What Can Aras’ Selection as PLM Enhancement at MAN Diesel & Turbo Tell Us?

While multi-CAD (computer aided design) situations have been a matter of course at large manufacturing organizations, it appears that multi-PLM (product lifecycle management) software deployments will follow suit. To that end, Aras, an upbeat open source PLM software solution provider for large enterprises, recently announced that MAN Diesel & Turbo (MAN), a provider of large bore diesel engines and turbo machinery for marine and stationary applications, headquartered in Augsburg, Germany, has selected Aras Innovator as a supplementary platform for engineering process automation.

MAN is the world market leader for large diesel engines for use in ships and power stations, and is one of the three leading suppliers of turbo machines. The company employs more than 15,000 staff at more than 100 international sites. From gensets (engine generators) to two-stroke engines for giant container ships, from power units to turnkey diesel power plants, from single compressors and turbines to complete machine trains, MAN has a suitable product solution.

Working with Aras Gold Certified Partner, Minerva (one of Europe’s larger Aras implementation partners offering a range of PLM services, productivity tools, integrations, and industry solutions), MAN will implement Aras as part of its existing PLM landscape, for driving project management, change management, and more. Flexibility, ease of customization, and ease of expansion were reportedly key factors in MAN’s selection.

Why Supplemental PLM?

The catchword here is “supplemental,” but the news announcement doesn’t name the incumbent PLM solution. However, a few Google search results reveal Siemens Teamcenter as MAN Diesel’s legacy PLM solution and Siemens NX as the CAD solution. Aras will likely be a PLM supplement to Teamcenter Engineering, which is a discontinued PDM solution by Siemens PLM Software. The legacy solution is seemingly working fine for Siemens’ NX CAD data management but not for efficient enterprise-wide PLM processes such as creating and managing bills of materials (BOMs), engineering change management (ECM), task management (task allocation and control), enterprise-wide change management, and new product development and introduction (NPDI).

In fact, many PLM products offered by traditional large CAD providers were originally designed to manage CAD data, as the so-called product data management (PDM) systems, but have since been pitched and sold as global platforms for a wide range of business processes. The problem is that at the time when they were originally designed and architected as CAD management systems, they were not really intended for these types of processes, which they are being applied for today. If this weren’t the case, there would be no market opportunity for companies such as Aras, Omnify Software, and Autodesk nowadays. Unified enterprise-wide searching and reporting facilities, analytics capabilities, system integration of the heterogeneous PLM/CAD landscape, master data management (MDM), and stronger business units role in system development (rather than IT department-driven) are other capabilities that are lacking in these older PLM platforms.

After years of Teamcenter operation, MAN has likely concluded that Teamcenter Engineering offers a reliable platform for managing its PDM data and running some of its core engineering processes (the product has solid collaboration for engineering group intra-departments, as its name suggests). By covering only a part of the company’s PLM landscape, TeamCenter Engineering shows weaknesses in low performance and poor flexibility, and it does not support agile development of the aforementioned business processes outside of the engineering department. This leads to massive use of local applications with redundant data and a complicated data model. Stiff and inflexible systems then translate into complex customizations that require the services on pricey external consultants. Last but not least, this compound all-in-one system requires heavy testing for each new customization (and then the cycle gets repeated every time a new system modification is required).

Why Aras Innovator?

Aras’ win means that Siemens PLM Software didn't succeed in selling the newer Teamcenter Unified product to the customer. Teamcenter Unified has been designed to resolve the problem of the vendor having two offerings—TC Engineering and TC Enterprise—in parallel. These two legacy offerings stem from Siemens’ previous PLM acquisitions, iMAN and Metaphase, respectively. Teamcenter Unified, which was envisioned as the next-generation PLM solution, is fundamentally based on the Teamcenter Engineering/iMan architecture and data model. That is why only a few Teamcenter Enterprise/Metaphase customers have fully moved to Teamcenter Unified—it is effectively a full reimplementation and the Teamcenter Unified data model is missing a lot relative to Teamcenter Enterprise (Teamcenter Engineering was mainly for CAD management, whereas Teamcenter Enterprise is more for enterprise data management). As a result, Siemens has been offering a “co-exist” strategy for anyone with Teamcenter Enterprise (which is most of the large-scale deployments around the world).

Basic requirements for a modern PLM platform are as follows:

  • Flexibility in data modeling (i.e., being data and document centric)

  •  Advanced revision rules

  • Advanced and flexible in defining users and roles, i.e., access control list (ACL)

  • Ability to be configured and customized

  • Seamless multi-CAD integration and integration with other enterprise systems

MAN’s rationale for selecting Aras Innovator was based on the relative ease of customizing Aras, which owes to the product’s modern architecture. Moreover, customizations are protected through upgrades, so users know they can always take advantage of the newest product features and functionality.

General PLM-CAD Landscape

Are similar user conundrums and “supplemental PLM” scenarios likely to occur with PTC and Dassault Systèmes’ customers? Perhaps. PTC Windchill PLM is much less vulnerable than Teamcenter Engineering, given that Windchill had been developed independently of PTC’s flagship CAD offering Pro/Engineer, which is now called PTC Creo. Windchill’s foundation module, PDMLink, features great CAD management capabilities and integration with multiple CAD systems. But PTC Windchill, which is somewhat equivalent of Teamcenter Enterprise, is primarily a tool kit rather than a set of packaged out-of-the-box solutions.

PTC has built a series of out-of-the-box solution offerings with predefined data models, and these solutions are called the “Link” series—PDMLink, ProjectLink, MPMLink, etc. A problem there is that in the rush to get all these solutions out, some of these products were built independently and not necessarily on top of PDMLink. This situation often means a user literally has to log out of one Windchill module and login to another to work on the same part in, say, PDMLink and ProjectLink. In addition, the PLM data models are not particularly strong in some of Windchill modules (although, to be fair, PDMLink is the most complete and functional).

Dassault Systèmes’ ENOVIA PLM brand, MatrixOne, which was acquired in 2006, was an enterprise-class PLM (and flexible) system by origin. Since being acquired, its CAD management part has been much improved. After acquiring MatrixOne, Dassault Systèmes has rebranded all of its PLM assets (acquisitions) as ENOVIA, including MatrixOne, Virtual Product Management (VPM) Central, and Smarteam. Dassault Systèmes would have likely been fine if the company had just stuck with MatrixOne to compete head to head with Teamcenter and Windchill, but instead it decided to combine CATIA CAD and ENOVIA into a single next-generation system called the V6 platform.

V6 actually includes CATIA, SIMULIA, DELMIA, and the VPM and MatrixOne parts of ENOVIA. CATIA got the most significant rewrite in V6 to get rid of traditional CAD files, and represents the geometry as database records (objects) instead. In other words, there are no longer CAD files being created, which means that if you’re going to use CATIA V6 for CAD, you need at least one seat of ENOVIA V6 for PLM. This “lock in” also means that there is no clear and/or easy migration path to V6 for VPM, MatrixOne, and Smarteam customers, let alone the third-party PLM products. To be fair, the V6 approach is a great idea and has some advantages in theory—it is just that the market has being living on the CAD file-based mode for too long to be able easily shift to the database-based mode. Now that we are moving to the cloud PLM era, a change in mindset may set in.

Aras—Not a Universal Solution

While Aras’ win at MAN is a cautionary tale for the largest PLM-CAD providers, the conclusion of this article should not be that Aras is necessarily a PLM panacea. Although Aras is a Microsoft technology shop, many large organizations still favor Oracle database. Cloud PLM can make this issue moot, but today Aras is still mostly deployed on premises.

Aras does not offer standard CAD integration capability on its own—its numerous partners offer those connectors (which are not free, as opposed to Aras’ core PLM functionality, which comes as open source). Aras Innovator has lots of PLM functionality, but not necessarily as deep and industry-specific in comparison to the larger market incumbents. The solution seems to be a good fit for multi-CAD and multi–enterprise resource planning (ERP) environments where manufacturing might be outsourced. Aras is beginning to have some industry solutions, but it again relies on partners such as Monerva, whose commercial solutions are again no longer free.

Finally, while most of Aras’ clients are in the large enterprise space (where Innovator replaces or coexists with Teamcenter, ENOVIA, or Windchill), many of those deployments are at divisions of large companies. Somewhat analogous to its open source fellow Red Hat in middleware, Aras does not yet have the mindshare and following of corporate chief information officers (CIOs), and its path is typically via a back or side door at some autonomous department that needs a quicker fix. Even at MAN, where there was seemingly the corporate CIO blessing, Siemens Teamcenter was not completely replaced.

For the above reason, Aras is not yet the biggest threat to the largest PLM providers. In the minds of many decision makers, the PLM world is still about the aforementioned “Big Three” plus the “Other Big Two” (SAP and Oracle’s Agile PLM), and all the rest. But all of these players should be on alert down the track owing to the increasingly better value prop by the likes of Aras and Autodesk PLM 360.

IT vs. LoB, and Coexistence

It appears that the Lines of business (LoB) folks at MAN and the IT folks there have differing ideas about what PLM can or should do for them. In the case of MAN, the Teamcenter PLM (and also NX CAD) engagement with the business is handled only through the IT department, and it always was, and still is, very difficult to assure that the business needs are met by the capabilities of an IT department alone, as the deep insight into PLM functionality is naturally missing among the IT departments of most companies. Siemens PLM Software has been making attempts to help join the LoB and IT voices within MAN, so far admittedly with limited success.
A result, Siemens PLM does not really have the chance to engage with the business, and therefore the more IT-minded business people look for IT efficiency alternatives to solve their PLM problems (not necessarily functional depth). The Aras part of the PLM landscape will be limited, but Aras is, no doubt, in play in some areas within MAN. Aside from MAN’s organizational alignment, what we have here is an implementation partner using Aras as a toolkit to create the partner’s own value-add. Deploying Teamcenter Unified across the enterprise might still provide the most robust PLM solution, but it may not be in the best interest of implementation partners or IT developers.

In general, the IT departments are typically in love with Siemens, SAP, Oracle, etc., while some LoB folks might be more inclined to occasionally tinker with Aras (or some other cooler product in the realm of ERP). The premise is that coexistence will be not that uncommon and that Aras and Autodesk will be trying to chip away departmental deals from the big PLM guys.

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