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Archive for 2012

MCADCafe eMagazine: Autodesk Launches Cloud-Based PLM

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Autodesk announced the immediate availability of Autodesk PLM 360. The next-generation cloud-based alternative provides a powerful, affordable and easy-to-implement solution at a fraction of the cost of traditional PLM systems.

Autodesk PLM 360 is the latest offering to build upon the company’s leadership with cloud-based solutions. Unlike traditional PLM systems — which have historically been expensive and complicated — Autodesk PLM 360 is instant-on and easily configurable to meet customer-specific product-lifecycle process needs across the enterprise. It is also the first cloud-based PLM solution focused on business applications beyond engineering and bill of material management. As a result, employees in a range of roles — from planning and product development to quality and compliance to service and more — can better access product and project-related information that helps them continuously improve the products they design and manufacture.

“Our customers deserve modern technology to help solve the needs of their increasingly complex and global businesses,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president, Design, Lifecycle and Simulation at Autodesk. “Autodesk PLM 360’s simple, flexible, cloud-based approach will radically improve the ability for companies to gain the full benefits of PLM, helping them to become more competitive and grow their business.”


PTC’s Vision of Mobile PLM Apps

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

In early February I received some interesting information from PTC touting its plans for making some of its PLM offerings available to mobile users. At that time, PTC said:

“Mobility and mobile applications have a way of impinging on our daily lives – for better or worse – more so today than ever before. Whether it is keeping a global project moving during your time zone’s “off hours,” being able to access all the relevant data and product code while out in the field, or accessing product data on your mobile phone, there is just no denying the presence and impact of mobility.

In fact, according to IDC research, by 2014, 46% of employees will be mobile only. Which means that by 2014, vendors need to be able to supply reliable, scalable, affordable mobile applications that can support 46% demand and usage. Couple this with a workforce of young professionals who want, expect and need a modern, mobile infrastructure.

And then you can start to imagine these apps:

  • Mobile PLM for the engineer
  • Mobile PLM for the administrator
  • Mobile PLM for the service technician
  • Mobile Social Product Development
  • CAD creation mobile sketching tools


Autodesk PLM 360 — Social PLM For Everyone?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

This morning, Autodesk presented and launched Autodesk PLM 360 (fomerly known as code name Nexus at Autodesk University).

Participating in today’s presentation and launch were:
Brenda Discher, Vice President, Manufacturing Strategy & Industry Marketing
Buzz Kross, Senior Vice President, Design, Lifecycle & Simulation (new title?)
Steve Bodnar, Vice President, Data Management

The underlying themes for the presentation were “PLM for Everyone” and “Always On.” The presenters consistently stressed that Autodesk PLM 360 is more than just file sharing. It was made clear that PDM (on premise with Autodesk Vault) is for the design department, whereas PLM (PLM 360 and the cloud) is for the enterprise by providing crowdsource capabilities for sharing data and supporting business processes. It was made clear, though, that you do not need vault to use PLM 360 — it will work with any PDM system.

The phrase that kept coming up throughout the presentation was that Autodesk PLM 360 is, “Insanely Configurable.” That borrows pretty heavily from the late Steve Jobs’s product introductions at Apple, and I’m not so sure that PLM 360 is in that league, but time will tell. The fact that it is customer configurable, however, is noteworthy in and of itself. It was also said that no beta user took more than three days to get PLM 360 up and running. No details here, but that’s easy to follow-up on and confirm.

Autodesk claims that its PLM 360 will completely change the PLM landscape, primarily because it costs a fraction (10%) of legacy systems, and requires no special hardware, consultants, or programmers for implementation. Of course, this needs to be proven, but those are pretty heady claims when compared with the competition.

Even though it admits it’s entering the PLM market late, Autodesk is hoping to take advantage of current PLM customers who are dissatisfied with what they have. The company also is claiming that, “The cloud is the perfect technology for PLM” and “If you can use a browser, you can use Autodesk PLM 360.”

As far as pricing goes for PLM 360, the first 3 users are free for all access, and this will resonate well with really small businesses. Additional regular users are $75/month/user. What Autodesk calls participants (casual users) are $25/month/user — although it’s a little unclear what distinguishes a participant over a regular user.

Regardless of price, security has historically been one of the biggest barriers to wider PLM acceptance. Autodesk assured us that that piece has been thoroughly addressed, as well as data backup, and disaster recovery. All good things.

Autodesk PLM 360 is available now and cocnsists of ~140 apps (modules for specific functions?). According to Autodesk, it spent a lot of time and effort maximizing the user experience and minimizing the learning curve. Kross said, “The user experience is key, because the UI for most software [including PLM] has not really progressed since 2000.” I’ll agree there.

When asked what distinguishes Autodesk PLM 360 and other competitive cloud offerings, Kross responded, “Ours is real and we are in the market.”

So, will Autodesk PLM 360 fulfill the promise of “PLM for everyone?” Will it be where business apps meet social apps for social PLM? That’s hard to say at this early stage, but it seems like Autodesk has a lot of the pieces in place. I’ll reserve judgement, though, until I actually experience PLM 360 hands-on myself.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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Moving Lean Manufacturing Beyond The Factory Floor – Part 2

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Last time we discussed lean manufacturing and applying it to factory floor processes. This time we’ll discuss applying it to other parts and processes of a manufacturing entity.

The primary goal for any business is making a profit. The factory floor and processes which are huge portions of manufacturing companies, however, are not profit centers, they are cost centers. This cost is a variable that may but probably does not carry over to all aspects of a company. To work on an enterprise level, mechanisms must evolve that foster lean principles. But, because a factory floor and a business as a whole have different problems, different requirements, different ways of thinking, just having the mechanisms in place for lean principles isn’t enough. Also in many cases what works on the factory floor may not necessarily translate and work in other parts of a company. Buy in by all parts of an enterprise is an absolute necessity for lean principles to work.

For applying lean principles throughout a company, it helps to think of an office as analogous to a factory, only the main product it creates is paperwork or digital information. Like raw materials that are transformed to a finished product, paper and information also go through a series of process steps, but end up spending the majority of its life waiting for someone in the chain to act on it. One of the most applicable areas of lean principles in paperwork and digital information is rework where the wrong data has been entered or is missing – error proofing.

Acceptance of lean principles is not always universal, but resistance is often a matter of misunderstanding. For example, there is a perception by some that all lean principles do is reduce inventory and employment levels. Actually that is a misperception because ideally, lean principles can unlock workers’ hidden talent and increase their capabilities to improve the overall business.

The place where it all began, Toyota, has been hard at work to extend its TPS to other parts of its business beyond the factory floor. However, it’s proving to be a challenge dealing with non-physical inputs and outputs, and protracted time frames with multi-year product development cycles. Indications are, though, that the company is making progress in its Japanese and North American facilities.

The biggest challenge for any manufacturer trying to adopt lean principles is to deploy it beyond the factory floor. While an increasing number of manufacturers are succeeding in applying lean principles on the factory floor, applying them to the balance of the organization still has a long way to go.

Moving Lean Manufacturing Beyond The Factory Floor – Part 1

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

We’ve all heard now for many, many years that lean manufacturing is one of the keys to remaining competitive if you want to stay in manufacturing. However, can some of the principles of lean manufacturing be applied to other parts of a business beyond manufacturing? That is a question that a growing number of companies are attempting to answer, especially in today’s super-competitive marketplace.

The phrase “lean manufacturing” is an English invention that was coined by James Womack and used to summarize Japanese manufacturing techniques, specifically, the Toyota Production System (TPS). The phrase is used to describe Toyota’s approach for expanding peoples thinking beyond basic tools and tasks.

Since I learned about lean manufacturing (or production) a long time ago, a comprehensive definition has evolved in my mind over the years. Lean manufacturing is one of those things that can defy definition.

Ask 10 people what it is and you’re likely to get 10 at least slightly different answers. Basically, lean manufacturing is a combined philosophy, initiative, and method for continually reducing waste in all areas and forms to improve the quality and efficiency of a manufacturing process. An even simpler way to define lean manufacturing is a method for producing products using less of everything (material, time, energy, etc.) compared to mass production.

Lean manufacturing isn’t just as simple as doing more with less. It is a very complex methodology with many dependencies. It is a comprehensive methodology that seeks to minimize the resources required for creating and manufacturing a product. Although lean principles strive to make things simpler, these principles actually add a layer or level of complexity to processes.

I think that to this point, and somewhat ironically, lean manufacturing concepts have tended to focus strictly on the processes occurring only on the factory floor. Ironic, because to truly exploit all that lean processes have to offer can and should be deployed throughout a company — from the factory floor to the top floor. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, and that’s what we’ll discuss next time in the MCADCafe Blog.

Introducing CAE Into Your CAD/CAM Workflow: Look Before You Leap

Friday, January 27th, 2012

There are several types of CAE-related manufacturing applications for optimizing the use of materials, tools, shape and time, and machine layout by simulating and analyzing specific manufacturing processes. However, probably the most common method for getting CAE into a manufacturing environment, finite element analysis (FEA) for parts and tooling.

FEA is a numerical technique for calculating the strength and behavior of structures. It can be used to calculate deflection, stress, vibration, buckling, and other behaviors. Typical applications for FEA would include minimizing weight and/or maximizing the strength of a part or assembly.

In FEA, structures are divided into small, simple units, called elements. While the behavior of individual elements can be described with a relatively simple set of equations, a large set of simultaneous equations are required to describe the behavior of a complex structure. When the equations are solved, the computer and FEA tool displays the physical behavior of the structure based on the individual elements.

FEA tools can be used for innovating or optimizing mechanical designs. Optimization is a process for improving a design that results in the best physical properties for minimum cost. However, optimization using FEA tools can prove difficult, because each design variation takes time to evaluate, making iterative optimization time consuming. On the other hand, FEA tools can really shine when seeking new and unique ways of designing things – the most crucial aspect of innovation.

Before committing to any CAE tool, however, be sure it is compatible with your existing CAD and CAM tools, the types of parts and assemblies you design, and your general workflow.

Keep in mind that there is no one tool that serves everyone’s needs. Some will be interested fluid flow, others in structural mechanical properties, and still others in thermal issues. Get input from as many groups within your organization as are likely to benefit from CAE tools. When evaluating CAE tools, make sure you evaluate them with your models; not just models supplied by a vendor. That way, you’ll be able to objectively evaluate different CAE tools that best suit your needs in your environment, and not be overly swayed by what a vendor wants you to see. Obviously, it’s in your best interest for objectivity to use the same parts or assemblies with different CAE tool vendors.

Finally, a word of caution. Don’t expect CAE tools to solve all your problems with all of your parts. Like CAD and CAM tools, they should be used in conjunction with experience and common sense to arrive at optimized and innovative designs. Calculating return on investment when using CAE tools can be as complicated as performing analyses on complex assemblies. However, you can probably count on estimating ROI from time saved during the design process, lower material costs, reduced numbers of physical prototypes and ECOs, and possibly greatly reducing the number of product liability lawsuits. CAE tools cannot perform miracles by themselves because they still require a significant human element, but employed wisely, will likely improve your workflow and provide tangible benefits.

Introducing CAE Into Your CAD/CAM Workflow: Getting Onboard

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

By now you’ve almost certainly got MCAD and CAM tools as a vital component of your business. With them you’ve hopefully seen how they have positively impacted the way you work, as well as the way you interact with your customers and vendors. Looking for a way to further increase your productivity, while continuing to optimize your processes?

If you haven’t already, it’s time you considered integrating tools into your workflow for simulation and analysis of virtually any aspect of the product development lifecycle. Although known in some circles as computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools, that acronym has largely been replaced by simulation and analysis, although they all mean roughly the same thing.

It wasn’t all that long ago that CAE was relegated to the latter stages of the design and manufacturing (product development) process — too many times as an afterthought. This is changing, though, on two fronts. First, realizing the potential payback in terms of reduced production time and getting it right the first time, many design and manufacturing organizations have moved CAE tools further forward in the development process. Some are even using them in the earliest stages of design, the conceptual phase. Second, software vendors are getting better at integrating CAE with their CAD and CAM tools.

A major roadblock to CAE’s wider acceptance has been the perception that only high-priced analysis specialists (math PhDs?) could understand and work with CAE tools. While specialists are required for some of the high-end tools for performing complex analyses, there are many CAE tools now on the market that require just some basic training and practice to become proficient in a relatively time.

Admittedly, all CAE tools require a technical mindset, but you don’t necessarily have to have a doctorate in math anymore to run many types of analysis and simulation. It really just requires familiarity with the interface of a CAE tool for creating and loading digital models, and then reviewing and interpreting the results. A really nice thing is that many CAE tools now work from within the familiar UI of your CAD or CAM tool. Finally, computer prices that continue to drop have helped popularize CAE tools, because some of them require a lot computing horsepower when working with large assemblies or very precise engineering constraints.

If this all sounds easy, it is to a point, but there are some caveats. That’s what we’ll discuss next time, as well as the most commonly used CAE tool — FEA.

Virtual Prototyping and Manufacturing Simulation – Obstacles To Acceptance

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Like all aspects of the product development process, to justify its existence, simulation and test productivity are becoming an evermore pressing issue. Vendors say that in many cases, customers are demanding significant tangible proof of ROI in months, not years.

A major obstacle to wider acceptance of virtual prototyping and manufacturing simulation is a persisting lack of interoperability between CAD, CAM, and digital prototyping in the bigger PLM scenario. In this context, working toward data interoperability is not regarded as a value-added activity. Overall, however, one of the primary goals of digital test and simulation is to make the overall engineering activity sequence more of a value center and less of a cost center. Another goal is the ability to simulate the entire product lifecycle – from concept through production through sustainment to retirement.

Integrating the analytical, virtual, and physical is disruptive and is an obstacle to acceptance because the integration forces people to work differently than they had done previously. This integration only works through evolutionary implementation, and not necessarily everything all at once.

Many of the digital prototyping tools are still too difficult to use, and vendors need to pay more attention to ease of learning/use. Ease of use is important because vendors, even Tier 1 automotive suppliers, with their low margins cannot afford to hire and employ Ph.D.s to run their digital prototyping software.

On the other hand and in their defense, though, these same vendors are not interested in simplifying (“dumbing-down”) their software so much that they can solve only relatively simple problems. This is a big issue, and one that is even bigger than CAD, where ease of learning/use have made great strides for most vendors the past couple of years. Conversely, many vendors feel that the legacy workforce is not well-suited or qualified for the digital prototyping tools available today.

One way to address the ease of use issue is to provide a scaleable user interface on test/analysis applications to suit different user needs and skill levels at different times.This is tough to address because it requires flexibility and adaptability.

Finally, there is the trust factor that can be an obstacle. In the simulation/test arena, there is an adage that roughly goes, “Everyone trusts test results except test engineers, and everyone trusts analysis results except analysts.” Just about everyone agrees, however, that even with the best digital methods, physical testing will never go away.

The decision of whether to use physical versus digital prototyping is a delicate balance of tradeoffs. In fact, many companies employ virtual testing and simulation as a decision-making tool for conducting physical testing.

So how will digital prototyping ultimately succeed? It’s not hardware or software that makes or breaks digital prototyping, it’s people. While great people can overcome marginal or bad hardware and software, marginal people can cause the best hardware and software to fail. In this context, digital prototyping is no different than any other technical endeavor with regard to the absolute importance of the “people factor” for success.

Virtual Prototyping and Manufacturing Simulation – From Products To Processes

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Market speak aside and regardless of whether it’s called, digital or virtual prototyping for manufacturing processes basically comes down to simulating something in the physical world, whether it’s simulating the machining of a part, placement of machines on a plant floor, or optimizing workflow.

To set the record straight, digital prototyping of anything, including manufacturing processes, is not necessarily CAD or CAM, per se. In fact, it primarily involves digital simulation and test to verify and validate designs and processes, and is an intensely math-based method of viewing them. Some vendors define digital simulation and test as simply good, old-fashioned computer-aided engineering (CAE), although most don’t anymore.

Prototypes of any type, whether physical or digital, provide a basis for making predictions about behavior for making better design, manufacturing, and business decisions. Ideally, intelligent digital prototyping is not only computer based, but a synergy of simulation (virtual) and testing (physical) information based on experience.

Much like CAD/CAM, the main areas that digital prototyping for manufacturing processes aim to influence in a positive manner include:

  • Accelerating time to market
  • Reducing cost
  • Increasing safety of the designed product
  • Improving product quality, reliability, and performance.

Figures bandied about by various industry pundits and analyst organizations predict that integrated digital prototyping is resulting in cumulative savings for product design and manufacturing processes of billions of dollars, and that’s only the beginning.

One of the greatest benefits of employing math-based methods in digital prototyping is that you can actually see cause and effect and track things that can’t be physically measured. Math captures reality. Digital prototyping is changing the traditional product development cycle from designbuildtestfix to designanalyzetestbuild. This newer paradigm reduces cycle times and is much less physical facility intensive. However, for its value to be fully realized, analysis through digital prototyping should be regarded as important as design of products and processes.

That all sounds good, right? Well, like just about anything that aims to change the status quo, there are obstacles to acceptance of virtual prototyping and manufacturing simulation. Overcoming these barriers will be the topic of the next MCADCafe Blog.

PLM 2012 Part II – Can Vendors Pull It Off?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Last time, based largely on vendors’ marketing language,  PLM was defined as a comprehensive system and process that integrates, interfaces, and interacts with every other IT system within an organization, including CAD, ERP, CRM, etc.  While this occurs at a peer level, the PLM oversees and, to a certain extent, controls all data exchanges.

I think, however, there is a better definition and model of what PLM actually should be. Unlike many vendors’ definitions,  PLM is not a peer system to other systems, such as ERP, SCM, and CRM. Rather, PLM is the intellectual property backbone of an enterprise. While the other subsystems deliver indirect cost-reducing improvements, none of them have any measurable impact on delivering top-line, revenue enhancing results and only a minor impact on lowering direct costs. The only way to positively impact top-line revenues is to develop and build innovative, higher-quality products, and PLM is the only system of the four that addresses these issues.

In this context, PLM transforms ideas to profits, capturing customer experiences, and generating ideas for new products. Along the way, the intellectual property undergoes several transformations (such as ideas to concepts, concepts-to-prototypes, prototypes-to-products, and so on) and interacts with the other systems. Ideally, a well-implemented PLM system provides a comprehensive framework that lets all the other systems and disparate groups of users to easily interact with an enterprises’ intellectual property so anyone can add value to it.

I think the revised definition and vision finally get to the heart of what a PLM was always envisioned to be, but thus far, executed and implemented by only a few PLM vendors – an intellectual property asset manager that can be used universally within an organization.

Ultimately, the success of PLM is dependent on two things. First, it is imperative that vendors communicate comprehensively and truthfully what their PLM offerings can do and integrate with, as well as what their customers can reasonably expect in terms of gains and ROI. Second, customers must educate themselves to the true needs of their organizations and how they expect PLM to fit in with the rest of their existing and future IT infrastructures. Only then will customer expectations and vendor promises meet  for improving processes and resulting products through intellectual property asset management.

Can vendors pull off what PLM was truly meant to fulfill? I think so, and more and more vendors will do so, increasingly with cloud-based services that are just beginning, but should decrease implementation costs and increase productivity through being available to anyone anywhere.

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