Future of Enterprise PDM

DS logoIn a recent article, I expressed concerns about the current state of PDM, especially for SolidWorks. There were particular questions posed regarding the long term outlook for Enterprise PDM.  The concern is that Dassault Systemes’ plan for PDM solutions may be different than SolidWorks Corp.  If that is the case, the Enterprise PDM may not be viable long term solution.

My worries where not allayed in a recent presentation by Noam Ktalav of Dassault Systemes (DS).  He was asked about where Enterprise PDM fits into the DS product offerings.  His answer didn’t fully address the question.  Instead, he talked about Enovia and its scalability.  Needless to say, official word regarding Enterprise PDM from DS is very mixed.

Jeff Ray offers insight on this topic

Jeff RayThis prompted me to contact SolidWorks Corp for a clearer picture, as least from their perspective.  Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks Corp, was able to provide some interesting insights.  He exclaimed that statements from DS about Enterprise PDM are mixed.  Ray did offer hope that something is being done about this.

[There is a] very intensive effort between SolidWorks and Enovia for a clear road map.

SolidWorks Corp is working hard to lay out a clear plan for its customers. Ray discussed the need for a long term strategy.  SolidWorks Corp does not want to force a decision on customers that may eventually lead to a dead end.  This would bad for SolidWorks Corp, bad for reputation of individuals who relied on the solutions offered by SolidWorks Corp, and bad for the companies that implemented those solutions.  Instead, Ray declared,

We need to give people a scalable answer.

Ray then stated that he wants to optimize the user experience and “hide the plumbing” of the software.  He doesn’t want to let technology get in the way of the user experience.  He elaborated that users shouldn’t have to be IT experts or even require extensive reliance upon IT departments just to manage their data.

So, a solution that will address Enterprise PDM’s place in the DS universe is coming.  As to the when and in what form?  Answers will be forthcoming soon.

And what of SolidWorks Workgroups PDM?

During my interview with Ray, I also asked about SolidWorks Workgroups PDM (aka PDMWorks).  He clarified that development of the application has hit the limits of the technology behind it.  It is not worth the effort to continue to extensively develop the application further.  He stated that SolidWorks Corp will continue to support Workgroups PDM and any customers that choose to use it, but that the limitations of the application need to be clearly explained.

Methodology in making solid models (a discussion)

According to some of my sources (who shall remain nameless), there was a time when SolidWorks Corp thought about making a something like a best modelling practices guide for SolidWorks users.  The idea of best practices is something of which I’ve been critical.  The main reason is that every situation, environment, company and industry is different, with different needs.  Even the same tools in SolidWorks are be used in completely different ways to achieve desired results.

An example of this can be sheet metal functionality.  Sheet metal models may be created in one way for a company that makes cabinet chassis and be used completely differently at a company that makes furniture.  Heck, even within just one industry, different methods may be employed for different scenarios.

Each company should develop their own standard or set of standards.  Depending on the environment and type of modelling, these may be rigid, they may be very general, or somewhere in-between.  Set rules can apply to the models and assemblies.  Rules may even vary from project to project, depending on business needs.  Even non-design considerations come in to play when setting up standards.  Network setup, computing power, PDM/PLM/ERP programs, etc can impact methodology.

All of these variables make it impossible to establish best practices for all of SolidWorks users.  This is likely why SolidWorks Corp has seemingly dropped the idea of providing set best practices advice.

Challenges in Transitioning from 2D to 3D

The CAD industry is so far along now that the discussion for many is no longer 2D CAD vs 3D CAD, but methodologies within the 3D CAD (such as direct modelling vs history modelling).  However, the adaption of 3D CAD applications such as SolidWorks is still on-going.  Many companies are still using 2D CAD applications.  Why does it take so long for many companies to make the transition when the benefits of 3D CAD seem to be so apparent?

I think Jeff Ray, CEO of DS SolidWorks Corp, properly identified this problem in an interview for the recent article CAD Tools: Breaking Barriers by Linda L. Bell (NASA Tech Briefs, Jan 2009 issue).  In part, he states that when a company considers making the transition to 3D CAD “the pain of change has to be less than the pain of the status quo.”  3D CAD still needs to be easy to access and use.  It also needs to be robust enough to be a design tool for those users that demand more from their applications.  On speaking about how SolidWorks has answered the need to make this transition easier, Ray states, “our last two releases have included a new user interface [where] the workflow predicts which tools the users will need and makes them readily available.”

Even still, there are many challenges to making the transition.  These involve learning a whole new way of working.  For example, when one draws a square, it doesn’t stay a square.  It can become a cube, rectagular rod or a plate.  It can also become a recess or square hole in another feature. 

Once one gets a grasp on these concepts, setting up the new 3D CAD software to work within the company’s documentation system can seem even more challenging.  This is one area that seems to missed (or at least not implemented fully) by many of the 3D CAD applications.  Having the ability to make drawings isn’t the end of it.  Communication with PLM’s and ERP’s is just as important in many companies. 

As my friend Chris MacCormack has recently pointed out, management of the 3D CAD files themselves must also be addressed.  With one or two users, this matter solves itself with simple use of folders.  However, as departments expand and companies grow, solutions for the raising difficulties change.  Of course, this must also be addressed with 2D CAD applications, but it is a much more complex matter with 3D CAD applications.

Most of us first address these issues with wide-eyed innocence. Upon going through this once, that becomes innocence lost.  To consider the transition from 2D CAD to 3D CAD, all of the above must be taken into consideration, and actually other issues too.  To improperly paraphrase Uncle Ben, with the great power enjoyed with the use of 3D CAD comes great responsibility in how it is used.

Now, it is understood that 3D CAD applications are not useful to all CAD users.  But if the field is mechanical engineering, it is very likely 3D CAD going to be worth the transition from 2D.