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Siemens PLM Connection 2010: Clouds Develop, Freeforms Beckon

Windows Azure as a cloud-hosted PLM platform, as envisioned and demonstrated by Microsoft's Don Richardson at Siemens PLM Connection 2010. (Schematic recreated based on Richardson's original slide.)

Windows Azure as a cloud-hosted PLM platform, as envisioned and demonstrated by Microsoft's Don Richardson at Siemens PLM Connection 2010. (Schematic recreated based on Richardson's original slide.)

NX7 with Alias-style freeform sculpting.

NX7 with Alias-style freeform sculpting.

NX7 with Alias-style freeform sculpting.

NX7 with Alias-style freeform sculpting.

Stepping up to the podium at Siemens PLM Connection 2010, Don Richardson from Microsoft‘s Platform and Solutions Group knew he was tackling a controversial topic. Accordingly, he tried some humorous openers. “What is cloud computing? It’s not a computer in the cloud,” he warned. “For those of you who travel a lot, it’s not working on your computer on a plane, even though you might like to think that.”

The cloud, very simply, is “just a large data center,” he noted. “It’s great to talk about the cloud, but behind the cloud is a lot of hardware.” When connected to computing devices everywhere — netbooks on planes, iPads in cafes, and PCs in people’s homes — the remote computing data center becomes a metaphorical cloud, with more horsepower and storage capacity than each individual device.

Cloud as a Platform
Most people are familiar with — and already working in — what Richardson described as “on-premise cloud” (data center housed in the same company where you work) and “hosted software,” but “the idea of cloud as a platform is a bit more abstract,” noted Richardson.

“Today, you have operating systems (OS) on PCs,” he said. “Think about an OS in the cloud — that’s what we’re building.”

So what can you run with that OS in the cloud? A PLM system, for one. In the prototype setup demonstrated by Richardson, Siemens’ Teamcenter is deployed on Microsoft SQL Server, connected to users via SharePoint, and connected to ERP data housed in Microsoft Dynamics.

So what if you need to work with someone outside this company-sanctioned PLM cloud? Richardson’s proposal is to use “the cloud as a secure extranet” — upload a JT (lightweight 3D format) assembly into the cloud, then assign a unique ID to each user. In theory, this setup allows you to give different recipients access to separate portions of the assembly file.

The setup may work flawlessly in theory, but in practice, Richardson’s demo was hampered by pesky wireless connection — an unfortunate side-effect of the overcrowded cloud that governs the conference room’s digital traffic.

Freeform with X-Form
Having pushed the limit of mechanical CAD modeling with Synchronous Technology (current in its second incarnation), NX now dives into freeform surfacing and solid modeling. In NX7, Synchronous Technology’s geometric-relationship recognition (known as Live Rules) remains in place, so you can choose to apply symmetrical edits or suspend the rules. The control-point deformation method used in NX is similar to how you might build shapes in Autodesk Alias and other freeform modelers. (For more on Autodesk’s initiative to combine its MCAD modeler Inventor with its freeform modeler Alias, read “Curves Ahead!” April 15.)

Freeform sculpting is a necessity for stylized product designers like Black Diamond Equipment, a climbing and skiing supply manufacturer and a presenter at the conference. As organic shapes become a typical feature in consumer products, more CAD software makers will be pressured to add such deformation tools.

Though the download and display of sub-assembly files were interrupted during Richardson’s demo, his joke (“I’m offering free drop-tests of iPads from my 38th floor hotel room.”) sailed into Twitter-sphere in no time, proving that cloud computing does work — you just need a good sense of humor to cope with its unpredictability.

Note: Siemens has not issued any official statement on its plan for cloud-hosted PLM. The freeform modeling functions slated for NX7 are not expected to appear in Solid Edge, the company’s mid-range CAD program in the Velocity Series.

For more on NX7’s freeform tools, watch Siemens PLM Software’s video demonstration below:

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Well all I can say is that while talking about the ipads being dropped from the 38th floor he shows us the cloud being dropped at a no doubt well correographed event where it does not work reliably from the cable to the box. How can anyone take these repeated demonstrations of the cloud seriously when so many show stopper problems are there and can’t be resolved. Note I did not say can’t be resolved today, I mean forever. As fast as someone develops security another is breaking it. As fast as the webs capacity expands for throughput it is consumed and immediately we are back to unreliable data through put and latency problems. “Nobody will ever need more than 640k RAM!” — Bill Gates, 1981 as an example of how data demand will allways expand faster than the ability to reliably handle it out side of a closed loop totally controlled system.

    Glad to see a demonstration that fails in front of all those Siemens execs and software users. Correct me if I am wrong but a good portion of the reasoning for PLM is cad file management where files are auto updated to the latest revision so all are on the same page with the best data. Now some where to be on this “cloud” the data in those files has to cross a public open infrastructure where some serious intellectual data intensive property has to be compared against other files and updated securely and accurately where needed. It’s not the cloud if it does not do so and in house systems allready exist and no one calls them “the cloud”.

    Kenneth, as of yet I have not heard anyone from Siemens talking about migrating to the cloud. Did you hear anything from Siemens people about this idea while you were there or was this just a Microsoft we want to sell you stuff topic.

    Now on to the big question for those who wish to implement the cloud. When the cloud fails in your operation and you have to explain it to the boss or the share holders will “you just need a good sense of humor to cope with its unpredictability” work as a defensive strategy?.

    Personally speaking I am looking for a big wooden stake to put in the heart of this bad thing and make it go away.

  2. Kenneth,

    “For more on NX7’s freeform tools, watch Siemens PLM Software’s video demonstration below:”

    I’ve watched this video many times over. This video is much too broad and much too edited down for me to decide if this is really a significant advance in surfacing technology. If it is really and truly a significant advance (say compared to Rhino)in surfacing technology a much more detailed video done in real time badly needs to be done and published on say You Tube. Because this hasn’t been done already is just one of the many reasons I’m so upset with Siemens horrible marketing of their CADCAM products. Any more details you could provide on the new surfacing in NX 7.5 would greatly help me and some of the decisions I need to make.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA.

  3. Hi Kenneth

    It was nice to meet you at the PLM Connection, hope next time we take more time to discuss.

    Small point about the text above, Live rules does not stand for feature recognizer but Rather for “geometric condition recognizer”.

    Live Rules try to recognize and maintain the geometric condition while you edit a mechanical part or for a surface model, the edge/vertex connection and tangency ( here i speculate for the surface has i did not use it) but from what i have understand from the mechanical side it must be close to this.

    Sorry for the interruption 🙂

  4. Dave: Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    In my experience, live demonstrations are sort of like weddings — you can plan ahead and hope for the best, but something unexpected almost always take place. I don’t think we should condemn cloud computing just because one live demo doesn’t go as planned. I’ve seen demonstrations of CAD packages go awry on stage during live presentations, but that’s hardly an accurate reflection the quality of the software in daily use.

    Siemens, like everyone else, is certainly looking into cloud computing to see how it can be used, but I have not heard any official statements on strategy or seen any company road maps.

    Of course, a cloud-hosted application will sometimes fail. Nothing is 100% foolproof. But if implemented correctly, with appropriate backups and security measures, it can be as reliable as an internal network. (Let’s not forget: What we metaphorically refer to as “the cloud” is actually linked to a computer network.)

    Many of the applications we access via a browser — Facebook, Amazon.com, iTune, and so on — are examples of cloud-hosted software. It seems to me, they’re just as reliable (that is, their ability to remain up and running 24/7) as any computer network you might think of. In fact, in small- and mid-size firms with understaffed IT departments, you’ll find that their intranet is not as reliable as the Internet.

    I’ve peered into the cloud, but I just don’t see the vampire that you dread. So keep the big wooden stake handy if you’d like, but I doubt you’ll get the chance to use it. 🙂

  5. SolidDNA: Thanks for the clarification! I change Live Rules’ description to read “geometric-relationship recognition.”

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