This morning Onshape went from stealth mode into a public beta release. I’ve been using Onshape for the last few weeks. Today, I finally have an opportunity to share some of my thoughts about how I think Onshape and other cloud design systems will influence PLM implementations. The scope of PLM I’m thinking about is related to engineering collaboration, communication between people, data management, product development processes, business and enterprise integration. After all, CAD is just one tool (indeed a very important one) that people in engineering and manufacturing businesses are using. However, it is hard to judge CAD without taking a broader look at how things are connected together.
Onshape is adding a solid voice behind industry cloud transformation. What Onshape does is coming alongside what some other companies are doing. It is probably fair to mention two of them – Autodesk Fusion 360 and SolidWorks Industrial Design. As I wrote in my earlier post, Carl Bass and Jon Hirschtick are in agreement about future of CAD. However, I guess, there are some differences in approaches. My hunch, the industry chatter will bring lots of debates about who did what first in the cloud CAD…. However, it is irrelevant, in my view. I just want to bring one thing to the competition story. It is a passage from Peter Thiel’s lecture about business strategy and monopoly. He calls it “competition is for losers”. Here is the thing…
….there is always this sort of idea that you want to be the first mover and I always think in some ways the better framing is you want to be the last mover. You want to be one of the last companies in that category, those are the ones that are really valid. Microsoft was the last operating system, at least for many decades. Google was the last search engine. Facebook will be valuable if it turns out to be the last of social networking site.
Getting back to Onshape and PLM, I want to speak about three things today – collaboration, PDM, and mobile. I started to think about cloud CAD and PLM almost two years ago. Navigate to my old blog post about PLM and Autodesk Fusion360. The conclusion I’ve made back in 2013 was that cloud CAD system will change the focus of PLM tools from engineering collaboration to business processes in the organization. After using Onshape for some time, I’m even more convinced about that direction. I want to bring you some of my thoughts inspired by Onshape examples.
For a long time, engineering collaboration was one of the core domains for PLM. The dividing line was your local or network disk storing CAD files. Beyond that point, different PLM solutions were focusing on how to give everybody access to review and markup files. It was the role of PLM systems to share 2D/3D data with the team and external suppliers.
With native cloud solutions like Onshape, the need for additional visualization and collaboration tools will disappear. The data is natively available in your browser on any device at any time for anybody. Everyone can give access to any piece of data similar to how you can do it in Google Docs.
PDM and data management
To manage revisions and data about CAD files was the long time one of the main challenges for PLM development. Many PLM projects started by taking control of CAD files and helping engineers to search for the right revision of CAD files. The cloud approach is changing that. Now, the CAD system is responsible for storing all data in a single place (cloud) and taking care of the management of revisions.
Web and Mobile transparency
Using data on any device is a pretty common requirement for most web applications these days.I like the idea that I can access my documents (designs) on any device and do pretty much whatever I want. From that standpoint, I can see a step forward made by Onshape to allow to make any design action on any device. We can only speculate how comfortable to design parts and make assemblies using iPhone 6+, but I guess a seamless approach is a good thing looking forward.
Cloud CAD and future PLM challenges
At the same time, I want to mention a few challenges that I see in connection with the future development of cloud CAD software and product lifecycle management. The first is related to data integration. One of the achievements of PLM deployment is to share a diverse set of data produced by multiple CAD systems. It is not an unusual situation- multiple CAD systems are a reality for many customers. Cloud CAD systems like Onshape will expose PLM systems to a level of new integration challenges. Another challenge is what I call “double PDM tax“. Cloud CAD is coming with embedded data management (PDM functions). Imagine two cloud CAD systems co-existing and re-using parts and assemblies. I can see a few potential solutions here, but this kind of integration will be a new thing in CAD/PLM industry.
What is my conclusion? Cloud CAD becomes a reality. I’m excited to see many new opportunities with cloud CAD tools. Onshape is clearly bringing a few very fresh cloud ideas. However, after all, customers will be real voters. Wearing my PLM hat, here is my PLM-specific conclusion. PLM vendors still have some time to get themselves prepared for a new reality of cloud CAD systems like Onshape and others. Data integration is clearly a big deal and will become a very important thing. It is a good time to re-think the role and appearance of PDM and other engineering collaboration tools. Just my thoughts…
Pictures provided by Onshape.
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a global digital thread platform providing PDM, PLM, and ERP capabilities and new experience to manage product data and connect manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.