How can Arena PLM extend Onshape Data Management and Collaboration Platform?

How can Arena PLM extend Onshape Data Management and Collaboration Platform?

PTC press release says Onshape Arena Connection enables product data to be shared between Onshape and Arena with the click of a button. PTC acquired Onshape back in 2019 and Arena in later 2020. It was a time to show both SaaS systems working together. I found articles covering PTC announcements about integration. The first article came out immediately after the announcement – PTC Connects Onshape with Arena. Later, the interview between Jon Hirschtick and Roopinder Tara was published here – Why CAD needs PLM?

Onshape PDM Innovation

I’ve been following Onshape’s trajectory from a very early beginning with their innovative fully embedded data management making, which was basically re-thinking of the fundamental CAD-PDM architecture. Here are some of my earlier articles:

How to Transform Old CAD PDM Integration paradigms?

Future CAD won’t require PDM.

The most interesting part of Onshape data management architecture was introducing a new lifecycle mechanism, which became part of CAD editing functions. The history of changes (a micro version) in Onshape was combined with mechanisms of versions and releases. Altogether they provided a very powerful digital thread of design information. It is complex and requires an understanding of documents, objects, branches, versions, and releases. But it is powerful because it introduced a collaborative design process backed up by strong data management functions.

Onshape-Arena Integration

I was curious about what architecture is behind PTC Onshape and Arena integration and how it will extend Onshape collaborative data management created in Onshape, which is also a foundation of the Atlas platform.

The first article PTC connects Onshape with Arena (, unfortunately, provided very little information. Here are two passages I captured from there. The first one is very generic.

“The Onshape-Arena Connection is the next step on PTC’s journey to make the product development process faster, easier, and more agile for designers, engineers, and suppliers, and it’s only possible because of the cloud-native architectures of Onshape and Arena,” says Jon Hirschtick, general manager of Onshape at PTC. “This is product development from a single provider with CAD, PDM, and PLM workflows fully realized in the cloud.”

The following passage is super confusing. There is some sense of doubt about how Onshape customers will benefit Arena and what is the lifecycle model used by the connected Onshape-Arena environment.

Is the connection between Onshape and Arena a walking back of the no-PDM-needed claim? We think not entirely. We can suppose that Connect is more a solution for Arena users operating in a PLM-centric environment who need a SaaS matching CAD connection rather than for Onshape users in a CAD centric environment who need no version control. There are many examples of PLM-centric and CAD-centric environments in departments within an organization, such as purchasing and design, or between organizations, such as a manufacturer and its suppliers.

I hoped to get some clarification from the PTC webinar with the introduction of Arena and Onshape connection, but my attention was caught by a second article – Why CAD needs PLM. Read it and draw your opinion.

Onshape-Arena: PDM-BOM Bridge?

Here are 3 things that caught my special attention.

1. Arena is all about BOM. Onshape is all about PDM. A connection makes it easy to transfer data.

The PDM process is done in Onshape. So, people want to leave it in CAD, keep the connection. Otherwise, you have to send it over the wall. You are exporting it from CAD. It’s much better to have it connected. People use their BOM and PLM system as a master. And so, there’s a need for the two systems, whether they’re connected or not. There’s a need for PDM and a need for PLM. We’re connecting those.

The “Connection” makes BOM from CAD. This process is an interaction of both lifecycles – one design lifecycle and the second item/BOM lifecycle. Which BOM will be updated when the information will be sent from Onshape to Arena? Such a process exists in all PLM systems (including PTC’s own Windchill) and it is not clear what is different about this process in Onshape-Arena Connection. Actually, a BOM in a multi-tenant PLM environment can be distributed between multiple companies. According to PTC, Arena is multi-tenant, but it is not clear how Onshape, which can manage documents shared between multiple companies, will match it with corresponding Arena data models.

2. Arena doesn’t do PDM at all. It was a very interesting revelation about the total absence of PDM capabilities of Arena. What will companies do using “other” CAD systems together with Arena? Will Onshape PDM become involved or foreign PDM systems will be needed? Windchill can integrate with most CAD systems. Will PTC prefer Windchill next to Onshape or other vendors’ PDM systems for MCAD, ECAD, and PCBs?

The nice thing about Arena is Arena never did PDM. It didn’t do it before, it doesn’t do it now, and it isn’t going to do it in the future. It doesn’t do CAD file management for in-process design. That kind of makes it a beautiful fit with Onshape. Whereas if you look at other PLM systems, like Windchill, it is arguably most powerful on the PLM side but also does a lot of PDM for Creo, in particular. Teamcenter is like that, too. But not Arena. Arena is just BOM PLM.

The question of how Arena-Onshape customers will manage PCB design or other CAD data management environments remains open. Assuming all other CAD systems will be controlled by their own PDM/PLM systems, it triggers the question about how BOM from multiple CAD systems (or their PDM/PLM systems) will be transferred to Arena. It sounds like a very similar process to Onshape-Arena connect.

3. Accessibility of data between both systems. It won’t be any cross-using interface appearance except for URL navigation and data retrieval.  According to the article, Arena can become a supplier of Part Number for Onshape. At the same time, Arena users can click on a URL from Onshape directly from Arena to view parts.

The Onshape user is not going to see Arena from inside Onshape. They might see Arena data coming into Onshape, like a part number. They might say, “Hey, I need a part number. For my new part, [I will] get it out of Arena because that’s the master.” They might see metadata come in. The Arena user may see Onshape, though. They are looking at a part number and if they want to see the CAD model, [they can] click on the URL, and boom! It’s so easy.

What is my conclusion?

It is great to see PTC is moving ahead by bringing Arena customers to Onshape and vice versa. I can see why it can be important to Onshape customers. It can become a PLM option to manage Bill of Materials beyond what Onshape can do. The opposite is less clear. Will Arena open the door for Onshape? Hard to say because Arena usually comes to a company during the advanced stages where design is done and the company is moving to contract manufacturing or production work. So, I still have many questions and how to answer them during the PTC webinar later in October. The main question is how Arena extends the innovative Onshape data management and collaborative paradigm downstream. The answer to the question “Why CAD needs PLM”? based on the article is simple – PLM provides BOM. But… BOM generation from CAD models is not a new thing in the PLM business and all PLM systems can do it (including Windchill). How Arena will extend the data lifecycle and merge both document and item/BOM lifecycle together is the real question. I hope to find the answer soon. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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 networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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