People don’t want something really new. They want to have something they are familiar with but work differently. In today’s business world, data is king. And when it comes to manufacturing, the more data you can share between different platforms and departments, the better. In order for design and engineering teams to be effective, they need to have access to the most up-to-date data. The reality of the modern engineering and manufacturing world is that people are located in different places and work for different organizations. But what CAD and PLM platforms can share data? And how can you make sure that all your data is shared efficiently? In this blog post, we’ll explore those questions and more.
Data Sharing is Widespread and Demands To Change
Thanks to modern technologies and web applications, sharing data is becoming a norm. It is a simple behavior that is expected in many situations. We share photos using different platforms, locations, shopping lists, and many other things. This is the beauty of modern technology and platforms. The key element to making it happen in all these platforms is related to granular data management and access control. Any such platform has an architecture that allows a single user or group of users to perform data sharing. The granularity of data modeling to support sharing is sometimes called a multi-tenant data model.
Legacy CAD, PDM, PLM, and Data Sharing
Granular sharing is a big deal, but for existing CAD and PLM platforms is practically impossible. Most CAD systems are still file-based. Although you can share files, the scope of sharing is always limited by the scope of the file and it is quite limited. Also, because of limitations to making simultaneous changes in the file (especially remotely), most existing PDM or data publishing solutions demand full file access control. This brings us back to the question of data modeling.
All legacy PDM/PLM systems were designed around SQL databases and, therefore, really limited in their data-sharing capabilities on a granular level. It has a bit of semantics to define what data sharing means. Because you can define a user in the PDM/PLM system and make that user see the data of someone else. Although formally, it can be called data sharing, it requires too much administration and, as a consequence, is also very limited by licenses and processes. As a result, in the enterprise use case, companies are forcing all contractors and suppliers to use the same instance of PDM/PLM system and, in the case of SMB/SME, to export data to Excel /files and share it using a variety of consumer and file sharing platforms. Such an approach is very limiting and inefficient.
Modern Cloud Architecture and Data Sharing
The advantages of granular data modeling, instant data sharing, and collaboration inspired large vendors and startups to develop solutions that allow users and companies to share data seamlessly and collaborate differently. The key element in what I call “differently” is related to data granularity, simplicity, and collaboration.
Existing paradigms developed by online applications like Google Docs, social media, and photo sharing provided ideas of how it can simplify the work of engineers, manufacturing companies, contractors, and suppliers. To have access to the same data, be able to change it in real-time, and stay connected – these are elements of the new paradigm. Moreover, the ability to have administration access to the account without the need to be dependent on the central admins of a “big PLM” has many advantages.
Data management is a key element to organize such data sharing. It requires two major problems – (1) granular data; (2) a multi-tenant data model. The first, especially in the case of CAD data, requires eliminating file boundaries. For PLM applications, it means creating a network layer that can be controlled by users and organizations using the same platforms. Beyond that, different data modeling and easy REST API access allow building solutions to share data beyond platform boundaries.
Here are some examples of the platforms and applications in the CAD/PLM world that can support easy data-sharing capabilities.
Autodesk was investing in Autodesk Platform Services (fka Forge) for a long time building multi-tenancy using “hubs” and allowing users and organizations to share data. Autodesk Fusion 360 Team allows you to share data in Fusion design systems in a granular way for different purposes. Beyond that point, Autodesk is also concerned about how to share data between multiple CAD systems and formats. Autodesk Data Exchange connectors can help to bring data from files and make it shareable on a granular level too.
Onshape (now part of PTC) was started almost a decade ago by Jon Hirschtick and part of his Solidworks founding team to make a “cloud version of Solidworks” and simplify the way engineers can work together, to manage data and collaborate. Onshape reimagined Google Docs for CAD approach and created a powerful collaborative platform where data can be instantly shared and edited collaboratively.
OpenBOM (disclaimer- I’m co-founder and CEO), developed a multi-tenant granular data management technology allowing the definition of product data, to share and edit it collaboratively. OpenBOM patented BOM collaboration method allows instant data sharing with a custom user-defined view allowing every person to get access to a specific data set and make changes.
What is my conclusion?
People don’t want something really new. They want to have something they are familiar with, but work differently. Data sharing is a great example of a new paradigm that is coming to engineering and manufacturing applications to change the way users and companies can manage information. It is not an instant change. Old habits are dying hard and it will take companies time to change. However, digital transformation is inevitable. New ways of working and collaboration are coming and data sharing will play a key role in this new digital world. 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.