Event Report: COE 2008 Annual PLM Conference & TechniFair

5 May, 2008

Dassault Systemes pushes PLM toward Web 2.0

On April 27, when CATIA, DELMIA, SIMULIA, and ENOVIA enthusiasts gathered at the annual CATIA Operator Exchange (COE) conference in Orlando, Florida, and saw Dassault Systemes (DS) President and CEO Bernard Charles appear before them, they thought they were seeing double. And as a matter of fact, they were.

Charles was in Brazil, but that didn't stop him from delivering the opening address via a video clip. He had a sidekick, a digital avatar cheekily dubbed BC 2.0 (Bernard Charles 2.0). In the prerecorded clip, the real Charles and his digital counterpart proceeded to have a conversation.

The introduction set the tone for the DS vision of PLM (product lifecycle management) 2.0, which embraces Web 2.0's community-driven paradigm. Version 6, the next major DS release, incorporates much of the social networking and ad-hoc collaboration features that have become second nature to users of Facebook and MySpace. DS executives described the approach as "harnessing the collective intelligence."

The simulated dialogue between Charles and BC 2.0 lasted roughly 15 minutes, but the conversation at COE had just begun. Is V6 going to be the harbinger of a new era or a culture shock? That depends on how comfortable you are with the notion of Web 2.0.

Dassault President and CEO Bernard Charles appeared before the COE audience with his sidekick, BC 2.0 (Bernard Charles 2.0), to make the case for PLM 2.0.

Connected to the Collective
The gateway to V6 is ENOVIA 3DLive, the turntable-style PLM repository navigation tool that is a dramatic departure from the Excel-style, column-delimited project views you may be accustomed to. The demonstration at COE highlighted V6's Heads Up Display, a setup that allows collaborators to chat, share dynamic 3D images (concurrently synchronized for participants), navigate the same model simultaneously on each end, and exchange annotations.

Click for larger image Dassault's next major release, V6, uses ENOVIA 3DLive's 3D turntable interface to let users explore PLM repositories. (Click image for larger version)

Click for larger image V6's collaboration features, enabled via a Heads Up Display, let users share annotated 3D models, such as this SolidWorks assembly managed in ENOVIA SmarTeam. (Click image for larger version)

V6's collaboration features, enabled via a Heads Up Display, let users share annotated 3D models, such as this SolidWorks assembly managed in ENOVIA SmarTeam.

In V6, users collaborate with colleagues in an instant messenger window. Color-coded icons show them who's online and who isn't. Drilling down to the part level, they can discover who owns the part in question and what stage it's at in the project phase.

"[PLM 2.0] allows online communities to easily connect to each other and share ideas," Charles said. "It's a new PLM environment that allows user communities to take advantage of online 3D applications, allowing them to imagine, share, and even experience products before they are really built. ... It merges the real and virtual world in a lifelike experience."

Characterized by open invitations and random friendships, Web 2.0 requires a more liberal treatment of intellectual property (IP). Jacques Leveille-Nizerolle, DS CEO of CATIA, acknowledges that some people might feel uneasy about exposing their product concepts and prototypes to online communities. However, he said, "Companies like NOKIA and BMW -- they believe in sharing ideas early with their customers. [In some companies,] management might be reluctant, but when they see the benefits and values of it, they'll follow."

Added David Prawel, president of the consulting firm Longview Advisors, "The power of community will require a number of changes in the old established user paradigms, but the payoff will indeed be worth it. A perfect storm is brewing, enabled by new technology like 3DLive, and sophisticated software that protects IP in a globally distributed collaborative environment. Young people, already wired for community-based interaction in Web 2.0 apps, will soon begin entering the workforce, where they will find novel, new collaborative environments like 3DLive, integrated into mission-critical applications and processes, and global manufacturing will be changed forever."

To take full advantage of V6's concurrent collaborative workflow, a customer might need to standardize on the V6 platform or convert existing CAD data to a compatible format. For a customer operating in a multi-CAD environment, such as an automotive manufacturer who uses CATIA for vehicle shapes and Pro/ENGINEER for powertrains, CATIA V6 can be used to design in context and propose changes in the powertrain assembly, but the editing must still be done in Pro/ENGINEER. A similar workflow may be required for those working in older versions of CATIA. This, DS points out, is consistent with how firms juggling multiple CAD programs prefer to work.

V6 is also distinguished by ENOVIA's capabilities for business process integration, as well as easy access to analysis features and industry-specific modules. The general availability is set for May 2008.

Another One Leaves the Historical Confine
With the preview of CATIA Live Shape at COE, DS joins the campaign to offer both freeform and history-based modeling tools. With Live Shape, you have the option to push and pull geometry to edit features that have been parametrically built.

According to DS press reports, "Live Shape doesn't mix the two approaches [freeform and parametric modeling]. A customer may use both tools to mix the approaches, but the software itself doesn't mix them. Live Shape will be a separate freeform module within the CATIA portfolio. As with all applications with the CATIA portfolio, Live Shape will be integrated within the standard CATIA V6 user interface/environment."

Responding to some competitors' products that claim to provide a hybrid freeform-parametric modeling environment, Leveille-Nizerolle pointed out that such usage has significant limitations. In some cases, the original design intent embedded in the feature history will limit what you can do with freeform modeling (for instance, tilting two faces that were originally constrained to be parallel to each other might not be feasible). "You can't have your cake and eat it too," he said.

As a separate freeform-modeling option for CATIA users, CATIA Live Shape will be a valuable time-saver in some circumstances. "When someone is performing stress analysis on the volume of a part," said Leveille-Nizerolle. "Say he wants to get rid of all the holes that are less than 1 millimeter and all the fillets that are less than 2 millimeters [with parametric modeling], it's too complicated. He'll have to dig into the feature tree to see how these holes and fillets are created." In this case, freeform modeling allows the user to simply select the unwanted features and delete them.

CATIA Live Shape's debut was preceded by Siemens PLM Software's announcement of Synchronous Technology in UGS NX, as well as PTC's introduction of a similar editing mode in Pro/ENGINER a few months earlier. The curious timing of the three parametric CAD vendors' embrace of freeform modeling suggests they have all been working on their respective solutions for some time, but some were forced to go public earlier than planned to stop the competitors from stealing the spotlight.

Charles' avatar BC 2.0 was brought to life in TVNIMA, a DS tool that is available at The virtual TV studio where the real Charles and his digital altar ego conducted their prerecorded interview, which was created with 3DVIA tools, offers a glimpse of what Charles had in mind for future e-commerce storefronts. "Your online shopping experiences are going to be transformed," the real Charles told his altar ego BC 2.0. "Rather than clicking through boring Web pages to select a product to buy, you'll be able to walk through 3D products in [3D] space, and then pay for them at a virtual cash register."

The 3DVIA brand currently encompasses various products, including 3DVIA Shape, for creating and publishing models on 3DVIA's site; 3DVIA MP, for authoring PC and console games (PS3, Xbox 360, and others); 3DVIA Printscreen, for creating and saving 3D scenes; and 3DVIA Composer, a product that resulted from DS's acquisition of Seemage.

"3DVIA products can be for casual users," noted Chris Williams, former CEO of Seemage and current general manager of 3DVIA Composer. "They can use these tools one or two days in a week, but not worry about losing their proficiency in the tools."

The brand may be for casual users, but the products are meant to generate revenue. Williams foresees 3DVIA Composer as a viable tool for publishing 3D maintenance and repair manuals and product configurators for online retailers. The 3DVIA portfolio may target those who are ancillary 3D data consumers, such as marketing and sales, game developers, and even the general public.