I met with Peter Schroer (CEO at Aras) on the first day of the Aras ‘ACE 2017’ conference which took place in Munich from 21st to 22nd November 2017. Aras presented its vision, ‘what’s new’, and announced the recent $40m investment led by Silver Lake Kraftwerk (that included GE Ventures). Aras will use this investment to drive growth, expand operations and further extend Aras’ technology through development and acquisitions. There were excellent customer implementation presentations from Dirk Spindler of Schaeffler, Martin Neff of Audi AG, Brian Smith of L3 and others.
Main points from our conversation
How Aras is evolving
Aras deliberately targeted large companies from the beginning, reasoning that they would be more ‘PLM-ready’ and that smaller companies look at what the leaders in their field are doing. Early examples are GM, Airbus, Microsoft (for XBOX, Surface, and Cloud development) and Kawasaki. Aras now has reference accounts in all its main target industries – aerospace and defence, automotive, industrial, hi-tech and transportation – and its target countries.
Aras currently has offices in France, Germany and Japan as well as the USA, and will next expand into Italy and the UK. Earlier this year, Aras added to its board Tony Affuso, formerly CEO of Siemens PLM Software and before that, CEO of UGS. Professor Martin Eigner – also present at ACE – is already on their board, which is not surprising as he is an expert in this field and several key Aras founders, including Peter, used to work with Eigner and Partner.
IoT and PLM
Although IoT is not the same as PLM and does not need to be tightly-integrated with PLM, Peter sees PLM as a vital requirement for most IoT projects. This is because it is important to have traceability of all components – the ‘digital thread’ – through to the final ‘smart product’ and to know its exact configuration at all times, for maintenance planning etc. It is also important to collect feedback from products in the field so that it can be analysed and the results fed into future product development – but again this is a loosely-coupled process.
MRO (Maintenance, Repair, Operations)
Aras is adding MRO capability to its PLM platform which will leverage the value of knowing the as-built and as-maintained status of the product. Peter’s view is that “As-Maintained Configuration”, “Digital Twin”, “Simulation” and “Predictive Maintenance” are all intimately related – to each other and to the product lifecycle. Hence this is capability they are best-placed to provide and why Aras may consider an acquisition in this area to bring-in expertise and capability.
In the product presentations, Aras declared that it is also adding Innovation Management, Simulation, Process & Data Management, Configuration Management and Manufacturing Execution to make its platform more complete, and it will become yet more open for Systems Engineering, Analytics and Enterprise Systems such as ERP and CRM.
Finally, it was interesting to hear Dirk Spindler’s replies to a couple of questions after the Schaeffler presentation:
- Question 1; ‘As Schaeffler has Windchill, why didn’t they use this for the overall PLM project?’
Answer; they tried for years to implement Windchill PLM for mechatronics but they had difficulty realising the benefits. They therefore decided to let Windchill operate more like a PDM system and let Aras go across the top of it, as it will for the many (over 100) other systems they will continue to use. Aras will not replace any existing systems but will add capability to allow them to do ‘smart’ engineering.
- Question 2; ‘A prior issue was not getting any feedback from products in the field – what are Schaeffler’s plans to address this in the future?’
Answer; One of Schaeffler’s Aras implementation partners is IBM who have ‘Bluemix’ – now ‘IBM Cloud’ – which supports IoT connections from the field, and Watson IoT which provides analytics for the data collected; the findings from Watson will be managed by the PLM system and used to improve future products.
(Schaeffler will eventually implement a ‘Service Cockpit’ for MRO etc. and this will rely on PLM to provide the ‘as-maintained’ status prior to the service and then to update it).
Overall it was a very interesting conference and substantiated the ‘disruptive’ impact of Aras on the PLM business – typified by the way they announce the beginning of each session…
… ‘Hell’s Bells’ by AC/DC!