PLM space is hot these days and the money is coming to PLM space. Earlier this year, Autodesk made an acquisition of another cloud PLM vendor Upchain. At this time, we can say that Autodesk is buying PDM/PLM software companies on average every 10 years, Upchain acquisition generated few interesting thoughts about winners, losers, and also a bunch of unanswered questions about what is the trajectory of Autodesk PLM.
A few days ago, an Autodesk blog article made the first introduction of Upchain. Check this out – Introducing Upchain Cloud PDM and PLM All in One – Under the Hood – All things PDM and PLM. The article presents Upchain position as a combination of 3 elements- (1) cloud-native bridge data and process; (2) multi-CAD integrations and (3) automated processes.
I also found the new Upchain product page, which replaced the Upchain website home page. The website lost pricing information, but I hope Autodesk will bring it back sooner than later. Upchain brings the number of PDM and PLM systems to three unless you want to count the Autodesk Forge platform capabilities to manage files and data (like it does for Autodesk Fusion360).
The articles about Upchain made me think about how customers can choose one or another Autodesk PDM system and how to differentiate these systems. Below, I will try to make a non-scientific comparison between Autodesk PDM/PLM systems (I put them in the order they have been acquired by Autodesk).
Autodesk Vault (FKA truEVault acquired in 2002).
This is one of the most mature PDM /PLM products in the Autodesk portfolio. It is also probably the most widely adopted product in the data management eco-systems of Autodesk, which supports multiple CAD systems and provides enterprise-level data management for the largest Autodesk customers. Autodesk Vault was going through many transformations and recently got a brand new mobile application, which Autodesk blog announced just a few months ago back in February 2021 – Vault Mobile App is now available. Vault includes capabilities to manage files, includes viewers, supports check-in/out and workflows, replicated sites, and many other features.
What Autodesk Vault doesn’t do? The biggest limit of Autodesk Vault is the technology, which takes it back into the 1990s when it was developed. Although it was improved substantially, Vault inherited some of the historical tech, which most probably makes it no go for any cloud deployment.
Autodesk Fusion360 Manage (FKA Fusion Lifecycle, PLM360, DataStay acquired in 2011).
According to the Autodesk website, Fusion360 Manage is a product lifecycle management platform that connects your people, processes, and data across departments and geographies. It is “instant-on PLM”, accessible anytime and anywhere. You can check Fusion360 features here (). One of the most promoted capabilities of Fusion 360 Manage (PLM360) is its insane flexibility to build multiple applications, data models, workflows, and solutions. It has an app store, which according to the website, allows you to choose from dozens of more PLM processes that you can use at no extra cost.
What Fusion360 Manage doesn’t do? A single big thing that Fusion360 Manage doesn’t do is managing CAD data and files. The system was originally designed purely for data management and never had capabilities to manage engineering workflow. Until very recently… Autodesk announces the availability of Fusion 360 Manage together with Fusion360 actually focusing on managing the Fusion360 release process.
Upchain (acquired in 2021)
Finally coming back to Upchain. Taken from the Autodesk website, the description of Upchain is very similar to Fusion360 Manage and it sounds like this – Upchain is cloud-based product data management and product lifecycle management software all in one. Configurable, out-of-the-box workflows control your processes to keep projects moving, while integrations keep teams working in the CAD and business tools they already know.
Upchain is instant-on PDM and PLM, which adapts to your needs and also unlocks your rich 3D data, and supports out-of-the-box processes.
What Upchain doesn’t do? It is a good question. It is obviously not connected to any Autodesk cloud infrastructure and it doesn’t integrate with Autodesk Fusion360 (where Fusion 360 Manage currently plays the role of integrated data manager). But it is just a matter of time until Autodesk will do so.
What Autodesk PDM/PLM system is right for me?
This is a question I’d expect any Autodesk customer should be asking today. If you’re totally fine with the need to install and manage the system (IT cost), Autodesk Vault is probably your best choice. The integrations are mature and the system is well maintained over the years. At the same time, Upchain duplicates on paper all Vault functions, so from now on, the system will always live in the shadow of being sacrificed to let newer acquisitions (Upchain) move and grow.
Autodesk Fusion 360 Manage is a nice system, but it doesn’t manage files. So, it is really only good in the Fusion 360 environment to manage the release process. Elsewhere, the system will be always limited (no engineering file management functions) and live in the shadow of Upchain, which can again do everything, except… managing Fusion 360 data and process, unless such support will be developed and Upchain will replace Fusion 360 Manage.
Last, but most interesting – Upchain. The newest acquisition of Autodesk should solve the problem of cloud PDM managing engineering work-in-progress data in a multi-CAD environment. The last might be an interesting challenge knowing the love and hate relationships of CAD vendors and direct competition between PTC, Dassault Systemes, and Siemens. Combining it with direct competition between Autodesk Inventor and Solidworks, I can only hunch how long it will take Upchain to stop supporting Solidworks or make Autodesk Inventor integration more robust. These things happened in the past, but might be different these days.
One more thing… Autodesk Forge Data Management (PIM)
Although I cannot call it PDM/PLM, the Autodesk Forge platform is providing a robust infrastructure to manage files, data and support 3D Viewing capabilities. The most interesting thing here is the Fusion 360 Data Management strategy announced just last year (June 2020), by Stephen Hooper.
This is the most interesting and visionary part of Autodesk data management that presents PIM and online data access as part of the Forge platform
In the current Fusion 360 experience, saving changes you’ve made to your Fusion 360 designs still require you to explicitly click the save icon for the save to occur. This was the conventional way of desktop computing, but 21st-century data management should be instantaneous. It should be seamless, always consolidating changes, always there for you. That’s why we’re currently working on a project we are calling the Fusion 360 Product Information Model (PIM). It is the foundation of cloud data for Fusion 360 moving forward and runs on Forge, the Autodesk cloud developer platform. We recently highlighted a few data management projects in our roadmap update blog post, and they are all intertwined with PIM, contributing to it as well as benefiting from the fruits of this strategy.
I was very much impressed by the strategy of Fusion 360 data management to turn the platform into a Google Doc-like environment managing changes and providing access to the data online. How this strategy will be impacted by Upchain acquisition is not clear at this moment.
What is my conclusion?
Trying to choose an Autodesk PDM/PLM system in 2021 can be a tough choice. Unless the user can make my mind with one of these 3 environments, it will be very hard to prefer one or another. While I have no doubt, Autodesk won’t kill any of these systems, the development speed will be slowed until Autodesk PLM strategists and architects will make their minds on how to deal with all these PDM/PLM systems. So, if you’re using one of these software packages, open your ears and stay tuned as Autodesk will be trying to make moves to integrate, discontinue or change one of these software packages. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.