Dassault Systèmes Bets Big on a Product Innovation Platform
John Hayes posted on November 06, 2017 | 5008 views

All of the large PLM vendors have, to some

degree, been building platforms for product development. "Building," in many cases, meant buying up smaller companies who had developed niche products. These were then offered as additional features to the PLM vendor's solution, with varying degrees of integration.

The idea of a platform for product development was originally presented as a way to bundle all of the software a team would need into a tightly integrated package.  Every aspect of product development, from conceptual design through detailed modeling, from data management to simulation and even manufacturing was to be available through a common interface.

The term “platform” has evolved, according to John MacKrell, chairman of analyst firm CIMdata, “A platform strategy used to mean simply having an agglomeration of tools that were loosely integrated. A current platform strategy now requires that a vendor provide a way that data can flow unencumbered from process to process, tool to tool, and from user to user.”

“Data can flow unencumbered from process to process, tool to tool, and user to user.” —John MacKrell of CIMdata.

“Data can flow unencumbered from process to process, tool to tool, and user to user.” —John MacKrell of CIMdata.

Ideally, data in a platform can follow the progression of the product development process from concept to CAD from CAE to manufacturing, all without having to log in and out of separate tools. Most platforms also strive to offer a common user interface (UI) so that users can more easily work with all of the data and tools that they need.

To make the data flow unencumbered, some software vendors have adopted a “configurable” architecture that some tout as “file-less.” With this architecture, the data from each application, whether geometry from CAD or data in a bill of materials, or even processes for change orders or manufacturing, all flows from application to application without repackaging or other friction. One benefit of having data flowing in this way is that changes to any model or process are instantly visible to all other participants who need to know about it.

What Benefits Can a Product Development Team Expect From this New Data Structure?

Jeff Erno of GE Power explained how the data structure of traditional PLM systems can give rise to massive data management challenges, particularly for companies that have complex assemblies. He pointed out, “the paradigm in traditional PLM is configuration management by group."

"The relationships are bundled together into a single item. If a different set of parts are needed to support a customer order then we need a new, different group. If parts are replaced due to product updates or improvements, again we need a new different group. This approach leads to a tremendous number of cloned assemblies, each of which may need to be updated separately when changes occur.”

He advocates that PLM systems should move from managing separate resolved groupings of configurations to supporting a “configurable” structure such that all options, all evolutions over time and all customer specifics would be in the same structure at the same time. The system would record the changes and automatically associate them to the changed object. “Imagine how much easier it would be to review changes for accuracy if you only had to review the net changes rather than the whole new structure,” he added.

To achieve this level of associativity without duplication, Erno believes that data must live outside of a file. He stated that, “Dassault Systèmes, from my investigation, is the only PLM vendor that has figured this out and has a working system for it.”

Erno’s team at GE Power expects to see many benefits from implementing a configurable data structure, including:

  1. Allowing users to collaborate on a common model without having to take turns or check files in or out.
  2. Making data flow from application to application without having to import or export files. This in turn means that when changes are made to data, those changes are immediately updated across all applications and users.
  3. Helping users to create variants of designs without creating copies of the models. Instead, changes to the base models can propagate throughout all variants, while all parts and suppliers can be traced through the variants in a common system.
  4. Allowing data to be streamed when and where it is needed, using the permissions and cloud-based accessibility from the platform.

According to Jeff Erno, the “grouped” structure of traditional PLM systems forces users to clone and modify models to make variants, whereas a “configurable” structure allows them to add modifications to the base model to make variants. This key difference enables a more streamlined workflow, reduced errors, and easier traceability. (Image courtesy of GE Power.)
According to Jeff Erno, the “grouped” structure of traditional PLM systems forces users to clone and modify models to make variants, whereas a “configurable” structure allows them to add modifications to the base model to make variants. This key difference enables a more streamlined workflow, reduced errors, and easier traceability. (Image courtesy of GE Power.)

Why a Product Innovation Platform Rather than PLM as Usual?

Analyst Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity described the difference between a Product Innovation Platform (“PIP”) and other PLM platforms: “In a PIP, multiple design elements, like mechanical, electrical and software components are all in the same place and tied together in a logical way so that when one person makes a change, that change is immediately available to anyone who will be impacted by that change.” 

Andy Kalambi – Global Vice President for the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform: “The platform we are striving to create removes much of this friction and passes data freely thanks to a common core technology stack.”

Andy Kalambi – Global Vice President for the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform: “The platform we are striving to create removes much of this friction and passes data freely thanks to a common core technology stack.”

Brown went on to provide an example, “Say a hardware designer changes the design of a PCB. With a PIP, the mechanical engineer working on a related design would see the impact on the dimensions and heat generated by the new design.”

This example points to a common issue in product development, which is that people are often working on data that has changed, resulting in delays, rework and lost productivity.  

Dassault Systèmes calls their version of a PIP the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. According to Andy Kalambi, Global VP for 3DEXPERIENCE platform, “Today for most product teams, data does not flow seamlessly from department to department, let alone from enterprise to enterprise within the value chain. This leads to gaps in data and updates, which means that team members cannot work in a real time collaborative fashion.”  

Kalambi continued, “The platform we are striving to create removes much of this friction and passes data freely thanks to a common core technology stack.”

This common core technology stack did not come easy for Dassault Systèmes. It was a re-architecture rather than an evolution, which is why so many of their clients have a big decision to make when it comes to moving from CATIA V5 or ENOVIA PLM to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

According to Brown, “Software vendors have to make a decision when architecting a platform. Do they want to prioritize their investment to make it work extremely well as a platform of cohesive solutions or invest more in open APIs to move data among various solutions? Dassault Systèmes focuses more on providing an interoperable platform of solutions.”

Analyst Monica Schnitger expanded, saying, “The idea of a platform is that everything is integrated so smoothly that the user doesn’t perceive any integration steps. Users can simply set up permissions for data access and then watch while everyone who needs to have access to the data can use it.”

One view of the user interface of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Note that the lower left of the image features a navigation element for multiple applications that are all available through a common interface. [Click to expand] (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)
One view of the user interface of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Note that the lower left of the image features a navigation element for multiple applications that are all available through a common interface. [Click to expand] (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

The architecture of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform features a layer of schema that sits on top of the database and facilitates access to the data that resides outside of a file format. That schema guides each application as to how to put the various data elements together for each application and user. 

The Fundamental Hurdle to Adopting a Product Innovation Platform

The desire to build a comprehensive digital twin is driving a number of product development teams to investigate a deploying a PIP. Having a full digital twin that mirrors all aspects of design and in-use processes is a very powerful notion, particularly for complex systems. 

According to Brown, a full PIP will support early stage development activities such as requirements gathering, customer validation and sketching and also track revisions over time. “The data from the concept stage can flow all the way through other design tools including simulation, CAD, CAE and manufacturing such that the full digital twin includes not just a bill of materials, for example, but also a bill of process for production.” In this scenario, there is a single data model that does not require users to import or export files.

The downside of this fully integrated platform is that not every piece of software that a design team wants to use will be available on their chosen platform. According to Schnitger, “It’s unlikely that any one vendor has the best of breed in every application because there are too many variations, so you might have to use a non-platform solution.” As we have reported previously, not all companies are willing to give up their existing software in return for the seamless transfer of data that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform promises.

Bernard Charles, CEO of Dassault Systèmes stated that their platform approach is much faster and more powerful for product development enabling users to create exact digital replicas - ‘3DEXPERIENCE twins’- of their designs to simulate usage and accelerate future improvements. He added that, “If they prefer to use solutions outside the platform, they will find that all of the data is available in a STEP format.” Charles went on to point out that this format proved to be a good enough answer for Boeing to decide last summer to extend their partnership with Dassault Systèmes for 30 more years.

Another way that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform addresses non-native solutions is with an integration format that they call “POWER’BY.”  According to applications engineers at Dassault Systèmes, POWER’BY will offer deeper integration than traditional file import/export. The top priorities for connectivity to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform through the POWER’BY approach are the company’s own CAD tools, CATIA V5 and SOLIDWORKS, followed by competitive solutions. 

Dassault Systèmes representatives explained that users will still have to use their CAD authoring tool to edit their models and to manage that process a file through a check-in, check-out function much like traditional PDM systems. However, other processes such as routings and approvals and even managing variants can happen on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

The Power of a Product Innovation Platform – Demonstration

The demonstration set out in the video below is of a product called “Beamy,” a wireless loudspeaker with a video projector.  The demonstration revolves around a design flaw in the Beamy V1 that causes the image to be blurry. This leads the product manager to launch a variant design.

Demonstration of Beamy, a wireless video projector and loudspeaker with an image problem. (Video courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Olivier Ribet, Vice President of Industries for Dassault Systèmes hosts the demonstration. He outlines the Beamy’s combination of mechanical, electronic and software components, which makes tracking down the root cause of the problem difficult.

Ribet does a nice job of showing the value of a PIP with all of the information on a common platform. He demonstrates:

  • Launching a variant
  • Collaborating on finding a root cause of a defect
  • Identifying a component elsewhere in the company
  • Designing the new component into the variant architecture
  • Making changes to the software code on Github
  • Cascading changes throughout the entire system
  • Simulating and validating the new design

 

Systems architecture diagram available on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)
Systems architecture diagram available on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

The Future of the Product Innovation Platform

According to MacKrell, Dassault Systèmes has made a positive contribution by going beyond traditional data management to support business processes, saying, “A good implementation will evolve a team’s product development rather than just helping them do their existing processes faster. The real value comes from looking at the way they are doing things now and improving those processes.”

He went on to point out that the best future for a PIP will include not only business process support, but also an underlying inherent ability to do simulation and analysis, “from the upper left of the systems V to the upper right.” He commented that simulation should be part of the fabric of a PIP, rather than an added feature or application.

When this all comes true, design teams will be able to simulate a full digital twin from design to manufacturing to performance-in-use before ever making a physical prototype. That said, all but the smallest product development teams already have their data trapped within legacy systems. That means that the road from today’s reality to the promised land of data flowing seamlessly through complete digital replicas is likely to be neither straight nor smooth. 

Recommended For You