Design and Manufacturing solutions through Digital Prototyping and Interoperability

Tag Archives: management

Document. All. The. Things.

I recently saw an opportunity to join one of the UK’s leading Autodesk Platinum resellers, Graitec and the sudden move jogged me into thinking about the tools I have created in my two-year tenure at my current post of CAD Engineer at Matrix Precision Engineering Ltd. based in Thatcham, UK.

In particular, it forced me to begin the sometimes-onerous task of documenting the tools I created along the way. This led me to tweeting the following:

A week or so passed and there followed another tweet this time regarding the AUGI survey results due to be published shortly in their “Hotnews” segment:

By this time, I was neck-deep in writing several documents that (I hope) will guide my soon to be ex-colleagues in using the tools I built and, coupled with the series of replies that followed the latest tweet above, the whole situation got me thinking about this post.

When is the best time to start writing documentation/processes and procedures?

For me, documenting the software I’ve written has up until now been a “For my eyes only” approach; wherein I document or more accurately comment the code as needed and do no more than that. As I prepared to leave my previous post (prior to joining Matrix), many of the tools/processes I had created were already out of use, primarily because the project they had been used upon had ended. This time around, the team I am leaving is in the infancy of getting to grips with helping their client understand exactly how they need to use Inventor/Vault Professional alongside their existing legacy data.

This leaves me with a challenge I hadn’t expected to face when I wrote the four main pieces of software, that I now find myself some 75% of the way through writing guides for:

What’s the best way to write a document about something I created, when my intimate knowledge of the subject could lead to many oversights/omissions in the documentation, based on assumed knowledge about a template/pre-requisite?

On this occasion, owing to the fact that we’ve been writing a document aimed at which capturing every intricacy we have encountered on behalf of the clients’ dataset, I chose to use Microsoft Word, stored in an instance of Autodesk Vault Professional 2014.

Whilst it seems on the surface to be a good match, there are multiple issues with doing it this way, not-least the fact that none of my colleagues can see what I’ve added to the file until I either check it back into the Vault or email a copy round for people to make their own notes on. In future, I think I would prefer to use Microsoft SharePoint, as it allows a more collaborative approach not available in Autodesk Vault.

In addition, everyone has their own style when it comes to writing documents of this type, so here are my top tips for writing the best documentation you can:

Is it simply code or a workflow involving multiple steps?

The reason for this differentiation is that if all you have created is (for instance) an Inventor iLogic rule, chances are the complexity of said rule will be such that anyone with a competent understanding of iLogic, should be able to figure out what it is doing based on the minimal amount of comments within the code. This of course depends on the person writing the iLogic using a Really Obvious Code (ROC) approach.

If your creation is more than simply iLogic, there comes a point where commenting the code is not going to get the necessary level of understanding from your audience for them to be able to use the tool in your absence. The technical nature of your workflow determines when and where exactly you reach this point.

When the workflow is:

  1. get external iLogic rule from Vault
  2. open file (assembly or part)
  3. add external rule to Inventor
  4. run rule

I would say there is little need to document these steps over and above a single page of A4.

If however, the above iLogic example were to rely on other pre-requisites such as Microsoft Excel templates and an understanding of (in our case) the clients’ parts list numbering schema, then there is a benefit to the team in documenting the workflow in its entirety.

Treat the audience as if they are new staff

Unless you’re prone to showing off during your workflow creation, there will be very few staff who will have any idea what the workflow you have created is capable of doing, let alone how it is doing what it does. My advice is to take a view that although the team member using the new process will be competent in their main role/software (in this case, Inventor) anything you have created will be completely new to them.

My current example of this is for a workflow I created that takes a folder structure based on pdf file names, pairs it with an Excel spreadsheet containing the relevant metadata, then builds an Inventor assembly that matches the structure. I quickly figured out a number of steps required to get the data in a useful format, and rename the files (sometimes 1000+) for each project.

What I had overlooked was exactly what tools and pre-requisites I had been using as part of this workflow, it having been some time since I had first installed them. The first draft of my document had skipped over these details because these tools were so ingrained to me that they had become second nature to make it all work.

Ask a colleague to use the workflow (and accompanying guide) on their workstation

This may not always be possible as your office might not have anyone spare to test the documentation, but for the sake of your team, I believe this step is necessary if you are determined to have a robust, user-friendly guide that covers every step required to carry out the workflow correctly.

In the event that you are not able to have someone test the workflow, there are a number of potential solutions available. These range in complexity from simply asking one of your co-workers to swap desks for a period (whilst you complete the guide), to creating a temporary user account on your current workstation (mild difficulty), to setting up a virtual machine on your workstation. Obviously, the last option is fraught with its own issues, but I truly feel all these steps are worthwhile in the long term; especially if you wish to avoid a phone call in x number of months after you departed the company asking you why workflow/tool x has stopped working.

Get to know the tools and document why you used them

Revisiting the software that forms part of the workflow I had been documenting; it is important to note that although the help guides for most software will be comprehensive, it is best to leave nothing to chance. Where possible it helps to explain some of the underlying uses of the technology/techniques you have used, to help the user better understand how it all works. This extra information will aid the team should something change down the line.

The best example I have for this is Regular Expression.

Google defines Regular Expression as:

regular expression

An example of a simple regular expression (regex) is:

Wherein the “.” Signifies any single character and the “*” matches the previous character zero or more times.

If your workflow finds you needing to work with any kind of text string, be it file names, drawing numbers, or other metadata that contains multiple pieces of information, regex is just the ticket.

As part of my workflow I had a file name that also included the Assembly level of that file:

1-1 DWG-NUMBER Sheet-Number Issue-Number.pdf

Regular expression let me remove the first part with the following simple match:

Wherein the match can be broken down by the site as:


This returns the following match information:


Which as you can see gives us the correctly named .pdf file (Match 2 above)

In the workflow I have been documenting, regex is useful in both Microsoft Excel (with the addition of the Regex Find Replace Addin) and in the Bulk Rename Utility <- a tool which does exactly as the name suggests.

The addition of extra information such as this makes any user guide so much more useful than simply saying “insert this into this cell and hit enter”, as it builds a level of understanding with the user of said guide that is otherwise not available.

This understanding is useful for future situations not already covered by the workflow or workflows you leant your skills to help create.


If I were to boil these points down into a simple list it would be:

  1. Make documenting your workflows/tools part of your team’s standard procedure list
  2. If your workflow involves a software tool you created, assuming you have followed a ROC approach, there should be little need for excessive explanation
  3. If you make use of a particular technique or piece of software (in this case regex) as part of the workflow, it will help if you explain in detail how and why you used it
  4. Have a colleague test the workflow using your documentation when you are finished; it will help highlight any areas that need further explanation/detail

If this experience has taught me anything it’s that I should always practice what I preach. I hadn’t really given the documentation a moment’s thought before deciding to move to my new job. Having to write documentation for workflows I knew intimately, forced me to consider in great detail all of the steps I had gotten so used to using along the way, and thanks to my (ex) colleagues’ feedback, there now exists a comprehensive guide for each of the most-useful workflows I have left behind.

Writing all of these points down will hopefully serve as a useful reminder to both myself and you the reader in future.

A Story of Implementation – Where Do I Fit in this Complex ERP World?

When we started the search for an ERP solution, I knew it was going to be difficult. Where does a person start? It is a crazy, crazy ERP world out there. Don’t believe me? Try this: go to the google homepage, type ERP, and hit search. The results “about 142,000,000 results (0.38 seconds).

This is an ongoing series on the selection process we used to make our ERP choice. My goal is to help others about to embark on this journey. It is not an easy decision.

To recap the previous article, this is how we began our journey into ERP.

  1. We documented our current processes.
  2. We created a list (high-level) of what we did well and where we needed to improve
  3. We created a list (high-level) of what our current collection of systems did well and where it lacked
  4. We got management’s approval to explore ERP

So like everything else in life I need to research, I started with a good friend, Google. I typed in ERP, hit enter, and was immediately overwhelmed. The list was daunting. The number of companies offering ERP products, ERP research, or ERP selection services is outstanding. Where does a person start?

ERP Segment

What I noticed very quickly, is that the ERP market is very segmented. This segmentation is good because it significantly narrows the search. Finding the right piece of the ERP market pie, makes the selection process easier.

perfect pumpkin pie

 Creamy, smooth, slightly spicy… perfect pumpkin pie

First question to ask: are you government? in the public sector? a non-profit organization? or in the medical field? looking for a Retail system or Wholesale Distribution?. Are you a solely professional services organization? If the answer is yes to any of the above there is special segment of the ERP pie just for you. You should be searching within just these fields, contacting the companies that focus on these industries.

If you don’t fall into one of the above sections, then you have a few more things to figure out. We fall solely in the manufacturing realm. The manufacturing piece of the ERP pie is significant and probably the biggest sector of ERP. To narrow this further, you need to determine:

  1. the size of your organization (small, medium, or large)
  2. the type of manufacturing you perform.
  3. do you want cloud, no cloud, or a self-hosted solution?

Company Size

The description of size varies a bit depending on the ERP vendor, but the two common determinants are the number of people and the annual sales. As a company of 150ish employees all in one location, we easily fit into the “small” category. This knocks off the “big boys” from the list, the SAP’s, the Oracles, etc that are big-business, and do big-business well.

Type of Manufacturing

Now that size is determined, what about the type of manufacturing?

Are you a discrete, process, or mixed-mode manufacturer?

  • Discrete is the assembly of products from distinct items, think building a bicycle with nuts, bolts, the tires, etc. This is very Bill of Material (BOM) centric.
  • Process manufacturer blend liquids or formulas. Examples would be food manufacturers, chemicals, paints, etc.
  • Mixed-mode is a combination of discrete and process.

Are you Engineered-to-order (ETO), Make-to-order (MTO), Make-to-stock, or are you a job shop?

  • ETO is where the product is made based on very specific customer requirements. The products are typically complex and require the involvement of the customer from project start to finish. Lot size is very small as ETO is not well suited for mass production.
  • Make-to-order (MTO) or Build-to-Order (BTO) differs from ETO in that it is production focused opposed to engineering focused. Most components are stocked and only the high-expensive or high-customized components are manufactured to order.
  • Make-to-Stock or Assemble-to-order (ATO) is where all components and sub-assemblies are built, in stock and are assembled when the customer places the order. Customer involvement is limited, typically only at the start where they select the options or configuration they want from a predefined list. This is also referred to as light-assembly and / or kitting.
  • Job Shops focus on many, custom products or jobs. Each job is typically unique requiring its own set-up and routing steps. Lot sizes are small.

Most ERP vendors will claim to do all of the above, but you need to be careful as they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some excel in certain types where others perform equally average across all of them.

As a manufacturer of mining equipment, but with roots as a custom machine shop, we are definitely a discreet manufacturer but fit into both the ETO and Job Shop fields. So even though we straddle two types of manufacturing, we were able to weed out the outliners that didn’t address our types of manufacturing well.

To Cloud or Not To Cloud

Finally, to cloud or not to cloud, that is the question. Most ERP systems today are self-hosted with a web connecting type portal. However, the are some now (like Netsuite) that are 100% hosted in the cloud. Others are optionally hosted internally or in the cloud. You need to ask yourself if you need to access your ERP 24/7 | 365 from anywhere.


 Cloudy by Kima

As a single manufacturing plant, with no other locations or offices, having a cloud-based solution was not desired.. Not that we were opposed, but it just made more sense to have a locally hosted system that could potentially be accessed from the outside world. The biggest reason was even if the internet went down we can continue working.

So before starting your search ask yourself if being “in the cloud” is an advantage for your organization. If it is, then focus initially on cloud-based solutions, if you do not want to be in the cloud then scratch these companies off the list.

In Conclusion

Finding the right ERP partner is a daunting task. It is hard, there’s a lot of pressure, and potentially a lot riding on making the right choice. It’s kinda like being at the bakery trying to pick out that one piece of pie. But by asking the right questions and knowing who you are, you can narrow the field to a few, making the decision that much easier.

plan dont panic

Plan: Don’t Panic

A Story Of Implementation – The Path to ERP

ERP, MRP, PDM, PLM, CRM, SCM, B2B, and on and on and on. Its a crazy business world out there with so many options. The cloud, on premise, cloud on premise. Big data. Social outsourcing. Where does a business start?

I’m the Technical Services Manager for a mining equipment manufacturer. The business is 35-years old and has been quite successful in the local market. However, we knew it was time for a change. Expand our reach. Move into new markets. Become more global. Very ambitious goals and we know we need help to get there, and that’s how the search for ERP started.

This is going to be an ongoing series on the selection process we used to make our ERP selection. We’ve just kicked off the implementation so as we go through this journey I’ll have a running commentary of what has and has not worked. My goal is to help others about to embark on this journey, but also hoping that others reach out and we can share wins, successes, and losses.

Turning to my good friend Wikipedia, ERP is defined as:

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is business management software—usually a suite of integrated applications—that a company can use to collect, store, manage and interpret data from many business activities, including: Product planning, cost Manufacturing or service delivery, Marketing and sales, Inventory management, and Shipping and payment”

ERP is a term coined by the Gartner Group to describe the growing software segment combining Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) and Computer-Integrated manufacturing. It has grown to reflect the management of the entire manufacturing process… “quote to cash”. ERP has also grown into non-manufacturing industries, but my focus will remain within manufacturing.

Implementing ERP is not an overnight installation, run from the seat of your pants thing. It costs money. It takes planning. It takes dedication. It takes management buy-in. All-and-all it is a significant investment.

Question: What is the first step to implementing an ERP system?

Answer: Knowing that you need an ERP system.

Seems simple?

We were a company in an industry that was at its absolute max. We had more business than we knew what to do with, in fact we were turning down business. Additional overtime was not an option, in fact you could work as many hours as you wanted, supervisor approval not required. When things are that busy you don’t worry about job costs, bottlenecks, inefficiencies, KPIs, scheduling, lean manufacturing, real-time ordering, and all other things about good business. The concern and the focus is just getting the product out the door, meeting deadlines, and keeping the customer happy..

We knew we had reached the peak of “the boom” and the industry was on the way down, back to normal. What we didn’t account for was how quick the down swing would be. The price of potash dropped significantly and our main customers stopped doing business with us (and everyone else), and worse actually started cancelling existing orders. We had layoffs, unlimited OT was stopped, and focus was placed by management on cost-cutting.

Seems like an odd time to be looking at ERP, right?

Actually its the perfect time. Its the perfect time to take a step back and really look at the business. Where are we? Where do we want to be? Where do we excel? What areas do we lack in? What could we be doing that we aren’t currently?

planning session

 Planning Session

This is when we sat down and had open dialog about the present state and future goals of the company. We want to grow. We want to expand into new markets. But how do we get there?

We mapped out our existing processes with good-old powerpoint. Everyone knew our processes (or at least they thought they did) but it was never really documented. This opened a lot of eyes.

database plan

Database Planning

We evaluated our existing system. Were there features we weren’t currently using, that we should be? Were there modules or perhaps customization that we could purchase to help us?

Our existing “system” was a collection of spreadsheets and what I supposed could be labeled as an ERP system. Using spreadsheets is always the simple route, the path of least resistance, but also the path that quickly falls into the chasm. It was inefficient and each spreadsheet was its own self contained object. We needed this information in a centrally managed system.

The ERP system we were using was antiquated, difficult to use, and actually loathed by most within the organization (honestly, I do not exaggerate). Why keep using it? It was implemented in the 90’s and is what everyone knows. It had worked for us for so long. “Better to sleep with the devil you know, then the devil you don’t”.

The problem is it became more about living with the limitations or finding solutions to work around them. Although a great company to work with, it really is a “mom and pop” organization and was clear that revolutionary improvements were not in its future, well at least improvements that were going to get us where we wanted to.

The biggest problem was the difficulty of extracting information, there was no visibility. Information, real-time or not, was extremely difficult to obtain. Job costs, like actual job costs were difficult to nail down. We could not really determine how effective we were because our scheduling tools were very limited. We ordered material as the jobs came in, not when it was required.

So right away we knew the number one thing we needed was real-time, fully visible, access to our data. Whether it be searches, reports, graphs, charts, whatever… “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you do”. Access to information has a trickle down effect to every process within the organization.

What are our ERP options?

This is when we decided to explore our ERP options.

How Successful Plans Aren't Created

 This is some rescue. You came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?

However, before we cracked open Google and made that very first search, we laid out our wish list, the things that had to be there for us to make the switch. Obvious things like it had to work with Canadian taxes. Quantitative items like; take 75% less time on repeat product quotes and 25% on new product quotes. We also had items we just needed, like visual scheduling and project management.

We also made the decision that whatever system we chose, it had to have a realistic chance of being implemented in 6-months (or less). We also wanted zero customization. We wanted as close to an “out-of-the-box” solution as possible. We also made it clear that we would not attempt to implement it on our own.

With this, management green-lit our “ERP Research” team to spend the time and find three possible solutions.

The last step of this pre-ERP research was evaluating our existing staff and resources. Did we honestly feel we had the people with the right levels of expertise, skills, and dedication to pull this off. We’re fortunate to have some really strong, smart, and dedicated people so we knew with the right product implementation partner we would be fine in this area.

And the Takeaways from this are?

What you should do before looking for an ERP solution:

  • Get top-management’s approval to start the search
  • Take a good look at your existing system or collection of systems. List the strengths, weaknesses, pros and cons of each piece.
  • Map out your processes.
  • Take a seriously long look at yourself in the mirror. What does the business excel at and where is it deficient.
  • Build the “wish list” of things that needs to be in the new system

don't panic

Don’t Panic

@%#&! Autodesk Vault just overwrote my file

Recover Overwritten Vault CAD FilesIf you’ve used Autodesk Vault at any time, then its highly likely you have downloaded a file you already have checked out and overwrote a chunk of your work. Unfortunately that’s just one of several scenarios, which can result in you losing your work. The real trick to preventing this of course, is to check your work into Vault every couple of hours (similar to continually saving within your CAD application). Nevertheless, there could be a number of reasons why checking in your work continuously isn’t feasible. I often hear the comment “I wish Vault had a recycle bin”, I’ve even murmured those words myself and you know what it’s a reasonable request. Why can’t Vault create an old version of the files it’s overwriting? Although its likely possible, it could get mighty confusing.

Just over a year ago, one of my staff downloaded a skeletal / master model from Vault while trying to work around a problem he had, the problem was he already had it checked out, but worse he hadn’t checked in the file for a couple of days. He had created components, built a main assembly and even produced a drawing. Needless to say overwriting his skeletal model with what was essentially a template file, was highly undesirable. Don’t judge him though, he’s new to this Autodesk Inventor / Vault game, all while dealing with a temperamental VPN connection & a new replicated Vault, so he’s been doing a grand job. All of my staff and myself have all made this mistake once or twice.

Autodesk Vault Inventor Project File Old Versions Setting

In the past the Inventor Old Versions folder has been our first port of call, depending on how your Inventor Project File is setup, these folders can be a gold mine during these arse puckering moments. The project file setting I am referring to is shown in the image above, I like to set Old Versions To Keep On Save to equal 5 on all Vault project files. Of course, this tactic is of no use to AutoCAD users, but it does have some of it’s own backup treasures which may or may not be useful within any given situation.

This time however, I’m glad he made the mistake, because it prompted me to ponder if some of the new Windows Explorer features in Windows 7 on wards would help out here. The particular feature which inspired me to Google for a solution, was the undo tool. In Windows 7 or 8 if you delete a file in a folder, then press Ctrl + Z, it will undo the delete command and restore the file. In this case the file had been overwritten by an application and not as a result of the user interacting directly with the folder. So I took a punt and searched for:

“Recovering an overwritten file”

The first search return took me to this site. Method 3 of 4 was a particular surprise, I couldn’t believe it, I’d seen this tab in the Windows 7 Property menu before but I’d never realized it’s impact. The command worked perfectly, the 2 days of lost work was returned thanks to this hidden gem. You can even open or copy the previous version to a different location if you aren’t confident it’s the right way to go. Be warned though, this isn’t a fail safe, but this is always worth a check in this situation. The best part though? This is handy for all Windows users, not just Vault users.

Windows 7 Restore Previous Version Tab

Then I went and took a look at Windows 8 to make sure this behaviour still existed, it turns out it doesn’t and this article explains why. Thankfully Microsoft just improved it out right, the only catch is you have to enable it and point it to a non system drive. Take a look at this well written article explaining how to do that. Another bit of good news is Windows 10 has maintained the same system as Windows 8, so we are looking good into the future. If you are the owner of your Autodesk software, then you could re-purpose your Autodesk USB installation media, to leverage this native Windows benefit.

These tools for Windows 7 & 8 are cracking little gems, lurking in the background, rarely used but invaluable all the same just waiting for the opportunity to shine and save your butt. The best part is they can be used on any file stored on your hard drive and not just those your use for CAD. Check them out and if you need to, enable it. With respect to the title of this post, I haven’t really shown you how to prevent it happening in the first place, I will do this in an upcoming post covering dialog and prompt suppression within Vault and it’s application add-ins.

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 at Autodesk

The Cloud IronyDid you know that the very same Cloud that was demonized by so many design firms resistant to any change, is the same platform that is making possible the cost effective, flexible management systems that the same SMB firms desperately need? Irony.

* Software as a Service (Saas)

* Platform as a service (PaaS)

* Integration as a Service (IaaS)

The cloud solves many issues including infrastructure and platform at a substantially reduced price. All you really need to do is access the software and make it work for you.

What Software?

There are a few companies that are working hard to fill the void.

These include Autodesk PLM 360, Microsoft Office 365 and Sharepoint, Arena PLM, Aras PLM, Ally PLM, Kenesto, Siemens Solid Edge SP, CADAC Organice, Autodesk 360, GrabCAD, and more.

Almost all of these have one factor in common. They were built for companies in the SMB space to fit a wide array of workflows and needs. All have very interesting strong points, but none fit the small, but broad range of needs. Today I want to review what Autodesk has been doing.

The Fusion Platform

I’d like to mention Autodesk’s Fusion /Sim/CAM 360. The entire data framework was built on PLM 360 platform, enabling a single, true source for all software to interact with. Managed data would no longer require aggregation from multiple design sources. They truly have a really good overall plan to integrate all these collaborative data management needs in a lightweight framework. The raw data is not accessible enough, nor are there instrumental workflow features yet, but I love the concept and wanted to give them an honorable mention here.


Jitterbit (not affiliated with Autodesk) has a wonderful service that connects you’re a-la-carte datasets in a fluid manner, but at a substantial premium. Each paid connection increases the price and brings us right back to data management costing way too much for small companies. I mentioned them here because they have a great partnership with Autodesk for connecting Vault and PLM 360.

Autodesk PLM 360

Autodesk went after the overall need to manage data, developing a reasonably customizable framework and really did provide a good value and easy-to-adapt data management tool. The problem was that while they included some great design workflows and controls, there are some basic refinements that need to be fulfilled, and Autodesk completely left out the design data part. There is just no realistic method to store and catalogue CAD data on their cloud.

This is understandable as Autodesk already offers CAD PDM, Autodesk Vault, to their customers. Remember SMB data management is now a-la-carte. Jitterbit will gladly connect these two, but at an annual cost, and without any collaborative features. Viewing this from the perspective of a company who has purchased Vault Professional, it does seem weird that Autodesk expects customers used to transferring complex data between their CAD applications for free, to pay a significant annual fee to transfer metadata between their PDM and PLM products.

Autodesk 360 is getting an Overhaul

This product many of you know has been developed as a collaborative storage space. CAD

data is easily accessed by Autodesk CAD software, and people can be invited into the space to collaborate and discuss the design. There are numerous problems from a productive design platform perspective, including the fact that the files are not well discoverable, nor is there any method to catalogue data, and no real management. It’s simply storage and collaboration, and it’s not really comfortable to work in.

I sat in on a meeting with Sheila Wakida, Autodesk’s Sr. product manager for the cloud, who discussed the changes that are taking place in the Autodesk 360 platform. She discussed the timeline for the year and what the company was doing with Autodesk 360.

 The New Plans in Autodesk 360

Better model viewing capabilities, CAD agnostic assembly and dependency detection, and integration with software and services to include things like Dropbox and Autodesk PLM 360.

That’s right. Shortly after Autodesk 360 becomes a premium service this summer, they will integrate PLM 360 in order to merge their capabilities (at this stage the service will only be available in the U.S., U.K., and Germany). That changes the scope of things substantially. Where companies would shun each product because it lacked the other’s capabilities, tying them together opens up a new realm of possibilities for some.

Add in very deep search algorithms, new dashboards for situation awareness and many more features, and Autodesk suddenly becomes much better suited to provide a useful data management solution that is accessible to small design firms.

… and the Battle Begins

Autodesk is not the only game in town. Vendors are diligently pulling together their ideas and solutions in an attempt to answer the question, “Who is providing USEFUL design management tools that meet the flexible needs of today’s small design companies?”. Come see what we found.

Image Credit: Mike King – Flickr & Autodesk


Searching, Listing and Filters | Autodesk Vault Professional 2015 – Microsoft SharePoint 2013

In the final post of the Microsoft SharePoint and Autodesk Vault integration series, Chris shows you how to leverage the power of shared databases. Read how to configure SharePoint search, including troubleshooting it, create SharePoint Lists and their Filters. All so you can make it easy as possible for SharePoint end users to access your released CAD data. Continue Reading

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