via engineering.com story by Verdi Ogewell
Is Siemens’ New Low-Code Platform Mendix an “Aras PLM Killer?”
Xcelerator is the latest addition to the rich “PLM flora” from Siemens Digital Industries, which is the company’s now merged PLM and automation division. Xcelerator is an integrated portfolio of software, services and a platform for application development. The core of this set-up is the Mendix software, which Siemens bought last year. Though Siemens knew what they wanted and what they bought, the capabilities associated with this solution have in some respects surprised the Siemens team.
“True,” said Tony Hemmelgarn, head of Siemens’ PLM department, when I met with him during the company’s recent press and analyst conference in New York. “Mendix was originally used in banking and logistics to connect ’program stacks’ and build apps. What we have now shows that the basic capabilities can be extended to virtually any industry. Above all, it is the simplicity of doing things that have been very complex in the past, which gets people to react when we demonstrate the solution.”
The bottom line, Hemmelgarn claims, is that Xcelerator and Mendix are much more than just an “Aras PLM killer.”
Why is that?
I’ve taken a closer look at the matter in today’s article. The essence is that Aras’ success has worried Siemens, to some extent, and with the Mendix platform and Xcelerator Siemens can move up in the game from playing defense to initiating a powerful offensive against their opponents—in this case, Aras and their expanding cPDm (collaborative Product Definition management) solution.
“Low Code” is a Slightly Misleading Expression
Siemens’ Mendix is usually referred to as a “low-code platform,” which is an expression that can be a bit misleading. The “low code” description can mean being perceived as a “simple” solution that does not handle complexity, while in fact it is just the opposite. The complexity of a “low code” platform lies beneath the surface, and anyone who wants to use the software for it’s primary purpose—to build apps—does not need to code in programming because the software does this. The user only needs to “drag and drop,” and can build a dashboard in a custom app. This dashboard provides up-to-date status reports, access to things like 3D models, BOMs, Operational Technology (OT) data and more from all software and machines that are part of a company’s configuration of software and devices in the product realization process. It can also produce measures related to various “alerts” and things that need to be fixed.
And, as stated above, all this can be done without requiring a lot of coding from the user, hence the term “low code.”
The point of the Xcelerator solution is that it ties together and combines the entire portfolio of Siemens software for design and manufacturing. Siemens’ CAD flagship NX, the Simcenter simulation platform, eBOM’s and mBOM’s from the Teamcenter PLM suite, Tecnomatix manufacturing management (Siemens’ Digital Manufacturing solution), and IoT data via MindSphere are just a few examples.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“With Mendix, you can make decisions based on insights from the entire chain,” says Siemens’ Ray Kok, VP and CTO Cloud & Edge Services. “You can monitor, alert, watch 3D assemblies, variant configurations, system setup, trigger predictive maintenance, create workflows and pick data from other developers’ software found in the production device.”
Data from SAP, IBM Maximo and CATIA
This means it doesn’t have to be Siemens products in the configuration of input from software and devices. The Mendix platform can also connect to other developers’ solutions; for example through SAP on the ERP side, IBM’s software Maximo in the maintenance area or ANSYS on the simulation side, via ready-made connectors and with “out-of-the-box-setup.”
In the case of SAP, you create a connection directly to the current SAP module with a simple drag and drop. Since the link is not a replication of data, but is based on a continuously updated stream, the data entered into the dashboard always becomes the latest and the most current iteration.
Other software, such as that often found in the areas of automotive and aerospace/defense, includes Dassault’s CAD software CATIA. In this dashboard users can create connections and look at 3D models (in JT format) of components and assemblies.
There are a large number of ready-made connectors, and anyone who wants to add a software that doesn’t already have connectors included can download the APIs provided by the developer; ANSYS is one example.
In any case, Mendix stands for the core capabilities of the Xcelerator portfolio.
An “Aras PLM Killer?”
It’s not farfetched to assume that Siemens’ purchase of Mendix was a response to concerns over Aras PLM’s success with the Innovator suite—its variant of a low-code platform for cPDm
It is no surprise that Siemens felt a little uncomfortable when large customers in automotive, aerospace, and other industry segments began investing in large volumes of seats belonging to cPDm solutions other than Siemens’ Teamcenter—of which Aras Innovator saw perhaps the most success.
What are the reasons?
Here’s how it is: There are those who—not without reason—complain about the PLM industry’s platform providers.
“The complexity is too great, and the solutions too difficult to implement, use, operate and administer,” are examples of some objections.
In combination with Aras developing its portfolio of solutions to cover increasingly large sections of PLM, this has created a situation that in the short term may not have been too worrisome for Siemens and other major PLM players, but which in the long run could become precarious.
Whether the Xcelerate portfolio and Mendix will deliver a solid answer, one sufficient to secure Siemens’ position as the dominant supplier of tools that can close the entire value chain, remains to be seen.
It is clear, however, that Mendix and its associated portfolio will make for a tough opponent, resulting in Siemens moving its offensive position in the creation and sales of the digital thread forward into Aras’ defense zone. Furthermore, the resources that Siemens can bet on this will become a formidable competitor to Aras PLM.
It is not surprising that a sense of concern can be found in Aras’ rhetoric in recent months. For the first time (as far as I can remember) in one of its most recent press releases, Aras called its cPDm solution “a low-code platform.” This hasn’t been seen previously, either written or spoken.
Siemens IoT Software MindSphere Plays a Key Role
Since Siemens bought Mendix, they have worked intensively to create the broad integration they envision when it comes to app development, asserted Tony Hemmelgarn during the Siemens analyst conference.
The Mendix platform today includes cloud and app services for digital product development work and IoT/IIoT. In the latter case, it is clear that Siemens MindSphere software plays a key role. By virtue of its position as the company’s cloud-based, open IoT operating system, users can access PLC, robot and CNC machine data through the Mendix connection.
“We have a long history of delivering innovation by dissolving the boundaries between technical and operational domains and unifying the virtual and real worlds,” said Hemmelgarn. “Xcelerator continues that tradition and combines our software, which extends from electronic design automation through product life cycle management, with the Mendix platform and MindSphere for IoT.”
He further states that what is unique about Xcelerator is the ability to build personalized applications, which can capture feedback and performance and “feed” these insights into everything from design to manufacturing.
An Accurate Digital Twin
Mendix could be described as an umbrella that can cover the entire IT landscape and also retrieve data from the machines (OCP UA) on the operational side from the workshop floor.
“We have built the market’s widest and deepest portfolio of software for electronic and mechanical design, system simulation, manufacturing, operation and life cycle analysis,” claimed Hemmelgarn, and he continued, “Xcelerator collects and integrates the portfolio with embedded tools and databases, which link to existing information technology, operating technology and technical environments. This enables unique workflows that utilize a wide range of our technology. CapitalT software, from Mentor, has been embedded in the NX software to enable experts to collaboratively create new products across the boundaries of technical disciplines. Siemens Opcenter solution has been integrated with the Valor software to extend the digital thread from design to manufacture, providing continuous quality improvement. We have also recently integrated several vehicle validation tools to create an autonomous PAVE360 environment for validating a circuit board design before it will be manufactured. This open integration in all aspects enables rapid innovation and validation of products and operations. In these environments, you can build the most accurate digital twin, which merges model-based simulations with test data and analysis of real performance.”
Basic Platform for Digitization
Xcelerator can be considered a basic technical platform for a company’s digitalization of their entire product production chain. The solution enables continuous innovation in terms of product performance, product development, production operations and life-cycle support.
The portfolio consists of several applications and solutions for PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), EDA (Electronic Design Automation), ALM (Application Lifecycle Management), MOM (Manufacturing Operations Management), embedded software and IoT.
“The portfolio supports automation of a company from the top to the shop floor. It orchestrates the flow of information between all participants in the Xcelerator ecosystem and creates a traceable digital thread,” says Hemmelgarn, noting that, “With the addition of app services for the IoT powered by MindSphere, digital technology and system integrations, the Mendix platform can now be used to unlock even more data from all systems and connect it in two directions to applications and devices.”
Above all, he points out the opportunity to create personalized dashboards as a strength.
“This is of utmost importance,” he stated. “With the ability to build apps that consume and expose data from a wide range of IT systems and applications, Xcelerator enables companies of all sizes and at any point in the supply chain to digitally transform their businesses through personalized, customizable software solutions and support new ways of working. Whether organizations require local solutions, are looking for a mix of cloud-connected solutions or want to work exclusively on the cloud, Xcelerator helps realize the digital future at the pace and configuration that best suits them.”
“A Strong Set of Tools, But the Picture is Not Trouble-Free”
One of the most interesting things about Siemens Digital Industries is not how far ahead they are vision-wise. Several players can deliver those kinds of interesting statements.
No, the point with Siemens is rather how astonishingly close to its specific vision they can deliver ready-to-use solutions.
No other player in the market has an equally strong set of tools, as effectively connected seamlessly between the tools and the equally rich digital software portfolio on the product development and manufacturing side.
In light of this, Industry 4.0 is not just a distant dream—it is a real opportunity.
But this picture isn’t trouble-free. Siemens has been good at developing and connecting the tools, but they have not been as effective at communicating the whole.
To use a metaphor: They have been great at describing the individual leaves (their programs) on the rich Siemens tree, but are less accomplished at describing what the whole tree looks like. So, the question is, how can this be done?
One answer is last week’s launch of Mendix, the low-code platform has been given a vital role in Siemens’ digital layout.
Can it become an “Aras PLM killer?” At the very least, it will be a tough nut to crack for Aras as well as for competitors like Dassault, PTC, SAP and others.
The Last Word Hasn’t Yet Been Said
However, the last word hasn’t yet been said in this “battle.” Clearly Aras is working full-steam when it comes to adding new capabilities into their platform. Recent enhancements in cPDm coverage—since the strengthening of its financial muscles from, among others, Goldman Sachs—show that they don’t take the goal of developing a strong and highly competitive cPDm system lightly.
Recently the company launched a direct connector, PROSTEP AG’s PLM supplier-neutral OpenPDM, which is a standard and out-of-the-box solution working against important PLM systems like Dassault’s ENOVIA V6, Siemens Teamcenter, PTC’s Windchill, Oracle Agile and DOORS.
But that’s not all. They have also during the last two years bought or developed SPDM, maintenance, simulation and analysis, configuration development, and system integration (for example, with Swedish Modelon around Model-Based Systems Engineering, or MBSE) capabilities, just to mention the most important bets being made.
So, the struggle moves back and forth across the battlefield, but Siemens’ latest Mendix package solution has moved the battle ground into Aras’ defensive zone.