Is Cloud PLM for SME’s a Reasonable Bet? ShareAspace is Eurostep’s Interesting Solution
Verdi Ogewell posted on March 09, 2020 |
How complicated does PLM in the cloud need to be for small or medium-sized companies?

How complicated does taking the step into PLM in the cloud need to be for small or medium-sized companies? How expensive?

"It is much easier and lot cheaper than you might think," claims PLM developer Eurostep, which has given the matter deep consideration and recently released an interesting platform in Microsoft's Azure cloud, designed for collaboration between small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs): ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing.

“We have simply adapted our PLM hub software, ShareAspace, for this purpose. The result is a platform that is easy to implement, get started with and use. You can be up and running within a quarter of an hour, and with the right conditions you don’t even need to buy any consulting help at all to get started,” asserts Magnus Färneland, Eurostep's head of the product unit.

This statement gets at the heart of the matter, but it does not hide the fact that there are interesting aspects of this solution.

I have taken a closer look at this topic in today's article, also including a visit to a manufacturing company—Weda AB, a small but globally active pool cleaning robot manufacturer—who claims to have won a great deal by implementing  ShareAspace software.

"PLM GIVES US SUPER CONTROL." Daniel Anjou, PLM manager at the pool robot manufacturer Weda in Södertälje, Sweden, is pleased with the investment in Eurostep's ShareAspace cloud solution. What has gotten better? "A lot, which is not to say everything," he says in today’s article. "But the most important thing, which has definitely become much better, is that each robot now gets its own serial number, which I save in ShareAspace, and where we have also added exactly what is included in this robot unit such as camera, serial number on the PLCs, information about when it left that factory, when the assembly was started, who did the assembly, and who checked the functions. If there is anything wrong with the robot, we know exactly what the history looks like. Today we have a super check on these crucial details."

What makes Eurostep's ShareAspace so appropriate in this context? One of the main points is that ShareAspace is built around specific standards—STEP AP 242/ISO 10303-242—and has a proven record of successes in multiple industries and lifecycle scenarios.

The standards-based approach is important overall, but is most significant when talking about long-living products and their digital threads. According to analyst CIMdata, the applications used to develop these products, or even the enterprises involved, may often outlive the software and formats used to create them. This means it’s a good idea to preserve data integrity over time with a solution that can guarantee data access over the entire product life cycle. The standards-based data model also makes it a great solution for a cloud offering: configurable, but delivered as “evergreen.”

Through the ShareAspace software, Eurostep claims that it provides a cloud service covering the needs in the collaboration process between designers, manufacturers, external partners and other stakeholders.

“It’s initially about the Build-to-Print process, and with this everything becomes simple, clear, secure and traceable,” said Håkan Kårdén, Eurostep’s market director.

An example of the ShareAspace interface related to the pool robot manufacturer Weda in Södertälje.
An example of the ShareAspace interface related to the pool robot manufacturer Weda in Södertälje.

Eurostep has long been known for its commitment and solutions regarding collaboration on product data, based on STEP, PLCS and IFC standards within the framework of PLM. A hub has been built—ShareAspace—as a “data sharing platform,” and it’s being used by a number of large global companies and defense organizations. Volvo Truck, Volvo Cars, Scania, BAE Systems, Saab, Siemens, Renault, Airbus, NASA, EGIS and defense organizations in Sweden, France, the U.S. and the UK are just a few examples. In many cases, these large organizations have invited smaller companies to collaborate via ShareAspace, but always on the initiative of the major player.

The ShareAspace platform has been used throughout a product's entire life cycle, in requirements work and model-based systems engineering, as part of product development and manufacturing work. It has also been used during later phases in the product life cycles, such as maintenance and service.

Simplifies to Cover Basic Needs

This puts a kind of advanced quality and usability label in every conceivable context, but with emphasis on the needs of larger organizations. Today this has changed, and Eurostep has expanded the capabilities typical of ShareAspace to the broader industrial community of SMEs by creating a simpler, easier to use, and more affordable platform. The new "ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing Cloud Service" aims to support collaboration primarily in the SME arena to cover the basic needs of small and medium-sized companies.

“You can be up and running within a quarter of an hour, and with the right conditions you don’t even need to buy any consulting help at all to get started,” asserts Magnus Färneland, Eurostep's head of the product unit.

“You can be up and running within a quarter of an hour, and with the right conditions you don’t even need to buy any consulting help at all to get started,” asserts Magnus Färneland, Eurostep's head of the product unit.

“Our specialty is the collaboration process throughout the product life cycle,” commented Färneland, and continued, “Developing this solution we’ve had both simplicity and the cost aspect in front of our eyes, and thus developed a solution that competes with email and Dropbox, but–as opposed to these platforms–adapted it to PLM and PDM collaboration where issues like change management, traceability and security are crucial factors for successful product collaboration.”

Eurostep ran a survey in cooperation with the PLM & ERP News online magazine, which revealed that there is a great need to find something simpler than the large PLM systems, but at the same time more “PLM-ish” than email, Dropbox or Sharepoint. The most common answers from the SME participants in this survey indicated that there are problems with collaboration, and among these are classic problems such as, "I don’t know if my data has been received," “I don’t know if I am allowed to share this data” and "I don’t know if we are working with the right data."

Capable Solutions Outside the Domains of Big Companies

The PLM area has been slow to adopt the cloud, as recently noted by Marc Halpern of the analyst firm Gartner. This has its causes, he says, but just looking at collaboration it’s obvious that when a solution is not available on-premise, data can still leave the company in undesirable ways. In turn, this created doubts around the security and integrity of product data, which has long been an obstacle to the move to the cloud. Today, however, “a lot of that resistance has eroded because the solutions have been improved and acceptably safe in most cases,” Halpern concluded.

The Customer Relations Management (CRM) area has been considerably faster in reaching out and establishing cloud-based solutions. Generally this has worked well, and at the end of the day a reasonable conclusion is that it’s high time the PLM area also gets and takes the opportunity to use the cloud as a platform. PLM data is important to protect, but so is CRM data.

Eurostep's Färneland states that with its cloud offering, he wants to complement the current successful large company business with what SMEs need and can take on. A cloud service with a subscription at an affordable price—SaaS and IaaS included—and which provides important functions and secure environments in a simple and affordable way, he says, is paramount.

“That's how it is,” Färneland says. “Why couldn't SMEs have access to a collaboration tool that greatly improves their communication capacity? They also work in networks with partners, subcontractors and customers. From all angles, that also provides great value in terms of saved lead times and increased quality when it comes to communicating the right product data at the right time, and to the right stakeholder. For this, a cloud solution fits perfectly if you do not have the resources required in your own infrastructure. This is exactly what we can deliver in the Microsoft Azure Cloud.”

Färneland added that from this perspective, the ShareAspace cloud platform is superior as a technology solution. With Azure, it also opens up opportunities for many of Microsoft’s additional services which are available in Azure.

Support for the digital thread from Eurostep’s solution.
Support for the digital thread from Eurostep’s solution.

CIMdata’s View: “Serves Smaller Companies Well”

It is no surprise that Eurostep feels positive toward their own solution. However, it turns out that CIMdata looked at and evaluated the solution, and also liked what they saw.

“CIMdata believes that this will serve the smaller companies well in value chain collaboration and manufacturing. Small and medium-sized companies have similar needs to their OEM partners, but fewer resources to distribute collaborative solutions. In fact, they may not even have an internal PDM or PLM system, but they still need to be able to work effectively with their suppliers. ShareAspace for Design to Manufacturing fills the gap for IP sharing and collaboration,” CIMdata writes.

Furthermore, CIMdata’s vice president Stan Przybylinsky notes that, “Eurostep has engaged in the product data community and has utilized this knowledge to design its successful ShareAspace offering, which supports the sharing and collaboration of product data in some of the world's most complex supply chains. With their new ShareAspace Design for Manufacturing, they take infrastructure for large companies to the middle level on the corporate side and focus on global supply chains. This new cloud offering enables secure collaboration in the value chain with an easy to 'learn-and-use interface'. This will be a big step up from emails, Excel files to networking devices that support product development and manufacturing in surprisingly large companies."

In other words, this is a good rating from CIMdata, which lives up to Eurstep's plans for the solution.

Four Cornerstones in ShareAspace Cloud

So, what do you get with Eurostep's ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing?

Färneland points out the four cornerstones in the design of the solution:

  • Secure collaboration 
  • Configurability 
  • Easy to get started
  • Controlled data sharing

These are exactly what many SME companies today may not have access to, but which would streamline data communication with all kinds of partners in the product development work. Even towards the larger companies—when they are clients— adds Eurostep's marketing manager, Håkan Kårdén. He specifically points out these pieces:

  • A service where you can easily control and manage your supply chain.
  • A solution where you can safely share and organize your product data with multiple suppliers and partners.
  • Effective management of changes that affect all or some suppliers and reports showing what has changed.
  • A solution for delivering structured data in Bill-of-Materials (BOMs) that helps many, including purchasers.

"Changing the Playing Field"

“I dare say that with the ShareAspace Cloud service ‘Design to Manufacturing,’ we’ve become something of a game changer,” Kårdén continued, stating that these capabilities collect all aspects of product development and make it a simple, functional and easy to get started with the solution.

“And our ‘no/low touch approach’ is a high-value asset in the context. That is, you do not need anything in particular to get started other than one network-connected computer—we have created a cloud service that is easy to scale and which is almost immediately profitable.”

Kårdén believes that this cloud service combines the best of email, Dropbox, FTP and the larger PLM system solutions. But while Dropbox and email are more “personal tools,” and the larger PLM/PDM systems are complex to set up and administrate, ShareAspace cloud service is an easy-to-implement collaboration tool for sharing and communicating data between companies and between engineers in design and manufacturing planning.

“You set up a workspace and easily organize a package with previews, document search, event history (‘what did we really agree on?’), acknowledgment function, reporting documentation, etc. included. They solve those things that often contribute to costly mistakes and wrong deliveries: the right data, in the right version, in time and to the right person,” Kårdén says.

Kårdén also emphasizes that an advantage to their PLM tool is that, “we’ve made it easy to use PLM collaboration.” Many product developers and engineers in smaller companies stop and sit back when the complexity wall of "regular" systems hits them. "In short, there are too many degrees of freedom," Kårdén adds. “We have a solution based on all the years of experience we have, ready to go with excellent learning built in.”

Pool robot manufacturer Weda's CEO Klas Lange (left) together with the purchasing and PLM manager, Daniel Anjou (middle) and Eurostep's marketing manager, Håkan Kårdén.
Pool robot manufacturer Weda's CEO Klas Lange (left) together with the purchasing and PLM manager, Daniel Anjou (middle) and Eurostep's marketing manager, Håkan Kårdén.

How Good is the Solution in Real Life? From the Case Book of ShareAspace Cloud Design to Manufacturing: Weda AB

All of the features Eurostep hangs on its solution create an image of a productive action solution that is almost ridiculously simple. Still, they claim that ShareAspace can meet all the basic needs that exist in commonly occurring SME environments.

CIMdata has no particularly critical views to make, either, as evidenced by the quotes from them above. But what is ShareAspace really like? Is it as simple as Kårdén and Färneland claim? Only the reality of hands-on use can decide, which is a good reason to seek out the reality of ShareAspace from someone who has tried the solution. I contacted one of the companies that beta-tested the solution in order to hear about their experiences, now that they have run the solution in operation for several months.

Weda AB is a small company in the pool cleaning robot industry. They develop semi-automated and fully automated submersible cleaning robots for different types of pools—from ordinary large public and commercial swimming pools to the more customized solutions used by industrial water reservoirs such as nuclear power plants and water treatment plants.

There are just under ten employees in the workshop and offices of Weda AB, based in the industrial city of Södertälje, which is perhaps best-known as the main plant location for truck manufacturer SCANIA. Weda has been around for many years, has between 60 and 70 subcontractors on the component side and handles the assembly of the robots themselves, most of which are exported. Germany is the largest market on the pool side, with customers including Veolia Water, Westinghouse and Suez Water.

In total, Weda AB’s production volume is about 100 pool robots a year, while the industrial area is about 20 units.

Variant Configuration of the Robots

Today Daniel Anjou can support every sub-contractor with 'digital packages' containing exactly what is needed for the individual robot concerned.

Today Daniel Anjou can support every sub-contractor with 'digital packages' containing exactly what is needed for the individual robot concerned.

“First and foremost, our robots are fairly technically complex solutions involving things like mechanics, electronics/sensors, cameras, software and programmable PLCs, and more. We manufacture very little ourselves and basically assemble all the components that are part of the products,” explains Daniel Anjou, Weda AB’s purchasing manager responsible for the cloud PLM collaboration project based on ShareAspace.

This means that the work done at the company is largely about variant management. "Everything is fully configurable," says Anjou. "We are basically talking about mounting parts and components at the serial number level, all configured according to customers' wishes."

Traditionally, the management of this extensive supply chain has been handled with manual entries, emails and other things, which in itself makes the profits big with the use of cloud technology and automated flows.

"In this way, the supply chain has been quite difficult to keep track of," explains Weda's purchasing manager.

Digital Packages and Digital Handshakes

What does Eurostep's platform and the cloud mean in this context?

“A lot, but above all ‘law and order.’ Today I know what I have and can deliver from the right drawing number to the subcontractors’ different capacities," explains Anjou. "Today I can support them with 'digital packages' containing exactly what I need for the individual robot concerned. Everything is then confirmed with a ‘digital handshake,’ which means they know what applies and I know what’s agreed on."

One aspect of the production flow is the pursuit of just-in-time production, which also becomes a manageable concept in light of the cloud platform.

“Yes, we have just started with this as well, which has meant that we’ve been able to start lowering inventory levels. This process is ongoing right now. Of course, it’s a matter of trial and error to search for the optimal levels. Presently we have reached a point where all the suppliers changed from ‘casual’ packaging methods, to a one-package concept. All the goods that belong to the robot in question are packed together in one box. If I need five robots, I get five boxes, which is optimal from a stock perspective," Anjou says.

This arrangement saves a lot of money on the bottom line, in that money can be kept in the cash box rather than tied up in dust-collecting, on-the-shelf components. However, it is important to secure components and parts to meet the aftermarket needs. Robots can break or simply need a replacement of a worn component.

“But here we have now entered into agreements with the suppliers on what we need in terms of spare parts, and related to this, they must have a home for fast delivery. This is also managed through the ShareAspace cloud service," asserts Anjou.

Beta-Tested Since August 2019

"You have tested, and later used, the cloud service since August 2019,” I asked Anjou. “What do you think? What has improved at Weda?”

“A lot, which is not to say everything,” Anjou replies. “But the most important thing that has definitely gotten a lot better is that each robot now gets a serial number, which I keep in ShareAspace, where we entered exactly what is included in this robot unit. Here is stuff such as camera details, serial numbers on the PLCs, facts on when they left the factory, when the assembly started, who did the assembly and who checked the functions, etc. If there’s anything wrong with the robot, then we know exactly what the history looks like, and what applies around things such as warranty times and other matters. We haven't really worked much in a systematic manner like this before—a change that I attribute to the cloud solution. Today, we have super control over these crucial details."

NOT EVERYONE APPRECIATED THE MOVE TO THE CLOUD. “I have created a register of each supplier in a worksheet. Thus, all contacts with the subcontractors today go via ShareAspace and the cloud. It is clear that some of them did not like the change, but most people like it and I am not making any exceptions to this way of communicating. Otherwise, it would be very difficult for me and us to keep track of things,” says Weda’s PLM responsible, Daniel Anjou.
NOT EVERYONE APPRECIATED THE MOVE TO THE CLOUD. “I have created a register of each supplier in a worksheet. Thus, all contacts with the subcontractors today go via ShareAspace and the cloud. It is clear that some of them did not like the change, but most people like it and I am not making any exceptions to this way of communicating. Otherwise, it would be very difficult for me and us to keep track of things,” says Weda’s PLM responsible, Daniel Anjou.

Aiming at 3D CAD Designs and STEP

However, there are still some things that remain to be done, Anjou says. “For example, we have the drawings only in JPG format and thus no CAD, even if we look at solutions here. This is going on with a company that will help us 'CAD' all our machines, and we are also looking at working with them in the STEP format."

Today all drawings are in 2D. These are converted to JPG files, which Anjou mentioned about above, and are distributed to the respective subcontractor via ShareAspace.

In this initial ShareAspace Built-to-Print version, Weda now handles all robots, from the individual whole to the respective item's detailed level. In addition, Weda handles all information related to each article, such as drawings, suppliers, costs, and estimated delivery times ETAs).

“I have also created a register of each supplier in a worksheet, containing all contacts with the subcontractors today, via ShareAspace and the cloud. It’s clear that some of them didn’t like the change, but most people like it and I am not making any exceptions in this way of communicating. Otherwise, it would be very difficult for me and us to keep track of things."

To sum it all up, ShareAspace is an easy-to-use cloud service, which is easy to implement, affordable to use and a sensible entry-level product for an SME company on the side of design and manufacturing. I look forward to learning more about this and other reference cases to add to this initial review, but aside from that: ShareAspace in the Cloud, anyone?


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