems that are completely architected for cloud operations: Arena Solutions and Autodesk 360.

Assessing the state of Product Development

After spending many years working with the CAD/CAM/PLM vendors I am now turning my attention to users of the software.

In my experience with users from many industry specialties, which includes many in-depth conversations and a few handfuls of on-site consulting assignments, users are not taking full advantage of the software and related process tools to re-engineer their environments.

Introducing new tools into a flawed product development process is only a band-aid. Without re-thinking the entire process the latest and greatest software will only result in a nominal ROI.

Instead of thinking about the miniscule advantage of moving from 2D design to 3D design, or the introduction of the latest PLM system, users should instead focus on the overall business benefits that might best cause them to produce better, more timely, higher quality products that can beat the pants off their competitors.

Believe it or not, just a few nights ago I was explaining to my wife, during a long drive home from dinner, about what a difference better design makes. And she actually listened. I guess I was really charged up!

One subject that always fascinates me is how truly innovative products are developed and how often competitors cannot react to substantive changes. She and I both use iPhones, so she immediately connected with the product. Not only that, but she said she loved her iPhone. Never heard that about her Samsung 10 key phone. After reading earlier that day about the current travails of RIM, the maker of the Blackberry phones I explained how RIM and Nokia seem to once have led the mobile phone industry and now both are deeply troubled, and may had difficulty surviving. And all this only in the last few years. Both companies seemed to have missed the point that the iPhone is not really a mobile phone, but a computer that can also make phone calls. The technology and innovation embodied in this product made huge leaps over the then existing mobile phone technologies. And their large competitors failed to recognize it. Then they failed to react to it. What was it in their product development process that was flawed: management, engineering, competitive analysis, business planning???

Do you have similar flaws in your process? Should you be asking whether or not you do?

Lately I have been exploring the idea of developing techniques for how to assess this in user companies. I am becoming more and more convinced that by carefully examining the key processes in product development and comparing them to best in class techniques used by successful organizations that this can be accomplished, and at a reasonable cost.

I’ll explain more about my thinking in future articles. I would love to hear from you about what you think. Reply to this blog and let the rest of us know.

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Developing manufacturing BOMs with BOMControl

8 June 2012: We all know that the engineering (design) BOM is not usable for manufacturing. It’s not robust enough for manufacturing. It contains much of what manufacturing needs, but not enough. Here are some things needed for manufacturing to have a usable BOM:

  • Non-design elements such as paint, labels,
  • Manufacturing instruction
  • Manufacturing assemblies
  • Test and quality procedures
  • Detailed information on purchased parts
  • Variants for different zones of manufacturing
  • And so on . . .

If this is the case, then one might ask how does one use a design BOM to build an MBOM? Several alternatives come to mind. Rather than giving a dissertation on the subject, I spoke with Steve Chalgren, VP of Product Management & Strategy of Arena Solutions. The company, one of the earliest cloud based providers, provides only a cloud based solution. In fact, the company was at one time called BOM.com.

Founded in the late 90’s, the company has grown to about 100 employees, with 500+ customers, and 15K to 20K users in 40+ countries. More than half of their customers are in the high tech electronics business.

I had a chance to meet with the former founder soon after they were founded, but have not kept up with the company since then. A recent press release revealing that their net new subscriptions grew by over 25% in the first quarter piqued my interest. The company stated that the “increase in new business can be attributed to Arena’s 2011 investments in new products, like PDXViewer and PartsList, and integrations to cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions like SAP Business ByDesign and Netsuite, and component aggregators like Octopart.” My interest centers on possible use in the mechanical realm.

Their products include the following three cloud based products:

  • BOMControl: A collaborative and centralized way to manage BOMs and changes
  • PDXViewer: Share build and quote packages up and down your supply chain
  • PartsList: A lightweight app that helps capture, document, and share designs

BOMControl seems to offer much of the capability that mechanical design users need, including BOM management, import from CAD systems for creating the MBOM, and change management of the created BOM’s. Typical users might include the engineering team, document control managers, operations and manufacturing planning, supply chain management, and suppliers. The software makes it easy to add and track items needed for manufacturing. The fact that it is isolated from engineering CAD systems and from internal PDM or PLM system seems to allow secure access into just those areas that suppliers need without concerns about intellectual property (IP). Allowing suppliers direct access to internal PLM systems always makes me nervous.

The software seems to make sense for those companies that do not yet have or will not soon have a fully integrated PLM system for BOM management. And few do today. My guess is that many companies today use spreadsheets (like Excel) to manage their BOM’s, since most CAD PDM systems have little or no capability for multiple BOM views of the product, instead, focusing entirely on the engineering BOM, the EBOM. While spreadsheets will work for this application, they do not have the capabilities to easily collaborate, track changes, or smoothly interact with EBOMs to automate data exchange.

In the case of electronics manufacturing, an electronic search engine called Octopart automatically searches for the data associated with specified purchased parts and adds it to the MBOM. Capabilities exist for also adding these hooks manually and to include virtually any type of part descriptive files. Thus the Arean Solutions MBOM can become the residence not only of part data, but many other types of data associated with manufacturing. Consider test descriptions, supplier acceptance requirements, engineering test specifications and calculations as just a bit of what is possible.

Shown below are two screen shots of BOMControl managing these exact processes.

Showing the ability to track changes

Allowing various views into the BOM

Plans and pricing

Arena Solutions offers a BOMControl basic plan for $49 per month for up to 3 seats. They also have a 30-day free trial. For more information see their website at http://www.arenasolutions.com/products/bomcontrol/plans/. This trial pricing program is competitive with Autodesk 360 PLM and considerably cheaper than PLM vendors.

Recommendation

Arena Solutions’ products are aimed at taking the design EBOM and allowing a secure system for developing, maintaining, and collaborating MBOMs. All of which are needed to build and even service the eventual delivered product. All user companies without a current or short-term plan should definitely consider BOMControl.

One might think that BOMControl is used only by smaller companies, yet this is not the case. A large proportion of Arena Solutions clients are large companies.

I received no compensation for this review.

For more information

http://www.arenasolutions.com

http://octopart.com/

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