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PLM Extend Its Reach: Part 1

Intelligent independent solutions and new initiatives by PLM giants make their tools increasingly useful for small- and medium-sized companies.

By Louise Elliot

This is part one of a two-part series about the development of product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions for small- and medium-sized companies. Part two will examine second-party hosted approaches to PLM.

 

This illustration shows the integration between Microsoft and CATIA. A hole was inserted on the CATIA V5 part, the change and part orientation was saved in CATIA, and the change was reflected in Word. A user can drag and drop from CATIA into Excel or Word, or use Microsoft Office to view a file received from an MCAD user. Here, an existing CATIA V5 file object is placed in a CATIA V5 model. Once saved in CATIA, the change is automatically reflected on the Microsoft Word or PowerPoint document. Click on image to enlarge.

Last year the three biggest MCAD/CAM/ PLM developers announced initiatives aimed at making PLM—in part or whole—easier to implement and use for a wider range of companies, including small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). UGS and Dassault Systemes have partnered with Microsoft to make it easier for companies that already use Microsoft tools to add PLM. Both vendors also have existing “fast start” PLM solutions, as does PTC, which announced a new partnership with IBM to make Windchill solutions available on demand. As of January 2005, UGS was planning to announce a new on-demand PLM capability as well.

These moves follow inroads made by independent PLM developers—most notably, Aras Corporation and Arena Solutions. Aras offers a growing set of PLM tools that enable fast deployment because setup is based on templates that follow industry standards and regulations. Arena Solutions, which started life as BOM.com, was designed from the ground up as a hosted Internet answer to the PLM needs of companies that don’t want large, in-house IT departments.

In a Microsoft-Dominated IT World
Although perceived as targeting large enterprises, Dassault Systemes has always had a presence in the SMB scene because of the widespread use of CATIA, says John Squire, a Dassault vice president. “A manufacturer of tooling, for example, often responds to bids,“ says Squire, “but company automation may be limited to design and some reuse of existing designs.” Other bid-related issues, he adds, like “manufacturing costs, reuse of previous bids, manufacturing simulation to obtain cost analysis data, and so on, tend to be paper-based. However, it’s very important for the company to know not only whether its bid will be successful, but whether it will be profitable.”

To get these answers, Squire contends, the company needs to collaboratively join its engineering, sales, purchasing, and manufacturing departments. Extending the bid process to PLM offers the most efficient way to do this, he says.

However, many companies fear overextending themselves financially and see PLM as expensive and risky. “They need to look at software prices and the cost of middleware,” Squire says. Dassault offers two approaches: PLM Express, sold by partner IBM, which packages primarily CATIA and SmarTeam (DELMIA capabilities are also available) cost-effectively; and Microsoft-based products meant for companies that have already built their IT around Microsoft’s .NET Windows NT-based tools and Microsoft servers.

Companies that already use Microsoft products, including its Sequel database and servers (PLM Express uses Oracle), can fit Dassault PLM products, including some preconfigured for specific industries, into their existing IT environment. Tight integration between the two sets of products means that a user can drag and drop from CATIA into Excel or Word, or use Microsoft Office to view a file received from a CAD user.

“This also makes it easy to reach people who use PLM information, but for whom that’s not the main job,” says Squire.

Hans Palm, the customer support manager for Swedish wireless equipment manufacturer AMC Centurion, says, “the cooperation between Dassault Systemes, SmarTeam, and Microsoft will be an important step ahead for PLM and for the industry, and will lead to advances in PLM technology that will translate into more valuable products for PLM, and for companies—such as AMC Centurion—that rely on PLM to optimize our engineering activities and improve product development.”

UGS also has several Microsoft-based products. The most recent is Teamcenter Community, which offers collaboration tools that run on Sequel servers. “The system works with all CAD programs through JT visualizations, and is mostly geared to the product development side of PLM,” says UGS Vice President Chris Kelley.

Teamcenter Community, priced at less than $2,000 per seat, offers geometrically based design-centric collaboration among engineers, suppliers, different internal departments, and people bidding on jobs. “Some hubs in a design chain, such as automotive OEMs, are now purchasing seats for suppliers to access either over the Internet or via secure Intranet,” he reports.

 

Teamcenter Community is the most recent of UGS’ Microsoft-based PLM products. It offers collaboration tools that run on Sequel servers. Click on image to enlarge.

Rather than move individual modules into new platforms, says Kelley, UGS is working toward making its solution stacks multiplatform, “and developing wholly new solutions for Microsoft that don’t work on other platforms. And we work with Microsoft Office. Users can work on text-based metadata through MS Office, as a result of our building on top of Sharepoint. More complex 3D-based data use JT-To-Go, which works on several platforms.”

UGS reseller Paul Stevens of Acuity, Inc., reports that most of his SMB customers need ways to handle engineering changes that affect designs from multiple MCAD programs. “They ask for Web-type tools, and ways to incorporate workgroup data management, as well as find ways to access MRP and ERP systems,” Stevens says.

Mike Sayen, Strategic Program director for UGS, adds, “A key to lower cost of ownership is the choice of technologies with support resources—and Microsoft is a good example, because Sequel and other Microsoft resources don’t require large IT staffs.”

Teamcenter Engineering now also runs on Sequel, to serve the needs of companies that don’t want or need to invest in Oracle servers, Sayen adds.

Preconfiguration and Template-Based Setup

PLM Appliance is a new joint offering from UGS and Hewlett Packard specifically for SMBs. It bundles Teamcenter Engineering or Community with preconfigured hardware installed by experts at a fixed price for 50 or more users, and priced by the number of users. “It includes predefined workflows, document templates, storage vaults, and user role definition,” Kelley says.

PTC, without a hardware partner, offers Quick Start, described by the company as a bounded, fixed-price service that provides on-site implementation with predefined tasks, deliverables, and roles. “Quick Start gives a two-week deployment, and people who can manage the databases and either Web or client-server architectures for setup,” says Alex Mackenzie, vice president of Product Strategy. “It has industry-specific templates…, including aerospace, medical products, and high tech, as well as additional templates built around quality standards and new product launches.”

Aras Corporation, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, was founded by people from a number of large PDM/PLM companies, and targets SMB companies up to $1 billion, which, according to Peter Schroer, founder and chief technical officer, “could not easily deploy traditional PLM.”

 

Engineering changes in Aras Innovator are managed with graphical workflows, each one flexible enough so business processes can be adapted without programming; instead, using simple drag-and-drop editing. Click on image to enlarge.

Aras Innovator is available as either a client-server or on-demand set of products. The overall system uses “The market is changing its ideas of what it wants,” Schroer says. “Project and program management, risk management, manufacturing down to the shop floor—the best approach is an increment path.” Companies using Aras’ tools can start with the functionality they need immediately, and add more capabilities later.

Existing users like the Aras products. Curt Carlson, manager of Configuration Management for Plymouth, Michigan-based data storage equipment maker CNT, needed to find ways for CNT and another company it had acquired to work together effectively. Although CNT had already purchased a workflow control tool, the company abandoned it in favor of Aras Innovator. “It did what we needed in workflow and let us add incremental tools. We went live in April 2004 with workflow management, and by Fall we decided to automate sourcing and document management.”

Jim Sutton, manager of IT Engineering Support for Varian Semiconductor, Gloucester, Massachusetts, has worked with a number of different PDM systems managing engineering data from a number of CAD programs—but none of them answered his need to communicate with people other than customers. “We looked at many different systems,” he says, “but because Innovator is XML-based and Web-centric, we don’t have to convert our systems and tools. We liked the pricing, and the fact that the product lets us access our older systems and use them to connect to ERP.”

But what about SMBs that want to minimize their IT investments while maximizing their core competencies? That’s where hosted, on-demand solutions take center stage.

Contributing editor Louise Elliott is a freelance writer based in California. Offer Louise your feedback on this article through de-feedback@helmers.com

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