My attention was caught by the GrabCAD blog announcing a fond farewell to GrabCAD Workbench. I’ve been following GrabCAD for quite some time on my blog. GrabCAD created a large community website where engineers were able to upload and share their 3D CAD files. Community features included a 3D Viewer. Also, GrabCAD developed multiple applications and Workbench was one of them. Acquired in 2013 by Stratasys, GrabCAD was refocusing on the development of applications for the 3D printing community, turned GrabCAD Workbench free, and, eventually decided to stop it.
I had a chance to meet GrabCAD founder, Hardi Meybaum and discussed his ideas about open engineering communities, cloud applications, and GrabCAD development. You can find some of my earlier writing here.
Timing is Everything
The nature of all entrepreneurs is to go ahead with new ideas trying to turn them into a reality. Every time innovation is happening, there is a moment when innovative ideas need to come together with the market reality. Creating new markets is expensive work and often it is not done by a single company – it is done by a number of companies, and each plays its own role and delivers the outcome for the industry.
The great outcome of the GrabCAD community was to create a place where engineers were able to upload files for simple sharing. Back in 2010-2013, the challenge to develop applications doing so and setting the technology and architecture for the applications was remarkable. GrabCAD workbench was an example of how to develop applications that is available online and can be used by a group of people simultaneously.
Business-wise, GrabCAD went much ahead of the readiness of engineering and manufacturing companies to consume cloud applications. The technology caught the eyes of Stratasys, which was smart and transformed GrabCAD into a software development team for their growing needs – 3D printer application development.
A Foundational Ideas for SaaS solutions
PLM is changing and switching from monolithic PLM platforms to new architectures to support digital-thread and data-driven applications. New cloud PLM platforms are focusing on data sharing and support data management to transform manufacturing software. PLM vendors are developing new cloud platforms focusing on how to capture and preserve engineering and manufacturing data to support manufacturing companies. Such support includes the need for multiple companies to work together and collaborate to support new business processes. This is a foundation of multi-tenant architectures.
Modern product lifecycle management is focusing on data intelligence and ideas of how data is quickly becoming more important than applications. In such a way, manufacturing companies are looking for multi-tenant systems to support new business needs and digital transformation processes. GrabCAD projects made some foundational implementations from both technological and business standpoints to provide the first generation of SaaS applications in the PLM industry.
Data, Digital Thread, and Multi-Tenant SaaS solutions
Data is quickly becoming a focal point of all engineering and manufacturing companies. It represents the value of the industrial company and preserves the IP as well as provides a layer to create a new experience for business processes and customers. Everything is interconnected and put data and digital threads in the middle. Check my article about post monolithic PLM world. Here is the passage.
There is a growing need for data aggregation, data connection, and data sharing. There is a demand to take existing PLM architectures upside down and focus on the data, rather than on the application functions. Data is growing beyond a single platform, application, or organization, which allows redefining an old concept of a Single Source of Truth from the technological and system architecture standpoint. The question of how to find SSOT across multiple systems is quickly becoming on the top of industrial companies’ minds to replace an old concept of a vertically integrated PLM platform approach.
The importance of data became obvious in the last decade when companies focusing on product lifecycle management understood that instead of focusing on how to provide a single system, it would be much better to focus on how to make data available across multiple systems and companies. Product lifecycle management turned into a business strategy (instead of a single system) and companies started to spend more resources on how establishing the right data product data management strategy and technologies to make data federated, shared, and transferred to other systems.
Unfortunately, it didn’t change fundamentally the nature of old and large PLM software architecture, companies agreed that a “single system” is a dream and that companies need to find a new paradigm for product lifecycle management capabilities to work across multiple company silos.
Most of the existing PLM systems are single-tenant and become a blocking factor for many industrial companies to support their new business processes and business models. Multi-tenancy is getting into PLM space and PLM business into multiple factors – starting as cost saving enabling to provide affordable applications for smaller companies and then moving to larger enterprises to support cross-organizational features and functions in supply chain collaborative scenarios.
The number of multi-tenant system architectures is growing in engineering and manufacturing software. Here is an the example of Autodesk Forge platform.
Here is an example of a multi-tenant system architecture developed by OpenBOM (disclosure – I’m co-founder and CEO)
What is my conclusion?
Learning from the past is always a powerful thing. It is interesting to see some of the ideas of multi-tenant SaaS applications that were started a long time ago in the applications and services such as GrabCAD. They went ahead of time but provided a great deal of experience in both engineering and business. Manufacturing companies are going through the process of digital transformation. The demand for new multi-tenant SaaS applications is growing as companies are discovering the need to connect their business functions across multiple companies – contractors, suppliers, and customers. New SaaS architectures to support network layers for multiple companies to work together are essential for future manufacturing industry growth. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PDM & PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.