Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Parachute Option... for Cloud-Data?

When aviation was in its infancy, it was enthralling, and aviation still is for many who are captivated by the thought of flying in the clouds. However in those early years of flight, when things didn't go as planned, mortality was high because parachutes were an afterthought. Today, ICON Aircraft, Inc. has developed a parachute system directly into their A5 model. In business, CEO's and others in the upper echelons of commerce often seal their hiring with a parachute clause. In these situations, the intent of the expression 'parachute' is that when things don't work out as planned, you can come out of the situation relatively unscathed.

ICON Parachute System (IPS); courtesy of ICON Aircraft, Inc.
In a similar sense, cloud-based platforms are fine when things are going business-as-usual, even exciting when everyone is in wow-mode. But what happens when all of that ends? What happens when the visionaries who created the business model decide to leave? What happens when a cloud-based provider no longer wants to be in business, or the company strategy becomes to sell-off to another owner? Is there a data parachute option for users who voluntarily want out, or those who are forced out?

Some might recall that Solidworks was sold to Dassault Systemes in 1997, only two years after its first release in 1995. Could something similar happen to Onshape as it continues its trajectory of success? Also, there have been closings of cloud-based programs before. Remember TeamPlatform for cloud-based design collaboration? It was a noble venture that after being purchased by 3D Systems was thereafter closed. With that in mind, the end of Microsoft eBooks has provided a fresh view of what a very prominent cloud-based platform closing looks like. A fresh reminder that it doesn't matter how many backup servers are dedicated, if it's in the cloud, you really don't own it. Granted there are distinct differences between eBooks and cloud-based CAD programs currently on the market, and even how data rights management (DRM) are handled. However, there are similar principles that demonstrate the real vulnerabilities and risks involved when relying on a program owned / controlled by others.

It's understandable how enticing a cloud-based platform can be for owners and developers. It provides them with 100% total control and real-time analytics on how the program is being used, by whom, when, etc. What company wouldn't want that depth of consumer insight on the use of their products? For example, Onshape is a reputable and well-received platform for CAD and they are no doubt benefiting from this insight as they continue to  develop and mature. Conglomerate Dassault Systemes is trying vigorously to stay relevant with their burgeoning 3DExperience cloud-based platform, evident by how frequently the marketing names for their new products are being revised that their domain admins are struggling to keep up.

It's also understandable that many startups and small lean-mean-business-machines have embraced cloud-based platforms. Why shouldn't they when every day and everybody you work with has a go-for-it, throw caution to the wind and take it on, kind'a day? For startups and small businesses, it's all about risk and seeing what happens!

Onshape is touted as being like a Google Docs for CAD. That analogy seems a very appropriate way to help understand how it works, how data is edited, managed and made accessible to others for collaboration. The striking exception in this analogy however, is there is no off-line mode with Onshape. There is no way to work with Onshape data untethered from the provider. And that seems to be at least one of the aspects of the trepidation felt by so many others regarding cloud-based CAD platforms. Fusion 360 by Autodesk has addressed this need with a hybrid approach, but not everyone wants a full program download nor maintain the hardware needed to operate the program. Add the fact made evident with Microsoft recently closing shop on their eBooks, that local files you thought you owned can and will vanish if a provider implements DRM tactics. Hence the reluctance by many to embrace cloud-based CAD. Users simply don't have control over their cloud-data in a tangible way that feels akin to ownership.

In our complex and dynamic world, it's no surprise that technology, companies, and programs are ever changing, being improved, or phased out. The surprise is when it affects us personally. So it's easy to understand that dependency on a cloud-based CAD platform or provider should warrant a user to question how to recover should the service abruptly end or fail to meet expectations.

Some might argue that there is dependency in every aspect of computing and that is true when talking about computer or server operating systems, programs, devices and the like. The difference is there is still a measure of autonomy with such systems. When product support ends, the user still has general control of their data, of when they want to phase out and trade up or convert. When a cloud platform ends, there is little to no control for the user. In such cases, any action plan and timing is inextricably defined by the owner of the platform.

To borrow the cliche, "it's not if but when" your CAD provider changes their business-as-usual approach. It could be tomorrow, it could be next year, or in five years. Honorable intentions aside, when change comes from your CAD platform, and it will, what data parachute options will you have? While it remains to be seen, based upon current technologies, the better cloud-based CAD provider will include the self-sufficiency of off-line mode for assurance and access to data, AND they will be prudent enough to include a data parachute. In other words, providing users upfront with the means to access their data using a simple export engine, and / or the means to translate data into another format if you want, when you want, independent of the platforms own existence. Perhaps through a consortium approach that can rightfully address the current risks to cloud-data.

As beautiful as the clouds may be on a bright sunny day, how confident would you really be to fly with a provider that sells itself as reputable and reliable, yet purposefully neglects to provide you with a pre-flight safety plan in the event you encounter the unexpected? So, with a cloud-based platform entrusted with your data, wouldn't you expect to have a parachute option?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

3D CAD models... from NASA

Having a resource for accurate ready-built CAD models certainly saves time. From hardware fasteners to specific product designs, more and more suppliers are providing 3D models of their products either directly from their sites, or through community contribution sites that host supplier-certified models.

Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) concept
courtesy of NASA
So it should be no surprise that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is doing the same by providing 3D CAD models of the many technological marvels that have traveled the sky and beyond.

Currently the NASA 3D Resources site is hosting over 300 models that range from A (AcrimSAT) to Z (Z2 Spacesuit), and include the full array of manned, unmanned and satellite programs. Files are primarily available in obj format, and they are in the process of converting models to stl format for 3D printing.

Therefore, whether your interest is driven by design, curiosity or nostalgia, NASA 3D models are certainly an intriguing resource to living history.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Google Sites... "an effortless way to create beautiful sites"

For any startup CAD entrepreneur / contractor / freelancer looking to quickly and easily create a web presence without the overhead of a paid domain, using Google Sites has been a great zero cost solution. Since being redesigned in 2016, the new Google Sites provides a clean, crisp updated look supported with simple, easy to use tools. In addition, having a web site that works and looks great across mobile and desktop devices is essential today, and Google Sites does it perfectly!

As anticipated, the option to migrate classic sites to the new sites became available this year. After migrating, you have the choice to keep the same URL, or to create a new address.  Also, as forewarned in the migrate process, not everything from old sites migrates perfectly to the new. So after migrating and some playing around, you might just find it more convenient to simply recreate your pages, and thus give everything a fresh new look.

Granted, there are some inherent limitations to the ready-made editing tools, but it's a fair trade-off considering everything provided is free. Also included is the option to add embedded code which certainly helps give more latitude to how you develop and design your site.

As you edit and work with the choices / options for a header, theme, and page layouts, you will likely agree with the marketing plug at the bottom of a new sites page… “Made with the new Google Sites, an effortless way to create beautiful sites.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Solidworks PDM Professional is... well, it's complicated

As an ardent proponent of Solidworks Workgroup PDM, it was disappointing to come to terms with its end of life. Originally developed by Design Source Technologies, Inc with president and co-founder Jim Foster, the PDM tool was entitled PDMWorks. It was out-of-the-box basic and simple all around, much to the delight of administrators and users alike. Solidworks recognized its value and acquired it, renaming it as Workgroup PDM where it continued to be appreciated as a reliable file management tool. Based on a flat windows folder database structure, it has understandably been showing its age and being included with Solidworks Premium and Professional licenses was not a revenue generator in and of itself. Now with its demise, the alternatives parlayed by Dassault Systemes are Solidworks PDM Standard and Solidworks PDM Professional. The later formerly known as EPDM or Enterprise PDM, was acquired from Conisio @ 2006. Based on Microsoft SQL database structure, Dassault Systemes has put forth great effort to promote it as a "data management solution for organizations large and small", with scripted information that makes for a good first impression.

Like most marketing and sales related impressions though, it's what is not being said or shown that needs to be asked. For PDM administrators, the dilemma is that you simply might not have a good working knowledge of a product until you've... well, worked with it. As such, it isn't always apparent what questions to ask until you turn a corner in your understanding and suddenly realize you don't know anything about what's next, or how one aspect relates to or controls another.

For Solidworks PDM Professional, from the online presentations to the VAR sponsored demos, there is a clean polished display of what it can do, and it looks and sounds great. It's from the point of commitment however that things become... well, it's complicated. From the perspective of transitioning from Solidworks Workgroup PDM to Solidworks PDM Professional, here are some things that if not already apparent, certainly need to be discussed with a VAR when you hear them. This is especially so if you are anticipating a contracted statement of work (SOW) prior to implementation.  
  • "easily migrate CAD data"  This expression sounds like everything will be taken care of for migrating your data. If agreed upon, only the most recent CAD files will be migrated to the new vault in the same folder structure arrangement. However, they will be in a "legacy state" that will most likely require you to manually transition each file to a working workflow if you want them in a working state. Also, none of the PDF copies of drawings contained in the Workgroup PDM vault will be brought over unless you specifically request such, because after all, they're not CAD data. Yes, if only you knew what to ask.
  • "have it all set up"  This expression sounds like everything will be taken care of and you will simply need to show up and turn the key. From the initial consultation of current workflow processes, to the Administrating Solidworks PDM Professional Training you will begin to grow in your awareness that most everything required to make your PDM system operational will need to be learned, setup and tailored to fit your needs. Some points of application might be easier to understand, others will be totally new concepts that will take time to understand, implement, and test. Once understood, additional questions will inevitably arise. The VAR training includes examples on many points in the manual, but there really isn't enough time to cover every aspect in detail, nor the subsequent questions that naturally arise. The VAR will initially take the lead in developing each of the needed elements for your PDM system, and provide assistance along the way, but the operative word here is "assistance". Likely, you will receive assistance as you request it during the subsequent weeks that follow deployment. However the Admin is more or less left to discover what works and what doesn't, followed by head scratching, on-line research, requesting assistance or direction from your VAR, development and testing. Yes, if only you knew what to ask.
  • "have any questions"  This expression too sounds like everything will be taken care of if you should ever have a question. As already discussed, you WILL have questions that arise only after you have made advances in your working knowledge of the software. Depending on how you arrange your workflow and transitions, some aspects of PDM Professional can be automated within PDM, others will require knowledge of API or dispatch programming. This will apply if you want to simply update a drawing when changing states such as from preproduction to production, or to simply update a drawing Revision Table with revision information. For example, would you know to ask if the Solidworks Revision Table works for Solidworks PDM? It's not a stupid question. It really doesn't work. So you will need to use a General Table edited specifically to function as a revision table. (Update: with the 2018 release, PDM now integrates with the Solidworks Revision table.) As these types of boggling issues surface, the VAR may or may not provide the hand-holding assistance you would like to have to address your questions as you navigate to the next corner and emerging question. In fact, you most likely won't be aware of initial shortcomings in your preset workflow and transitions until you realize you don't have the functionality you expected. All of this leaves the Admin in the unenviable position of having to make these edits to tailored PDM functions as projects of themselves, while communicating to the engineering team why Workgroup PDM used to perform all of these functions but 'we can't right now with PDM Professional until we do more programming'. Programming, which in all likelihood will again require some form of research, requesting assistance or direction from your VAR, development and testing. Yes, if only you knew what to ask.
Those who have successfully navigated the implementation of Solidworks PDM Professional are to be commended. They have garnered a worthy skill set using a product that possesses a puzzling array of potential. To put it judiciously... it's complicated. It's certainly not what everyone wants but seems to be the only choice Dassault Systemes wants to offer. With years of use behind it, isn't it strange that Solidworks PDM Professional would be so unduly complicated, yet in many ways does less out-of-the-box than Solidworks Workgroup PDM?

In summary, Solidworks PDM Professional is anything but turn-key. It's an auto mechanic dropping in a new engine for you, tightening it to the frame, showing you how a hose or a cable connect, and saying "you can deploy in as little as ten days... to capitalize on new opportunities faster"! Sure, out of necessity you will figure it out... eventually,... but it's complicated. You asked for an expensive new engine and naively thought you could just show up and turn the key, because you didn't ask the right questions.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Solidworks Xdesign and Xdrive... full cloud-based CAD and collaboration

With the recent announcement of SOLIDWORKS Xdesign, the world of browser-based and mobile mechanical design CAD has a new and exciting entrant. As is common among the trappings of annual user events, Xdesign premiered as a working demo, while anticipating a private beta in May, followed by a public beta yet in 2016. The Xdesign site reflects similar depth by presently only providing sign up for updates and beta consideration, and an informational YouTube video that while polished and well produced, clearly is intended to be more inspirational than informational.

As part of the larger Solidworks Innovation Platform (think 'all things Solidworks') and following recent releases of cloud-based Conceptual Designer and Industrial Designer, Xdesign is touted as a cloud-based, fully fledged CAD system, capable of 3D parametric modeling. As its own entity, Xdesign will run a different modeling kernel than Solidworks Desktop, and will store its data entirely in a cloud database. With this foray, attention within Solidworks will be divided to support both Desktop and Xdesign, and their corresponding development.

Perhaps of equal interest from this recent announcement at Solidworks World 2016 is the data storage functionality that will be known as Xdrive. Likened to a Dropbox for Solidworks, the Xdrive app will serve as the data bridge between Solidworks Xdesign and Solidworks Desktop, and is slated to be included in the Standard subscription release of SOLIDWORKS 2017.

As another aspect to the burgeoning Dassault Systemes 3D EXPERIENCE platform, the impetus given to Solidworks Xdesign will no doubt correlate with their concerns of current and future market share. With a well recognized and loyal customer base eager for staying technologically relevant, establishing Solidworks Xdesign as a credible CAD system is imperative for industry giant Dassault Systemes. This is especially so given Solidworks latent posture among established browser-based and mobile mechanical design CAD pioneers Autodesk Fusion 360 and Onshape.

Friday, May 29, 2015

YouTube, CAD, the Hashtag #... and more

There is more information available today than ever before. Aside from sponsored content, how can any one person sift the entire internet to discern what is valuable from what is trivial? The answer simply is you can't,... but an algorithm can.

YouTube's auto-generated channels are created by algorithms to collect trending and popular videos by topic.  Auto-generated channels act like user channels in that you can subscribe to them and stay updated on new videos. YouTube's auto-generated channels begin with a # symbol (i.e: #SolidWorks, #CATIA, #Autodesk, #ProE, etc.) and contain a notice in the About section that they are auto-generated. 


The clear advantage of auto-generated channels for video information is the enlarged content, filtered for usability. Yes, of course all of the big players have their own channel, but the information in a sponsored channel is selective and controlled by the sponsor. In other words, it is limited by what they want you to see. However, an auto-generated channel will include all video content relevant to the topic. Thus, auto-generated channels provide you with the best of everything related to the topic, regardless of who created the video.

For CAD users, scripted instructions of Help sections, and company-sponsored sites all have their place in the scheme of things. Video instruction though is such a powerful tool as it provides clear, visual step-by-step instruction. So it's nice to know a collective / sorted resource of video information is available with seemingly little effort. So if you're interested in viewing features of a CAD program, training, tips, or whatever is relevant to the topic, then the auto-generated hashtag # channel is an excellent resource to view the most relevant information quickly.

As an additional benefit, the side bar of any channel includes Featured Channels that might be of a related interest to the viewer as well. Thereby easily expanding your pool of available resources, as needed. And you don't have to limit yourself to CAD, as YouTube is auto-generating an ever increasing number of channels in any topic, including music / musicians with selected entire album content of which you can subscribe. Yes, what more could you ask for from an algorithm!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Onshape... opens its doors with a CAD pre-production offering

Onshape Incorporated  has just opened its doors, albeit slightly with a fresh and updated website providing a glimpse into this new company and the excitement they are bringing to the CAD community. With a welcoming and transparent view of the team and credentials, the company includes a robust mix of industry veterans in the fields of engineering, marketing, sales & support, user experience & product definition, along with a variety of interns getting in on the ground floor of something substantial.

Among the early surprises is the offering to be considered for an early access pre-production version of Onshape. The criteria to be considered includes a willingness to share details of your real design project, keep all information about Onshape confidential, and that you don't work directly or indirectly for a CAD vendor or reseller. If interested, you may want to hurry since the offering will be limited to a select number of design teams.

For what you might be giving up in this pre-production arrangement, you gain by receiving free early product access, technical support, the opportunity to steer the development of Onshape, and recognition / credits towards the production release.

No doubt the CAD community at large is eager to see and hear more about this new product, as the original pioneers of SolidWorks develop Onshape further, for as they say... "the world has changed."

[The post "Onshape... opens its doors with a CAD pre-production offering" appeared first on CAD Graphics BlogWorks]