Silos changing: Design flexibility and Autodesk

This week, Mike Evans, research director at Cambashi, returns to the subject of design flexibility and attends to the responses to our blog posted on May 2nd.

Experts at industry analyst and market consulting firm Cambashi contribute a regular blog for TM titled Silos Changing exploring how new software applications enable manufacturers to implement business initiatives for the new economy.

Autodesk has long been the leader in desktop design software. However, it has only just launched its PLM 360 product aimed at managing data and processes associated with an enterprise’s New Product Introduction (NPI). It is web-centric, supporting dispersed development teams in industry networks.  It provides a multitude of apps that are the platform for manufacturers to operate different NPI processes.

Autodesk had existing products that provided workgroup product data management and transfer of design data point to point. In the dot.com boom, they incubated two interesting start ups, Buzzsaw and RedSpark.  Buzzsaw is now a substantial business providing web-based collaboration for engineering information in construction and infrastructure projects. A version called Streamline provides similar services to manufacturers.

Redspark provided a web-based collaboration store between a mechanical designer’s desktop and the supply chain of manufacturing enterprises.  RedSpark did not survive the dot.crash.

We’ve previously explained that we think that flexible NPI that allows swift response to customer demands is fundamental to a manufacturer’s success. We think the only way to achieve this flexibility is a requirements management, systems engineering and model based approach.

Until now, Autodesk’s manufacturing customers have tended to be smaller businesses, often operating as part of the supply chain to larger enterprises. There has been pressure to adopt the data management solutions of their customers. However, these companies want to be part of several larger enterprise supply chains and they can’t afford the cost and confusion of using multiple data management solutions.

The Programme and Product Management App in Autodesk PLM 360 could help in this situation. It allows the user to create a workspace in a secure cloud accessible to both customer and supplier.

Different instances of a product are separate nested projects and all these can be rolled up to show the portfolio status. This means that the data can be displayed as different views to different roles in the project facilitating collaboration between partners in an industry network design project.

Steve Bodnar, VP of Data Management and PLM at Autodesk says, “We recognise that manufacturers have existing solutions for CAD, Requirements Management and team data management. We don’t expect these to change. Our PLM 360 offer is to interconnect the workspaces of different teams and optimise the business of product development.”

It’s still early days for PLM 360 but a few early adopters are talking about their experiences. DRS makes and operates specialist machines that scan high volumes of documents. They were already an Autodesk user and wanted to organise their innovation processes better.

For example, the Technical Advice Notes that informed Manufacturing and Engineering departments of a production or process change. John Wilkes, hardware development team manager at DRS says “Within one day, we have managed to create the processes behind our TANs [Technical Advice Notes] along with our ECRs [Engineering Change Requests] and get legacy data imported and operational”.  The cloud based deployment and apps as templates made it easy to get started.

We are not particularly fond of the cloud. Our research says that people view computing architectures in a similar way to their plumbing. Provided it works they don’t examine it.

But we do think cloud based solutions are attractive for software applications that have to serve several distributed locations with one set of data. Managing a design project across an industry network is one of those cases.

In future blogs, we will go on to write about other issues and solutions that help manufacturers respond to consumer and business demand for smart products and devices.