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How to make PLM UI less terrible?

by Oleg on April 3, 2014 · 0 comments

handwritten-BOM

I’m coming again to this topic – User Interface. These days you can hear about it as user experience (UX). UX is more complicated thing and includes lots of factors and aspects. So, I’d like to speak first about how UI looks. Back in time when I was developing  and demonstrating PDM user interfaces, the worst thing was to get in line after somebody presenting CAD and visualization software. Their UI are always looks good. It was obvious, since they can show all these cars, phones and airplanes… Opposite to that, PDM user interface is all about tables, list and values. The nature of PDM system makes this type of UI boring and not interesting. For example, take a look on the photo above. This is handwritten BOM of locomotive made almost 100 years ago (image credit) . It doesn’t look nice, but it is absolutely “must have” document in manufacturing.

To change UX concept is a complex things. It requires to make a lot of changes in the way people performing their tasks. For engineering, manufacturing and enterprise organization is a big thing. However, what about to make a change just in a way PDM / PLM UI looks like?

The following image by darkhorseanalytics caught my attention with the presentation how to make table looks less terrible. Take a look on the power of “less is more”. It comes as a sequence of remove colors, remove gridlines, remove fills, remove the border, remove bolding, left align text, right align number, align titles with data, resize columns with data, put whitespace to work, use consistent precision, round the numbers, remove repetition, no more Calibri font, add back emphasize.

So, here is the table before:

table-nice-ui-before

… and here is the table with UI improvements.

table-nice-ui-after

Not sure about you, but I like the comparison and the result.

It made me think about how many places in PDM UI is actually requires clean table presentation. Think about drawing reports, bill of materials and many other things. To make them look clean and fresh will improve to visual impression about PDM product.

What is my conclusion? It is very hard to design nice and clean UI. Every company developing software applications these days must focus on how to make the UI less terrible. The ugly and annoying  enterprise software UI is a thing in the past. The new UI will be designed with the a different state of mind and thinking about modern web and mobile user interface and experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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CAD is half pregnant by cloud

by Oleg on March 31, 2014 · 1 comment

cad-cloud-pregnant

The usage of cloud is growing every day. Started as an option to simplify collaboration and data exchange, it is proliferating into spaces such as backup, computation and many others. CAD and design are remaining one of the most conservative zone of the cloud and engineering software. Commonly agreed opinion – desktop is the best place to run CAD system in terms of resources, performance and tasks designers want to accomplish.

With such CAD desktop paradigm, you might think CAD users are completely independent from cloud. Actually, it is not so true. My attention caught by Cadalyst article – Advocate for Internet Access for CAD Tools by Robert Green. According to him CAD is no longer an island and significantly depends on cloud services and public internet infrastructure. Here is the passage, which explains that

Like it or not, our CAD users are becoming more and more dependent on tools that reside outside our company’s internal network. The types of systems we use may vary, but they typically include the following: FTP access sites for file uploading and downloading, Remote access of workstations for technical support; Remote log-on sessions to run compute-intensive tasks, such as rendering or analysis, on powerful remote workstations; Enterprise data management (EDM) and product data management (PDM) systems for CAD/BIM models and files; Cloud-based services on vendor-supplied servers. Whether you use one, several, or all of these Internet-based resources in your day-to-day CAD system, the fact remains that using CAD is no longer something that you alone can control. And when you must reach out over the Internet to complete your CAD tasks, IT becomes a crucial part of your workflow.

It made me think again about future of cloud and CAD relationships. In my view, cloud won’t be introduced to CAD users as a single lifetime event. Instead of switching designers and engineers to cloud CAD overnight, companies will introduce some cloud based services to maximize cloud value proposition to existing CAD-based workflows. You can navigate to some of my earlier posts – The future of CAD without files?A moment before CAD files cloud mess…; What “end of local storage” means for CAD?; CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems.

I can identify 3 main zones of existing CAD system enhancements that will leverage cloud eco-system to provide additional benefits to engineers:

1. Cloud based backup and file exchange. This is mainstream scenario that requires very little from CAD and other engineering software vendors. Cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and some others can provide it today without even disrupting current workflows.

2. Viewing and collaboration. This is more complicated, but still very feasible scenario. Think about services such as GrabCAD Workbench, TeamPlatform and some others. These services can solve basic revision management needs and collaborative viewing of files.

3. Computation and special engineering design services. This is the most interesting case, in my view. In this scenario, desktop CAD systems will use services running from public cloud to solve simulation, analysis, and more complicated design tasks. Some of them can leverage elastic nature of cloud and some of them can be collaborative by allowing several engineers working together.

What is my conclusion? Can you be ‘half pregnant”? Actually, you can, if you think about CAD and cloud services. In my view, existing and new design tools will be leveraging hybrid resources (from desktop and cloud) to support optimal workflow and implement best user experience in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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Do We Need Engineering Note App?

by Oleg on March 27, 2014 · 6 comments

engineering-notes-app

Yesterday’s post about how engineers can collaborate in the office, made me think about another aspect of collaboration – taking notes. You may argue… Taking notes isn’t specifically collaborative activity. However, I can see it very tightly coupled with our ability to communicate and collaborate.

There are lots of applications for notes taking these days. Just to mention few of them – Evernote, OneNote, Word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs. You can see a comparison of some popular applications here. Mobile is another interesting platform today for notes taking and it created a separate niche. Take a look here – Five best mobile note taking apps. Expanding even more, Evernote is transforming into platform and allows to other development specific note taking apps – The Best Evernote Apps for Organizing Even More of Your Life.

Do you think engineers are taking notes? I think, they do. I have to admit that I do… I also know few other engineers that taking notes. Now think about engineers using CAD systems and many other engineering and manufacturing applications. Do they need a special application to take notes? Maybe CAD should develop “note function”? Maybe new social collaboration tools will provide it? I don’t know. Nevertheless, I want to outline some specific functional requirements for engineering notes app:

1- Engineering context support. When you take notes, you want to be able to capture snippet of a specific content coming from CAD and maybe other engineering content creation tools (analysis, bill of materials, etc.)

2- Integrated camera for 3D, photo, voice and video capturing. It is very important to be able to capture real world content. Engineers can take this app to field trips or use it at shop floor. Ability to take photo, video or even capturing 3D model is extremely useful.

3 – Integrated measurement tools. Measurement is another aspect of engineering activity. To have ability to take measurement in the field or check dimensions can be extremely important.

What is my conclusion? There are lots of general purpose application for taking notes. Nevertheless, I think, customization is important. To have note taking app tailored for the needs of engineers can be an interesting option. Especially, if this app will support a specific engineering context. If you know one, please let me know. I didn’t find it yet. How to make this app? This is a tricky question. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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Part and Document Management: Why is it Complex?

March 8, 2014

Parts and Documents are two different objects in engineering, product development and manufacturing. While “part” usually represents physical object, “document” usually represents specification, drawing or 3D model of part. Even it it sounds obvious, Document and Part management is not an easy and simple task. In my post – How to manage Document versions, revisions […]

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How PLM can take over Excel spreadsheets?

March 4, 2014

Excel spreadsheet. What a lovely topic! You can find spreadsheets in every manufacturing and engineering organization. Sometimes, I call it  - #1 PLM software in the world. There are lots of good things in using Excel spreadsheets. Almost five years ago I posted – Why do I like my PLM spreadsheets? I believe, everything I said […]

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Bill of Materials (BOM): process or technology challenge?

March 3, 2014

The importance of Bill of Material in product development and manufacturing hardly can be undervalued. BOM is a cornerstone of almost all processes and activities – from early requirement and design and to manufacturing, services and support. Therefore, efficient BOM management is an absolutely important element of product development processes. PLM vendors are coming with […]

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How PLM can solve problem of global BOM transparency

February 20, 2014

Business is going global. It is not only for large manufacturing companies these days. As a result of cost pressure and searches for new market opportunities, manufacturing companies are looking how to optimize their businesses. Distributed engineering, manufacturing and suppliers environments – reality of manufacturing these days. However, outsourcing and future development of supply chain […]

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How to Combine Engineering and Software BOMs?

January 24, 2014

I remember a conversation that happened to me a decade ago with fellow engineer from one of leading telecom companies. The question I asked him was – how do you know what version of software to load into device? The answer was- “Hm… actually we don’t know much about it. It happens magically”. I have […]

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PLM, CMMS and BOM Hot Potato

January 8, 2014

There is no person in manufacturing universe that can underestimate the importance of right Bill of Material information. However, I can see people responsible for material management in a special league for the context of material management and BOM. Doug Wallace of Life Cycle Engineering (www.lce.com) speaks exactly about that in his article The importance of […]

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Not an evil PDM can save engineer’s memory

December 15, 2013

PDM is not a new domain in enterprise, engineering and manufacturing software. It might sounds like PDM functions are clearly defined. Navigate to Tech-clarity blog – PDM buyer’s guide and you will have a good “shopping list” for PDM system and functions. Unfortunately, engineers are not appreciating PDM. Even more, if you ask engineers, the majority […]

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