“On Par with the cPDm Leaders” – Why Aras is Recognized as a New Member of the PLM Elite
Verdi Ogewell posted on August 22, 2017 | 6149 views

In the PLM business, being named to the "PLM Mind Share Leaders" list by analyst firm CIMdata, is a big step.

This exclusive group contains the major players in this fairly static world. So far, only Dassault Systèmes, Siemens PLM, Autodesk, SAP, PTC, IBM and Oracle have passed through the eye of the needle. 

But there is still room for the occasional surprise. In late June, when CIMdata released their 2017 series of annual reports on the state on the PLM market, it turned out that the small PLM developer Aras has managed to battle its way into this elite group. Their inclusion is not because their Innovator solution is generating huge revenues, but because of the company’s achievements in regard to CIMdata’s criteria: size and scope of PLM implementations, technology and thought leadership in the PLM market and impact on the PLM market. 

No doubt, recent wins including General Motors (50,000 seats) and global automotive supplier Schaeffler Group (20,000 seats) were important reasons for Aras’ promotion in the latter case, Aras notably won over PTC’s Windchill. However, their open source business model, marketing strategy and architecture technology were also decisive reasons.


“IT SIMPLY WORKS.” Aras CEO and founder, Peter Schroer, during a presentation at the company’s ACE event. Aras’ PLM solution, Innovator, effectively covers what tend to be weak spots in large corporation’s PLM environments: supplier collaboration and simplicity to upgrade.
“IT SIMPLY WORKS.” Aras CEO and founder, Peter Schroer, during a presentation at the company’s ACE event. Aras’ PLM solution, Innovator, effectively covers what tend to be weak spots in large corporation’s PLM environments: supplier collaboration and simplicity to upgrade.


“Aras is ideally positioned as a PLM platform with a flexible, scalable and upgradeable architecture, and an open approach that delivers the long-term resilience that companies require. As a result, big corporations like GM and Schaeffler are turning to the Aras PLM platform because it simply works,” commented Aras’ CEO, Peter Schroer.

In terms of revenue, no Aras numbers are publicly disclosed.

We can only speculate where Aras is on the scale. Schroer gave some indication in an interview three years ago, where he said to ENGINEERING.com that company revenues were less than $50 million. 


HUNTINGTON-INGALLS, ONE OF 2016’s BIG CUSTOMERS. Although Aras Innovator isn’t number one on the PLM/cPDm market, the system attracts many big corporations. During the last year, among other things, they supplied 2,500 seats to America’s largest military ship builder, Huntington-Ingalls. This was a relatively small order compared to the 50,000 seats to GM and the 20,000 to Schaeffler Group.
HUNTINGTON-INGALLS, ONE OF 2016’s BIG CUSTOMERS. Although Aras Innovator isn’t number one on the PLM/cPDm market, the system attracts many big corporations. During the last year, among other things, they supplied 2,500 seats to America’s largest military ship builder, Huntington-Ingalls. This was a relatively small order compared to the 50,000 seats to GM and the 20,000 to Schaeffler Group.

 

Still, Aras is a fast-growing company, said Peter Schroer:

“Yes, it’s true we don’t disclose company revenue. But I can say that our bookings growth has increased more than 65 percent each of the last three years. We are looking to accelerate that growth in 2017 as more companies awaken to the fact that Aras Innovator provides a real alternative to their legacy PDM.”

Schroer continued, “Our largest new subscriptions in 2016 were GM (50,000 users), Schaeffler (20,000 users) and Huntington Ingalls (2,500 users). In all, 2016 was a great year for Aras, where we built on the 2015 momentum of winning Airbus (30,000), Microsoft (5,000 users), Hitachi and others.”

Aras Addresses Big Problems in PLM

These are all impressive company names and subscription numbers, but even more importantly, they are all installations that one would normally connect to high-end PLM/PDM solutions such as Siemens’ Teamcenter, Dassault’s ENOVIA, or PTC’s Windchill suites.

Aras has managed to produce a solution that effectively covers what tend to be weak spots in large corporation’s PLM environments: supplier collaboration and simplicity to upgrade. Add in the fact that there are no license fees (Aras is free to download) and it becomes obvious that the solution has a couple very hard-to-resist advantages.

When I had an interview last year with European air craft manufacturer Airbus’ PLM representative, Anders Romare, these points were the main arguments for investing in 30,000 Aras seats back in 2015. “Generally, our view is that PDM/PLM systems are too expensive,” was one of Romare’s statements.


A COMMERCIAL BREAKTROUGH. During 2015, European air craft manufacturer Airbus decided to invest in 30,000 seats of Aras Innovator. This was a breakthrough for Aras Innovator in terms of both commercial success and a wider technology spread. The system isn’t used as the core PDM solution at Airbus; they mainly use it for various types of systems integrating the supply chain, said Airbus PLM’s Anders Romare.
A COMMERCIAL BREAKTROUGH. During 2015, European air craft manufacturer Airbus decided to invest in 30,000 seats of Aras Innovator. This was a breakthrough for Aras Innovator in terms of both commercial success and a wider technology spread. The system isn’t used as the core PDM solution at Airbus; they mainly use it for various types of systems integrating the supply chain, said Airbus PLM’s Anders Romare.


He also said that Airbus doesn’t use Aras as its core enterprise PDM system. “Due to size and complexity, we have many small and light PDM systems. There can be various types of systems integrating the supply chains, and a test environment where we need light PDM functionality. We have tested and proven the Aras solutions with good results, flexibility and quick turnaround time to develop and deploy applications.”

In general, Peter Schroer agrees that these arguments are significant, but he downplays the importance of supplier collaboration as the main reason for choosing Aras.

“While generally true, I would not single out supplier collaboration as the main driver in this. Aras Innovator is being chosen as the PLM platform to solve a wide range of complicated engineering business processes: full BOM (Bill of Materials) and configuration management, change workflows, NPDI (New Product Development and Introduction), Phase-Gate Program management, quality planning, quality control, manufacturing process definition/planning, technical publications and, of course, supply chain collaboration. When we look at the primary reason companies have picked Aras in the last three to four years, it’s been enterprise change management much more than supplier collaboration.”  


Mission Critical for Digital Twin Configuration

He also points out system-level BOM management and Change Management as mission critical capabilities – especially for digital twin product configuration and digital thread traceability – that are not well supported by the legacy PDM vendors.  

“We view the other vendor offerings as PDM rather than true PLM because they are CAD-oriented systems and do not enable true through-life product management,” Shroer stated.  He added that each company brings in Aras to solve their most complex problems:

“We have earned our reputation solving PLM projects quickly and permanently. The challenges we solve for companies range from multi-CAD data management in an agnostic manner (integrating to Dassault, PTC, Siemens, Cadence, Mentor, Zuken and ALM -Application Lifecycle Management - tools), to ECO Change, to BOM and configuration management and others.

MULTI-CAD DATA MANAGEMENT. “We solve challenges ranging from multi-CAD data management to ECO Change, to BOM and configuration management and others,” asserts Peter Schroer. In the picture, Aras Innovator works with a Siemens NX CAD model.
MULTI-CAD DATA MANAGEMENT. “We solve challenges ranging from multi-CAD data management to ECO Change, to BOM and configuration management and others,” asserts Peter Schroer. In the picture, Aras Innovator works with a Siemens NX CAD model.

 

Futhermore, the Aras chief explained that there are some specific challenges that they often hear from their customers:

“First and foremost, our customers express general frustration with their existing legacy PDM systems – whether it’s lack of flexibility, lack of upgradeability, product roadmaps that are dead ends, or the fact that the other major providers have not met the vision of enterprise PLM and only reliably manage MCAD data; which, by the way, has been validated by CIMdata studies.”


The Pain of Legacy PDM Systems

These problems with legacy PDM systems, said Schroer, have created a significant amount of “pain” for global product teams and IT groups, hindering their ability to truly transform product development to meet the complex challenges of tomorrow’s next generation products.

“Oftentimes, companies have undertaken multi-year, multi-million Euro/Dollar projects to expand, upgrade or replace their PDM system, but it doesn’t work,” asserted Shroer, referring to my earlier article on the problems at British automotive company Jaguar Land Rover, which he said describes examples of this type of slow and complex process.

“Historically, companies have endured this frustration due to the lack of choices, but with today’s business challenges – connected products, IoT-enablement, digital thread, digital twin, or converged software/hardware processes – they are realizing that they can no longer rely on their existing MCAD-focused PDM infrastructure.”

Schroer’s conclusion is, “that companies are now demanding a PLM platform that has true cross-discipline, through lifecycle capabilities that can enable a complete digital thread and comprehensive digital twin and, importantly, that can overlay existing systems like legacy MCAD PDMs, ECAD PDMs and application lifecycle management (ALMs) – as opposed to the rip and replace approach required by the legacy monolithic PDM systems.”


VISION & ROAD MAP. Aras chief architect, Rob McAveney, discussed Aras’ Vision & Road map during the company’s ACE event. According to Aras, they are one of the very few actors in the PLM market that publicly reveals this road map, including areas such as digital twin and digital thread, full lifecycle tractability, Configuration Management with connected devices, upcoming integration tools for MBSE (Model Based Systems Engineering) and more.
VISION & ROAD MAP. Aras chief architect, Rob McAveney, discussed Aras’ Vision & Road map during the company’s ACE event. According to Aras, they are one of the very few actors in the PLM market that publicly reveals this road map, including areas such as digital twin and digital thread, full lifecycle tractability, Configuration Management with connected devices, upcoming integration tools for MBSE (Model Based Systems Engineering) and more.


Aras’ Breakthrough Journey Started in 2007

Generally, Aras Innovator can be characterized as a competent and competitive cPDm (collaborative Product Definition management) software. But the company worked hard to add functionalities over the course of a number of years to make Innovator able to support PLM issues across multiple segments.

Founded in 2000, the breakthrough for Aras came in 2007, when they established an open source model. A consequence of this was that the core of Aras Innovator became available for free download. The “bread and butter” of the business became the sale of optional enterprise subscriptions paired with support and customization services.

According to Aras’ VP of strategy, Marc Lind, consulting for customization, education and other services make up less than a third of the company’s revenues. Futhermore, he said that they, “do not consider the services revenues key to growth,” making the point that licenses for separate add-ons–such as MCAD integrations–and maintenance charges represents the major income sources.

As an open source company, product development is mainly done within the framework of the customer community in combination with internally executed realization of customer suggestions.

Altogether, this resulted in what CIMdata describes as “a competitive offering on par with the leaders in the cPDm segment.”

“While their solution is in the cPDm segment, Aras has worked hard to support PLM issues across multiple segments. Electronics companies can license IHS parts catalogs for use directly in Aras Innovator. Their work with IBM on supporting requirements traceability using OSLC protocols was innovative and led to their deepening relationship with IBM around the reselling of Innovator. Aras is also white-labeled to Infor, who is offering it as Infor Accelerate to fill a gap in their PLM portfolio,” CIMdata concluded in their 2017 annual reports. 

The architecture of Aras has proven valuable. Unlike traditional object-based systems with static data models, the Aras architecture is built around a modeling engine coupled to a web services catalog of PLM services. The modeling engine allows dynamic creation and maintenance of business objects which are linked as required to the appropriate web services.

"This creates a clear separation between business logic and the web services, enabling real-time, drag and drop changes to applications — no coding required, and it means our PLM can be easily upgraded without impacting previous customizations," explained Schroer.


ARAS AT GENERAL MOTORS. No doubt, GM’s decision to go for Aras was an important consideration for the company's promotion to become a member of CIMdata’s PLM Mind Share Leaders in 2017. The huge American car manufacturer will use the solution to support enterprise change management, vehicle Bill of Materials (engineering BOM & manufacturing BOM), variants and other things across all their brands worldwide. Above, a StudenRender CAD model of a Camaro.
ARAS AT GENERAL MOTORS. No doubt, GM’s decision to go for Aras was an important consideration for the company's promotion to become a member of CIMdata’s PLM Mind Share Leaders in 2017. The huge American car manufacturer will use the solution to support enterprise change management, vehicle Bill of Materials (engineering BOM & manufacturing BOM), variants and other things across all their brands worldwide. Above, a StudenRender CAD model of a Camaro.

From the CASE BOOK of Aras: GM, Schaeffler, Huntington Ingalls and Microsoft

All in all, Aras’ chosen path has worked out well and, as mentioned above, has resulted in a number of large commercial successes during the last couple of years.  

Here is a list of companies and their major reasons for the choice to invest in Aras:

General Motors

At General Motors, Aras closed a 50,000-seat deal in 2016 to support enterprise change management, vehicle bill of materials (EBOM & MBOM), variants and options, and other lifecycle processes. Aras was selected because of its technical capabilities, business model, and the architecture’s ability to support complex configuration management, which was an important use case.

“In the case of GM, Aras was chosen as a single solution to manage enterprise change across all brands worldwide – Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC and others,” explained Peter Schroer.

When it comes to the GM deal, IBM is partnering up with Aras, leveraging it for IT Integrated Systems Management with requirements management, full visibility and traceability from project deliverables right up to corporate business objectives and reporting.

Schaeffler Group

Earlier this year, global automotive and industrial supplier, Schaeffler Group (85,000 employees), selected the Innovator platform to support its Engineering Cockpit application. This, in turn, provides up to 20,000 users with role-based access to information across multiple disciplines, interfaces, systems and authoring tools. The Schaeffler deal was the first result of the partnership between Aras and IBM that was announced in December 2016.

“With Aras, we are entering a new sphere of data integration. At Schaeffler, we want to digitally optimize processes and procedures as well as create new service-oriented processes. The next logical step is a deeper integration of our current systems and the data exchange related to that company-wide,” says Dirk Spindler, senior VP of R&D at Schaeffler.

“The Engineering Cockpit is a key piece of Schaeffler’s digital transformation strategy,” Schroer commented.

Notably, the Schaeffler win over PTC was a combined Aras/IBM effort based on the partnership announced this past November.

 

STREAMLINING PROCESSES AT HUNTINGTON-INGALLS. “We needed to simplify our architecture in order to execute process improvement at its finest,” said Mike Deutsch at Huntington Ingalls.
STREAMLINING PROCESSES AT HUNTINGTON-INGALLS. “We needed to simplify our architecture in order to execute process improvement at its finest,” said Mike Deutsch at Huntington-Ingalls.


Huntington-Ingalls

Huntington Ingalls Industries, America’s largest military shipbuilding company, bet on up to 3,000 Innovator seats to support the complex engineering processes in the development of technologically advanced warships for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. They chose Innovator to streamline and standardize processes on a single platform and remove the bottlenecks that occur because of numerous stand-alone systems and databases. Some key areas addressed by Aras are concurrent engineering, configuration management of entire warships and rules-based design and planning.

“We needed to simplify our architecture in order to execute process improvement at its finest,” said Mike Deutsch at Huntington Ingalls, adding that, “What’s happening now is that our team is engaging and embracing the processes that we want to execute. Not only are they doing that, but we’ve also set up this process and its tool set for one program, and the other programs that are doing business differently are all on board now about coming in and having a single common process for the shipyard in the way we do planning, engineering and material processes.”

Microsoft

Back in 2015, Microsoft invested in 5,000 Innovator seats and in this case Aras no longer served only in a complementary role. In fact, the solution was chosen to be the foundation of the entire PLM support. This is an excellent example of a deeper establishment of Aras, even replacing high-end PDM systems such as Dassault Systèmes’ Matrix and SmartTeam.

What Microsoft did was migrate to a new unified platform, OnePDM, built on Aras. Generally, Microsoft aimed at managing product data, including CAD, for the hardware division responsible for Surface computers, Xbox, HoloLens and accessories.

Some reported benefits include: reduced development and deployment times, improved interoperability across engineering, manufacturing and the supply chain, and reduced time-to-release product data from the PDM system to upstream and downstream systems.

“Bottom line,” commented Microsoft senior evangelist Mike Opal, “is that OnePDM saved a million dollars in only its first two years of operation, just by eliminating the operating expenses of multiple old PDM systems.”

A SURPRISING MOVE. When former Siemens PLM CEO, Tony Affuso, decided to join the Aras board of directors earlier this year, his ex-employer wasn’t very happy about it, but with no ties to Siemens, Affuso of course is free to join any company of his choice. “I was attracted to Aras because of their disruptive technology, open-source customer engagement model, and the fact that their technology has recently been selected over that of their competitors by several of the world’s leading engineering and manufacturing companies,” said Affuso (above together with Aras CEO, Peter Schroer, on stage during the recent ACE event).
A SURPRISING MOVE. When former Siemens PLM CEO, Tony Affuso, decided to join the Aras board of directors earlier this year, his ex-employer wasn’t very happy about it, but with no ties to Siemens, Affuso of course is free to join any company of his choice. “I was attracted to Aras because of their disruptive technology, open-source customer engagement model, and the fact that their technology has recently been selected over that of their competitors by several of the world’s leading engineering and manufacturing companies,” said Affuso (above together with Aras CEO, Peter Schroer, on stage during the recent ACE event).

 

2016 Software Improvements

Right now, things look bright for Aras. The business is going well, the recognition as one of the cPDm leaders by CIMdata and the way they are continuously improving the Innovator solution has created a strong belief in the future of the company.

In the latter case, 2016 was one of their most active years for new releases.  

Architecturally, Aras has a clean separation between the platform and the suite of applications. This means that they are able to continuously release updates and improvements without introducing upgrade issues.

“In 2016, we introduced new innovations in the platform around visual collaboration, search, and scalability while simultaneously releasing major enhancements to our Manufacturing Process Planning (MPP) and Quality Management System (QMS) applications,” said Schroer. “We also provided new capabilities in our Microsoft Office connector and mobile apps.”

Others include IBM’s new version of the ALM/PLM connector between Aras and the IBM Continuous Engineering suite, and numerous other partner product releases.

“But we have also made significant progress with our open reference architecture for MBSE (Model Based Systems Engineering) integration to PLM in our work with both No Magic and IBM,” says Schroer. He continued, “From our perspective, the key here is that in an SaaS world–whether on-premise, in the cloud, or hybrid– there are no more gigantic system releases where everything comes at once. Our mission is to release both new platform capabilities and new applications all the time, versus large events which may be disruptive. This ability is what we call resilient PLM.”

 

A CHAIN OF GLOBAL PARTNERS. Aras has a global chain of Gold and Certified partners including IBM, Infor, Minerva and T-Systems. Generally, the partner network is a worldwide community of leading systems integrators, solution developers and OEMs, etc. In the case of T-Systems, it is one of Europe's leading IT players. As a global “Certified Aras Partner,” T-Systems offers solutions and services that complement the Aras product portfolio in a highly integrated way. Above, an illustration of how they present Aras’ cloud solution.
A CHAIN OF GLOBAL PARTNERS. Aras has a global chain of Gold and Certified partners including IBM, Infor, Minerva and T-Systems. Generally, the partner network is a worldwide community of leading systems integrators, solution developers and OEMs, etc. In the case of T-Systems, it is one of Europe's leading IT players. As a global “Certified Aras Partner,” T-Systems offers solutions and services that complement the Aras product portfolio in a highly integrated way. Above, an illustration of how they present Aras’ cloud solution.


Aras’ Path to the Future

What about the future? What role will Aras play when new technologies such as IoT, additive manufacturing or mobility quickly change the product manufacturing world?

First of all, the solution can live up to one of the basic requirements of today: Aras is a cloud-ready architecture which can be deployed on-premise, in the cloud or in hybrid scenarios – with the same customization capabilities and integrations, same codebase, same subscription – and companies can switch how they run Aras anytime, without data loss or process compromise.

That’s clearly important, but this is far from everything that makes Aras’ CEO optimistic about the company’s ability to meet the future.

The underlying PLM architecture matters,” Schroer said. “What we have done that is unique – our breakthrough – is to create a single platform which is highly flexible, scalable and upgradable, even when heavily customized.”

As a result, the platform can adapt to any workflow or product development process without creating support or upgrade issues. Nothing is hard coded like in legacy systems, but instead is able to be modified as needed.

“The Aras PLM Platform is therefore ideal for handling traditionally complex requirements such as PDM data, as well as new and emerging requirements such as IoT processes, Industry 4.0 / Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) scenarios and additive manufacturing support,” Schroer concludes.


WHAT IS A DIGITAL TWIN? “It’s one of those topics where if you ask three people, you’ll get five answers,” said Aras’ VP of strategy, Marc Lind. But he has drilled deeper into the matter, concluding that as products move to include connectivity, sensors and intelligence, “we can’t just think about the data streaming back from the field. Without accurate context – the digital twin – time series data generated during production and ongoing operation is difficult or even impossible to understand and analyze.”
WHAT IS A DIGITAL TWIN? “It’s one of those topics where if you ask three people, you’ll get five answers,” said Aras’ VP of strategy, Marc Lind. But he has drilled deeper into the matter, concluding that as products move to include connectivity, sensors and intelligence, “we can’t just think about the data streaming back from the field. Without accurate context – the digital twin – time series data generated during production and ongoing operation is difficult or even impossible to understand and analyze.”


Digital Twins in the Eyes of Aras

The Digital Twin is clearly a hot topic, and a PLM market actor that wants to be an alternative of choice must have good solutions.

According to analyst firm Gartner, digital twins are one of 2017’s Top 10 Strategies Technology Trends. And IDC – another highly respected analyst – predicts that by 2018 companies which invest in this type of technology will see a 30 percent improvement in critical processes.

Aras’ VP of strategy, Marc Lind, has interesting views, “It’s one of those topics where if you ask 3 people, you’ll get 5 answers,” Lind said.

But he has drilled deeper into the matter. “The term Digital Twin was coined back in 2002 by Dr. Michael Grieves while at University of Michigan. He obviously thought about The Digital Twin Concept extensively back then, which shows in his definition. Of course, the practical application of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies was still in its infancy, so it’s a bit academic.

More recently, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Eigner at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern in Germany has expanded on the Digital Twin in the context of the IoT, Industry 4.0 and IIoT. Effectively, this comes down to the idea that the Digital Twin is an exact virtual representation of a physical thing. It’s as if the physical product or system was looking in a virtual mirror.”

It contains all the informational sets of the physical ‘thing,’ meaning it is cross-discipline – not just a mechanical or geometric representation, but also including the electronics, wiring, software, firmware and other components.

That said, why is the digital twin so important?

“Well, many people talk about digital twins in the context of monitoring, simulation and predictive maintenance, which are all incredibly valuable and potentially transformative in their own right. However, there would seem to be much more to it,” Lind asserted.

His point is that as products move to include connectivity, sensors and intelligence, “we can’t just think about the data streaming back from the field. Without accurate context – the digital twin – time series data generated during production and ongoing operation is difficult or even impossible to understand and analyze.”

In addition, the ability to interpret and act upon these data often require traceability to prior information from related revisions – the Digital Thread.

“To complicate matters further, as artificial intelligence and cognitive computing is introduced, the necessity for the digital twin becomes even greater. If Knowledge = Information in Context, then without a digital twin, machine learning won’t work as intended, and will be rendered ineffective or worse, potentially leading to risky misinterpretations or misdirected actions. Because without context – the digital twin – the IoT-enabled value proposition is severely limited and could introduce real liability.”

These are a few of the obvious points they’ve been thinking about at Aras.

“Moreover, with our ability to manage product configurations through the lifecycle, we provide the all-important digital twin context for interpreting IoT data. Our Manufacturing Process Planning application can be used to support additive manufacturing as well as traditional production processes.”


My Take: Not Trembling, But a Bit Bothered

So, Aras is on the move and they’ve been rocking the cPDm parts of the PLM arena for at least the last couple of years. Even though the top players of PLM in terms of revenue remain pretty static year after year, Aras represents both a technical and commercial movement beneath the surface; a movement that is getting stronger.

Clearly Aras is not alone in trying to make an impact in this complex arena. Autodesk’s bet on cloud PLM via their Fusion Lifecycle is one good example. Other competitors include Arena’s cloud-based PLM solution and newcomers to the game, such as Propel PLM, the first cloud-based PLM offering built using the salesforce.com Software Development Kit (SDK)­.

However, none of these players have landed PLM/collaborative PDM orders as big as Aras’. Maybe developers like Dassault Systèmes, Siemens and PTC aren’t trembling, but I bet they are a bit bothered.

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