The True Power of 3D Collaboration For All Teams (CIOReview Article)
In the 90s, collaboration during product development was often an uphill task in manufacturing. "When I started in the manufacturing industry over 25 years ago, the lack of tools to efficiently visualize and analyze product design data was a major hindrance in product development,” recollects Dan Murray, the Founder and CEO of Vertex Software. “I was a pioneer in creating manufacturing visualization software that is still considered state-of-the-art." Yet, advances available in today’s digital world have yet to be widely adopted in the manufacturing industry. A few years ago Murray saw an opportunity to combine his past experience in manufacturing visualization with his more recent experience creating highly-secure and scalable cloud-based B2B collaboration software to drive the next generation of manufacturing collaboration.
Vertex Software offers a secure, scalable, cloud-based platform for 3D collaboration that overcomes the drawbacks of desktop-installed visualization tools by functioning as a bridge between engineering—where product design data originates—and teams downstream of engineering that often struggle to leverage 3D product data in a timely and cost-effective manner. The platform gives all teams an easy and intuitive way to access design data and collaborate throughout the product lifecycle, unlocking the doors to seamless product development, manufacturing, service, sales, and support.
Vertex enables the extended enterprise—from engineering, procurement, suppliers, and manufacturing all the way to marketing, sales, and service— to clearly communicate product design intent and solve crossfunctional problems more effectively than ever before. Vertex complements CAD and PLM systems and facilitates workflow activities throughout a product’s lifecycle in a secure, easy, and compliant manner. "It turns product development into a story-telling experience by bringing all your teams, suppliers, and partners together in a secure, scalable platform for 3D collaboration where context is shared visually," says Murray.
With the Vertex platform, teams share high-fidelity PLM-aligned design visuals to collaborate on projects spanning product development, manufacturing, sales and marketing, and service and maintenance. This brings much needed cohesion between teams throughout the product lifecycle, which historically utilize a multitude of third-party tools and home-grown solutions. Vertex acts as the glue that binds all the stages of product lifecycle together through massive-model visualization and collaboration. It enables the extended enterprise to see the bigger picture through effective understanding of full product context.
"Our security infrastructure has been recognized by aerospace and defense contractors as resilient and nothing short of exceptional"
Enabler of Collaboration
Organizations invest a tremendous amount of resources to transform design data to make information available to all workflow participants. For example, downstream engineering, manufacturing, and subsequent stages within the product lifecycle need access to design data typically developed through Computer Aided Design (CAD) applications. However, the exchange of information is often hindered by the large file sizes associated with 3D designs, antiquated transfer software like FTP, complex user interfaces, and expensive workstations that require high-powered GPUs, maxed-out RAM, and substantial CPU horsepower. As a result, visualization of large 3D data sets is limited to expensive computers that downstream teams rarely have access to. Murray questions this methodology of visualization, "Why not do the heavy lifting of visualization in the cloud and enable access from any device, anywhere?"
Utilizing the cloud as the computational horsepower, Vertex delivers rich visual, graphics-intensive images, and design data through a web browser to any device while an organization’s data remains encrypted and stored among distributed servers. Vertex doesn't just stop there; the platform facilitates tamper free exchange of design data while making it available almost instantaneously to the end-user. The data transfer is performed in such a way that it safeguards a company’s intellectual property, as it does not reside on an external network. Also, 3D design requires workflow participants to collaborate consistently through multiple developmental phases. In such cases, the Vertex platform connects multiple participants and provides aligned data and visuals. This gives them an opportunity to identify innovation or areas for improvement.
The platform is built with a security-first mindset, which ensures that the data stored in the cloud and accompanying visuals may only be accessed by authorized individuals. A full audit log is maintained to ensure all access is traceable. Vertex’s approach to data storage is specifically designed to both protect a company’s intellectual property and enable massive model visualization. Its data storage methods are patent-pending. "Our security infrastructure has been recognized by aerospace and defense contractors as highly resilient and nothing short of exceptional," adds Murray.
Vertex also provides APIs and platform services that allow organizations to build task-specific applications or web portals, which include 3D visualization. Case in point: Many companies struggle to deliver full-product, large 3D model visualization to the shop floor for electronic work instructions, to customers through sales configurators, and to service technicians through maintenance and repair instructions. The process of transforming CAD data for these downstream teams to use in web-based tools is both expensive and time-consuming. Large manufacturers often spend millions per product line to transform product CAD data. Due to the iterative nature of product development, any time a manufacturer makes changes to their product it requires additional data transformation with incremental costs for some or all of the product data. The combination of high costs and the lengthy process to transform data greatly limits the number of products a company can feature in web applications. Small-to-midsize manufacturers often lack the necessary resources for this data transformation, which means that mission-critical data is stuck in engineering and downstream teams have no way to leverage 3D data for such high-impact use cases. This means that companies have a wealth of underutilized assets they create as part of the design process that are simply inaccessible by downstream teams. Vertex unlocks product data for high-impact use cases downstream of engineering, enabling companies to obtain the full value of all assets.
The Story Board of Visualization
Going by these benefits, Vertex has transformed the manufacturing space by not just simplifying the visualization of full manufactured products but also streamlining the process of multi-disciplinary collaboration. Achieving this feat is owed to the extreme distributed parallelism offered through cloud computing; this functionality allows end-users to visualize and interact with extensive CAD designs in a matter of seconds. "We are able to visualize 3D models so large that they simply cannot be visualized by the most powerful and expensive workstations today. Through cloud-based distributed processing, we have finally achieved something at Vertex that was never thought possible. Combine that with the fact that any number of users can access these massive models simultaneously without the customer needing GPU’s on their end is the first of its kind. No one has been able to scale both model size and number of simultaneous users the way that Vertex has," states Murray.
In essence, Vertex improves team collaboration for faster reviews and better decisions through a series of essential phases developed to unlock 3D product data. To begin with, Vertex seamlessly integrates with a company’s preferred PLM and CAD tools. Workflow participants can load, open, and interact with any size model, search BOM components, and draw ideas and pin comments directly on models Then users can quickly highlight issues or discussion points related to the product design. A user can save their state, including BOM assembly and markup, into a “Snapshot.” Multiple Snapshots can be bundled into a Story that is then easily shared downstream and automatically kept synchronized with CAD and PLM changes. These stories can be shared across groups including manufacturing, sales, procurement, and service to speed decision making.
"For example, let us assume that you have an engine that needs repair. You might filter out some parts to focus on the maintenance problem. A user can filter a design to specific crosssections in order to capture a specific state, including BOM assembly and markup, of discrete components that need a fix. Each Snapshot can be saved to create a Story of all problems and concerns affecting the engine. This Story becomes the unit of sharing, which in turn, enables collaboration among different teams within the design workflow. Collaborators can download geometry, reply to comments, and upload proposed changes," explains Murray.
Murray calls the entire process the “Zero-transformation data import.” One of Vertex's recent customer stories sheds light on this capability. A heavy-equipment construction company was facing a big challenge in sharing CAD data for one of their products with suppliers. Their process of transforming full-product design data to their common exchange format was an overnight task taking nearly 18 hours. Designs had to wait at least an entire day before reaching suppliers. This process required computers that cost $5,000-$10,000, proving to be not only a time-consuming burden for engineers but also a financial concern. Once received at the suppliers' end, it took 30 minutes to simply load the model data for the end-user compared to a 3-second load time with Vertex. Vertex also cut down the overall time required for this entire process for the data transformation and file distribution from 18 hours to just under 20 minutes. Additionally, Vertex removed the need for high computational power, instead enabling the customer to view and interact with massive design data sets on mobile phones and tablets through their thin client end-user application.
"We are able to visualize 3D models so large that they simply cannot be visualized by the most powerful and expensive workstations today. Through cloud-based distributed processing, we have finally achieved something at Vertex that was never thought possible"
This case highlights one of the numerous success stories that Vertex has provided. Vertex also stands out in downstream engineering and supply chain collaboration. One company Vertex is working with was previously spending millions of dollars to transform complex design structures into a format that can be hosted on web applications for teams outside of engineering. These engineering data structures had to be reduced by four orders of magnitude to enable downstream use. Furthermore, the product often failed to match with the original design. Vertex stepped in and enabled the company to access high fidelity images that were 100 percent aligned with the original data without the need for transformation.
Taking Collaboration a Notch Higher
Built on a proficient track record of successful customer collaborations, Vertex aspires to extend the capabilities of its platform to virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR) applications and use cases. "A lot of AR/VR solutions today rely on fairly expensive hardware. We are experimenting with VR technologies that offer a virtual walkthrough of a factory, where one can upload data and facilitate visualization with just a mobile phone. With this capability, our turnkey solutions will ensure visualization and collaboration on any handheld device that is connected to the can be a game-changer for industries such as construction, real estate, and oil & gas, where users are required to comprehend complex design structures for various operations. On a bigger scale, Vertex wants to stand tall as the underlying platform, through which visualization initiatives in the manufacturing arena can be carried out efficiently and effectively.