For years, proponents of PLM said it would one day become pervasive throughout enterprises, enabling companies to better share product information across internal departments and along the supply chains.
The challenge then for software developers was to enable users to collaborate using three-dimensional design documents and their associated information from the start of product design and to carry them through the product life cycle—across different platforms. The theory was that with the ability to share information early and across firewalls, manufacturers would be able to decrease product development and time-to-market cycles, a key indicator for squeezing savings out of increasingly slim margins.
While much of this has occurred, two issues have handicapped product lifecycle managements widespread acceptance: the lack of a platform from which information can be shared globally and dueling 3-D standards that have split support between the two largest PLM developers, Dassault Systemes S.A. and UGS Corp.
Last week, Microsoft Corp. announced a co-development deal with Dassault that will let users collaborate on engineering documentation much more easily. In the broader sense, it will unite the design world with the business world, said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.
“The way products are designed and the way products are manufactured [are] moving to a fully digital approach,” said Gates, during a press conference at Dassaults Paris headquarters. “Its a trend that will sweep across all product design. Were very excited by that.”
The reality, said Gates, is that a lot of software has to be written to enable that seamless collaboration at the platform level, where Microsoft comes in, and at the applications level, where Dassault will play a role.
The agreement between Microsoft and Dassault calls for the latter companys five PLM suites—Catia; Enovia; SmartTeam; Delmia; and SolidWorks, a suite of components that extend Dassaults capabilities—to be optimized for Microsofts complete stack, including Office, the .Net Framework, SQL Server, “Yukon,” 64-bit computing, SharePoint Portal Server and BizTalk Server. Future co-development work includes leveraging “Longhorn,” Microsofts upcoming version of Windows, expected in 2007, and Web services development.
The companies also pledged to work together to hammer out an XML standard for trading 3-D documents—and therein lies the rub.
Dassault backs 3D XML, its proprietary standard, but its rival, UGS, backs a more pervasive standard, JT Open, which uses an XML wrapper for document transfer. JT Open was developed by a company, Engineering Animation Inc., that UGS acquired.
UGS, of Plano, Texas, last week announced its JT2Go offering, a free 3-D viewing product that enables companies to share detailed 3-D product and manufacturing data globally using the JT format. The offering, to be available next quarter, includes JT plug-ins for Microsoft Office that enable a JT file to be embedded and viewed in any Microsoft document. The result is that product development teams and supply chain members can review drawings, view and interrogate 3-D product information, and collaborate on bill-of-material information.
“Its all about the dueling standards for 3-D collaboration,” said Kevin OMarah, an analyst with AMR Research Inc., in Boston. “Its tough to get to a standard because both UGS and Dassault want to maintain control around the kernel of their CAD systems. In principle, [both] want to have users drag their 3-D file into e-mail or into Microsoft Word, and thats a huge potential enabler for collaboration.”
While Dassault and Microsoft have had a technology partnership for the past 10 years, whereby Dassault has optimized some of its software for .Net and SQL Server, the idea here is to co-develop products that enable integration at the back-end level for collaboration in the simplest form: e-mail.
Microsoft stressed during the conference call two weeks ago that its relationship with Dassault is not exclusive and that it will look to similarly deepen its other PLM relationships.
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