By Nancy Rouse-Talley
Aras Innovator offers a color-coded snapshot of progress through each project phase. In addition, it provides the ability to drill down through a process to evaluate milestones and deliverables.
Product lifecycle management, or PLM, is often sold to companies as a “backbone” technology that can be used in all parts of the organization. Yet the license fees associated with most PLM software virtually ensures that it will not get widespread use.
It is always a struggle to anticipate the number of licenses needed, and to fit the license costs into a budget. That’s why most PLM systems end up being used only by engineers rather than by a wide variety of engineering, manufacturing, and business personnel. And it’s the reason Aras Corporation’s open-source software license model is an important PLM development.
Going Open Source
The licensing model Aras switched to early this year was pioneered by Red Hat Software, the leading provider of commercial Linux operating systems. In Red Hat’s model, the software itself is free, and the software’s architecture is not concealed from users but is openly accessible. Red Hat makes its money by helping customers deploy, integrate, update, manage, and support Linux. This approach seems to be working. Red Hat is profitable, booking $118.9 million in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 42 percent from the quarter a year ago and 7 percent from the prior quarter.
Aras hopes to replicate Red Hat’s success. Since January, the company’s software has been freely downloaded 5000 times. Marc Lind, vice-president of marketing for Aras, says a number of companies that have downloaded the software have become customers.
“Free software is the initial appeal,” says Lind. “But what gets them engaged is the idea of better software with a modern architecture in a format that is easy for companies to deploy.”
Aras says its software combines “a service-oriented architecture with a model-based run-time engine.” What this means is that Aras provides customers with flexible software based on reusable components that lets them model business logic and processes graphically. The business logic is separate from the underlying core software that does the processing for the system. The way Aras built its software makes it relatively easy to update and change business processes.
Lind says the software is used by a wide variety of large and small enterprises. Some companies use the software as a primary PLM system, while others use only certain features and functions. For example, Lind says automotive supplier Delphi has implemented the quality planning functions of Aras Innovator, tying the program in with its primary Teamcenter PLM system from UGS.
“It’s always a fight to maximize user licenses in the budget. Aras frees us from this constraint to growth,” says Dennis Henning, IT manager of Ogihara America Corporation of Howell, MI, a company that is in the process of implementing Aras Innovator.
Ensuring Quality Stampings
When a customer call comes in about any quality issue, manufacturing personnel at Ogihara get to work. Information about what needs to be done to contain any defective product and fix the problem gets passed along verbally from one person to the next.
Aras Innovator graphical workflows can be set up to represent the project
phases of any enterprise process. According to IT Manager Dennis Henning of Ogihara America, the open-source software is flexible and relatively easy to adapt to any specific process.
Like a game of telephone, however, critical information is sometimes forgotten or changed along the way. The result may be an oversight that causes customers service problems. “We might forget about the rack of four fenders in the warehouse that is going to ship in a few hours,” says Dennis Henning, IT manager for the Tier One producer of Class A automotive body panels.
Henning says that Ogihara, a subsidiary of the Japanese tool and die maker of the same name, will implement Innovator’s quality-planning features to handle issues the company calls “customer concerns.” One quality process used in the program will include a number of containment steps that must be accomplished as the first step in correcting quality problems.
In the new process, when one of Ogihara’s on-site customer liaisons finds a problem he or she will take a picture and send an e-mail describing it to the assembly department. This e-mail will set off a workflow in Aras Innovator that is designed to prevent further defective parts from being made or shipped. Everyone involved in the process will receive relevant information at the same time and a workflow process will assign containment tasks, making it less likely that important procedures will be accidentally skipped. “The workflow will ensure a coordinated process of containment in work centers, inventory, and other operations,” says Henning.
Henning says Ogihara is close to rolling out the new process, which is now being fine-tuned. Initially about 20 people in the quality area as well as manufacturing foremen and supervisors will be involved in the process. Henning says that up to 50 people in the stamping operation may be included.
Aras Innovator was chosen by Ogihara after a two-year search that included two rounds of evaluation. “After the second round, Aras really bubbled to the top,” says Henning. “It had more capabilities and was more flexible.”
He added that the software and server infrastructure on which Aras is based also was relatively simple to install, even for a company with no experience using Microsoft products. “I was surprised at how easily it ]the system] snapped in,” says Henning.
Although Aras Innovator’s quality planning features got it in the door at Ogihara, the company is also interested in its program management functions. Once Ogihara uses Aras Innovator’s quality planning processes, it plans to use its phase-gate project management capabilities, possibly to handle engineering change processes. “Aras could be useful in coordinating change processes and getting changes processed and approved,” says Henning.
Ogihara is also tying Aras Innovator to its Progress enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Henning says the company had completed the initial programming to transfer data from Aras Innovator to the ERP program.
Henning adds that a major benefit of Aras Innovator is that there is no limit to the number of licenses the company can use. “My concern with the user-license model of software is that it is always a fight to maximize user licenses in the budget,” says Henning. “Aras frees us from that constraint.”
Henning adds that Aras’ open-source business model will allow the company to mold its business processes in whatever direction is necessary. “The people who need to be involved can be involved,” he says.
Finally, Henning says that Ogihara has used its Aras support contract to familiarize employees with the product and its capabilities. In the future, he says the company will likely maintain its support relationship with Aras in order to develop new capabilities and functions.
Nancy Rouse-Talley is a freelance writer who focuses on technology subjects, including product lifecycle management, computer-aided design, and engineering. You can send Rouse-Talley your thoughts on this article c/o DE-Editors@deskeng.com.