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CAD

PLM Files Detox

by Oleg on October 21, 2014 · 0 comments

zero-files-no-CAD-files

The digital life around us is changing. It was a time when everything we did was running around desktop computer. You do your job, Save As… and, yes(!) put it in a file that can give you control over the result of your job. That’s the reason why engineers are in love with CAD files and Excel spreadsheets - it gives them full control of what they do. Excels are getting messy within time, but we can start a new file or open a new Excel spreadsheet.

Rob Cohee of Autodesk reminded me how much engineers are in love with files in his LinkedIn article – My Name is Rob, and I’m Addicted to Files. I captured few passages from Rob’s article before. He brilliantly explains the full engineering enjoyment of control over design and related information.

It started out small with a .DWG here, a .DOC, there with a sprinkle of .XLS files in between.

I had the freedom to create all this data, and the power is nothing short of addicting. Critical design requirements, tolerance, specification, and performance requirements, assembly instructions, a digital folder of file after file containing all of this critical information. I was the Michelangelo of AutoCAD R13 C4, the DWG was my canvas, safety was my muse.

The drawing file became everything. It was my design, requirements document, revision control, my parts list, my BOM, my supplier and procurement instructions, my cut list, my everything. All that data, all in one place locked away in my CAD file that only I had access to make modifications. The control was dizzying, euphoric at times. Any change to the drawing file had to go through me and me alone.

Rob’s article reminded me some of my old posts – The future of CAD without files. I still like very much a diagram I placed there from O’Reilly Radar article – Why files need to die. Here is my conclusion back into 2011.

The fundamentals of CAD and design systems are files. We use them to store assemblies, parts, drawings. In addition to that, we use them as a reference in many places. Do think “file” paradigm will live with CAD and other design systems forever? The movement of CAD vendors seems to me the obvious application of modern web principles to the world of design and engineering. The initial signals are here. CATIA V6 pushed the limits and eliminated files by connecting CATIA system directly to Enovia back-end. Autodesk cloud experiments with systems like AutoCAD WS made existence of files on the disc obsolete. PTC introduced Creo Apps. It will be interesting to see if PTC will come with the future idea of eliminating files. I think the computing and information paradigms are shifting from file-oriented to data (and web) oriented. The initial signs are here. The speed of this movement is questionable. Manufacturing is slow changing environment and engineers are very reluctant to changes.

PDM (Product Data Management) was a solution to end CAD file mess. PDM systems came to hunt for CAD and other files. The intent was to bring files into order, manage revisions, share data and… after some time, to eliminate files. We can see it started to happen now in some high-end systems such as CATIA V6. So, why PDM failed to detox engineers from files? Here is the thing… PDM was invented to help engineers to manage and control data. It sounds like engineers should like PDM, since it helps them to control files. But it didn’t go according to the plan. PDM added “frictions” into engineering freedom to create data in the way engineers want. Name control, check-in/out, approvals, etc. As a result of that, PDM failed to become a friend and turned to be engineers’ nightmare. Engineers don’t like PDM and in many situations engineers were forced to use PDM.

Working environment is changing fast. We are getting disconnected from files in our digital life. Our everyday workflows are getting distributed, mobile, disconnected from desktops and… files. We want to get access to data and not to files. To make this process successful, we need to think how to remove frictions. When you go to engineering school, you learn about importance of frictions. But software is different. Especially these days. Frictions can slow down the process of software adoption.

What is my conclusion? Engineering and manufacturing is slow changing environment. Engineers are conservative and design minded. Therefore, many PLM tools failed to become a favorite engineering data management and collaboration tool. Large teams accepted PDM tools because they had no choice. I believe, the future won’t belong to files. We are going to see more data-driven environment around us. To establish such environment is one of the main challenges for PLM companies today. To make it happen, PLM vendors must think how to remove frictions between users and PLM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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There is one thing that seems make everyone interested and listen carefully these days – online communities. To build a successful community is a tricky thing. To make a money out of community is huge. Successful online communities can provide a lot of insight about how people are communicating, what is the value of community for different users and businesses. Communities are also a good reflection of business and software vendor ecosystem.

I’ve been discussing communities and marketplaces earlier on my blog. One of the most earliest discussion about that was Marketplace and Engineering software back in 2010. The interest of people to stay in the community is one of the most interesting factors to watch and learn. What will keep users to stay in the community and how to make it grow? Some of my earlier thoughts about that is here – PLM communities and let go threshold.

Online activity is a good indicator of community potential. I’ve been using blogging community as one of my own checkpoint about potential of users and customers to form a successful online community. Go online and try to find number of blogs about specific topic and their traffic. Do it for well-known MCAD packages (CATIA, Creo , Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, SolidWorks) as well as for PDM/PLM products. Google is of course not the best reflection of community size and activities. But it can give you some idea anyway.

CAD-PLM-communities-google-trends

Another interesting observation is related to how customers are sharing their knowledge. You can see very different behavior models. One of them is practically – share everything. This model is creating high viral content online. For this group it is not unusual to see how users are sharing their best practices and problems. Another group is conservative and closed. It is hard to get people to speak about this software. Most of information about it is curated either by software vendors and customers.

So, what are examples of successful in creating CAD/PLM communities? I can come with few examples. The list below is alphabetically sorted and I’m sure miss few communities (so, please don’t hesitate to suggest me additions to this group)

Aras. Back in 2007, Aras Corp. turned their Aras Innovator PLM product into so called “Enterprise Open Source”. This community demonstrated steady growth and I can see lots of information about Aras customers, open roadmap and open source development.

AutoCAD. The community of AutoCAD is big and reflect wide spread of this package in a very diverse set of verticals. I can see some association with community of users working with DWG. However, these users have the tendency to follow specific CAD packages developed around DWG formats.

GrabCAD. This is an interesting example of 1M+ engineers sharing 3D CAD models and related work online. GrabCAD website contains about 400K CAD models and this is probably one of the biggest in this kind.

SolidWorks. The community of SolidWorks is not a typical online (web) community. It was created around SolidWorks software back in before-web days. Nevertheless, this community demonstrated very high engagement level and shared lot of their work online in for the last 10+ years.

I guess “one million dollar question” is how to create a successful online engineering community. One of the myths of engineering world is that engineers are representing very anti-social group of people. The CreativeEngineer blog – A Few Common Myths About Engineers is actually bringing some opposite facts.

If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat. Here’s an except from Geoffrey C. Orsak, Dean of Engineering, SMU: In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.

So, is there an opportunity to create a larger community for engineers and users of CAD / PLM software? I guess the answer is yes. The shift towards online work is in a very beginning. My hunch existing engineering communities were just a beginning of future online working environment. The real community can be build around economic or social interest. In my view, the center of gravity will be moving from a specific CAD/PLM software towards companies and individuals. Internet is a new platform and community is a form to run business relationships on this platform.

What is my conclusion? Think about existing online communities: shoppers, open source software developers, education and many others. Try to make an analogy with manufacturing world. The economic and social interest is driving the most successful ones. I guess we just in the beginning of huge shift of engineering and manufacturing community towards online work. Economic interest will lead people to find new forms of business relationships and create new forms of CAD/PLM communities. Just my thoughts….

Best, Oleg

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Designers and engineers working in manufacturing, architecture and construction firms are familiar with the idea of Z-drive. Usually, this is a name of drive that accessible in your local network (LAN). Usually, the same drive can be available also via WAN, but it is not always reliable because of latency, which can make your CAD system fail. I guess every company experience the period of time CAD and other related engineering files are floating around via Z-drive. Some companies achieved a high level of sophistication by managing data using spreadsheets, PDF files and other files.

The work environment is different these days. The idea of “cloud” computing is changing the way we work. LAN, WAN and other old terms are dismissed by new technologies and tools. Sharing files online is getting more popular and not only for your private photos.

I already posted about Dropbox, OneDrive and pros and cons of specialized CAD sharing technologies. My attention caught by Official Google for Work blog post Google Drive + third-party apps = files at your fingertips. It speaks about how Drive for Works can integrate with 3rd party application while maintain security at the same time.

Drive for Work enables collaboration and content sharing for businesses large and small and helps them share and access their files — even from different cloud applications. Google Drive extends the reach of business applications by taking content that previously was only available in a single application, and making it available across multiple applications — all while maintaining security.

Google-drive-connect-app

The list of application is interesting – CRM, Project management and others. The idea of browsing documents managed by other systems is interesting and can provide advantages to engineers and other users of CAD tools. It made me think about CAD data is getting exposed to Google Drive via 3rd party. Navigate to Google Dev site to get some examples – What Can You Do with the Drive Platform?

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For long time, CAD/PDM topic was banned from cloud. Not anymore. Cloud PDM ban lifted and companies are going to explore how to manage CAD data by leveraging cloud in a most efficient ways. Google Drive and some other technologies from companies focusing on cloud file sharing can provide a foundation to make your native file system transparent to the cloud. Existing desktop CAD tools will leverage it by accessing files. Web API combined with CAD API can be used to develop new type of PDM solutions.

What is my conclusion? Technology will make difference. CAD vendors are on the path of bringing new cloud CAD systems (few examples – Dassault zero file strategy, Autodesk Fusion 360, OnShape). At the same time, desktop CAD systems represent mainstream community of engineers demanding better data management and collaboration tools. These tools have to require little to no IT and integration into existing cloud eco-system to share data. So, Google Drive for Work technology has a chance. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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CAD, PLM and Top 500 cloud app vendors list

September 5, 2014

The cloud is growing. Few years ago, some of us had a concern if cloud is fad and it will over fast. Since that time, we can see many new companies in cloud space as well as many companies turned their development efforts completely towards the cloud eco-system. If you like research, ranks and comparison […]

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What the Dropbox price drop means for engineers and cloud PDM?

September 2, 2014

Cloud storage is an interesting place these days. In my article CAD companies and cloud storage strategy few weeks ago, I discussed the aspect of cloud storage business. Cloud storage companies want your data and for that purpose they will make it very easy for you to sync your data into cloud storage. Dropbox just made […]

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The foundation for next PLM platforms

August 29, 2014

Platform. This is a sweet word in a lexicon of every developer. The desire of software vendors is to become a platform to fuel the development of other products and serve needs of customers. In my debates with Chad Jackson about granularity and integration earlier this month, I outlined what, in my view, can differentiate tools, […]

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Engineers and email workhorse

August 27, 2014

We love and hate email at the same time. Since early beginning (back in 1962) email remains one of the fundamental ways of electronic communication. One of the major email transformation back in 1990s was influence of internet and significant expansion of email content and functionality. In the world of software vendors banking on collaboration, […]

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Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?

August 26, 2014

Unbundling is an interesting trend in many industries these days. It is relatively new marketing and business activity that helps to create new business offering, packages and product configurations. In many situations “unbundling” is a disruptive factors in many industries. Here is how it explained in Wikipedia article: Unbundling is a neologism to describe how […]

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PLM upgrades, release cycles and legacy software

August 19, 2014

Do you know what is legacy software? Earlier today,  Marc Lind of Aras Corp. challenged me by his twitter status about companies complaining about legacy PLM systems and upgrading. Here is the original passage from twitter here and here. “a lot of people complains about legacy PLM and a lot of companies that have legacy PLM […]

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How to visualize future PLM data?

August 12, 2014

I have a special passion for data and data visualization. We do it every day in our life. Simple data, complex data, fast data, contextual data… These days, we are surrounded by data as never before. Think about typical engineer 50-60 years ago. Blueprints, some physical models… Not much information. Nowadays the situation is completely […]

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