IT in manufacturing: Everything changes…

Posted on 6 Feb 2012

Autodesk 360 Nexus is Autodesk’s long-awaited entry into the product lifecycle management (PLM) space. Why should UK manufacturers, often found to be lukewarm on PLM, pay attention? Will Stirling finds out.

Product Lifecycle Management software has had a slow start in the UK. Of the central pillars of manufacturing IT – covering CAD, ERP, CRM, Business Intelligence and perhaps S&OP – PLM is, or has been, possibly the hardest sell. This view was endorsed until recently by none other than Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, who resolutely ignored the merits of PLM for years, until in 2010 he made noises to the press about venturing into the space.

Now, finally, Autodesk has entered the fray with Autodesk 360 Nexus, officially announcing the move at its annual big spend user and analyst shindig last year, Autodesk University 2011. Why is this relevant to manufacturers, especially in the UK with its heavily SME skewed manufacturing base, in a flat track economy, where investment in expensive IT is a hard call?

Firstly, Autodesk 360 Nexus is PLM in the cloud. This means that, while the memory-hungry CAD designing and product data management (PDM) stays within the server-based environment, a host of applications can add value to the core while being accessed in the cloud, therefore as a service, making the package more affordable. Steve Bodnar, Autodesk’s data management VP, explains the rationale and benefit of this approach in more detail on the next page. Core PDM functions can be supplied by Autodesk Vault, or 360 Nexus is compatible with most third party PDM solutions.

As identified by a host of bloggers and analysts, not least of all DEVLOP 3D’s irrepressible Al Dean*, the relevance of successfully “clouding-up” these ancillary applications is that full function PLM can now be accessed easily, and more cheaply, by everyone in the user group. Imagine the user chain for key components at a company such as Airbus. For example, landing gears and their fixtures are sourced from Messier-Dowty, who sources key parts from precision engineering firms, who source steel billets or bar from, for example Firth Rixson.

Changes to the configuration of a part of a big assembly on a landing gear can be made, or as importantly, suggested, by any user in that supply chain, who can access functions such as New Product Introduction and Quality Management through the cloud, bypassing the need for heavy investment in multiple software licences (although users still have to buy the software-as-a-service). The beauty of having PDM at the core, “behind the company’s firewall”, with cloud-based apps fluttering around it, means that PLM can more readily achieve its raison-d’ être – a truly collaborative software solution.

…. mais plus c’est la même chose?

But hold on. What’s the precise USP? Arch rival vendors Dassault Systèmes and PTC already have cloud-based PLM and in Dassault’s case, their V6 platform of solutions is entirely cloud-based (see previous article on page 77).

One of the differences in the design of Autodesk 360 Nexus is that the configuration of pages to the customer is less onerous. Some PLM solutions require heavy, ERP-like configuration, which is costly and time-consuming. Autodesk has taken the workspace approach.A workspace is a standard template for each of the five core components of Nexus – project management, requirements management, quality & compliance, supplier management and service management. The workspaces are fixed designs and ready out-of-the-box in 360 Nexus; a small self-configuration and away you go. This is all part of the Autodesk – self-styled champions of the ‘democritisation’ of design – philosophy of making things easier for the user.

Autodesk 360 Nexus PLM has yet to launch but the described architecture and the screen shots show promise. The global launch is expected in March, Autodesk reps will host a workshop at PLM Innovation in Munich on February 22-23, and we believe other demonstration events in the UK are being tabled.

*A good, plain English explanation of the benefits of cloud-ready 360 Nexus over plain vanilla PLM is provided by Al Dean at autodesk-takes-on-plm-with-nexus For more on PLM Innovation in Munich, visit: www.

How to access the full value of PLM… for one tenth the price

In November 2011, Autodesk finally took the plunge and entered the PLM market and its first full PLM solution is available “cloud only”. Steve Bodnar Vice President, Autodesk Data Management, explains why providing PLM-incloud unlocks more of the functions that PLM customers have often ignored.

The interview was conducted at Autodesk University on December 1, 2011

How can manufacturers benefit from cloud-accessible PLM? It’s a PLM solution, designed to deliver the true value of PLM business applications, that is in the cloud.

By being in the cloud it provides a variety of different options for us, like most cloud-based business applications, both from a business perspective as well as from a ‘deployability’ perspective.

The headline benefit, especially for SMEs, is that customers can finally realise the true value of total PLM, because they no longer have to make the investments in IT infrastructure, databases and software licenses. They can access our PLM solution as a subscription service that will be extremely affordable, in many cases one tenth the price of a traditional solution.

Companies have often only used PLM for PDM – product data management – purposes, failing to get full functionality from this powerful tool. What has this product done to address this? The analyst community has done a lot of research into this, and our own qualitative and quantitative data has helped drive our decisionmaking about PLM.

We discovered that customers buy PLM solutions based upon the value proposition described from full PLM, which really means delivering on the management of data from early conception through to the end of life of those products. Because of the limitations associate with the software architectures and the business models, i.e. price points, of traditional PLM solutions, the vast majority of customers we talk to have really never got beyond PDM; that is, CAD file management, engineering bill of materials management, change management and perhaps one other function, but that’s as far as they ever get. They never, or rarely, realise the value of full PLM.

We looked at the idea of moving that capability into the cloud, to extend the value of that definition of PLM to our customers. But we quickly realised that moving PDM functions into the cloud didn’t make a great deal of sense to them, mainly because their CAD tools were still behind their firewalls. If your CAD tool is behind your firewall and you are trying to put PDM up in the cloud, it’s not going to perform very well to move all your work-in-process changes to your designs, every day, back and forth between your local CAD programme and PDM in the cloud.

So we quickly decided that PDM should remain where it is today, behind our customers firewalls. We have a great product, Vault, but customers also use other PDM solutions and they can continue to get value from either one. One day, when companies are ready to perform ‘design in the cloud’ – we’ll be waiting for them of course – we’ll have PDM capabilities there with our design tools in the cloud.

Until then, leaving PDM where it is makes a lot of sense. But we still want to extend the full value of PLM that for many customers has gone unrealised. So we decided to put the rest of the PLM business applications that surround PDM – everything from requirements management to new product introductions, managing alternate views of the bill of materials, to project management, quality, compliance and a variety of things – in a cloud solution, using a very affordable model. How affordable? More like the kinds of cloud solutions you see today around CRM [customer relationship management], some ERP offerings and HR Management.”

Autodesk plans to launch its cloud PLM product, 360 Nexus, globally in March.