Social media

DARPA’s Next-Gen Amphibious Infantry Fighting Vehicle, Designed by You

If you think the development of DARPA’s next-generation amphibious infantry vehicle is a hush-hush project taking place in the secret bowel of a military base, restricted to chief engineers from Northrop Grumman, you’d be wrong. The design and construction of DARPA’s fast, adaptable, next-generation ground vehicle (dubbed FANG) is taking place on the web, in a three-phase contest with cash prizes ranging from $1,000,000 to $2,000,000. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Roundtable on Socio-Mobile Business Apps at Siemens PLM Connection 2012

What are your thoughts on the role of social media and mobile apps in the business of manufacturing? Do they have a role to play? Or should they be banned altogether to prevent your business from unnecessary exposure?

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Dassault Systemes Customer Conference 2010: SwYmming into Social Innovation

Al Bunshaft, once an IBM executive, now calls Dassault Systemes (DS) his home. Last October, when DS decided to buy IBM’s product lifecycle management (PLM) salesforce, Bunshaft, IBM’s VP of PLM sales at the time, joined the new owner. This April, six months after he shed his IBM skin, he became DS’s managing director of Americas. Last week, at DS Customer Conference 2010 (DSCC 2010), Bunshaft was the master of ceremony, shepherding the program and keeping time.

It seems the PLM industry itself is ready to shed its old skin. After three decades of pedaling enterprise visions (and software suites as a means to realize those visions), DS re-engineers itself as the company to bring you “lifelike experiences.” One aspect of that transition is to promote the use of 3D assets created in DS products like 3DVIA, CATIA, and SolidWorks in the same way their physical counterparts would be deployed in real life (for example, using the digital model of a purse that can be rotated, inspected, and opened to sell the purse itself). The other aspect of the transition is to promote the use of social media-like platforms for brainstorming, concept analysis, and project management, just as you would perform these tasks in real life through interpersonal relationships.

“Social innovation and collaboration — we’re part of it, and we think you should be too,” said Bunshaft, a former PLM salesman, in his opening address at DSCC 2010.

DS is currently beta-testing (closed beta, by invitation only) 3DSwYm, a web-based platform for community development and management, targeted at businesses. (Think of it as project management and professional collaboration via enterprise-level Facebook.) Though details about how it’ll be marketed or how much it’ll cost to sign up, Bruno Delahaye, DS’s VP of ENOVIA, revealed the company plans to offer Swym-related services under the SaaS (software as a service) model, hinting at subscription rather than perpetual licensing. (DS’s rival PTC is similarly promoting what it calls social product development, complemented by PTC Windchill SocialLink software.)

Since social media-facilitated interactions tend to generate unstructured data (discussion threads on the strength of certain materials, for example) rather than structured data (3D CAD models and bills of materials), DS hopes its search engine Exalead will give its applications an edge.

In June, DS acquired Exalead, the French search engine that caters to enterprises, for about €135 million (U.S. $166 million). “With Exalead and its partners, we can provide a new class of search-based applications for collaborative communities,” said DS CEO Bernard Charles. Earlier this year, at the user conference for DS subsidiary SolidWorks, DS gave attendees a glimpse of 3D SwYm.

DS is not only pitching social innovation but also using it within its R&D and customer relationship management efforts. The first functional community hosted on SwYm is DS’s own user community for DraftSight, a free 2D drafting and drawing program.

For more, watch the slide show from the conference below:

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Socio-Visual Product Development

If you’re in the business of developing and designing products, you may soon have to face this question: Are you social or visual? Chances are, you’re a little bit of both.

As digital product development becomes commonplace, so too is a symptom of commoditization: indistinguishable software suites. It seems, no matter where you look, you see variations of the same graphical user interface (GUIs). Whether you’re on the hunt for a product data management (PDM) or product lifecycle management (PLM) system, you’re confronted with the same grids and columns, consolidated into a dashboard with a series of graphs and charts. They may have different color schemes, may even have a few customizable options. But stripped of their GUIs, they offer more or less the same functions: file check-in/check-out, version control, compliance management, change order tracking, and so on.

But in the last couple of years, as Facebook and Twitter exchanges become as ubiquitous as water-cooler gossip, as real-time 3D visualization becomes the norm, these new media and new normals begin to demand equal consideration in supply-chain management and product development. This gives birth to social media-like collaboration tools and model-centric lifecycle management tools.

Social Product Development
PTC‘s Windchill SocialLink, previewed to invited press members last week, is an example of social media-inspired product development. When it finally becomes available, it’ll appear in the form of a floating pallet with collaboration, real-time project updates, microblogging, and community functions. According to PTC, SocialLink will be available throughout many of its products. The preview suggests it’ll be tightly integrated with Windchill PDMLink, the company’s PDM software.

Many of its functions will remind you of social media tools consumers have fully embraced. SocialLink’s collaboration and community tools will remind you of how you comment on your friends’ Facebook updates and how you seek others with similar backgrounds and interests in social networks. Microblogging is modeled after Twitter chats. You’ll be able to subscribe to updates coming from certain individuals and project files, just like you can see updates from friends and select fan pages on Facebook.

These social media-inspired functions, I think, will find an audience among a new generation of designers and engineers already accustomed to working with them. They may also serve as a foundation for supporting portable devices in the future. An iPhone or iPad may not be the ideal device for a serious CAD modeling session. But their ubiquitous presence and lightweight make them the preferred device for remote review, annotation, on-site data collection, and collaboration.

Visual Product Development
If you’re using Siemens PLM Software‘s NX 7 or Autodesk Inventor, you may already be on the road to visual product development. With NX 7 with HD3D from Siemens, you’ll be able to retrieve and display supplier data, file ownership, cost, part status, and many other information housed in Teamcenter right from your assembly model. Similarly, using Autodesk Inventor 2011, you’ll be able to display project and product data housed in Autodesk Vault (2011 Workgroup Edition).

In both cases, the assembly model serves as the interface for requesting, receiving, and displaying your product lifecycle data and enterprise data. Siemens’s HD3D and Autodesk Vault’s data management went beyond simply displaying text and numeric data in a pop-up window or a palette. Seen as colors and shades superimposed on your 3D geometry, your enterprise data and supply chain info may yield insights and wisdom previously overlooked. (It’s a lot easier to miss a line item in a series of columns; not so when it appears as a red highlight on your model.)

A Culture of Transparency
Since the primary motivation of social media is to be open and inviting (some may say it’s too open), collaboration tools like Windchill SocialLinks are expected to foster a sense of community, even among corporate citizens who’ve never met face to face but still have much to gain from swapping talent and skills. This practice, I think, would give rise to products that benefit not only from the primary design team but also from a larger pool of ad hoc collaborators.

Visual data management, as exemplified by Siemens’ HD3D and Autodesk Vault, makes it more difficult to hide or bury unflattering information in a pile of graphs and charts. In rows and columns, it is (at least to me) easy to miss a subcontractor who repeatedly deliver files late or a supplier from a certain region that is now subject to new regulations. Overlaying such data on 3D geometry (where designers spend most of their time) exposes the weakest links, giving project managers and designers the ability to monitor their progress without launching a separate program.

Taking these as harbingers of a new breed of product development technologies, we may expect social media-inspired tools and visual data-management features to appear in more software suites. Perhaps a combination of the two might give rise to socio-visual product development — a transparent, interactive experience.

You can listen to my interview with Tom Shoemaker, PTC’s VP of solutions marketing, where he discusses the use of social media at PCT and how Windchill SocialLinks works with PTC’s CAD and PLM packages.


You can also listen to my conversation with Paul Brown, Siemens’ senior marketing director of NX, on HD3D (previously published on June 29, following Siemens PLM Connection conference.

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PTC User World Event 2010: Social Enablers, Techpub Composers, and Subdivisional Modelers

What would a family of social media-inspired applets developed to run behind an enterprise firewall look like? It might look like PTC’s Windchill SocialLink, unveiled at PTC User World this year.

Running on Microsoft SharePoint, PTC’s Windchill SocialLink allows you to deploy functions similar to Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger. Robin Siatz, PTC’s senior VP of solutions marketing, explained, “There’s agreement in strategy across the company [PTC] that social product development services should be available to the whole product development system.”

Socialized Product Development
Last year, PTC launched a new product called Windchill ProductPoint, also based on Microsoft SharePoint. Whereas ProductPoint is meant as a product data vault, visualization, markup, and collaboration platform, SocialLink lets you tag content (as you would your photos in Flickr), communicate with colleagues and partners in short text blurbs (as you do on Twitter), find potential collaborators within your firm (as you might identify new friends on Facebook), and receive RSS feeds about your SocialLink associates’ activities.

SocialLink is a standalone package, but to derive its benefits fully, it should be deployed alongside other products like Windchill PDMLink, Siatz explained. Some SocialLink services (as these components are called) may appear as a toolbar in select PTC products, allowing you to engage with colleagues while you work.

“What’s missing in most companies is a sense of community, a shared birds-of-a-feather experience,” noted Brian Shepherd, PTC’s executive VP of product development. “SocialLink will allow these communities to form and flourish, allowing you to capture their collective wisdom.”

PTC plans to roll out SocialLink later this year. PTC’s PLM (product lifecycle management) rival Dassault Systemes is currently developing a similar enterprise-focused social-media platform, dubbed 3dswymer (in closed beta).

Service Manuals via Arbortext
Ever since it acquired document-composer Arbortext in 2007, PTC has been looking for ways to market its XML-based dynamic text formatting and publishing technology to PLM users. This year, PTC may have found the best approach — as a package for producing service manual and technical content.

The core component of this approach is the Arbortext Illustrator application, which lets you create animations and technical drawings. This will become part of PTC’s Arbortext service information solutions. The linkage between Windchill PDMLink and Arbortext ensures that when the source data (the original Pro/ENGINEER model) is modified, service publication managers receive alerts to update the technical content.

PTC’s rival Autodesk recently released a similar application, known as Autodesk Inventor Publisher. Another competitor, Dassault Systemes, also offers its own version, called 3DVIA Composer.

Subdividing Surfaces
Though Pro/ENGINEER is primarily a parametric modeler catering mechanical engineers, those who must create free-form shapes and surfaces can employ the ISDX (interactive surface design extension) module to sculpt complex solids and surfaces. In Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 6.0, a new subdivisional modeling module is set to become available.

Paul Sager, PTC’s director of product management for surfacing and industrial design, explained, “Subdivisional modeling is primarily used in animation, for sculpting faces. It exists in products like [Autodesk's] 3ds Max or Maya.”

With the new module, by subdividing the control mesh (think of it as a wirecage enveloping your 3D model), you can drag, pinch, push, and pull on specific points to deform your model’s geometry. “What it creates is high-quality B-Spline surfaces,” said Sager. “It’s not going to be available till next year.”

The module is driven by technology developed in-house. Currently, it exists only as early Alpha code.

Recently, PTC debut a new version of CoCreate, the direct modeling package it acquired in 2007. Version 17 marks CoCreate’s reemergence under PTC’s guidance.  At the same time, some of CoCreate’s modeling techniques may be finding their ways into PTC’s core parametric package Pro/ENGINEER.

CoCreate’s Copilot navigation tool (a compass-like directional icon that allows you to rotate, push, or pull edges and surfaces along axises and angles) is now poised to appear in Pro/E. The function is currently in the hands of beta testers, according to Sandy Joung, PTC’s director of product marketing for Pro/E and Mathcad.

For more, read “PTC User World 2010: Lightning to Reinvigorate CAD and PLM.”

To see captions of photos in the slide show below, hover your mouse over the image and click on the “i” icon.

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