Integration is hard. Especially when it comes to such complex environment as engineering and manufacturing. Zerowait-state article PLM Dilemma and Engineering Data by Stephen Porter provides an excellent description of complexity related to CAD data integration into PLM environment.
The PLM must have a data model that can capture the design product structure. The architecture must be able to support the transmittal of large amounts of information. The security must ensure that the information is locked up tight to avoid theft or error. All of these things impact the user experience from an interface and speed perspective. On the other hand, not having some sort of engineering data in your PLM can severely cripple the benefit of having PLM in the first place. Many companies avoid the whole issue by adopting a user friendly PLM that either has no ability to capture CAD information or allows adoption without engineering.
The article made me think again about Trajectories of CAD-PDM integrations I wrote back in 2012. I can see a strong trend towards CAD-PDM bundles. There are very few CAD systems without PDM provided by the same vendor these days. Cloud CAD systems are evolving and they will have to solve PDM problem at first place. This is another reason why future CAD systems will have embedded PDM capabilities.
So, what does it mean for engineering and manufacturing? The problem of engineering data integration complexity raised by Zerowait-State blog is real. To imagine the work with CAD data disconnected from Bill of Materials and change management environment is hard. Despite initially cold welcome from many manufacturing companies, CAD-PDM bundles are getting more traction and interest. Vertical integration is very important. To bring a better data management layer in a way of integrated PDM system can unlock some new ways to integrated between engineering data and rest of the company.
One of the new technological trends these is Microservices. If you haven’t heard about it, please catch up during the weekend. Microservices are a more concrete and modern interpretation of service-oriented architectures (SOA) used to build distributed software systems. Like in SOA, services in a microservice architecture are processes that communicate with each other over the network in order to fulfill a goal. Also, like in SOA, these services use technology agnostic protocols.. In contrast to SOA, microservices gives an answer to the question of how big a service should be and how they should communicate with each other. In a microservices architecture, services should be small and the protocols should be lightweight.
ITbusiness Edge article Top 10 strategic trends for 2016 speaks about the importance of microsrvices in a modern tech architecture. Here is an interesting passage from the article:
Mesh App and Service Architecture. Monolithic, linear application designs (e.g., the three-tier architecture) are giving way to a more loosely coupled integrative approach: the apps and services architecture. Enabled by software-defined application services, this new approach enables web-scale performance, flexibility and agility. Microservice architecture is an emerging pattern for building distributed applications that support agile delivery and scalable deployment, both on-premises and in the cloud. Containers are emerging as a critical technology for enabling agile development and microservice architectures. Bringing mobile and IoT elements into the app and service architecture creates a comprehensive model to address back-end cloud scalability and front-end device mesh experiences. Application teams must create new modern architectures to deliver agile, flexible and dynamic cloud-based applications with agile, flexible and dynamic user experiences that span the digital mesh.
Another article – Agile coding in enterprise IT: Code small and local shows a very interesting evolution of SOA development for the last few decades. I liked the following picture.
I think most of CAD / PLM environments to day are still following tight coupling with some elements of centralization. I believe this central element is called PLM platform by most of PLM players. The really interesting thing can happen when existing monolithic applications and platforms will start to decouple. It will change architecture patterns and data integration paradigms.
A combination cloud CAD, CAD/PDM bundle and microsrvice ideas together can change the way engineering data can be integrated into other processes in manufacturing organization. It will eliminate the need of tightly coupled integration and bundling engineering data into PLM data models. A set of microservices will be able to provide information about design data, share it with other applications and send events when something is changing.
Autodesk Fusion platform seems to be a good candidate to support microservices technologies and provide an open access to design information. I’m going to learn more about Fusion Platform in just 2 weeks during Autodesk Forge DevCon in San Francisco.
Onshape is probably a great candidate to develop new microservice infrastructure alongside with CAD-PDM functionality. The product was developed during past 4 years and most probably leveraged best cloud architecture practices. I need to learn more what Onshape is doing with microservices.
What is my conclusion? New technologies such microservices combined with with web and cloud architectures can change an integration paradigm by moving from tightly coupled embedding of data into PLM system to more lose and lightweight connections. It will make future CAD-PDM-PLM architectures easier and reduce the pain of engineering data access in the organization. Just my thoughts…
Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.