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:

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.

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.

Autodesk 360 and Nexus – PLM 1.0: not perfect – but a great start

3 Dec 2011: Errata. I was incorrect in stating that Buzzsaw was a local PDM vault for AEC/BIM. Several people have written me about this, one being Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk. Bodnar stated that “Vault is the on-premise DM solution for both industries, whereas Buzzsaw is cloud-based and is also built on Autodesk’s Cloud, and is intended for design file collaboration between partners/suppliers and other users and does, in fact, have bi-directional push/synchronization with Vault)”

1 Dec 2011: I am on my way back from Las Vegas, where AU 2011 was held. The highlight of the event, at least for me, was the announcement of what I am calling Autodesk PLM 1.0. The announcement was not a well-kept secret, but the content of the announcement was closely held.

Monday’s media day preceded the conference. The actual PLM announcement came late Tuesday morning. Carl Bass retracted his oft quoted remark about PLM not being something customers worried about; instead, it was revised to mean “until the technology was right.” I couldn’t agree more with his reasoning. Most of Autodesk’s competitors PLM systems offer expensive, difficult to use, and almost impossible to install PLM systems, that rarely have met expectations. Even then, it is often at the cost of massive consulting assistance, rarely meeting anticipated timeframes, AND generally involves the implementation of substantially revised business processes.

Different than my analyst peers I have always been skeptical of such large and costly projects. Not being on the implementation side, I could afford to be skeptical. Many such projects, aside from basic PDM, seldom actually get implemented. Most stall. Autodesk estimates that most deliver only PDM. To test this thesis, I tweeted my followers and asked what they had accomplished. With just a few responses, this is hardly scientific. Several stated that did not yet have even PDM fully implemented!

So what was actually announced? The system is being called Autodesk 360. It is based on having locally installed PDM. For mechanical and for AEC this is Vault. Buzzsaw, a cloud based application provides design file collaboration for AEC teams. The third, and new software piece is called Nexus. The dictionary describes the word nexus as a “connector.,” and is a good description of what the software aims to do. In the following discussion I concentrate solely on mechanical PLM. For information on Buzzsaw and how it uses Nexus readers will have to go elsewhere. Try here.

Nexus is cloud based, and comes with 140 or apps. Each app looks like a series of specialized templates, along with customizable (by the user) workflow logic. Delivery is expected by the end of March 2012. No pricing was announced, however, the implications were that it would be modest. It will be sold on a per user subscription basis. All Nexus data and apps will be run in the cloud, using an ordinary browser. The mass of data will remain locally hosted using Vault. Having and maintaining Vault locally solves the issue of loading very large cloud based data while still maintaing some degree of interactivity.

How will it interface with Vault and other PDM systems? Very well with Vault. No connectors were announced to integrate with other PDM systems. Autodesk hinted that this is a good opportunity for third party developers and VARs. Connections with Nexus could be implemented via as yet unannounced APIs.

Today, the connection between Vault and Nexus is one way. CAD data cannot be sent from Nexus to Vault. Nor is it synchronized among Vaults, as is done among Apple’s iCloud apps. However, Vault data is automatically synced up to Nexus. Expect bi-directional sync in the future.

Is it easy to install and operate?

Keep in mind that my total exposure to Autodesk 360 Nexus comes from a 30 minute, main stage presentation, followed by a 60 minute working session where about 20 people per workstation watched a very capable Autodesk developer demo and responded to questions, often by showing us how Nexus would solve the proposed question.

Nexus appears to be an out of the box system. Nexus comes with predefined templates and workflows. Yet they can easily be added to and/or modified. Fields within templates (apps) can be defined on the fly and their characteristics (such as numeric, values, dates, etc.) as well. A Visio like graphic interface defines workflows. Many are offered in the starter system. A typical administration system allows assigning users to tasks and roles. Somehow, data fields can be interconnected, allowing visibility to see what drives or is driven by what.

So. There you have it. I imagine Autodesk will soon, if not already, have many seminars and pre-recorded AVI’s showing the software. Try here: http://usa.autodesk.com/360-lifecycle-management-software/

My conclusions

I think the product is outstanding. Being cloud based resolves many operating issues. Some users might question the security aspects of hosting much of the data remotely, and would do well to satisfy themselves that either this is not an issue, or otherwise. I think, that perhaps except for very special circumstances, the cloud-based security might even be vastly superior to what they could do locally. I think this is a non-issue.

Cost wise, I think this will prove to be much less expensive, long term, than most of today’s solutions. Again, this is a non-issue. Just take a look at the slide Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk, VP of Data Management, presented below that compares some costs for a 200 user deployment.

For collaboration, data can be uploaded, either in summary format, or detailed CAD files. Nexus has controls over what user sees what data.

Included are project management capabilities that allow rolling up from completed sub-tasks automatically. Defining projects involves defining sub-projects with easily configurable tasks and reporting procedures. If you have already implemented workflow as part of Vault, then is should be redone using Nexus. It allows more flexibility and better visibility.

If you want visibility by projects, by project managers and contributors, with flexibility to change workflows and processes to meet how you do business, it’s all there. My only question is how soon can I get it?

Ray with his skeptical face during AU2011 —-

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Here are a few slides from the presentation to give you an idea of what Autodesk presented. Sorry for the quality – I used my phone.

The overall concept of Autodesk 360.

Stephen Bodnar discussing their view of PLM:

Why is it called 360? Showing how the Vault and Buzzsaw make up local PDM systems:

Brenda Discher discussing why users don’t like competitive PDM systems.

What Autodesk is doing about it with Nexus.

Autodesk Takes Simulation Mobile with New ForceEffect App for iPad

If you have not yet had a chance to see how Autodesk ForceEffect works, visit http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4F9264A84AD2085B for a series of videos on how this 2D force simulation app works.

Autodesk ForceEffect, a new mobile simulation app for iPad allows engineers to quickly and easily simulate design options during the conceptual phase, and is now available on the App store. Autodesk, as it has done with other iPad apps, offers Autodesk ForceEffect for free.

ForceEffect provides an easy to use environment for drawing, constraining and simulating concepts using free body diagrams by tapping objects to select, move, rotate and scale. Real time solving capabilities provide immediate feedback on the static stress performance of a design, enabling users to use engineering analysis in the field.

Users can send the geometry as DXF files, via email, for further analysis.

It’s not quite clear how or whether Autodesk plans to generate revenue from these free apps, yet their thinking is way out in front of their competitors in exploring new ways to use mobile computing and simultaneously explore potential uses of cloud technology. It’s refreshing that the company is forging ahead, exploring new ways of delivering software and testing the waters for new paradigms, both in software and pricing models.

Inforbix $ errata, Autodesk Vault to the cloud

In my previous blog, I made an error on the pricing of Inforbix, which I have since corrected. I wanted to make sure you all have seen that correction. In the pricing example that was given, for a company of 100 persons, with 30 engineers, Vic Sanchez estimated that they might have 100K to 200K files to be indexed. The annual price for Inforbix for that size customer would be $10K to $15K. A great price range for the service provided. In fact one that is very compelling.

In the meantime it looks like Autodesk is planning to announce that their Vault will now be cloud hosted. I have no other details than some early teasers that were provided by Autodesk. It will be interesting to compare these offerings. I am planning on attending Autodesk University and will be there Monday through Wednesday, Nov 28-30. Say hello if you see me. I will report on this upon my return.

The Cloud Lives!

18 Nov 2011: Ralph Grabowski proposed his opinion that the cloud is dead. He couldn’t be more wrong. Consider users at the Siemens NX CAE Symposium that ended last week. Virtually all of the eight users at a panel noted that cloud computing would definitely be part of their plans. Assuming that some minor issues such as security, cost, and application software licensing could be solved, all seem to have or want it in their future plans.

Several customers represented companies that already have with HPC clusters. While this ideal “local cloud” met their expectations, the cost of such a cluster is very high and not a solution for smaller companies.

I agree that the use of cloud computing for interactive applications is a bad idea. However, the vast computing power, parallel processing, and expected low costs make it a very appealing idea for tasks that require modest bandwidth and have high computational needs. Autodesk’s CEO, Carl Bass, clearly has the right idea. Autodesk, over the past two years has introduced several applications that span the range of interactive hardware and relying on the cloud to ramp up compute speeds. At AU last year I had the chance to listen to Bass and speak with him about his ideas for best utilizing the cloud. As I wrote in that article, Autodesk’s concept is to “Don’t replicate desktop solutions on the cloud. Instead make maximum use of desktop and mobile systems, utilizing the cloud where it makes sense.” Still makes sense today. Here is a link to that article http://wp.me/pvn8U-3e.

Oddly enough, with the possible exception of DS, Autodesk’s competitors don’t seem to get the concept. For example, while I interpreted from Siemens customers that they were excited about potential use of the cloud, Siemens PLM Software, except for licensing issues, seems to have no plans to enable them. The same goes for PTC.

Let me know what you think.
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