Aras PLM Expanded Footprint

Aras is Flexing its PLM Muscles, Offering Broad PLM Vision

Aras ACE 2014 conference in Chicago earlier this week made one thing very clear: Aras is on the move to broaden the breadth of capabilities of the Aras Innovator PLM software and deepen its industry-specific functionality. The areas I find most important and, not surprisingly, are also the topics of my own research are: visualization and visual decision making, service and technical publications, and application lifecycle management (ALM).

Whether you consider these the new frontiers of PLM, see them as fundamental tenets of PL, critical in order for PLM to achieve PLM vision that for many users remain elusive, or all of the above, Aras wants to deliver them under Innovator’s PLM umbrella.

Visualization

Aras is partnering with Kisters to bring 3D visualization to Innovator users. 3D Viewstation is a very capable 3D viewer that appears to offer functionality and performance that could rival those of SAP’s Right Hemisphere. While the demonstration of 3D Viewstation and the integration with Innovator lack some of the depth and much of the pizzazz that Right Hemisphere demos have, 3D Viewstation’s ability to handle very large  multi-CAD models simultaneously is a good foundation for complex multidisciplinary information display, collaboration and decision-making.

Tech Pubs

The need to provide users with good up to date technical information isn’t new, but has been gaining recognition, perhaps starting with the acquisition of Arbortext by PTC in 2005. The progress in this space, however, has been slow.  Despite expectations, Arbortext isn’t fully integrated into Windchill and the PLM process and remains, by and large, a separate offering. Siemens PLM has technical authoring functionality, but, again, they seem to be ranked much lower than other Teamcenter capabilities.

SLM conversations, driven by PTC, are shining the limelight on tech pubs: the need for better technical information, cost savings afforded through reuse of CAD models, and managing the document lifecycle by PLM software.

Aras is adding tech pubs functionality to Innovator, co-developed with Orio AB (formerly Saab Parts), a global distributor of automotive parts and related logistics and consulting services.

Aras is in relatively early phases of formulating the product. Unlike PTC that had acquired a dominant software product Aras is most likely to develop these capabilities in-house and with the help of its very active user community. The advantage is obvious: a cohesive feature set that is well integrated into Innovator.

I expect that the Aras’ tech pubs offering is going to be able to manage reusable document fragments in a manner similar to managing BOM components: hierarchical dependencies that can be configured as needed to:

  • Reflect the output type (e.g. assembly work instructions vs. field repair)
  • Reflect the exact product configuration, improving the accuracy and readability of technical content
  • Be responsive to design changes, ECOs, and so forth

Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)

ALM is a general term referring to attempts to implement a PLM-like discipline to the development of embedded control software. Here, the challenge to develop a product is more significant.  Manufacturing companies use myriad of disconnected methods, tools and standards to develop software. These tools range from a development environment such as Altera and Big Lever, to requirements management (DOORS, Jama) to version control (ClearCase, Subversion). On top of those are several engineering and simulation tools.

This inconsistency and complexity is the prime reason why no PLM vendor has a comprehensive workable response to the challenge. In 201, PTC acquired MKS, an ALM platform company, but the current state of the product as an integrated PLM component is quite vague.

Aras is assessing the ALM landscape. Even gathering preliminary requirements is going to be a complex and time consuming endeavor. Unlike 3D visualization that can be readily achieved using 3D Viewstation and tech pubs functionality that, after all, is not a significant technical challenge, an ALM “product” my not be achievable and Aras may just opt to align itself with an industry consortium such as OSLC. But if Aras manages to define an approach to ALM that is adopted and continually refined by its growing community of manufacturing companies, it could succeed in advancing, if not just right revolutionizing, the ALM space.

To recap my evaluation of the maturity of these initiatives:

  • Visualization – essentially in place. Next, Aras should build upon the foundation of 3D viewing to bring decision makers rich context of multidisciplinary data synthesized from multiple PLM and non-PLM sources.
  • Tech pubs – Gathering requirements and defining the roadmap.
  • ALM – studying the problem.

Whether it’s a demonstrable advanced 3D visualization, requirements definition and road-mapping for tech pubs, or merely fact-finding in ALM, Aras is demonstrating strong commitment to growing its footprint and influence in the manufacturing industry. In addition to those initiatives, Aras has announced the formation of a Community for Automotive Innovation (CAI) that will engage in advancing the role of PLM methods and tools in the automotive industry.

Admittedly, none of these topics is new and Aras may appear to be late to the party. But do not underestimate the power of a community defined and supported software. Backed up by industry partnerships, additional resources, and actively engaging its user community Aras might be able to get these new product offerings right the first time and see them adopted quickly by users.