Arena Solutions: More Than Just a Pretty Facelift

For over a decade, Arena Solutions has been redefining the product lifecycle management (PLM) space with a suite of cloud applications that enable engineering, manufacturing, and their extended supply chains to work better together -- from first prototype to full-scale production. In 2000, the two co-founders founded, a Web-based application for managing items, bills of material (BOMs), and engineering changes (this was the world’s first cloud-native PLM system).

In 2002, changed its name to Arena Solutions and expanded into a full engineering change order (ECO) management and collaboration tool that is used by thousands of people, including seven of the top ten contract manufacturers in the world. Arena has helped hundreds of innovative manufacturers bring better products to market faster with its cloud offerings that speed prototyping, reduce scrap, and help them collaborate on product changes with strategic partners across the globe. The vendor has over 500 corporate customers, 20,000 individual users, and millions of BOMs in the system.

Arena's customer "sweet spot" consists of small and midsized original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) around the globe (with roughly 20 to 1,000 employees). But if one takes the so-called "long tails," the vendor goes all the way down to shops with a few people (and startups), up to companies with tens of thousands of employees. Its main industries are high-tech, medical devices, clean technology, and industrial equipment, especially with outsourced and subcontracted manufacturing.

For a long time, Arena had its sole namesake flagship product, an application that centralizes product data, and enables customers to manage items, approved manufacturers lists (AMLs), BOMs, and the changes that affect all of the above. The solution isn’t modular, as customers buy seats, which give them access to all functional capabilities except for integrations.

What’s New at Arena?

The other day, Arena launched its new Web site, as well as new pricing and a new name for its flagship solution. BOMControl (formerly Arena) can be purchased for as little as US$49 a month for up to three people. The newly renamed BOMControl is available in three plans designed to meet the changing needs of organizations as they scale -- Basic, Plus, and Unlimited.

BOMControl Basic is a "starter package" that gives manufacturers the ability to start with a low initial investment. For larger manufacturers, the Plus and Unlimited plans include more seats and the ability to integrate into other enterprise systems. All plans and pricing can be viewed on Arena's redesigned websites.

The reason Arena decided to change the product’s name to BOMControl is that it is re-launching as a multi-product (and multiple product options) company. The BOMControl name reflects what the product does, and sets it apart from the other two Arena solutions -- PartsList and PDXViewer.

PartsList helps individual engineers move quickly and efficiently while designing and documenting a prototype. PartsList turns any list of parts into a purchasable BOM that users can share with their document control and purchasing staff, or with potential vendors. For its part, PDXViewer displays product data exchange (PDX) build packages in an easy-to-read, navigable format.

PDXViewer is free, and complements both of Arena’s other solutions. It is a web app for viewing PDX files exported from any PLM, product data management (PDM), or other business system. When used together, PartsList and PDXViewer help manufacturers capture and share designs for less than US$10 per month per user.

Octopart Partnership

In addition to broadening its scope by creating new products to cater to various levels of users, Arena is forming strategic partnerships in order to deliver more broad PLM functionality to its users. To that end, working with Octopart, the leading electrical component search engine, Arena has developed the Supplier Item Lookup feature for its flagship PLM solution -- BOMControl. Supplier Item Lookup (a.k.a., Autofill) is an add-on that attaches real-time availability, cost, and compliance information to BOMs in BOMControl, allowing customers to quickly identify supply shortages for essential components, avoid risky, non-compliant, or high-cost components, and discover opportunities for cost savings.

As far as I know, this functionality is not available through any other cloud PLM provider, and Arena is offering it at a low cost (and allowing customers/prospects to try it for free until May 31st. Octopart, a Google-esque search engine for electronic parts, makes it easy to compare the prices and availability of electronic components across a wide variety of distributors, all in one place. Engineers and scientists can use Octopart to search for parts by name and number, or navigate through taxonomy of structured items.

For every part on the site, Octopart provides a variety of distributors for every part, as well as prices and links to buy. The company was started in the fall of 2006 by two experimental physicists who had a vision for a more effective way of searching for electronic parts online. The site has been live since 2007, and reportedly gets over 700,000 unique visitors per month.

Cloud PLM Pioneer/Leader

This integration to Octopart is a perfect example of what makes cloud PLM different, and in turn, what makes Arena’s cloud PLM different. The vendor has been in the cloud for 12 years, and is primed to deliver on the collaborative, connective potential of cloud solutions by building with other innovative cloud partners. As the industry itself becomes more collaborative, so must software providers, and, Arena is hard at work with a variety of partners to create a truly innovative cloud PLM solution for its customers.

Running PLM solutions in the cloud isn’t easy, as it requires a lot of knowledge and experience, which other vendors don’t have yet, and will need a while to accumulate. Also, I believe that Arena can use the low cost to differentiate itself from the so-called Big 3 (or Big 5) PLM vendors. As for the recently announced Autodesk PLM 360, cost isn’t necessarily a differentiator for Arena, but I believe functionality might still be, in light of the Autodesk offering’s nascence. 

Dear readers, what are your views and opinions about Arena’s recent moves and offerings? I'd like to hear about your global product development and sourcing challenges and experiences, as well as your PLM software deployments and use.
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