Siemens’ Active Workspace Handles PLM Data Complexity

Today, many companies have massive amounts of information generated from their product lifecycle processes currently lying dormant, often spread across many sites, departments, and divisions, and located in several different unconnected databases. This information overload, resulting from the increasing speed, variety, and volume of data coming from multiple sources, could and should be used to enhance decision making. However, finding, understanding, and acting on all of this scattered information can be difficult, time consuming, and ultimately expensive.

Product complexity is also increasing (many modern products, such as cars, planes, and smartphones have complex mixtures of mechanical, electrical, and software designs and components), and the product lifecycle management (PLM) systems that support the design, development, and manufacturing of products have had to expand to keep up with the changes and handle more data, functions, and users.

Visualizing information is crucial to understanding this increasing complexity in PLM systems that have to handle ever more complex products, whether the information is simply textual or consists of a network of related items or intricate 3D product design. To that end, Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division and a global provider of PLM software and services (with 7 million licensed seats and more than 71,000 customers worldwide), recently announced a new client for the Teamcenter PLM software portfolio Active Workspace. Active Workspace is an intuitive, visual, and personalized client environment for quickly accessing relevant PLM information across the product lifecycle.

All about HD-PLM
With the release of Active Workspace, Siemens takes another important step towards realizing Siemens PLM Software’s High Definition PLM (HD-PLM) vision to help decision makers make better informed decisions more efficiently and with a higher level of confidence. HD-PLM facilitates this process via an immersive and front-loaded decision-making environment, as early as possible in the product’s lifecycle.

Siemens sees great user experience (UX) to be about catering to the following aspects:

•    Discoverability—Can I find the functions I need, and understand them?
•    Consistency—Do similar functions work in similar ways?
•    Capability—Is the system able to do the things I need?
•    Efficiency—Can I get my job done quickly?

Active Workspace provides a personalized UX for individual roles and tasks (e.g., different screens and data for designers vs. buyers), whereby information is actively delivered (pushed) to the user according to his/her role for decision making. The solution has an uncluttered user interface (UI) that simplifies information discovery and understanding. Active Workspace 2.0 is available for all Teamcenter PLM suite users via a simple login (see Figure 1). According to the Siemens PR about the release, Active Workspace 2.0 “…makes it easy for anybody to participate in and contribute to…” , which should mean that both the consumer/casual user and author Teamcenter licensees (e.g., Change Management Author, Classification Author, Program Execution Management Author, etc.) are entitled to Active Workspace access. If, instead, users were bumping into restriction after restriction, the Active Workspace experience could quickly become frustrating and less effective—thus the simple login procedure and availability to all users was a smart move for Siemens.


Figure 1 – Active Workspace Login Screen

Figure 2 (below) shows the Active Workspace gateway screen that includes a touch-friendly UX that can be tailored to each user’s needs. Siemens is using the clean and familiar style of a Windows 8 UI (formerly “Metro” UI), though the vendor has adopted it only where it makes sense. Active Workspace is built with HTML5, which is accessible from any modern browser without any client or plug-in installation, a departure from the formerly used Silverlight.


Figure 2 – Active Workspace Gateway

Active Workspace Highlights
Instead of doing a gut-wrenching rewrite of the underlying complex Teamcenter architecture and risking losing users with an entirely new architecture that requires time-consuming migrations, Siemens PLM has logically added a general search and data discovery layer. Active Workspace’s simple and intuitive interface makes it easy for all users to participate in and contribute to the product lifecycle processes, without having to be a PLM expert. In fact the solution is oriented more towards casual PLM users throughout the extended enterprise (e.g., executives, managers, buyers, etc.) than hands-down power users (e.g., designers).

Active Workspace was designed to make finding relevant information fast and easy, as information gets delivered in the context of users’ jobs. The solution’s architecture takes into account the user context (i.e., Who is the user and what is the user’s role? What is the user’s state or configuration context?), the data context (i.e., What data are they working with? What is the data’s status? What is selected?), and the Teamcenter context (i.e., What capabilities are configured for the user & data? Which commands and content are available in a given location?)

Active Workspace uses Siemens PLM’s Teamcenter data model and customer’s existing style sheets to adapt to industry and customer preferences. Figure 3 shows Active Workspace’s Web-based filtering and intelligent charts, making it easy for users to find what they need without having to know/understand the underlying PLM data model.


Figure 3 – Search with Intelligent Charts and Filters

In addition to an HP Autonomy plus Solr-based search engine, Active Workspace has a 3D-shape geometry Geolus search engine that can find relevant info even where naming conventions are not followed, i.e., it will find parts similar to a generically defined geometry (e.g., cylindrical).


Figure 4 – Integrated Shape Search

Active Workspace also  allows users to visually browse and navigate relationships between relevant information (Figures 5 and 6). In other words, the system visually shows how things are impacted up and downstream, and thus users can easily see the big picture.


Figure 5 - Organic Relationship


Figure 6 - Left-To-Right Relationship

Supply Chain Collaboration
Smart collaboration is an integral part of Active Workspace, assisting users in finding relevant team members who need to be involved in a certain task or decision. Figure 7 illustrates how Active Workspace enables users to visualize complex 3D models anytime, anywhere, and on any device without any client or plug-in installation. This capability simplifies deployment and provides faster return on investment (ROI).


Figure 7 – Active Workspace Viewer

Siemens’ JT file format is integral to Active Workspace’s ability to evaluate full product content across the supply chain. Active Workspace does not require JT2Go or any other JT Viewer to be installed to be able to view and investigate 3D models. And because Active Workspace is a full browser-based HTML5 client, it  can be easily embedded in other computer aided design (CAD) applications, or other Siemens applications (e.g., NX or Tecnomatix) whereby its theme (look and feel) remains consistent. A consistent Teamcenter experience can be obtained in Microsoft Office and other authoring tools as well.

A useful aspect of Active Workspace for companies in the supply chain business is that the data never leaves the server—Active Workspace transfers the product info but not the underlying data. Also, 3D visualizations are computed on the server and streamed to the client, enabling mobile use and support on multiple platforms.

A Recap
Active Workspace is scalable and can handle many types and sizes of PLM environments, from hundreds to millions of items of information, and from a massive collection of documents to complex 3D geometry. The solution was devised to turn this complexity into a competitive advantage. Active Workspace simplifies PLM with powerful search and filtering capabilities that provide immediate results, fast, high-performance visualization of 3D data and a context-aware UI, proactively assisting users in making good decisions by presenting relevant product information to enable the big picture view.

Active Workspace features similar themes and capabilities to Dassault Systemes3DLive and Exalead offerings and the former Inforbix, recently acquired by Autodesk. While Siemens’ nascent solution has only a few early adopters (beta customers), this is certainly the way complex PLM environments should and will be used in the future for the reason of simplification and user productivity.
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