A conversation with Marc Lind of Aras Software about open PLM software

Recently we had the chance to interview Marc Lind of Aras Software of Andover, Massachusetts about their open source PLM software. Marc is Sr. Vice President, Global Marketing.

Here are my questions and his replies. I think you will find their approach to be very different. While some smaller companies use their software, their primary market is large companies.

1. What exactly is Open Source PLM?

Lind: Aras is an advanced PLM solution suite for enterprise-wide deployments that is delivered as enterprise open source. This means that there are No PLM license expenses (no users or modules license costs). Aras personnel are executives and technologists from PTC, Dassault Systèmes, Agile-Oracle, Computer Vision and other PDM/PLM companies. The Aras scope is similar to MatrixOne and Windchill for PLM configuration management and supply chain processes with robust security and enterprise-wide scalability.

The comprehensive enterprise PLM functionality of Aras includes configuration management, engineering change workflows, document management, requirements, Bill of Materials (BOM) structure, CAD / EDA integration, costing, NPDI, stage-gate / phase-gate, project management, quality compliance, APQP/PPAP, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), dashboard analytics, reports and more.

2. How does it differ from the typical PLM offerings from DS, PTC, SolidWorks, Siemens, etc?

Lind: There are No PLM license expenses (no users or modules license costs) and provides complete control over data model, interoperability and customization of the enterprise PLM platform (puts customers in control of their own destiny). This enables easy sharing of best practices and new process innovations either within a company and/or with a larger corporate community. Participation is completely optional. There are no requirement to contribute and companies can keep proprietary practices private.

3. What are your products?

Lind: Aras Innovator solution suite. See an overview at http://www.aras.com/solutions/

4. How does Aras make money from Open Source?

Lind: Very simple. Aras is bringing the proven Red Hat open sourcve business model for Linux to the PLM market. The software is freely available with no PLM license expense. We offer optional services (consulting and training) and subscription support packages.

For an overview of services go to http://www.aras.com/services/

For a subscription package overview go to http://www.aras.com/services/support.aspx

5. Who writes the software? Who checks it all out for QC?

Lind: We accept and encourage open source contributions back from users (contributing is completely optional), but before we incorporate these as part of the Aras-managed solutions we review, spec and re-write all the code. Why? Many reasons…

We need to maintain certain coding standards and patterns for enterprise security, architectural conformance, functional consistency, performance optimization and upgradeability. We’re also better able to ensure appropriate specifications and documentation. We add test automation hooks throughout the code, so that we can conduct automatic self-testing after each nightly build and as part of our release process. And when we rewrite it, we are ensuring that there are no licensing issues for Aras or our users. By doing all this we are providing companies with the confidence they need and the predictability they require.

We believe our approach gives the corporate community the best of both worlds – the freedom and flexibility you want in your PLM solution, with the security and control you need for your mission-critical enterprise applications. For more info see this link http://www.aras.com/Community/blogs/aras_corporate_blog/archive/2010/07/08/how-the-aras-approach-to-open-source-ensures-quality-confidence-and-corporate-security.aspx

6. Can any developer contribute?

Lind: Yes, the open source community projects are available for anyone to use, modify and contribute.

7. How are the inter-program standards kept?

See the answer to question 5, above.

8. Is there documentation available?

Lind: Comprehensive documentation from installation and configuration to admin and developer guides as well as end user documentation http://www.aras.com/support/documentation/

9. What is the typical size customer?

Lind: Typically large enterprise customers with between 1,000-10,000 PLM users

10. What customer IT skills are necessary? How much customer talent is needed to install and maintain OSS?

Lind: Microsoft platform skill sets for install and configure SQL Server database, Windows Server and .NET environment. Installing the full Aras Innovator suite should take less than 1 hour. Customizing the system typically needs PDM admin level skills (no programming is required).

11. What CAD systems do you support?

Lind: MCAD: CATIA, NX, Pro/E, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Inventor, AutoCAD and others. Also ECAD: Cadence, Allegro, OrCAD, DxDesigner/DxDatabook, PADS, Altium, Zuken and more

12. Do you support full product structure for these CAD systems and how do you stay in sync with their software and database changes?

Lind: Yes, supports full product structure for these CAD systems. We stay in sync by using the same 3rd party CAD integration developers used by Siemens, Oracle Agile and SAP.

13. Do you support CAD system attributes such as material properties, cost, etc?

Lind: Yes, CAD integration connectors include comprehensive property extraction from CAD designs including material properties, cost, etc.

14. Are there third party add-ons available as open source also? Please name them and the functional areas they cover.

Lind: Yes, there are over 85 open source community solution projects available on the Aras open source project site and more on other sites. They range from Requirements Management and Variants and Options to Motorola NPDI process and Outlook integrations.

15 and 16. Please explain any pricing advantages of OSS PLM.
What might the customer overall costs be, compared to a standard vendor offering?

Lind: Here is a good write up that describes cost of ownership comparison between Aras and other PLM solutions. http://www.aessis.com/Blog/post/Cost-of-ownership-comparison-between-Aras-and-other-PLM-solutions.aspx

[Note that there is still a substantial cost outlay.] Here is a chart from that article:

Open software cost versus Windchill Teamcenter Envoia

17. Who maintains the software and responds to program problems and customer support problems?

Lind: Aras.

18. Are there other OSS PLM vendors? Who is your primary competition?

Lind: I am not aware of any other OSS PLM vendors. Our primary competition is PTC Windchill, Siemens Teamcenter, Dassault ENOVIA MatrixOne and Agile Oracle

19. Does OSS PLM have any functional advantages over standard PLM offerings? What are they?

Lind: Clear functional advantage is the significant flexibility over the other major PLM offerings. Aras provides an advanced model-based SOA framework technology which enables real-time customization without complex programming. This means literally drag and drop modification of workflows, lifecycles, forms, business rules… even the data schema without coding. It also means that highly customized, large scale global deployments are upgraded in 10% the total time and 1% the total person hours required for other PLM/PDM systems.

For more information go to http://www.aras.com/technology/