The technology used to conceive, design and fabricate the objects around us is complicated. It may be difficult to understand if you're not a practitioner, yet businesses routinely entrust their most important processes to these tools. Our Hot Topics blog tries to clear up some of the confusion.

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Hot Topics

Simulation and the value pyramid

One of the questions I get most often from designers and their managers is how to do it all: be a good designer, work like a CAD rock star, and learn simulation. It’s a lot to ask of one person and we always wind up talking about how to shift work around to take advantage of expertise already in-house.

Over the years, I’ve come up with what I call the “value pyramid”. I don’t mean to imply that any one task is more or less valuable than another; we need to do them all to get to the end-result. But most tasks fall into either a routine or crisis bucket, with crisis tasks always seeming more valuable. But it’s the routine ones actually make a project successful.

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Head on over to the PTC Creo blog to see my suggestions on how to get the most out of your team and CAE implementation. And don’t worry — you are absolutely not alone as you try to figure this out.


Bentley just shy of $600m in 2013, fastest growth in prof services

EarningsBentley Systems just shared a bit of what it is seeing in the world — unusual because it’s a privately held company and important because it is by far the largest software vendor focused only on AEC.

Bentley has published its annual report and held a corporate update call for the last couple of years. It all started when the company took on debt to repurchase shares held by outsiders. The ratings agencies needed information to rank the debt, and so these calls. The company is no longer required to do this because its repaid much of the debt, but it’s still a good way for Bentley to get out the word that it’s doing well in a world where its publicly traded competitors that talk to the market (and customers) every quarter.

The main headline for Bentley’s 2013: revenue grew faster than expected, up 8% to $593 million. (Can you imagine the sales review meetings: “Come on, there’s got to be $7 million more somewhere!”) Almost exactly a year ago, CEO Greg Bentley had forecast 7% growth for 2013 because of the continued economic slowdown, but told us that the company was able to beat this goal by focusing on asset performance, or helping its customers make the most of the assets already built.

There’s a second headline buried in the first: professional services revenue grew 35% in 2013 (though no total is given). Some of this was due to acquisition, but much is due to Bentley’s growing portfolio of products outside the design realm. Asset performance, moving information out to the construction site, involving more internal and external partners in project collaboration are all strategic imperatives for many of its customers, leading to enterprise engagements. That’s a big step — a company that used to be known for MicroStation is now gaining traction as something much more.

The details:

  • Total revenue in 2013 was $593 million, up 8% as reported and up 8% in constant currency.
  • Once again, 74% of revenue came from software subscriptions, steady with 2012 and up from 72% in 2011. Recurring revenue is a double-edged sword: it’s steady income that helps fund continuing R&D, but it makes it hard to grow revenue at double-digit rates. It also means that Bentley has to keep innovating to keep the renewal rates high –
  • Which seems to be working, as renewal rates were again over 97%. That’s tied to what may be an industry-high —
  • Investment of close to 25% of revenue in R&D.
  • By geography, 45% of revenue came from the Americas, 36% from EMEA and 19% from Asia. Even so –
  • The company highlighted growth in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, UK and the Middle East but didn’t give any details. One can surmise that some of the growth is due to infrastructure build-out in Asia and the Middle East. Growth in the UK may be due to the nation’s BIM standardization and to Bentley’s involvement in the giant Crossrail project.
  • Public companies often disclose when a single customer accounts for a significant part of revenue — it’s often seen as a risk, since that customer could go elsewhere. For Bentley, it’s a badge of honor: the company says over 70 “user organizations” account for more than $1 million in revenue.
  • Bentley’s annual report says that 98% of the company is now owned by the Bentley family and colleagues (employees), up from 92% in 2012 and up from 58% in 2008 as a result of the stock buyback program. Left unsaid were the reasons and benefits of such a program: better control, stronger motivation and higher rewards.
  • Bentley tracks how customers are using its products and in 2013, it noted more than 1 million commercial users in 165 countries of its desktop apps and over 2 million including users when including Passports and mobile device apps.

Mr. Bentley also gets excited about how the company is changing the way its customers pay for and use its products. Bentley has sold subscriptions for a long time; new is a no-cost opt-in to Bentley’s entire portfolio via the SELECT Open Access program. This gives all subscribers (regardless of size) access to any product in the portfolio without committing to an annual license. Quarterly billing means that firms pay for only what they need at any given time, which could enable them to charge their software costs back to their clients or at least know the true cost of their software per project. The companion Bentley LEARNservice offers quick-start training so that users can get up to speed on each app, when they need to. Why does this matter? Users that switch between products often need a refresher, so quick access is key — and the combination of easy access, on-demand training tools and painless purchasing almost make it a no-brainer to investigate other Bentley solutions before calling in another software vendor for a demo. Smart business.

But Bentley is, at heart, a technology company. This year the annual report includes an interview with  CTO Keith Bentley, a technogeek of the first order. You should read the entire piece for yourself, but Keith reinforces the company’s longtime vision and bridges it into the future:

[T]he goal is to end up with something you can build, maintain, and reuse effectively and efficiently, and the information generated can be as important as the physical asset. And when you can have a computer in your pocket, no one presumes, like we did [in the 70s and 80s], that the workflow is fixed, and that all you can do is optimize the steps in between. So we’ve gone from process automation to performance automation – that is, automation of the end result rather than of the steps to get there. This is so much more valuable in terms of the return on our users’ investments in their computing resources, and allows us to do a lot more for our users than ever before.

This ties directly to the company’s mission in 2014, as Greg Bentley singled out three areas of focus: mapping and monitoring subsurface assets like buried wires and other utilities; further integrating asset management into processes to maintain, operate and improve roadways, railways, campuses and other complex systems; and to make this experience more immersive with 3D models and other techniques for training, inspections, and maintenance.

Mr. Bentley expects revenue to grow 6% in 2014 on an organic basis and expects to add to that with acquisitions during the year. He said that the company reduced its net debt by half in 2013 and has “significant credit capacity available at borrowing rates of less than 2%”. What do you think Bentley will acquire in 2014? Me? I’m betting on more tools to keep tabs on asset performance (like InspectTech, the bridge monitoring acquisition from 2012).

Bentley may not be the largest AEC software vendor (that’s Autodesk), but it is growing a percentage point or two faster than its peers, even with its heavy reliance on subscription revenue. Its focus on improving performance over the 20, 30 or 50 year lifespan of the assets its customers operate is, for now, unique among AEC competitors and ties Bentley to its customers in ways that a design-only vendor can’t approach. I think Bentley may come in ahead a point or two of forecast in 2014 — just a feeling.

Note: Bentley made a review copy of the 2013 annual report available to media and analysts. The final should be available soon on the company website. Select Company on the right, then pulldown to Annual Report.


Tekla acquires Field3D mobile BIM apps

EarningsYesterday, Tekla announced that it has acquired SVS Innovations’ construction business, including the Field3D mobile solution, to strengthen its position in mobile BIM.

Field3D apps are available for iPad and iPhone, and enable collaboration between the job site and the office.

“Field3D is now part of a larger offering, and we believe that is the right way forward for our clients. Tekla’s global market position enables them to quickly deploy the benefits of this advanced technology. This acquisition demonstrates the value of our mobile 3D platform, and now we can continue leveraging this innovative technology to other industries,” says Mr. Antti Nurminen, CEO of SVS Innovations.

Details of the transaction were not made public. After the handover, SVSI will continue to apply its 3D mobile technology to other building industry areas such as architecture, MEP (Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing), facility management, and city and area planning.

Field3D views Industry Foundation Class (IFC)-based models, including Autodesk Revit, Bentley AECOsim Building Designer, Graphisoft ArchiCAD, Nemetschek VectorWorks and Tekla Structures, among others. In addition to the .ifc format, Field3D can open .dae, .3ds and .obj format files for viewing and data extraction. There’s a premium version of the app, which expands the use case from pan, zoom and rotate to include filtering by layers and properties to quick access to subsets of the total data set. The premium version also allows users to get access to models from Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Windows Onedrive. As far as I’ve been able to determine, Field3D is the only vendor-agnostic 3D viewer on Apple iOS.

Tekla BIMsight Note, on the other hand, is a purpose-built tool for monitoring notes created in Tekla BIMsight. It’s meant for reviewing BIM structural models and making notes and sharing them among team members via email or Dropbox like-services. Tekla BIMsight Note requires that the full Tekla BIMsight be used to find clashes, identify design issues, etc. for communication via BIMsight Note.

Field3D is a technology tuck-in that serves two purposes: It gives Tekla (and its parent, Trimble) an iOS platform through which it can begin to complete the round-trip vision for BIM: architect to design to construction to operate to maintain.  Too, as a platform, it’s extensible to other areas. We’ll be watching to see what else Trimble thinks its mobile users need.


Morning coffee: hockey, the economy & recalls

Happy Monday! We spent the weekend in Philadelphia, a traditional destination for history lovers and foodies. This year, Philadelphia also played host to the US college NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament. The four best college hockey teams in the land played there hearts out and, in the end, only Union was left standing. Thousands of fans from around the country, three great hockey games, great food and a cinderella story, too. PLM what?

This is a 3D capture I made of the Liberty Bell early one morning, before the place was overwhelmed with tourists. I used Autodesk’s 123d Catch iPhone app, taking something like 40 snapshots. The link above takes you to the capture site, where you can play with the capture; this is a static view of the processed image:

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Pretty cool, huh? And this is what the arena looked like Saturday, after Union won its title. Also pretty cool, no? Here’s a nice, quick recap of the game and why Union is unusual in the elite ranks of college hockey.

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I definitely forgot all about PLM for a few days, so let’s get back to it and our little corner of the economy. Speaking of …

It’s the Economy …

We’ve been getting a lot of economic data in a piecemeal way, one country at a time. Last week the World Bank started releasing a bigger picture view, one region at a time. You can read the details, but the headlines are that the global economy will rebound, growth in economies of the Middle East and North Africa will accelerate to 4.6% in 2015. Developing East Asia is to remain stable with growth again at 7% even as China slows a fraction of a percent. The World Bank also sees deceleration in the Emerging Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region, dropping from 2.1% in 2013 down to an anticipated 1.9% in 2014. Look for specific region and country reports here.

Unfortunately for consumers, more cars were recalled last week, as Toyota said that over 6 million vehicles across its leading Camry, Corolla, Matrix and Highlander models and the Pontiac Vibe and Subaru Trezia needed to be inspected for problems with air bags that may not deploy and/or seats that could move in a crash. CNN reminds us  that Toyota also recalled 2.1 million cars in February “because of a software problem that could cause the cars to stop suddenly.” Toyota and GM have recalled something like 13 million vehicles so far this year, with the earliest models produced in 2004. Who made what decision with what information, and how PLM could have helped improve outcomes, will undoubtedly be fascinating — once all of the legal issues have been settled.

PLMish Deals, Earnings and Other News

voxeljet‘s IPO continues apace, with the company last week pricing its shares at $15 per American Depository Share* (ADS), leading to an IPO value of $45 million. voxeljet is the German maker of large format 3D printers and on-demand parts services; it will use its share of the IPO ($41 million) for research and development and to expand its sales and marketing reach. It may also look into expanding its on-demand parts network to North America and Asia. voxeljet originally went public on October 23, 2013, selling 7,475,000 ADSs at a public offering price of $13.00 apiece; today, those opened at $15.10.

In last week’s Monday coffee, I wrote that ZWCAD is being sued by Autodesk and that ZWCAD said the suit had no foundation. Autodesk disagrees and says that a Dutch court actually found that “[t]he fact that many functions of AutoCAD 2008 that do not make a logical contribution for the user regarding the operation of the system or that can be classified as errors return in ZWCAD+ offers, in our provisional opinion, sufficient grounds to allow the claimed relief, no matter the explanations given by the defendants regarding these similarities.”

Finally, Dassault Systèmes again extended its offer for Accelrys at $12/50 per share until midnight, New York City time, on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Still waiting for regulatory approvals …

* An ADS is a s US dollar-denominated equity share of a foreign company that’s traded on an American stock exchange. ADSs are issued by banks in the US because the issuing company is not allowed to do it themselves.


Hexagon snaps up Mintec to close mining loop

020714_Bloomfield_MS3D InteractionEver since Dassault Systèmes bought Gemcom, mining has been a hot area of focus for the major engineering software providers. It’s an underserved market that presents a lot of opportunity for more modernized, technological solutions. Mining is under significant regulatory scrutiny, which means huge penalties when things go wrong – a sweet spot for the PLMish world if ever there was one.

Today, Hexagon announced that it’s acquiring Mintec, whose MineSight resource modeling, optimization, planning and scheduling solutions were seen to compete with Gemcom in many areas. Like Gemcom, MineSight is used for mining precious and base metals, for coal, oil sands and industrial minerals with the intent of improving productivity throughout a mine’s life

Like many niche engineering software providers, Mintec started as a small consulting company in 1970 to help companies with mine modeling and design. These consulting engagements led the company to develop software that it eventually commercialized.

Hexagon says that Mintec has 232 employees, but offered no other details of the company or acquisition.

The company sees this as a strategic move, saying that wants to expand out of mine operations into planning and scheduling to “close the loop and control data flow from design and mine planning through extraction and back into life-of-mine planning, providing a comprehensive flow of data across all mining operations”. Combining technology from its Leica, Devex, SAFEmine brands with Intergraph’s computer-aided dispatch solutions with Mintec will, according to CEO Ola Rollén, give Hexagon the ” tools and technologies to leap ahead of the competition, giving Hexagon a unique position in the market.”

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions; the deal is expected to close by the end of June.

Image of MineSight Planner courtesy of Mintec.

This brings up a question I get quite often: what are “customary closing conditions”? It varies from deal to deal but it usually means

  • obtaining regulatory approval (for example, when one competitor buys another, does this combination create a monopoly?)
  • verifying that everything each side of the transaction claimed is basically true (that big contract really exists, the bank balance really is as promised)
  • all owners sell their shares to the acquirer or some sort of compromise is reached
  • all legal issues are disclosed and cleared, and so on.

Deals fall apart all the time, but usually before a public announcement such as this one.


CENIT: 2013 was challenging but 2014 is promising

EarningsCENIT AG announced earlier this week that it exited a challenging 2013 having “laid the groundwork for future earnings growth in a number of segments”.  Noteworthy is that sales of the reseller’s own software continued to grow, and outpaced all other aspects of the business. This is still a small part of the total but the outlook is promising and, wrote the management board, “in the years to come, it will again be one of most important goals of our enterprise to expand sales of our own software.”

Total revenue for the year was €119 million, flat y/y. Sales in the Enterprise Information Management (EIM) segment were down 3% to €28 million while sales in the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) segment were up 1% to €91 million.

In the PLM segment, CENIT resells software from Dassault Systèmes and SAP, as well as its own cenitCONNECT and FASTSUITE.  In the EIM segment, it resells products from IBM (Filenet). The management board said that the revenue decline in EIM was largely due to a reorganization of that business during the second half of the year, a restructuring to enhance future profitability.

CENIT’s business includes consulting and services, which saw revenue decline 2% y/y to €56 million. Sales of third-party software was up 2% y/y to €50 million, but, again, the standout in 2013 was sales of CENIT’s proprietary software, which grew 4% to €12.8 million.

CENIT also gave guidance for 2014: The company forecasts revenue growth of 5%, and expects all parts of the business to grow.

I think that’s it for PLMish earnings reports for 2013. We’ll do a general recap next week but I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t an awful year, but most people are glad to put it behind them. Bring on 2014!


Behind the hype with ENOVIA

CompassIt’s time for an update. You’ve asked lots of questions about Dassault Systèmes (DS) 3D EXPERIENCEs and how this ties into the DS products you may be using. I’ve answered you from the perspective of DS as a whole, based on what I learn at events like the 3D EXPERIENCE forums; that’s a big picture view that’s just now starting to come into focus.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet the ENOVIA team and get a glimpse into how this core technology is moving forward, and, trust me, there’s a lot of there there. The hype from DS corporate makes it hard to see what’s happening at the brands, so this was a great chance to learn more. The day at the DS campus in Waltham, MA was packed with presentations, demos and Q&A. I can’t reproduce it all (you’d never read anything that long), so I’ve boiled it down as answers to the 9* most important and interesting questions I get from you.

1. Explain the “experience” thing one more time …
CEO Bernard Charles told us at the 3D EXPERIENCE forum in November that “V6 is not the platform. ENOVIA is not the platform; ENOVIA is the architecture. 3D EXPERIENCE is the platform. Everything in V6 runs on 3D EXPERIENCE and you just select which apps you want to run.”

It takes a lot of work to unpack that statement so here’s how the ENOVIA team explained it: the 3D EXPERIENCEs are bundles of industry-focused apps drawn from across DS’ many brands. Each EXPERIENCE is built around industry best practices and processes, with added content (such as specs for piping), where needed. The CATIA apps you use today are bundled into EXPERIENCEs — nothing changes except, perhaps, how you buy them. What does change is how data moves between users and apps; in the EXPERIENCE context, data flows more smoothly because of changes made to the core holding it all together, ENOVIA.

2. How does ENOVIA do this?
Over the last couple of versions, ENOVIA’s architecture moved away from file structures to objects, which the ENOVIA team says is more flexible. In V6, ENOVIA is completely object-oriented, so users can work on part of an assembly without locking the entire file structure for the assembly. It’s also more configurable because individual objects can now be searched, grouped, and used in applications as appropriate. No more shipping around files.

3. But isn’t ENOVIA hard to use? Won’t putting it at the core slow me down?
The ENOVIA I just saw isn’t the old ENOVIA. Some of this is because of UI changes that make the V6 compass the core navigational tool but the 2014x ENOVIA solution is visual, and doesn’t interfere with a design task, but rather make it easier. You access ENOVIA’s capabilities from within your design app, for example, and not accessing design after logging in to a PDM. You can zoom through visual search results, see design alternatives in a turntable-like visual metaphor — DS has worked hard to move data management functions from being obstacles to being enablers. The company says this makes its products fun to use; I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s definitely a vast improvement over earlier iterations.

4. How does this all tie together?
Users work within an “experience” of bundled apps, which may include CATIA, DELMIA, SIMULIA or whatever the role- or task-based EXPERIENCE requires. The “ENOVIA inside” means that data transfers from app to app as needed. Think about this: since ENOVIA Requirements Central can capture customer needs, we can go from pre-design, through design iterations and simulations to manufacturing and service planning, tracing all the way back to the beginning of a project — without translating anything. It’s not as simple I’ve written here but the bones are there for enterprises to connect everything together.

5. What’s with the compass thing?
When you begin your work session, you see the IFWE compass and the apps you have access to. The compass has, from the top and going counterclockwise (anti-clockwise): social and collaborative, 3D modeling, simulation, and information retrieval. Apps appear in a pane on the left of the window, and you toggle between apps as you work. You don’t leave this environment, whether you’re working in CATIA or Abaqus Dynamic Simulation, for example.

What DS hasn’t talked a lot about is the tagging and indexing that underly the search and retrieval capabilities –called 6W for Who, What, Where, Why, When and hoW– for structured and unstructured information. If you’re interested, try this video. The few seconds on tagging and indexing, at around 3:20 in the video, are worth a look.

6. What ever happened to SmarTeam?
It’s still very much alive, thank you. What is completely lost in DS’ current messaging is that the brands are vibrant, in and of themselves, especially the smaller ones that don’t get a lot of visibility in any case. Andy Kalambi, CEO of ENOVIA, said that ENOVIA and its sub-brands have 1.3 million users today, at 16,000 customers. Of these, 19% are Smart and, Mr. Kalambi said, this number is still growing.

7. I’m in automotive; what do I gain from DS’s entry into markets like financial services? Doesn’t it take resources away from what I care most about?
We’re all self-centered, if we’re being honest. We can see, intellectually, that there may be benefit for us from research and development in adjacent industries (automotive and aerospace; shipbuilding and plant; etc.) but DS is branching out into areas that don’t seem obvious to its core constituencies. But think about two things: first, many of these new industries come to DS through acquisitions, such as mining/natural resources via Gemcom. Those teams weren’t solving automotive issues before acquisition, so aren’t being diverted in any way. Second, DS’ expansion informs everything it does for its long-time customers. Big data, consumer-appropriate visualizations, the 6W tagging — all likely came from acquisitions that, at first glance, had little to do with DS’ core verticals.

During my visit, I learned about the merchandising and financial/business services solutions and can see why DS wants to go after these opportunities — and saw why someone in automotive should be interested in how these solutions develop. Take merchandising: buyers are picky. They want their shopping experience to fit a certain mold: you’ll never buy something really expensive at Walmart nor would you go into a high-end retailer like Nordstrom for a $2 bottle of shampoo. By looking at how a product is placed on shelves, gauging its visual appeal, and examining how a store is configured, packaging designers can optimize the outside of the product to appeal to its target buyer. This has applicability in automotive: a Chevy showroom (no offense, GM) isn’t the swankiest; should it be? How should the experience of buying a Chevy compare to that of buying a BMW?

Financial services seems, at this point, to be learning more from other industries than it is giving back. But think about its issues: massive amounts of data, regulation, a young and churning workforce. Who knows what will come out of the solutions for that market that may inform others?

8. I still don’t buy the EXPERIENCE thing. What else have you got?
Mr. Kalambi says that DS is focused on helping its customers drive to “the power of zero”: zero prototypes, no product failures, no delays, no BOM errors, exceptions, rework, and no latency. He sees ENOVIA as the key to helping DS customers build both their top lines and bottom lines by

  • enhancing the value delivered to end-customers through improving their experience with the product (which could lead to higher prices and greater sales)
  • speeding the rate of innovation, so that more products are in the marketplace concurrently, leading to higher sales; and
  • improving execution across the board, from design reuse and other innovations to improving manufacturing and service efficiency.

He says that we can do this if shift our thinking from modeling products to looking at the bigger picture (“creating experiences” in DS-speak) by combining multi-physics, behavior modeling, big data, social collaboration and dashboarding into a single environment. Add in ENOVIA’s data-driven architecture, and Mr. Kalambi believes we’ve got an online, global, single-instance innovation platform. Alongside the EXPERIENCEs is a serious effort to solve real business problems.

9. Finally, the big, core question: what do users get from all of this? Has DS been noodling with its products in a way that’s good for DS or good for the user? Are they even possibly the same?
I came away from my day with DS a lot less cynical about the 3D EXPERIENCE, both in concept and in the way it’s been executed so far. Yes, DS is still shouting with its capitalization and I do wish they’d stop, and their use of the word “experience” has multiple meanings that sometimes makes it hard to tell what, exactly, they’re talking about. But. But. But.

DS is trying to shift a customer base that sees itself as CATIA operators, Abaqus users and so on. Even their managers may not recognize that there are other parts of DS’ portfolio that they could help solve some of their problems. DS tried to promote the individual brands for a while but realized that it could do so much more if it created pre-packaged solutions to common problems in each of their target verticals, rather than waiting for customers to do it on their own. The bundles, if you don’t like EXPERIENCEs, bring together apps and other content necessary to reach a specific goal: a safe plant, a winning proposal, and so on.

Those are business-level concerns, not at the user’s level. DS is talking to CEOs about what keeps them up at night and trying to target its EXPERIENCEs to those needs. But these bundles are in their early stages; you don’t go from monolithic CATIA to nuanced apps-with-added-content overnight. That’s part of the problem, I think: in some ways, this strategy would have made more sense had DS waited until more was complete. Waiting has its own problems, though, so DS did the only thing it could: start working and hope it all catches up.

While DS corporate noodles with messages and packaging, the ENOVIA organization continues to evolve its PLM capabilities and user interaction, sell product and support customers. What I saw last month shows that it’s come a long way — perhaps a lot further than you think.

Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.

* I had 10, but this is already sooo long. Ask me someday what got cut!


Non-CAE simulation? Kineo explains

explore-kineo_tcm1023-211191My first car was a used Chevy Chevette. Go ahead and giggle –you’re right– and when you’re ready, let’s talk maintainability. I thought the car had it all: AM/FM radio and tape deck, air conditioning, a hatch to carry all of my stuff … My little American dream machine. Then, since I was a newly graduated engineer, I decided I needed to learn how to do all of my own maintenance.

After all, how hard could it be to change the oil, rotate the tires and … stuff? I’m a city kid; car maintenance wasn’t something that came naturally (and MIT certainly didn’t cover this) so I figured that a Chilton Auto Repair Manual could tell me all I needed to know. I scoped out spark plug gap tools at the local NAPA auto parts store, scoured Sears for tool sets and tried to follow the instructions in the book. I skinned my knuckles taking out the spark plugs. Couldn’t reach the oil filter. Had to move things out of the way just to check the oil. It was probably amusing to watch, but I wasn’t happy — maintainability was clearly not at the top of the list of considerations for the Chevette.

Manufacturers today look at things differently. Can the driver’s seat and dashboard be installed, given the size of the door and windshield openings? Can we mount the windshield wiper motor in the space available — and can a repair tech reach it for repairs or replacement? How should a welding robot be programmed to maximize efficiency while staying collision-free? Automotive, aerospace and other industries use path planning algorithms, a type of simulation that has nothing to do with loads and deformations, to maximize efficiency and minimize collisions.

I hadn’t realized how complicated this was, even with my Chevette drama, until a call several weeks ago with the Siemens Kineo team. You may remember that Siemens acquired Kineo in late 2012 after partnering for a several years. Kineo makes software (as end-user apps or components embedded in other software apps) that optimize paths to  make both human and machine work more efficient.

Kineo’s Margarita Pariente told me that Kineo’s path planning tools are used in all sorts of applications: planning paths to program robots; studying the ergonomics of a particular process; checking for collisions during assembly or disassembly; and programming coordinate measuring machines. Kineo is embedded in Siemens PLM’s NX, Tecnomatix, and Teamcenter products and in similar products sold by other software vendors; adding together Siemens, standalone and other ISVs, Ms. Pariente estimates that more than 200 companies use Kineo’s path planning algorithms.

I’m used to the kind of simulation that uses meshes to determine deformations; checking for collisions is just as complex and compute intensive. I didn’t quite understand why form and fit simulation was necessary since CAD packages all can do interference detection, so I reached out to a couple of contacts in industry to get their take on it. One told me that they use Kineo CAM in assembly planning: yes, they start with interference detection in their CAD modeling process, but that’s not sufficient. They need to make sure that a product can be assembled in ways that reduce physical effort and avoid repetitive motion injuries. Using Kineo’s Human Path Planner, a production planner selects the part in a CAD model, specifies the task and any human kinematic constraints (say the height or reach of the average worker) to optimize the task. If there are collisions, the Human Path Planner suggests alternatives.

Robotic processes can be just as complex — more so, if you factor in the speed at which robots operate. In this case, Kineo’s path planning algorithms let planners assess whether a design is manufacturable and perform mounting and dismounting simulations. Ms. Pariente adds that Kineo is used to automatically compute robotic tasks, for off-line and onboard programming, reducing and optimizing robot cycle times.

I was especially interested in the AEC and shipbuilding applications for path planning. Ms. Pariente had an example of a nuclear power plant, with very tight spaces. Downtime means lost revenue so maintenance is carefully planned, as is every imaginable emergency scenario. Workers must quickly gain access, do their jobs and get out. Kineo’s solutions find the quickest, safest paths for workers and equipment. Ms. Pariente is right: this can translate into time, money and resource savings.

Kineo used to say that it can do in 2 minutes what otherwise would take 2 days. Speed matters, no doubt, but maybe this is they key: one of my contacts told me that “we’ve moved from reacting to predicting”. When you predict, you can mitigate; all you can do when you react is … react.

Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.


Simulation: you got this!

61493en_image1It’s a story ripped out of the headlines: Your product is out in the marketplace but it’s failing. Warranty claims are escalating and you’re scrambling to figure out what’s wrong and keep it from ever happening again.

Simulation can “test” virtual prototypes throughout your product development process, saving money and time — and the nightmare of a recall.

Learn how to get started in my latest post at the PTC Creo blog.

Image courtesy of PTC


Morning coffee: deals, a coming IPO & lots of other news

Morning coffeeWelcome to your Monday! Last week was a doozie, so let’s get right to it.

It’s the Economy …

We’ve got good news, bad news and good news. On the good news side, US employers added 192,000 jobs in March. That’s better than recent months but bad news because more people are looking. Netting it all out, the unemployment rate stayed unchanged at 6.7%. The mixed news sent the NASDAQ down almost 3% and the Dow down 1%. Economists also think that wages may start climbing, as competition heats up in the job market for qualified applicants.

Over in the Eurozone, the European Central Bank kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.25% despite the fact that inflation fell to a five-year low in March. According to the BBC, “The fear attached to lower inflation is it could harm the eurozone’s nascent economic recovery, by weakening consumer demand for goods and services because households would be likely to put off spending believing prices will continue to fall.”

In China, government data showed that manufacturing expanded ever so slightly in March, while data from other sources showed a contraction, leading many to believe that the Chinese economy is slowing. The BBC said “China’s premier Li Keqiang acknowledged that there were “difficulties and risks”, as rising debt and ongoing pollution problems cloud China’s economic outlook.”

Finally, the US Supreme Court heard arguments last week about whether software algorithms can be patented. US law says that specific process that describe how an idea is implemented can be patented but that an abstract concept like a math formula can’t. But isn’t software just a long, interlinking piece of math? You can read a transcript of the Court session here.

PLMish Deals, Earnings and Other News

I don’t think there were any earnings announced last week, but we had plenty of acquisition news. Aspen Technology announced that it acquired Sulsim, a sulfur simulation tool from Sulphur Experts. Adding Sulsim to the AspenTech family means that process designers can model cleaning and recovery as well as the plant’s operations, all in a single environment.

But Stratasys wins, hands down, the “volume of news” awards. The company announced that it will acquire Solid Concepts, Harvest Technologies and “certain assets” of Interfacial Solutions. All three are service bureaus, a segment that Stratasys CEO David Reis sees as critical to Stratasys’ success for concept modeling, low-volume and other specialist uses. Interfacial Solutions also does thermoplastics R&D and, says Stratasys, has been “instrumental in the research and development for, and is the producer of, some of Stratasys’ thermoplastic material”. Stratasys will pay up to $295 million in cash and shares for Solid Concepts. The details of the Harvest Technology and Interfacial Solutions deals were not disclosed.

We haven’t had an IPO in a while, but Materialise, which straddles the additive manufacturing software/service bureau line, is testing the waters. Last week, the company filed a registration statement with the US SEC for potential trading on the NASDAQ. You can read the filing here, or read my synopsis of the best bits.

We also had a couple of other noteworthy vendor announcements last week. Dassault Systèmes finally released SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. It’s the first SolidWorks application on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform — now users can see for themselves what all the fuss is about. You can see tutorial videos here.

Siemens PLM announced the availability of NX on private clouds using a virtual desktop infrastructure with the NVIDIA GRID vGPU (virtual graphics processing unit). This enables companies to offer remote access to NX running on central servers, which increases security while making it easier to administer a large installation.

I’m not really sure what to do about this one, but if you need to know: ZWCAD Design Co. emailed me to let me know that it thinks it’s being sued by Autodesk for infringement of intellectual property — but found out about it from Ralph Grabowski’s blog. ZWCAD says the suit has no foundation and that it’s business as usual while all of this gets sorted out.

Link of the Week

We’re seeing all sorts of uses for 3D printing, from high-tech manufacturing of small lots of specialist parts to prosthetic devices to kid toys. But what about music? In 2000, a physicist from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs named Carl Haber stuck an old 78 rpm phonograph record under a microscope and saw (not surprising) grooves. Surprising was that the edges to those grooves were measurable. Those measurable edges could be digitized, starting a preservation project that changed a lot of what we know about recorded sound and preserving physical media that is too fragile to play on a phonograph or other device. We can “see sound.” So cool.

[If the Globe article is behind the paywall, this will take you directly to the Northeast Document Conservation Center.]

That’s it — hope you have a great week!