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SolidWorks

CAD, Engineers and Online Communities

by Oleg on February 19, 2014 · 3 comments

cad-engineers-community

Remember our life before internet? The meaning of community was about social group that shares common values. Actually, the history of communities is longer than history of CAD software :) . So called “Community Rules” were mentioned in one of the first scrolls found in Qumran Cave. Community word often explains common geography or environment. However, in human communities it is usually comes down to needs, belief, intent, risks, etc. Internet expanded borders of social groups and made possible to create virtual communities. The result – massive creation of online communities (social networks). Some of them, such as Facebook, started as a virtual continuation of physical social groups (academic organization). Social networks today represent huge segment of online internet activities.

The success of social business and social networking raised multiple questions among developers of business software. Collaboration still remains one of the biggest problem in organization. Geographical distribution is another reason why companies are looking how to improve communication. Software vendors are coming with the ideas of software to collaborate similar to social networking web sites. In addition to that, community creation is related to customer activities. This is where a potential to link collaboration in an organization and customer activities.

So, what is the secret of successful community creation? I was reading The collision of communities  few days ago. Article brings some interesting perspectives on community organizations and some driving factors behind community work. Among them, article speaks about Jelly (Q&A search), Wut and Secret (anonymous status apps). These are communities too. Author compares these communities with communities companies are creating these days. Fundamentally, in order to be successful, communities are sharing the same common behavior and interest. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement. Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule: He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.

Engineering software companies are joining the bandwagon community building. Social CAD, Social PLM, Social Collaboration – for the last few years we’ve heard a lot about how community driven (social) software will change the way we do business. We can only speculate about successes and failures of social software. However, I want to bring two examples of communities related to engineering software  - SolidWorks Users and GrabCAD.

SolidWorks has large and successful community. Nobody can argue. The common interests and needs among them is to share knowledge and experience of how to use SolidWorks. In my view, it was extremely important to all participants since it allowed to them (engineers) to get CAD system support. Most of SolidWorks users are working for small firms that had no budget and engineering IT to help them.

GrabCAD is an interesting example. Started few years ago as “Facebook for Engineers”, it succeeded to gather about 1 million engineers to share CAD files online. Here is my pure speculation how it was done. Re-use is one of the fundamental engineering behavior. You can save a lot of time by re-using existing design even if you will modify it. Back in my university years, to have an old similar project was a huge time saving factor in every project I did. GrabCAD provided to engineers models to reuse CAD models for the best price – free. In addition to that, it helps engineers to self-promote their work.

Think about these two examples. In both cases, focus on identification of “community rule” was a key to success. It should be something that will drive common interests and benefits of all participants. Wikipedia article about organizational communication can be a good source of learning and additional information.  Here are few assumptions I captured:

All we really need to understand communication in organizations is (a) observable and replicable behaviors that can be transformed into variables by some form of measurement, and (b) formally replicable syllogisms that can extend theory from observed data to other groups and settings. Organizations are mechanical things, in which the parts (including employees functioning in defined roles) are interchangeable. What works in one organization will work in another similar organization. Individual differences can be minimized or even eliminated with careful management techniques.

What is my conclusion? Ask two engineers about how to do a project – you will get 3 options. To work with engineers is like herding cats. Nevertheless, the focus should be on identification and capturing of behaviors that can help engineers in their everyday life. Be prepared to discover something different from traditional organizational goals like “improve quality” or “decrease cost”. By capturing and replicating engineers’ behaviors you can find a recipe to organize a successful engineering community. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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cad-collab-cloud

Collaboration was always in the focus of engineering software. Started earlier with CAD and product data management, software vendors tried to create an environment where engineers can easy collaborate and share information about design. The boundary of collaboration never been limited to engineering department. You might remember “extended enterprise collaboration” stories back in 2000s. That was probably first attempt to provide an easy way to share information among engineering and other teams. In my view, early collaboration software provided by CAD and PLM vendors had two main diseases – complexity of user interface (or how we call it these days – user experience) and complexity of computer infrastructure needed to be installed and maintained by IT departments.

The situation is going to change these days. User interface is clearly getting in focus of development teams. Most of CAD and PLM companies are recognizing the importance of smooth user experience.  The demand of users set by public web giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and not by old-school enterprise software vendors. Cloud technologies are going to simplify IT jobs and provide new generation of IT infrastructure.

So, design collaboration space is getting hot. Established CAD vendors and newcomer start-up companies are trying to innovate by providing new environments and collaboration philosophies. I picked up 3 companies that in my view can provide a good example of the future CAD cloud design collaborative environment – Autodesk, GrabCAD and Solidworks.

Autodesk 360

Autodesk introduced Tech preview of new Autodesk 360 product. Core77 blog article Autodesk 360 Tech preview: it’s like Facebook for designers provides a very good coverage and screen shots. Here is the passage summarized what Autodesk 360 does:

autodesk360

The company has created a Facebook-like interface for projects and design teams; collaborators log on to a cleanly-designed dashboard page containing “all of the data, projects, people, tasks, discussions, activities, issues and alerts that are associated with design or architecture projects that they are working on.” Clicking on a project, for instance, is like clicking on someone’s Facebook wall; you get a linear view of all developments concerning that project, with your fellow collaborators’ updates taking the place of comments. People can upload relevant files as updates, and anyone with access can view any file, regardless of whether it’s an Autodesk format or not. (This includes non-design data, like spreadsheets and such.) And yes, Autodesk 360 can also be used from your phone or tablet, just as with Facebook.

GrabCAD Workbench (Partners Space)

GrabCAD is a newcomer in CAD collaboration space. Started as a space for engineers to collaborate few years ago (funny enough, it was mentioned many times as a “Facebook for engineers”), these days GrabCAD is moving fast to become CAD collaboration solution provider with their GrabCAD Workbench product. GrabCAD blog – Why GrabCAD created a next-generation release process? can give you some insight on GrabCAD strategy and philosophy. Here is what I captured:

gc-collaboration-cad

GrabCAD started as a way for engineers to collaborate on engineering projects. Over time, we engineered the secure system GrabCAD Workbench first for external collaboration, then, with CPD, for PDM-style internal collaboration. Unlike PLM systems, which mostly started as CAD-centric data management tools, we have approached the problem by first understanding the social and business problems our customers need to solve. This unique perspective caused us to partition the private engineering workspace from special “Partner Spaces” that make sharing such data secure and foolproof. While the engineering team is working away, each partner has access to the version released to them. The Partner Space also contains a limited and more appropriate set of tools for external collaboration, so the partner sees only what they need to.

SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (Dashboard)

Last week at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego, Dassault SolidWorks made an announcement about new product SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). The product was long awaited and raised lots of discussion and controversy in blogosphere and CAD press. My single best link to follow different opinions about SWMC is SolidSmack’s article – What we found out about SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual and Future of SolidWorks. Another good reference is Graphic Speak article – The business case for SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. What captured my attention in SWMC announcement is introduction of so called – 3DEXPERIENCE 3D Space. Here is how it was explained by Graphic Speak:

3dexperience-3dspace

Mechanical Conceptual introduces a new way of sharing data that’s integral to the 3D Experience Platform. Called the 3D Dashboard, it functions like the Windows Explorer for SolidWorks or any other desktop application. All models are saved to the dashboard in a so-called workspace that can be shared with co-workers or customers. The dashboard is accessible by a Web browser. Clients who don’t have Mechanical Conceptual can simply log in to view models

What is my conclusion? Customers have huge demand to improve collaboration. People are expecting collaboration should be as easy as sharing your photos on Facebook. However, complexity of design environment is much higher than sharing photos. This is a clear challenge for all vendors regardless on their status and experience. The simplicity is the hardest thing to deliver. However, it is not all about future of collaboration. In my view, cost will become the next important challenge. Who will be able to provide the best combination of features, user experience and cost will probably lead future CAD collaboration space in the cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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cloud-pdm-integration

CAD/PDM integration is a very important topic. It is a piece of software that helps to establish a connection between core engineering world using CAD systems and rest of the world using design data. It was a place where lots of data management innovation happened in the past. It is also one of the most frequently debated topic, especially when it comes to how manage connectivity between CAD and PDM/PLM system. It created lot of successes to companies introducing data management to engineering departments and probably created as many failures to companies that didn’t do it well or messed up with management of PDM and CAD releases.

In my view, it remains hot topic these days. Cloud brings new stream of innovation into CAD-PDM space. Cloud and CAD files management is heavily debated among different communities these days. Navigate to read my What end of local storage means for CAD? and catch up on CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems. One of my active opponents in the discussion about how to introduce cloud to CAD data management is GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum – Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools.

Earlier this week, GrabCAD made an announcement about GrabCAD Workbench availability for SolidWorks. It came aligned with SolidWorks World 2014 that is taking place these days in San Diego, CA. The following two articles provide good coverage of what SolidWorks GrabCAD Workbench integration does – GrabCAD workbench rolls new CAD file management features and Busy Week in the Cloud: GrabCAD and Autodesk 360 . Here is an interesting passage

…GrabCAD Workbench provides a cost-effective and easy-to-implement PDM/PLM alternative for small- to mid-sizes businesses. GrabCAD Workbench now also offers a SolidWorks add-in and neutral file translator, opening up even more options in file types for users. Workbench users can now upload and download files as well as resolve conflicts from within SolidWorks…

SolidWorks user community is hot PDM opportunity for the cloud. I remember my post two years ago SolidWorks, Cloud and Product Data Management speaking about potential cloud infusion of PDM in SolidWorks eco-system.

The interesting part of GrabCAD Workbench / SolidWorks plugin is the way it was integrated in SolidWorks. Below I put few screenshots of different PDM systems providing integration to SolidWorks. All of them are integrating PDM plug-in immersively into CAD (SolidWorks) environment to simplify user experience:

GrabCAD:

GrabCAD-SolidWorks-Add-in-copy

SolidWorks EPDM (formerly Conisio)

pdmworks_enterprise1_lg

SmarTeam:

solidworks-smarteam

Siemens TeamCenter:

Teamcenter-Integration-for-SolidWorks

It made me think about the way cloud is probably going to be introduced to engineering community of CAD users – painless plug-in connecting CAD system you are familiar with to the cloud infrastructure, servers and eco-system. The beauty of the approach is that it helps to hide from engineer “cloud nature of the system”. CAD user experience remains the same – familiar to engineers for many years. The potential danger is plug-in behavior in case of network low speed and cloud connectivity outage.

What is my conclusion? Data management transparency is a key for success. To serve users with familiar user experience and to sneak cloud servers into CAD system is a very nice approach that can provide a lot of potential. It holds the same risk old PDMs have – failure of servers or disruption / slowdown of CAD user experience. If it happens, user will boot out PDM system of CAD environment doesn’t matter of future cloud potential. It happened in the past with old PDM systems and won’t be different these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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The Future Unbundling Strategies in CAD/PLM

November 6, 2013

Engineering software has a long history of aggregation and disaggregation. In CAD, it was long time about new features vendors added to CAD tools. Ultimately, it was a long run towards new features. Later in the history, CAD industry came to the idea of integrating of various add-on systems into CAD environment. So, we got […]

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What Cloud CAD-PDM Hybrid Means for PLM?

February 10, 2013

To predict future is tough. Not many people are trying to do so. Especially in tech. Companies are juggling with buzzwords, powerpoints and software. At the same time, analysts are trying to swim into the social information stream of provocations, facts and opinions. There are two terms in manufacturing and product development software that created […]

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Cloud CAD and what does it mean for PLM?

November 30, 2012

The topic of CAD (or 3D CAD) in the cloud is getting more traction. The first “CAD in the Cloud” announcement happened almost 2 years ago when SolidWorks introduced their technological work during SWW 2010. Read SolidWorks takes off to the cloud to refresh your memories. Back that days it raised lots of conversations, disputes […]

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PDM, Collaboration and Google Apps

June 6, 2012

Data management and collaboration are not new topics. I think, the majority of industry experts agree that proper data management can improve collaboration and people performance. However, not much happened beyond this statement for the last decade. The deployment of data-management systems remains complicated, and the majority of end users see data management as a […]

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PDM ROI: Myths or Reality?

May 24, 2012

In personal life, the justification of your buying decision is simple. You want to have the next cool device, period. In business, it is different. The magic acronym ROI (Return on Investment) will be the first question you need to answer. Cost is real thing. Benefits must be real too. Last year, I posted about […]

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First Look of 3DS SolidWorks e-Drawings for iPad

May 1, 2012

For the last couple of years, I’ve been following iPad application appearance in the space of engineering and manufacturing. I expected this application to come much earlier. So, I wanted to say the same word Ricky Jordan said in his blog. Finally! SolidWorks (or how it is named now 3DS SolidWorks) just made a release of e-Drawing iPAD application. […]

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SolidWorks, Cloud and Product Data Management

February 15, 2012

Cloud is one of my favorite topics. Back, two years ago, on SWW 2010, SolidWorks made a broad statement about the future of SolidWorks on the cloud and SolidWorks technological experiments in that space. I can see lots of changes happened since that time. Cloud computing is clearly going mainstream. It takes companies to understand […]

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