Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?

Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors?


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 the ubiquity of mobile devices, Internet connectivity, consumer web technologies, social media and information access[1] in the 21st century are affecting older institutions (education, broadcasting, newspapers, games, shopping, etc.) by “break[ing] up the packages they once offered, providing particular parts of them at ascale and cost unmatchable by the old order.”[2] Unbundling has been called “the great disruptor”.[3] “Unbundling” most basically means simply the “process of breaking apart something into smaller parts.”[4] In the context of mergers and acquisitions, unbundling refers to the “process of taking over a large company with several different lines of business, and then, while retaining the core business, selling off the subsidiaries to help fund the takeover.”[5]

Enterprise software is well known by existing large “bundled” application suites. For long period of time, vendors developed large set of packaged applications. On the other side, customers’ demand was to achieve high level of vertical integration between product lines and product families. Last year, I explored some perspective on the future of unbundling in enterprise software and PLM. One of the drivers behind future “unbundling” is related to interests of customers to get better optimized software environment, focus on specific groups of users and driving faster ROI and fast implementations.

My attention caught my Aras blog post – If all you have is Teamcenter Everything Becomes a 3D CAD Problem. The article speaks exactly about the problem of bundles in engineering software. It discusses different needs of users in an organization. The split Aras introduced by Aras goes between people that need to get on 3D CAD software and rest of organization. Here is the passage, which explains that.

The 3D CAD vendors have created very complex file configuration management problems. Independent of how you manage your enterprise product lifecycle, you have to worry about breaking the configuration integrity of these fragile 3D CAD systems. Given the unique complexity of the 3D CAD problem, do you really expect that a single enterprise tool will be able to manage the entire product information data set and processes? Or is it better to manage CAD with the PDM system provided by the CAD vendor, and use a more suitable enterprise system to manage the majority of the product information and processes? Thousands of end users managing the true majority of product information and use cases have been asked to wait decades while exotic 3D CAD centric PLM systems are deployed to the specification and requirements of the few design engineers. But what is the missed opportunity cost to the business?

I can see Aras’ marketing and business message for “unbundling”. As non-CAD PLM vendor, Aras is looking how to disrupt integrated suites provided by PLM vendors such as Siemens PLM and maybe others. At the same time, for customers looking how to solve a specific set of problems outside of engineering organization, to deliver such unbundled solution can be an interesting and efficient strategy.

There are lot of questions that customers will raise as soon as vendors like Aras will unbundle specific 3D CAD functionality from broader scope of process management. To achieve both vertical integration and granularity in platform and tools is very hard and this is a weak point in Aras strategy compared to integrated PLM suites. Few weeks ago, I debated that topic with Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insight. Read about debates here – CAD: Engineering bundles vs. granular apps. More of my ideas and thoughts about the same topic is here –  PLM: Tools, Bundles and Platforms.

What is my conclusion? To unbundle complex engineering applications suites as PLM is not easy. Vertical interesting is very important and it will be hard to give up them. Flexibility and agility are on the top priority lists for IT managers when it comes to management of application and resources these days. It looks like an interesting topic to put on the list for PLM vendors and software architects these days. Unbundling was very disruptive in many domains. Will PLM domain can be disrupted by unbundling into platforms and granular apps. Will 3D CAD become the first tool to unbundle from PLM? It is a good question to ask. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • Hey Oleg. Good discussion with some very relevant points.

    For me, this points back to the issue of stuffing all sorts of non-geometry information into the CAD file. Look in there, and you’ll find part files, the BOM, material selection, costing and more.

    That’s one of the reasons a moving CAD to the Cloud as appropriate. As that happens, it seems that software providers are ripping most of that non-geometry stuff out of the CAD file and dropping it into databases managed by PDM or PLM systems. As this trend continues, I think that vision Aras has becomes more and more realistic.

    I think the only outstanding issue is reconciling that non-geometry information. Engineers have and will continue to want to create, manage and edit such information as part of their processes. Those outside engineering, in the scenario that Aras describes, will also need to create, manage and edit such information as part of their larger product development process. Obviously, it would be bad if the two weren’t in synch,

    Ultimately, I think this does point back to our debates on granularity and integration. Such non-geometry information needs to sit in one single source of truth. That source of truth needs to be accessed by many different granular applications, each working off a single set of integrated data.

  • marclind

    Good points Oleg. Our realization and vision is that multi-disciplinary design is the future. Mechanical 3D, while still important, shouldn’t dictate global product lifecycle processes the way it has.

    Today’s product development brings together electronics, software/firmware, new materials AND mechanical designs to create innovative new product systems.

    It involves engineers across many disciplines, as well as, production personnel, procurement, quality, marketing, sales, finance, suppliers, customers, outsourced manufacturers… and they don’t care about 99% of the features / dials & buttons required for hard core 3D CAD designers… those bells & whistles just complicate the user experience / usability of the global PLM backbone.

    We/Aras provide full-featured connectors for all the MCAD and ECAD packages like CATIA and NX as well as Allegro, Zuken, Altium, etc. however, we keep those capabilities where they belong, in-session (i.e. pull down menus / ribbons) in the CAD environment.

    We agree with you and believe “unbundle” is the future and we’re giving the world the platform that drives that trend.

    Just my 2 cents for what it’s worth.


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  • beyondplm

    Marc, thanks for comments and insight!

    I see 3D in a wider scope – not only as mechanical 3D CAD. The question to me is how to “unbundle” 3D from core engineering functions and provide a valuable contextual medium for PLM.

    I think, Aras tried to come with PLM offer without connection to 3D and it wasn’t much success. As a result you turned into partnership to develop full blown CAD integrations.

    I can see similar thing with Arena Solutions. They focus on a specific niche mostly around BOM and related processes such as Quality, Changes, Supply. It successful because (as far as I know) Arena operates mostly with electronic vendors and connection to MCAD is less important.

    So, getting back to the idea of unbundle of 3D. I completely agree with you – mechanical design features are not important to 80% of people in manufacturing company. However, some of 3D functions are interesting. How to provide a value and differentiation of 3D to rest of the company? What experience PLM will provide to 80% of people? Is it the same “excel spreadsheet” we manage to create for the last 30 years?

    Thanks, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Chad, thanks for your comments! Yes, it goes exactly to the point of granularity and integration. Various pieces of information is important for different people in a company. As you said, some of non-geometrical info is important inside of CAD system. Aras scenario represents an opposite approach. Cloud and databases as a broader platform is a way to bring information to diverse set of customers. 3D PDF is another tech alternative how to unbundle 3D from core CAD features and bring information to wider audience in a company.

  • marclind

    Oleg – You can see progression of 3D relevance in different disciplines:

    Mechanical = 3D Important

    Electronics = 3D sometimes useful, but not critical (schematics,
    layouts, netlists, etc more important)

    Software = 3D… not so much

    We believe that Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE / MBE) provides a powerful paradigm for next generation products… however, from our perspective most of the people in the enterprise will consume/use/markup/annotate light weight viewable formats (not native 3D CAD).

    Therefore, “unbundle” and best of breed for CAD authoring tools makes more sense since PLM provides backbone and connectivity across many different tool sets, and everything in Aras gets converted into 3D PDF automatically or JT (but JT is such a deadend – can’t repurpose/reuse easily downstream, etc)

    We see a future where 3D plays an important role, integral to people throughout the organization and the supply chain.

    However, it makes more sense that the expert CAD systems should be “unbundled” so as not to dictate unnecessary complexity by forcing a 3Dexperience down the throats of everyone else.