How is the availability of cloud applications for engineering changing the way people work? Tech-Clarity’s Jim Brown got together (virtually) with Siemens Digital Industries Software Senior Marketing Director Paul Brown to share perspectives.
You can also see related video interviews including: Designing on the Cloud Discussion with Paul Brown, Digital Transformation Progress with Bob Jones, Cloud Progress Report with Bill Boswell and Siemens Digital Transformation Progress with Brenda Discher.
Jim Brown: Hi, I’m Jim Brown, President of Tech-Clarity, where we make the business value of technology clear. Today, I’m joined again by Paul Brown, Senior Marketing Director at Siemens Digital Industries Software. We had a great chance, earlier, to talk about the increased adoption of the cloud in product innovation and engineering. We talked about the changes in the areas of design and supporting digital transformation, and how people are changing the way they work. But how does that apply to the broader topic of engineering in the cloud? Let’s get some clarity.
Paul Brown: Hi, Jim. Good to talk to you again.
JIM: Always a pleasure. Paul, last time, we talked about the fact that cloud has values in lots of different areas, in terms of implementation benefits, adoption benefits, operational benefits, and business benefits. There are so many ways that the cloud is changing the world, but we also have seen special areas that it provides even more unique value, in areas of engineering. And some of that has to do with infinite computing versus companies having to maintain banks and banks of servers, and having to continually maintain and replace expensive hardware, for things like generative design that benefit from a tremendous amount of horsepower to drive simulation and iteration, also things like collaboration. In your experience, what types of engineering and engineering applications are best suited for the cloud?
PAUL: Well, it’s a good question, Jim, because, as you rightly say, there’s a kind of very traditional way of looking at the engineering processes of simulation, and bringing in multi-physics, multiple types of simulation into the process. And for a lot of companies, they’re not doing this all the time, they have cyclic needs, depending on where they are in a project, it brings the need for increased power, increased compute power, but also increased flexibility of being able to use that. So, whether it’s on, as you mentioned, the traditional way of looking at engineering as simulation, and the computer-aided engineering approaches of structural, thermal, computational fluid dynamics, but we’re also seeing it with companies looking at other types of advanced simulations.
Whether it’s factory layout, for example. “Can I do a process flow inside of a brand-new build factory to actually analyze the flow of material and optimize that flow of materials?” So going outside of the traditional engineering and into more production engineering type of areas, bringing those types of analysis together. But when you think about it, those are not analysis you’re going to be doing every day, they’re analysis you’ll do a number of times in the project. But the project could span a period of months, it could be six months, it could be a year. And you don’t want to have expensive hardware, high-end processing power around doing nothing, so being able to access that level of flexibility and access the software in that way, in a very flexible way, is how you can leverage the cloud. You can actually use the cloud solutions to be able to get access to the software that you need when you need it, and with the power that you need it. It’s kind of opening up the power of the entire suite, and it’s actually allowing us to expand out the use of the digital twin, with more validation and more optimization and more simulations.
JIM: Great. Thanks Paul. I think those are great examples. Let’s drill down a little bit more on scalability from a hardware and a horsepower perspective. Our research and some recent interviews that we’ve done really show that companies value that power of cloud for scalability. And the ability to access the power that they need for solutions that require a lot of heavy lifting, and those that, as you said earlier, may be something that happens intermittently. You mentioned some simulations of different kinds, I think that’s a great example. Are there other kinds of solutions that require a lot of compute power and how does the cloud really help with that?
PAUL: There are. I think, obviously, the traditional one, as I mentioned, everyone looks at the traditional engineering simulations, the structural, the thermal. But there are other areas to leverage the digital twin that we are seeing more people would use. Even things like visualization, it’s kind of a form of simulation because often you’re looking at a visualization and animation, and to get the really high-end rendering takes a lot of processing power, so you’re left with either the need to have expensive graphics engines on-site or you can actually start leveraging the cloud and having your cloud served GPU type access.
So instead of just relying on traditional CPU calculations, actually putting things through graphics processors and having banks of graphic processors that allow you to then farm visualization and dramatically reduce the amount of time it’s taking to do things like rendering or animations. And being able to do that on a design model, once again, makes the digital twin richer, because you can start using it, you can start doing things like animating it and showing it’s behavior, really bringing that power in, but without having to invest in, say, massive amounts of compute power that do this.
We dealt with one customer and they would spend literally days rendering high quality imagery of their products. Their products were… I wouldn’t say… Well, they were complex, but if you looked, they weren’t particularly massive products, maybe 10,000 components making up a product. And they wanted to visualize this, because it’s in a marketplace which is driven by consumer buying power, so it relies on people who want that desire to own. And being able to generate these high-end renderings was taking them days and being able to shorten that time by farming this out and then maybe overnight on a GPU farm, being able to then get the rendering and then they work with it, navigate it, rotate it, look at it and get a much better, much higher confidence about the quality of the product that they’ve got. And I think that that’s a sort of analysis, that’s a sort of use of that scalability without it necessarily being just purely around compute power, it can be graphics power too.
JIM: Thanks, Paul, I appreciate that. And one of the things that we see and we hear from companies as we speak to them is that, like hardware and the need for scalability there, companies have the same need for their software. They’ve got lumpy demand for their software where they have a variety of different apps, and some of the apps have gotten very specialized. And that maybe they need to access different applications at different times where they may use something intermittently, for example, something like crash analysis that they might use towards the end of a program.
Or somebody might be doing some early analysis on systems engineering very early in the process. And that some of those more specialized tools may be things that would sit on the shelf and not be used, where with the cloud, oftentimes the access to those things is a little bit more flexible as well. And we also see companies that have scalability from programs, for example, they may be running a large program and then roll off of one program and then there may be a gap in time before the next program. So from both a software perspective and a user and business perspective, there’s a lot of value in the cloud in terms of that kind of scalability or flexibility as well. Is that something that you’re seeing as you’re working with your customers?
PAUL: Yeah. Absolutely. I think we’re seeing this need, people are now in a model where, as you mentioned, somebody might start a project out and they want to do a lot of analysis using a 1D solution for systems engineering to plan out their systems in the process. And once just the analysis is there and it’s driving the design phase, you don’t want to have to have that software. Many companies are looking to say, “Okay. Well, I don’t need that software all the time.” You talk about the complex analysis, and you look at some of these things, like cooling analysis. Well, maybe I only use that one month a year or something in terms of total time. Companies are looking to say, “Okay. Well, how can I get access to the software that I need when I need it?”
And be flexible, be able to say, “Okay. Well, today I’ve got this problem and it’s a cooling problem. Tomorrow I’ve got a problem and it’s a dynamics problem, and I’m trying to do response dynamics, and not be tied in to having to go off and get lots of niche software which I then have to install and manage and maintain, because that’s the other thing that people always need to remember is, buying the software is one element. Put your software purchase is great, you then install it, you have to maintain it, you have to make sure that you’re upgrading it. There’s a constant thing. Well, and companies are now looking for people like ourselves to deliver those solutions where we are maintaining them, where we are offering them the most current versions, where we are making sure that it’s all up and running and it’s accessible as they need it and when they need it. And for the time that they need it, rather than saying, this is a, “No. You’ve purchased this and I don’t mind how long you use it, but you have to buy it.”
So it gives us a much more flexible approach to doing business, and I think that’s a key element, is we want to be, as a partner, as flexible as possible for companies as they move into this environment. We’re not trying to push people into a particular solution because it suits us. We want people to go at their pace, their own way. We want to make it accessible, usable for our customers, but at the end of the day, our customers have to be in control of the way that they want to run their business.
JIM: Yeah, thank you, Paul. And as you were talking, one of the things that also came to mind for me is companies, oftentimes, as they install software and have to maintain it, they get into that upgrade lag cycle. And we often hear quite a bit of companies talking about the fact that using the cloud when there’s new capabilities that become available, they have access to them much faster as opposed to having to wait for an upgrade cycle or going to the user conference, back when we went to user conferences. And hearing about all of the great new functionality but realizing it was going take a year or two before they get it, so just another way we hear people talk about the value of the cloud.
PAUL: No. Absolutely, I think that that whole software lag, I think is something that people often underestimate, because if you’re not careful, you get yourself into the business comfort zone, and it’s kind of working for us, but the newer and the faster and the improved… Because vendors like ourselves are constantly improving our products, we’re constantly improving the security, the performance of our products, and every time somebody puts that lag in the process, the people that get hurt are the end users. So they’re the ones that are not seeing the latest, greatest, fastest. So yes, the cloud helps people overcome some of that barrier too.
JIM: And translates to getting programs done better and faster as well. Paul, thank you so much for extending our previous conversation about design in the cloud and really covering a broader aspect of engineering. Always a pleasure, I always learn something when I talk to you, thank you so much.
PAUL: Thanks, Jim, it was great to talk to you.