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Small Business Design Management Needs

Creativity and CollaborationWe have been reviewing our options for collaborative space and data management needs for business, design, and simulation. I wanted to take a look at how the cloud is enabling the lightweight collaborative design data management needs of some SMBs, and later, try to point out what to watch for in the near future.

Summary of the SMB Design Management Review

SMB Design Management at Autodesk

SMB Design Management Vendors and 2015

Why Collaborative Design Data Management?

Product Lifecycle Management – PLM

Product Design Management – PDM

Enterprise Resource Planning – ERP

Customer Relations Management – CRM

Document Management System – DMS

…and on and on.

The list is endless and quite likely you need some form of most of these in your day to day work. The problem is that the really useful tools are part of very large expensive systems developed by only a handful of vendors, who by virtue of their vast market share, have defined the way we are expected to behave around design data.

New collaborative needs and incredible cost have forced many small businesses to rely on less capable systems, terrible data workflows, and limited features.

Which Features are Important?

That is the crux of the entire issue, and being asked by the wrong people, namely you. In this market it should be the other way around.

Data management software is typically either too vague about how it organizes data, or too specific to one particular industry or another, and all of them require some tuning and programming to get the software to match the way you work.

…and no one wants to do all the customization.

If you are still playing ‘Hansel and Gretel’ data discovery with MS Office and Windows Explorer you are not alone. So why don’t we all just jump out and get some data management?

One important factor is the short period between the emergence and focus on SMB PLM needs, and the sudden upswing in collaborative possibilities. “I need some PLM and PDM, but how do I include collaboration?”

Team Lift, Design, Collaboration

Let’s take a moment and completely jumble everything up. Growing trends in collaboration and market globalization, fueled by accessibility of the internet are pouring in data from all angles and unthought-of workflows. We don’t quite know how to deal with it all yet, and neither do the data management vendors.

I need to catalogue…:

  • Information, instructions, correspondence, and specifications for clients, subcontractors and manufacturers
  • Proposals, agreements, and correspondence
  • Design and non-design data, including iterations, versions, and revisions
  • Industry / company standards and compliance
  • Visualization data
  • The almighty BOM(s)
  • Subcontractor orders, inspections, and correspondence
  • Deliverables
  • Municipal and organizational review comments
  • Supplies
  • Analysis data and reports


This scenario represents the least common denominator of many company’s needs, regardless of size. All of this information must be tied together in a project type relevance, but also permitted to associate with other data inherently. This information needs to be discoverable in a myriad of ways, and it needs to be accessible, and easy to use.

The trick is that we also need this data to be compiled between multiple collaborators that are all part of the common design process, on a globally accessible, but relatively light-weight framework.

So, which software serves SMB design firms best? 

Take a look at how Autodesk is changing their management and collaboration software solutions.

We’d love to hear from everyone about what has been going right for you, and what has not. Are there holes in your data management setup, or do you have the magic balance of management and collaboration? Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve discovered.

Image Credit: Norman Lear Center – Flickr


Small Business Design Management Vendors and 2015

In recent articles, we’ve been discussing the design data management needs of design firms in the SMB space (Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses). I touched on what Autodesk has been planning as well. Now I’d like to go beyond Autodesk, and look at some other options that we have been reviewing, and how all of the factors I’ve discussed may affect your future.

Management Software Vendors Offer More Flexibility


GrabCAD started off as a great place to showcase your designs, developed by Hardi Meybaum and Indrek Narusk. It began to change into a collaborative workspace and enabler, ultimately becoming their recent launch of GrabCAD Workbench.

GrabCAD WorkBench Project File Version

The funny thing is that while many have discounted the new service as a novelty, the company is very aggressively developing far more robust capabilities to fill the needs of exactly who we are talking about, the SMB design companies. GrabCAD has already licensed the Parasolid model in order to better develop their viewing and inspection capabilities. Now they are adding useful Bill of Materials (BOM) features, engineering workflows, and much more. Have you checked it out recently? Their CAD viewer is off the hook. It’s worth a look to see just how useful the storage and collaborative space is at this point before all the changes begin to form.

GrabCAD CAD Viewer exploded in section

CADAC Organice

Cadac Group specializes in providing IT solutions to create, manage and share digital design information. That sounds pretty close to what we are talking about.

This team has been aggregating CAD storage and data for some time on SharePoint, and are leveraging that on their hosted SharePoint Cloud. They have vast knowledge and experience in dealing with CAD model data management and have already been involved in Inventor upload add-ins. I am very much hoping for a design and manufacturing specific SharePoint app release for Office 365 Small and Medium business in the near future.

SharePoint and Office 365

SharePoint as part of Office 365 is emerging as a real contender for the small design market. How is that? SharePoint sucks right?

Well, yes and no.

The SharePoint interface itself is clunky, not really design component or process related, and it is still a collection of poorly joined resources, but let’s look at it as a Platform instead.

SharePoint Site Image with Database

Every purchase of Office 365 Small and Medium Business gets you a SharePoint cloud site and a large amount of storage. The current version is 2013 and has been substantially cleaned up which makes it reasonably functional.

* Easy to use and pre-configured collaborative and project management spaces

* Document versioning and control

* Smooth Outlook and Office integration are valuable tools as well

* Pre-configured, streamlined Exchange servers on Microsoft’s Azure server

* Tons of storage with triple redundancy backups

…at no additional cost to your Office licenses. That means that almost every licensed user will have access to a SharePoint cloud site, all their collaboration and records, and their versioned data files in a controlled and secured environment.

Get this: as one Microsoft engineer told me, you can license only the in-house seats you need, but invite the entire world to collaborate with no additional cost. This is hugely significant considering that other services require each invited collaborator to occupy one of your paid seats. Microsoft is pushing collaboration on SharePoint hard.

Also Microsoft is heavily investing in the SharePoint App approach, where companies can develop custom apps that run inside the SharePoint team-site envelope. This means that 3rd-party vendors van develop well-customized data, forms UI, and workflows that can leverage the existing data structures, managed storage, and collaborative spaces, and provide design firms with a powerful well rounded solution.

All the SMB design industry needs is a solid 3rd-3rd party SharePoint application and it’ll be on like Donkey-Kong.

Why is 2015 Significant?

I believe that 2015 will be the baseline for the SMB data management service. Companies are racing to develop useful tools that are reasonably CAD Agnostic, and meets the collaborative, aggregate, storage, discoverability, and accessibility needs that have become so evident in the last few years.

What is more important is that the company that delivers a complete, easy to use, extremely configurable deep-search tool that stores, catalogues, aggregates, and secures design models and data, with customizable form UI, and accessible storage and delivery pipeline by the end of 2015 will set the stage for how small companies will collaborate, and will shape the way we work in the near future.

Will GrabCAD with its beautiful collaborative and viewing interface bring enough management tools to the party? Will Autodesk 360’s integration with Autodesk PLM really tie together all the parts we need in a useful, non-frustrating way? Will one of the fledgling data management vendors put together a comprehensive SharePoint Cloud app that better aggregates data and offers CAD model viewing?

If any of these things occur, D&M will likely be the first company to purchase seats.

Autodesk Inventor 2014 | Modify curvature display UI bug

Autodesk Inventor’s curvature analysis display graphs are a vital tool in creating and maintaining curvature continuity in your complex part models.

Autodesk Inventor 2014 Display Curvature Marking menu

Occasionally the display of the curvature graph can be so weenie it doesn’t help at all, or so HUGE that it looks like an explosion in a spaghetti factory.

To tweak the size of the curvature graph you’ll need access to the ‘Modify curvature’ settings, if you are using Autodesk Inventor 2014 you may have noticed a frustrating problem.


There is no option to modify the display of 2D curvature graphs (Porcupine spine display) in Autodesk Inventor 2014.


1. Go to Tools > Customize > Marking menu tab.

 Autodesk Inventor 2014 Tools Customize

2. Select Environment = 2D Sketch

3. Select Sub-Environment = Spline

4. Select the blank entry at between Delete & Construction (or wherever you want the function to appear)

5. In the Search Command box start typing ‘modi…’ to find ‘Modify Curvature’.

6. Select ‘Modify Curvature’ and it appears in your chosen spot.

 Autodesk Inventor 2014 add Modify Curvature to Marking Menu

Thanks very much to Peter Crawley for posting this solution on the Autodesk forums.

 Autodesk Inventor 2014 Interpolation spline with curvature graph Autodesk Inventor 2014 Setup Curvature Display  Autodesk Inventor 2014 Modify Curvature settings

We hear that this has been fixed in Inventor 2014 SP1. Let us know if it works for you.


What Makes A Maker?

The “Maker Movement,” I’m sure you’ve all heard of it, but what exactly is it? I don’t know if there’s actually an official definition, but I think of it as the tinkerers and hobbyists of the past, with access to a whole lot more knowledge and technology thanks to the internet. Now even this is a very broad definition, but I guess you could split it up again into a couple of big categories. Those that make for themselves, and those that make for, or with others.

Maker Faire Image - Pixel ArtCredit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

It has always blown me away at just how many people are happy to selflessly contribute a huge proportion of their free time to sharing things they’ve learnt with others, for free, using the internet. I consider myself to fit into the “maker” persona, but I often feel the guilt of just how lazy I am when it comes to sharing my knowledge with others. I owe a lot of what I know, to the internet and the people who contribute their knowledge, but yet I give so little back. I made a conscious decision earlier this year, to try to rectify that, and that’s when I started writing articles for Design and Motion. My wife and I live a pretty busy lifestyle, so while the fortnightly posts can occasionally become a bit of a chore, the sense of satisfaction I get when I finally hit the “publish” button is a magical thing. Kind of like that one shot you hit in your last terrible round of golf, which felt so good that you know you’ll be back to play again. This to me, is the essence of what fuels the maker community. People get satisfaction from sharing what they have made with others.

Now there is a dilemma that often arises here, when you want to move from making for fun, to making for money. Many have battled with the balance of how much to give away, versus what they should protect and sell. Creative Commons and the open-source movement had, and still has many scratching their heads, wondering how on earth a business can give something away for nothing, and still make money.

One topic that I often think about, is the future of makers. If we go back in history, humans went from being fairly self-sufficient makers, to fairly dependent non-makers. We outsourced our making to mass-production. If the futurists of today are correct in their predictions, self-making on a massive scale will return to the mainstream and the industrial revolution will effectively be reversed at some point. So my question is this:

What should traditional manufacturers do, to future-proof their businesses?

I don’t have an answer for this, so I thought I’d put it to the maker community from Autodesk, along with some of my other questions.

When I was a student, my visions of my future self always placed me in someone else’s company, designing things to be made for someone else. It turned out, that I have ended up spending a fair chunk of my career so far in self-employment. I often wonder how things would be different if I had focused my energy as a student, on working towards being my own boss. The reason I say this, is with today’s channels for dissemination of information and knowledge, along with incredible accessibility to technology (you can buy just about anything online), small scale manufacturing for a large market is a very real option to make a living. The internet allows people that have “the knack” to learn more about anything they want to, purchase just about anything they need, and sell their ideas, products or services to a potentially huge number of people.

So another question:

What should we be doing to equip today’s students, to go down the path of being a maker, regardless of what sort of scale it ends up being on?

I believe that teaching students to digest and assess information critically, regardless of source, is just as important as sharing knowledge of particular topics. Ask just about any ex-student how much of what they learned in their studies, they actually use in their jobs. Most will say very little. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that all knowledge is valuable, whether you use it or not. With increasing variety and specialization though, the most valuable skills are being able to learn new things quickly, whilst maintaining rational thought and critical reasoning.

I spoke above, about the satisfaction that can be gained from sharing knowledge with others, which comes naturally for many makers who are proud to show off their creations. The other big maker satisfaction though, is simply just the satisfaction in creating something. Typically, when making something for one’s self, the end result is often a prototype of sorts. Something which was made with the materials that were readily available, using methods that were not necessarily very efficient, but which got the job done eventually. Even though the end result was not arrived at in the most efficient way possible, the satisfaction was still gained. When moving from making for one’s self, to making for others, efficiency quickly moves to the forefront. In my experience, a lot of tinkerer types don’t have a natural ability to find efficiency, or a desire to replicate their making in any kind of volume. Bear with me here, I do have a point, and I’ll get to it eventually.

A few years ago, I was discussing entrepreneurship with my uncle in a broad sense, and various examples of companies came up. We discussed how they differed and what we liked and disliked about each. He told me of a theory he had about a formula for a successful business. He mentioned “the 3 guys (or girls)” that need to be involved. Here they are:

“Ideas Guy”

Ideas Guy never settles for status quo, he is always finding better ways to do things, and constantly frustrating his friends with his practical solutions to everything. “How has no one thought of that before!?” is a common statement from his friends. While he is always asking why something can’t be done a better way, he doesn’t often know exactly his solution will be achieved.

The Ideas GuyThe Ideas Guy (Credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg)

“The Geek”

The Geek is a detail guy. He agonises over technicalities and details and is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be negative or a party pooper, by finding technical problems with proposed solutions. Having said that, he’ll expend a huge amount of energy overcoming the challenges to make an idea work.

“The Other Guy”

The other guy is a very flexible persona who can sell sand to a Saharan, but also has a good feel for legal matters.

Now obviously this is a rather flexible arrangement that could have different numbers or types of people with different strengths. The key however, is that to commercialize a product, you really need a team.

So how do you go about finding this team?

Makers are an interesting bunch, some of them manage to play both the Ideas Guy and The Geek. These guys are off to a head start and often manage to get themselves started using a crowd-funding platform like kickstarter or Indiegogo to get their product off the ground.

For others, they may naturally have the team in a group of people they know, and can quickly get to work turning their elegant solution for a problem they had, into a solution for others who are willing to pay for it, in similar ways.

The vast majority however, are the lonely makers, who make for themselves, quietly share their knowledge/recipes/instructions fairly inconspicuously through blogs and forums, and only dream of one day being able to sell their product. It’s this group that I believe we need to help the most, as students, to find their team.

This brings me onto an idea that I had which would somehow combine the various aspects of commercialization of an idea. We already have great resources for makers, in a number of areas:


You can learn about just about anything online. Whether you’re browsing a maker website like Instructables to learn how to replicate someone else’s idea, or studying towards a degree in a classical subject like physics through an online university, there is no shortage of knowledge that is accessible for free. logoInstructables – a website dedicated to makers


Autodesk are blazing trails when it comes to giving away design software for free, to allow anyone to explore their ideas in an almost limitless number of ways. While all Autodesk software is available to students at no charge, others are even free to anyone. Products like Fusion360 (free for enthusiasts), let people create 3D digital models of their ideas, simulate them, and even run machine tools to create the physical end result. GrabCAD is another company that has provided an amazing free platform, which allows people to share their digital models with others. Why design a certain sub-component yourself, if someone else has done it for you?


If you can’t get access to machines to bring your ideas to life, why not build a machine yourself? Many websites have are dedicated to open-source designs for machines which can be used to make just about anything. Components for making things are also readily available through a huge number of maker-focused websites. An example of this is BuildYourCNC.


Turning prototypes into saleable products requires money, and borrowed money for unproven ideas can be hard to come by through traditional channels. Online crowd-funding platforms like Indiegogo make fundraising for commercializing good ideas relatively easy. Potential customers effectively fund the development of products they like the idea of themselves.

So what’s missing?

“The Team” of course. While sites like allow companies to quickly find freelancers for contract work, I’m yet to see a site whose primary focus is in getting The “Ideas Guy”, “Geek”, and “Other Guy” together to commercialize a great idea. I’m not usually the Ideas Guy, but there’s my idea. Can someone please make it happen already….?


Solid Edge ST7 Enhancements at Solid Edge University 2014

Solid Edge unveiled their improvements in the upcoming ST7 software release as well as initiatives that the company has been working towards. They have continued to show clear focus on their customer’s needs and included 1300 user requests that spanned the entire scope of the Solid Edge product.

Solid Edge ST7 Microsoft Surface Pro

The power of Solid Edge ST7 modeling and drafting can be experienced on Microsoft Surface Pro devices.

The Solid Edge team’s presentation of ST7 was themed in four parts:

Accelerate your 3D modeling

Part to Sheet Metal:

Wrap sheet metal parts around solid part faces with corner treatments (this has some really good potential)

Blank Body:

Amazing analysis and flat patterning tool to deal with difficult stamped features. This performs a meshed surface body analysis along with the material properties of the shape to accurately deconstruct the component into a flat sheet model.

3D Measure:

  • Multiple measurements from single command
  • Easy to read graphical measurements
  • Built-in automatic note-pad

Standards based holes:

  • Specify bolt size and fit for correct size of hole
  • Widespread international standards support

Solid Edge University 2014 Presentation Hole Enhancements


  • Drafting had some really nice improvements.
  • Dynamic drawing view display for all view types
  • Associative Annotations (this is great)
  • Parts List component highlights and thumbnail views
  • Streamlined individual part or sub-assembly view creation
  • Automatic coordinate dimensioning and jogging

Solid Edge University 2014 Presentation Draft

Solid Edge University 2014 Draft Tool-tips in Parts List

Duplicate Component:

New patterning method that allows automatic intelligent orientation based on existing similar locations in model.

Solid Edge University 2014 Presentation Duplicate Component

Peer Locate:

  • Design in-context at any level
  • Inter-part links without write access to upper level assembly

3D Sketch:

  • Available in Part, Assembly, and Sheet Metal environments
  • Faster Design of 3D-swept components

Photo-realistic rendering:

Solid Edge ST7 Keyshot Engine Rendering(via embedded Keyshot functionality; license required)

All Solid Edge face styles and view transferred

Solid Edge University 2014 Presentation Keyshot

Additional enhancements include:

  • New Start-up screen with easy access to common tasks
  • Enhanced tooltips with embedded videos
  • Parts catalog
  • Fixed length curve holds length of swept components while they remain flexible (doesn’t sound like much but delivers a really cool functionality for standardized tubes and the like)
  • Enhanced frame design with up 2X faster workflows
  • An Insert component button (Good)
  • Pattern of a Pattern recognition
  • Materials table was completely overhauled and rebuilt
  • Quick Shape Primitives
  • One-button update in assemblies
  • Improved sketch feedback
  • Pattern components along a curve
  • Enhanced Face relate
  • Simplified Assemblies honored
  • Simulation enhancements

And more….

Streamline Your Design Management

Streamlined design management in Solid Edge SP (Microsoft Sharepoint  management)

Solid Edge University 2014 Presentation Solid Edge SP

More on this to come in the near future.

Power Up With New Apps

Enjoy Amazing User Experience

My Thoughts

These enhancements were all requested by users to meet the needs that they experience in production. This was the second time I was involved in the discussions relating to what features people desired and how they were being implemented in the software. We literally sat down and said, “this is what we want”. Solid Edge’s lead developer asked how they wanted that to work, took notes, and we all voted on the top items. It’s really cool to see the developments happen as quickly as they do at Solid Edge.

Solid Edge University 2014 Wish List Voting

Microsoft Surface & Keyshot Engine Rendering Images courtesy of Siemens PLM Software


Morgan Motor Company Design Visualization Competition Winner

You no doubt will have noticed all the Morgan Motor Company posts we ran earlier this year. They were geared towards the amazing Visualization competition ran in association with Talenthouse, Autodesk, Nvidia and HP. The whole team at Design and Motion got involved with reviews and opinion, so it’s with great pleasure that I introduce one of my picks and Mike’s pick for the overall win, as the winner of the competition. Congratulations to Germano Vieira for this truly stunning piece of art:

PIC SIM studio Germano Vieira Morgan Motor CompanyMake sure you click through to the original image above, so you can view it in all it’s glory. Germano has requested we share the following press release:

Germano Vieira, a Portuguese 3D Artist / Architect, CEO and Founder of PICSIMstudio (Architecture and Design 3D Visualization studio), is the winner of the “Design an advertisement for Morgan Motor Company” competition organized by Talenthouse and sponsored by the Morgan Motor Company, NVIDIA, HP and AUTODESK. This design will be displayed in the Morgan Motor company exhibit at a major automotive trade show and will be featured in a Morgan Motor campaign. It will be also published in the Morgan 3 Wheeler´s official website and in the official Morgan Motors Magazine, MOG, distributed worldwide.

“The concept of this advertisement was to emphazise the importance of the Morgan 3 Wheeler’s history in the design of the 2014 model and to draw attention to its technological evolution.”

For those of you who want to contract this man to do some work for you, here are his details:


For more information about the competition please visit:

Thank you for all the support our readership have provided to this competition. It’s been a lot of fun.