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Engineers

plm-no-excel

I had a dream. A crazy one. Imagine the death of Excel. It is very hard to imagine the situation where you don’t have a possibility to pull data in a comfy spreadsheet file, sort, delete columns and to get the result. Instead of that, your system will do that work and you will be able to focus on actually doing your engineering or manufacturing job.

More people today are moving  towards systems that recognize data and its semantics as a fundamental valuable asset. It is an important move from the situation where we are using dumb spreadsheet containers with data that that can be understood only by few people in your company. Remember my old post – Do we need Chief Excel Officer to manage BOM? Here you go – no more Excels.

Welcome new generation 

App generation is different from Excel generation. The greatest threat to existing Excel status is new generation of people that grew up in the world where files are not necessarily needed. Think about mobile phones, internet websites and many other examples of new digital environment. For most of them, files are not something that needed. You don’t have files on your iPhone. For most of the cases, Apps bring you data you need.

Goodbye silos

Our data is fragmented today. Even Excel spreadsheet is allowing you to connect one piece of data to another, in practice it is hard to do and maintain in a consistent way. Hundreds of Excel spreadsheets with islands of disconnected data are spread around the organization with no ability to track it. Bad… Therefore, it is not a surprise that companies are building data driven solutions that can handle semantics of data and put right data in front of right people at the right time.

From single desktop computer to BYOD

In the past, our life was very connected to a desktop computer. Then it changed a bit and engineers moved to mobile workstations. The reality of today is to switch into massive usage of multiple devices – mobile phones, tablet, computers at home, etc. It was relatively easy to maintain a set of Excel files on your single computer. It is much harder to do with multiple devices, especially some of them are not supporting file systems as their experience paradigm.

What is my conclusion? It is clear to me that our environment becomes less friendly to Excel spreadsheets. The way to capture, organize and present data is changing. What was natural 10 years ago for old school engineers will become outdated and crazy for new generation of people. The data must be disconnected from computers spreadsheet formats and live in a world where you can take an advantage of data access for communication, collaboration and decision making. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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cloudpdm-shadow

An interest of customers in cloud PDM solution is growing. I guess there are multiple factors here – awareness about cloud efficiency and transparency, less concern about cloud security and improved speed and stability of internet connections. If you are not following my blog, you can catch up on my older blog articles about cloud PDM – Cloud PDM ban lifted. What next?; Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools; Cloud can make file check-in and check-out obsolete. The confluence of new technologies around cloud, web, mobile and global manufacturing is creating a demand for cloud (or web based) solution helping distributed design teams.

So, where is a challenge for cloud PDM? My hunch, the biggest one is how to sell cloud PDM to manufacturing companies. I can divide all customers into two groups – larger manufacturing companies that already implemented PDM solutions and smaller manufacturing firms that are still managing CAD design with folders, FTP and Dropbox accounts.

Analysts, researchers and PDM marketing pundits are trying to convince companies that cloud PDM can become a great enabler for collaboration and leaving CAD data “not managed” can bring even greater risk to organization. There is nothing wrong with that… PDM was build around the idea of how to take a control over data. However, the idea of “control” is not something engineers like. Ed Lopategui is speaking about engineers and control in his last blog – The day the strength of PDM failed. Here is a passage I liked:

The second reason, which is not so legitimate, is a loss of control. The reason so many engineers pine about the days of paper-based PDM in document control departments (or instead nothing at all) is that world could be circumvented in a pinch. It was flawed because it was run by humans, and consequently also replete with errors. Replaced with immutable and uncaring software, engineers working in groups nonetheless become irritated because they can’t just do whatever they want. You see this very conflict happening with regard to source control in software development circles. The order needed to manage a complex product necessarily makes manipulating pieces of that engineering more cumbersome. It’s one thing to be creating some widget in a freelance environment, it’s another matter entirely when that end product needs traceable configuration for a serialized certification basis. And that will happen regardless of how the software operates.

Here is the thing… Maybe cloud PDM should stop worry about controlling data and think more about how to bring a comfort to engineers and stop irritating users with complex lifecycle scenarios? It made me think about practice that known as “shadow IT”. For the last few years, shadow IT and cloud services have lot of things in common. Don’t think about shadow IT as a bad thing. Think about innovation shadow IT can bring to organizations.

Forbes article “Is shadow IT a runaway train or an innovation engine?“ speaks about how shadow IT can inject some innovative thinking into organization. This is my favorite passage:

As we reported last month, one corporate employee survey found that 24% admit they have purchased and/or deployed a cloud application — such as Salesforce.com, Concur, Workday, DropBox, or DocuSign. One in five even use these services without the knowledge of their IT departments.

The rise of shadow IT may actually inject a healthy dose of innovative thinking into organizations, at a time they need it most. The ability to test new approaches to business problems, and to run with new ideas, is vital to employees at all levels. If they are encumbered by the need for permissions, or for budget approvals to get to the technology they need, things will get mired down. Plus, shadow IT applications are often far cheaper than attempting to build or purchase similar capabilities through IT. 

What is my conclusion?  Stop controlling data and bring a freedom of design work back to engineers. I understand, it is easy to say, but very hard to implement. To control data is a very fundamental PDM behavior. To re-imagining it require some innovative thinking. It is also related to the fact how to stop asking engineers to check-in, check-out and copy files between different locations. Maybe, this is an innovation folks at Onshape are coming with? I don’t know. In my view, cloud PDM tools have the opportunity to change the way engineers are working with CAD data. Many new services became successful by providing cloud applications and making existing working practices much easier than before. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: Dean Hochman via photopin cc

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engineers-plm-brain

Computers are changing the way we work. It is probably too broad statement. But if I think about the fact today is Friday afternoon, it should be fine :) . I want to take a bit futuristic perspective today. Google, internet and computing are good reason why our everyday habits today are different from what we had 10 years ago. Back in the beginning of 2000s we’ve been buying paper maps before going on vacation and kept paper books with phone numbers of people we need. Look how is it different now. Maybe we still need to make a hotel reservation before the trip, but most of the thing we do can be achievable online via internet and mobile devices.

A month ago, I posted about connecting digital and physical entities. I was inspired by Jeff Kowalski presentation at AU 2014. You can get a transcript and video by navigating to the following link. The idea of machine learning and “training” computer brain to find an optimal design is inspiring. The following passage from Kowalski’s presentation is a key in my view:

 …we’re working on ways to better understand and navigate existing solutions that might be relevant to your next design project. Using machine learning algorithms, we can now discover patterns inherent in huge collections of millions of 3D models. In short, we can now discover and expose the content and context of all the current designs, for all the next designs. Taxonomies are based on organizing things with shared characteristics. But they don’t really concern themselves with the relationships those things have with other types of things — something we could call context. Adding context reveals not only what things are, but also expresses what they’re for, what they do, and how they work.

Nature explores all of the solutions that optimize performance for a given environment — what we call evolution. We need to do the same thing with our designs. But first we have to stop “telling the computer what to do,” and instead, start “telling the computer what we want to achieve.” With Generative Design, by giving the computer a set of parameters that express your overall goals, the system will use algorithms to explore all of the best possible permutations of a solution through successive generations, until the best one is found.

Another time, I’ve was recently thinking about artificial intelligence, machine learning and self-organized systems was my article – How PLM can build itself using AI technologies. The idea of The Grid that allows to self organize website based on a set of input parameters and content learning is interesting. It made me think about future PLM system that self-define system behaviors based on the capturing of information and processes from a manufacturing company.

The article Google search will be your brain put another interesting perspective on the evolution of computer and information system. Take some time over the weekend and read the article. The story of neural nets is fascinating and if you think about a potential to train the net with the knowledge of design, it can help to capture requirements and design commands in the future. Here is an interesting passage explaining how neural nets are working from the article:

Neural nets are modeled on the way biological brains learn. When you attempt a new task, a certain set of neurons will fire. You observe the results, and in subsequent trials your brain uses feedback to adjust which neurons get activated. Over time, the connections between some pairs of neurons grow stronger and other links weaken, laying the foundation of a memory.

A neural net essentially replicates this process in code. But instead of duplicating the dazzlingly complex tangle of neurons in a human brain, a neural net, which is much smaller, has its neurons organized neatly into layers. In the first layer (or first few layers) are feature detectors, a computational version of the human senses. When a computer feeds input into a neural net—say, a database of images, sounds or text files—the system learns what those files are by detecting the presence or absence of what it determines as key features in them.

So, who knows… maybe in a not very far future CAD and PLM systems will be providing a specific search based experience helping engineers to design and manufacturing in a completely different way.

What is my conclusion? While it still sounds like a dream, I can see some potential in making design work looks similar to search for an optimal solution with specific constraints and parameters. A well trained algorithm can do the work in the future. Just thinking about that can fire so many questions – how long will take to train the net, what will be a role of engineers in the future design and many others. But these are just my thoughts… Maybe it will inspire you too. Have a great weekend!

Best, Oleg

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How to build online community around CAD/PLM software?

October 13, 2014

  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 […]

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Do we need PLM walkie-talkie?

August 28, 2014

Continue the topic of efficient communication started yesterday about future of the email for engineers, I want to speak about some other interesting alternatives engineers can use to stay connected and work together. Instant messaging is crazy popular. We use it everywhere. Last year I posted about opportunity to develop instant messaging app for enterprise […]

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Do We Need Engineering Note App?

March 27, 2014

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 […]

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CAD and Future Office Design Walls

March 26, 2014

Collaboration is inspiring. It is very overloaded word in engineering space. Collaboration is often used in the context of CAD, design and engineering environment to allow engineers and other people to work together when they are located remotely and disconnected from each other. This is sort of mainstream collaboration scenario – to connect people. While, […]

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PLM Return on Mobility Challenges

March 20, 2014

Almost two years ago I posted my Mobile PLM gold rush – did vendors miss the point? post. Mobile usage is skyrocketing. It is hard to imagine our lives without mobile devices. Is it a good time to get back to the conversation about PLM, engineers and mobile? What is a special purpose of mobile applications for […]

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How engineers find path from emails and messages to collaboration?

March 14, 2014

We are really bad about managing ourselves. The natural people behavior is to create mess. Life is getting more dynamic these days. We are swamped into the ocean of information, data streams, social networks, emails, calls, etc. If you want me to do something, send me an email. I’m pretty sure you are familiar with […]

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Engineers and Contextual Search Experience

February 28, 2014

Web search became part of our life. We don’t search anymore, we “google” everything . The visible simplicity of Google created a feeling that magic of search can transform and simplify any software product behavior. CAD, PLM and other enterprise software companies liked the idea as well. Search is certainly getting into mainstream. Open source […]

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