Walking into the Kubotek offices out in Marlborough MA, that certainly was my impression. But some two hours later, I left with a different one. Don’t get me wrong. They’re not launching a PLM product or anything. But their ECO Manager is far more oriented towards processes and procedures than creating 3D models. And that’s a good thing.
In this blog post, I’ll walk through the software product’s background as well as the capabilities it provides. After that, I’ll add a little commentary and analysis to let you know what I think it all means.
Back in April 2010, Kubotek announced the availability of the 9th version of their Validation Tool (Press Release), an upgrade to their tools to identify differences in CAD models that has been available since 2005. The in July 2010, they also announced the availability of their ECO Manager Suite (Press Release) which is composed of three pieces of software. ECO Manager and ECO Navigator are desktop software applications. ECO Server is a server-side piece of software.
With a title like ECO Manager, the product certainly sounds like it’s process oriented. After seeing it, at least in my mind, there are four main categories of capabilities this tool set provides.
Identifying Granular Differences
As with the Validation Tool, the ECO Manager let’s you visualize differences between two models. Of course that includes geometric topological differences. But it also includes non-geometric stuff too like PMI and GD&T annotations. The differences are shown both on the model and in a textual list in a corresponding color coded fashion. That means when you select a geometric difference on the model, it highlights in the list and vice versa. Also, as you let your mouse travel over differences, the details of that difference, such as different values, will show in a small pop-up. This difference comparison can be run on models from Pro/ENGINEER, NX, Solid Edge, Catia, Solidworks, STEP, IGES or a whole host of others. They could even be from two different systems.
Organizing The Differences
After you have the differences between the models shown, you can then organize them in the ECO Manager. Remember how they are shown in a list? Well, you can actually organize them from there. You can create folders and drag and drop individual difference in the list into those folders. Or you can create a selection from a drawn loop or geometric proximity or inference as another grouping. Overall, it looks, acts and feels like a tree structure.
Why would you want to do this? You might want the organization because some of the differences might be organized too. For example, various differences could be associated with three difference change orders (ECO10923, ECO0945, etc.). Or model differences could be organized into how they affect difference manufacturing operations (OP10, OP20, etc.)
Looking at the Differences
With the differences graphically highlighted and organized, both on the model and in a list, lots of people within a manufacturer could use this information for lots of purposes. As it turns out, there are a number of ways to consume this information.
- ECO Manager: This desktop application created the report, so it can read it easily enough as well. But it might not make sense to distribute these across your marketing, sales, manufacturing, procurement and other organizations.
- ECO Navigator: This desktop application is basically meant to read the native information that the ECO Manager generates. Going this route allows the user to interrogate the model and difference on their own. It is basically like an interactive difference model.
- Slides, Documents and Spreadsheets: It’s hard to argue that today’s office environments don’t run on Microsoft Office. So the easiest way to let others consume this information is to make it easy to put graphical and textual information onto slides, documents and spreadsheets. And the ECO Manager actually has an automated means of doing so. With a specific difference selected, the user can populate an active slide, document or spreadsheet with dual images of the difference. As they do so, the differences as well as the organization folders can change colors, letting the users know which differences have been documented. The result is something akin to a “Visual Change Report”
Integration with PLM or PDM
Fortunately, all of this work doesn’t have to be manual. And that’s where the ECO Server comes into play. It will automatically run this difference analysis, save off the raw data and then place it alongside the models that were analyzed. It can do this in coordination with a PLM system, a PDM system or just a batch of files on a hard drive.
Commentary and Analysis
So far, we’ve covered a lot of capabilities. But what does it ultimately all mean? Let’s dive into the really important part of this discussion.
Before we can really dive into the business value of a technology like this, we really need to understand the context of the process in which it would be used. Once we have that, we can infer some advantages and benefits. Here are a few of the processes and procedures that seem relevant.
- Project Management Status: During weekly meetings, project managers are always trying to understand how far things have progressed since the last meeting. A “Visual Change Report” would cut through the interpretation and explanation to graphically show what has changed.
- Design Release Sign-Off: Before a design is officially released, managers need to understand exactly what has changed since the last time they reviewed the design. Again, a “Visual Change Report” would let them avoid time spent scrutinizing minute changes by graphically showing them the differences.
- Engineering Change Management: Part of the change process involves assessing multiple design solutions before selecting one of them. A “Visual Change Report” could quick and easily let the team understand the differences between design alternatives before selecting a final one.
- Supplier Iterations: Have you ever gotten a model back from a supplier with that short note that says “what do you think of the changes?” That means you have to hunt and peck to figure out what changed since last time. The “Visual Change Report” can simply show those difference graphically.
- Effect on Simulation or Tooling: Many times, a design modification will be made after a simulation analysis has been run or tooling has been designed. And the analyst or manufacturing engineer is left with the question “does this affect my work?”
- Quotation Engineering: Working in a proposals organization is tricky business. Get too aggressive with your price and you could easily deliver the project at a loss. Get to conservative and you could easily lose the deal. Success requires a delicate balance between the two. And when it comes to design, you need to truly understand the implications of design changes, no matter how small. The “Visual Change Report” can enable quotation engineers to catch every single change and understand the implications of them all.
Now we’ve figured out this sort of difference identification can be used in all sorts of scenarios across product development but how does it save time or money? Here’s the punch list.
- Time: If you teams and organizations are ultimately diligent, then they are catching and understanding the implications of every single change that occurs to the design. The only problem is that doing so manually requires a significant amount of time to catch-all of those changes. And as a result, chances are you will have a difficult time staying on schedule. As we all know, schedules aren’t getting any looser.
- Errors: Even though your product development team is highly diligent, catching every single change and understanding the every implication is improbable. And when a design change is made and adjustments aren’t made accordingly, it turns into an error downstream. That in turn causes delays and turns into unexpected costs.
Ultimately, at least in my mind, it comes down to this: manually checking for design changes manually is a non-value add activity. It is a necessary activity in error avoidance. But it doesn’t make the product better or help you launch more quickly. We merely do it to avoid larger pain, delays and costs. In general, I am in favor of adopting technologies that remove the burden of manual non-value activities from engineers to let them concentrate on where they do add value: namely solve design problems, consider more engineering alternatives and innovate.
Kubotek and Difference Technologies
What about Kubotek and this technology? Well, let’s be honest. Technology that shows the differences between two 3D models is not new. In fact, it’s been around for quite some time. But in the past, the raw difference would be provided and it was up to the user on how to get it into a consumable format for others to look at. I haven’t seen this type of technology used in any sort of widespread fashion. I think that is because making it hard for engineers to generate their own “Visual Change Report” manually just means they won’t do it. They simply don’t have the time.
The thing that Kubotek has done here, and where they deserve lots of credit, is that they have automated the generation of deliverables that act as a “Visual Change Report” for the user. And that could make all the difference. They have thought through the process and procedure and figured out how to make it much easier for the user.
My only suggestion is that this belongs as part of a PLM system in a more integrated fashion. It would be highly valuable if these reports, in slides, documents and spreadsheets, were generated in a hands-free fashion and automatically part of a workflow’s design release sign-off, a change order task and likewise.
Conclusions and Questions
In July 2010, Kubotek launched an ECO Manager Suite that enables users to identify differences between two 3D models, both in terms of geometry and annotations, and automate the documentation of those difference into reports. These “Visual Change Reports” can be used in a wide variety of scenarios across product development that can help save time and avoid downstream errors. And while this type of difference technology is not new, Kubotek has thought through and automate the process to make it easy for the user to be successful with it.
Now that I let you know my perspective, I’m interested in hearing yours. Are there other scenarios where this technology could be applied? Are there any other negatives that need to be brought to light? Sound off and let us know what you think.
Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.