How is the cloud playing a role in engineers’ design processes?
Tech-Clarity’s Jim Brown got together (virtually) with Siemens Digital Industries Software Senior Marketing Director Paul Brown to share perspectives and examples.
You can also see related video interviews including: Digital Transformation Progress with Bob Jones, Cloud Progress Report with Bill Boswell, and Siemens Digital Transformation Progress with Brenda Discher.
JIM: Hi, I’m Jim Brown, President of Tech-Clarity, where we make the business value of technology clear. Today, I’m joined by Paul Brown, a long-time industry leader and Senior Marketing Director at Siemens Digital Industries Software. We’re going to talk to Paul about design engineering and how the cloud is really playing a big role there. Let’s get some clarity.
JIM: Paul, thanks very much for joining me today.
PAUL: Yeah. Thanks, Jim.
JIM: So we’ve seen increased interest in the cloud in lots of different kinds of solutions, everything from probably email being run on the cloud for a long time, and ERP and others, but we’re starting to see a lot of increased interest in design tools on the cloud and understanding how the process of design and engineering can evolve to leverage capabilities of the cloud. So there are obviously a lot of generic benefits of lower barriers to entry for a solution, whether it be cost or hardware, some lower risk and operational benefits around scalability of users and things along those needs, but we’ve also noticed that there are some really unique benefits for some engineering solutions, and maybe those come from enhanced collaboration or reach, but they may also come from increased scalability, access to “infinite computing power on demand.” When you think about what’s happening in design and how the cloud may be changing things, what do you think are the most important things for companies to know?
PAUL: Yeah, it’s an interesting point, Jim. And I think we’re definitely seeing a lot more interest in cloud-based solutions, but I will say, maybe this is a little bit controversial as a viewpoint, but at the moment, we’re seeing a lot of interest, adoption is a bit more steady. I think that there’s a lot more kind of people kind of, first of all, looking at what this cloud is going to do for them, so what that’s really doing is it’s actually getting a number of companies into this area where they’ve got a level of desktop application and they’re starting to use cloud solutions combined together, so you end up with this kind of mixed environment. And really the important thing, and one thing I will say is, that’s not a choice that we make or… That is a company choice that is down for the companies as they go forward.
PAUL: We can’t, as vendors, force people to one or other approach just because it suits us. Okay, and we really have to look at letting customers decide and work at their own pace and their own way of getting forward in these types of technologies and use what’s best for them. And that’s always been one of the strategies here at Siemens, is that we’ve been looking at letting people work this way through and adjust, so the important thing is really is flexibility and being able to access the tools that they need to do their job as they need them and when they need them. I think when you start looking at why people, why the cloud is becoming more interesting, I think design really is, and product development is really a collaborative exercise. There are very few products that we see that are designed by a single person right the way through from start to finish, and so it relies on communicating with other people, sharing design work, and so one of the key elements that we’re seeing is people are looking at leveraging the cloud to communicate between groups, to be able to make better design decisions, to share information.
PAUL: An example for you here, about two years ago, we introduced a product called NX Virtual Reality. So NX Virtual Reality first came out, it was great. You’re inside your NX session, put on a headset, controllers, and you’re immersed inside the product, you’re one-to-one scale. We showed it to people. They loved it. I mean, people looked, “Yeah, well, it’s… Yeah, it’s great.” But after a while, they kind of, their response starts coming as like, “Well, yeah, it’s good, it gives me some benefits, but you know, yeah, it’s okay, but… ” There’s always a but that comes on. Last year, what we did is we added in the multi-user version of virtual reality, so using multi-user, people can be dispersed around the globe, use a cloud-based solution and join in that session each with their own hardware, each with their own headsets, see each other, be doing work together, being able to measure things, move things, try things out, walk around their design in full-scale, and that’s when people started coming back and saying, “Right, now I can do something different in my processes. I can bring people together.”
PAUL: And that’s because that we’re leveraging the power of the cloud to bring together collaboration. I think there are other areas that we’re seeing. We’re seeing an increasing use of tools like generative engineering, where designers are leveraging the power of simulation and bringing simulation closer into the design process, into the creation process. So leveraging technologies like optimization, and particularly when you start getting into multi-disciplinary optimization, when you are not just looking at structural and stresses, but you’re also combining structural and stresses with something like flow and computational fluid dynamics and you’re trying to do these really complex type analyses, you need compute power.
PAUL: Now, your options are you have local machines with loads of power or you leverage the cloud, you leverage the compute power in the cloud. As you mentioned, that gives you that kind of near infinite compute power to help you do that and bring that simulation in to help you in that area. So it’s giving you that more flexible infrastructure to be able to deliver the power when you need it to the people that need it. And I think those are the types of things that people are looking to actually say, “Okay, well, this is going to make a big difference in my product development process.”
JIM: Paul, I really resonate with what you’re saying of people looking for things that are not just, “I want to implement the latest technology or use the latest buzz word, but how am I going to change my workflow, how am I going to change my ability to do my job?” And it’s interesting, we actually had some survey results along a similar line where we decided to ask companies for the benefits of the cloud, for all of the reduced cost and reduced risk and scalability, etcetera, etcetera, how much functionality are they willing to trade off for that? So basically, whether they’re… Are they taking a cloud-first approach or a solution-first approach to their selections. And what we saw really overwhelmingly, the majority of companies said they were willing to trade off little or no functional capabilities in order to gain the benefits of the cloud. And so I think it really does come down to, not technology for technology’s sake, but technology that’s going to add value. With that said, as you talk to customers, what is it that they’re looking for? What is it that they want that the cloud can help offer them?
PAUL: Well, actually, firstly, Jim, I’m actually not surprised at the results of your research. I think at the end of the day, a lot of the benefits that people talk about the cloud, the things like the reduced risk and reduce support needs, they tend to be more IT-centric. And as an engineer, the big challenge is how do I get my job done and out the door? It’s not going to help me if when my boss comes to me and says, “That project is running a week late, you need to work at weekends,” and particularly that’s why people don’t want to lose functionality, because if I start losing functionality, then there is a good chance it’s going to take me longer to do my job. So really, that means that the challenge for us is, as vendors, is to identify what added value can the cloud bring. Being able to access more capabilities, being able to expand my environment, but more importantly, how can I make, get access to not just software, but data, and I think… As we’ve gone through the events of this year, and it’s been… I guess the best description is it’s been challenging. It’s been challenging for companies, it’s been challenging for employees, and companies have had to adapt to survive. And what we’re seeing is obviously remote working became the norm, and depending where you are in the world, I’m here in the UK, remote working is still very much the norm.
PAUL: And inside of NX, we’ve always supported remote working with NX to be able to give you the software. We have the ability to borrow a license, we have the ability to run virtualized environments and all those types of things. The important thing that we found as people started working, and working with these remote terms, is making sure that people could access their data. And that’s where tools like Teamcenter and the new products of the Teamcenter X and Teamcenter Share come in. Being able to make sure that my engineers can access the important information, access their data in a secure environment without actually risking data security. Get to the information they need, without compromising safety and security, and going through and making sure that you’ve got access to what you need when you need it.
PAUL: That’s one of the powers of the cloud that actually helps engineers is that information, as I say, leveraged by tools like Teamcenter, Teamcenter X. There was an aside. What we noticed an interesting phenomenon that started back in March. In March, it seemed like the whole world was entering a period of lockdown, and so people were beginning to do this remote working, we were getting lots of questions about getting set up on remote working. Well, we saw one interesting phenomenon, we actually, from our business records, our business intelligence systems that help as part of our continuous improvement processes, we actually saw that the number of NX sessions and usage of NX increased by 30%. So that just goes to show that people are… That technology is accessible remotely, people are being able to do that and being able to drive that information.
PAUL: We’re also seeing this looking forward, that as people are moving more and getting their digitalization strategies in place and moving to leverage the digital twin, the cloud is becoming a key part of that. We’re just rolling out a new solution. It combines the power of NX, but also with our Mendix tools, and it allows us to do reporting and analytics. If you think about the digital twin, the whole idea of having a comprehensive digital twin is it gets more and more richer as design develops, as manufacturing develops. So there’s a lot of information embedded, not inside of that data, inside of that 3D model. Well, being able to access that from outside of the CAD session, outside of the design session, from any type of device, being able to go on to a tablet device, being able to go on to a phone, drill in.
PAUL: Imagine being like a project manager, and you’ve got 20 engineers working on a project. Wouldn’t it be great if from you from your phone or from your tablet, you can quickly pull up that product, pull up the 3D model, visualize it, and interrogate it, do a check, to see, now, what types of materials are being selected by the design team. Are there any long lead time items in that project that I need to be aware of? That I need to go and talk to procurement for? Going and getting that information, and that’s kind of leveraging those types of tools, and the only way you can do that is by leveraging the power of cloud to actually collaborate between the applications and leverage the access that the cloud gives you.
JIM: Thanks, Paul, and it really seems like in a lot of ways, companies that are remote using these tools are actually able to work better together than maybe if they were in the same building trying to join together in a conference room. And I’m going to noodle on your NX Usage increase for a little while, that’s got my brain very curious, so I appreciate you sharing that… Sharing that fact. You mentioned earlier, the collaborative virtual reality sessions and things like that, and those to me are more game-changers than things like CAD on the cloud. We’ve had things like design tool virtualization for quite some time, and those are incredibly valuable, but not necessarily something that is fueling a digital transformation, I would say. How do you see within your products, within the things that you’re doing with your customers, how are you helping companies sort of move the bar and really use the cloud to do more? And how are you helping them really fundamentally change the way they work?
PAUL: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that the concept of virtualization has been around a long time. As I say, we’ve supported it, we have customers, both large and small, running in virtualized environments, and getting benefits from what virtualization brings, but it’s not, as you say, it’s not really new or game-changing. But what we do see is this need for solutions that support and allow you to work the best way for your business. So, really allowing you to work in the environment you like, adopt cloud technologies where it makes sense, not forced in one way or another. So that brings us to that once again, back to the idea of having the desktop applications and the cloud applications working hand-in-hand, being able to give people the choice of how they deploy solutions without worrying about whether or not… What we’re doing and am I going to go down one or other route, that is the wrong dead-end route?
PAUL: And a key element of this is our customers’ data. Our customers’ data is the important thing. At the end of the day, if something happens and their software gets deleted, their software had, you know… That’s no big deal, because at the end of the day, we can always recover that. Their investment, their IP is all in their data. So, it’s important for us and as we go forward, and as we evolve in this, is that we make sure that the data that you use, whether you’re using cloud solutions or desktop solutions, works, it is the same data. You don’t want to have situations where you have to do things to get data into one or other environment, and that’s… The important point there, is that we don’t want to get to a situation where you have translation.
PAUL: Data translation in any, between different architectures of a system breaks the chain. So digitalization processes then become fragmented, so it’s important that the architectures, the structures are the same that work together. And really, that’s kinda one of the key elements of what we’ve been looking at and as we go forward, and using that data, and then using that strategy in our products like Simcenter, using our products inside of Teamcenter, being able to combine these things together to be able to work the best way that suits you. We are, when… I mentioned earlier, we’re looking at how can we leverage the cloud to make your life better. We mentioned virtual reality, we mentioned the reporting analytics. We are also looking at specific industries and industry needs and developing combinations of our tools.
PAUL: In our broad Siemens Xcelerator portfolio, we have a wide range of solutions. Being able to combine those solutions are parts of those solutions. Package them up and then offer them on the cloud to complete specific tasks. So for example, something like… In the mold tool business, costing and getting that first quote is a critical for business. If I get my first quote out when I estimate a job, and I get it wildly wrong; too expensive, I’m going to lose the business; too cheap, I’m going to lose money. Well, we’ve got tools that help you do that. So think about leveraging, tying together design tools like our X-Tools with our Teamcenter costing type tools, with our analysis tools from Simcenter, to package that up into a solution and deliver that.
PAUL: And so we’re looking at those types of workflows and saying, “Okay, where can we help?” And we’ve got a lot of things coming out over the coming years which will go along those. We’re not going to talk… We’re not going to delve into that, but that gives you those ideas, but also an important thing, of course, is being able to leveraging and allow people to collaborate and manage their data. And our announcement, recent announcements of things like Teamcenter X and Teamcenter Share, Teamcenter X being… Giving the portfolio of Teamcenter solutions in a SaaS/cloud environment. And Teamcenter Share really being targeted at smaller projects, collaboration, small business collaboration, to be able to manage that data. So on all of those things are ways that we are looking to help our customers, but without forcing them down a path. I think this is an important thing, is we want to let them move at their own pace, in their own way, and give them the technologies that underpin their move to these types of technologies.
JIM: Great, thank you, Paul. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective. It’s really enlightening, and I look forward to hearing more about future products as the time is right, but thank you again and I hope you stay well.
PAUL: Yeah. Thanks, Jim. Great to talk to you.