Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Technology strategy helps centralize 3D apps and data

April 25, 2014
By Yvonne Dresser

Apr. 25, 2014 – Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for products, they need to be able to collaborate and manage design life cycles effectively with offshore, mobile and remote employees. At the same time, they have to maintain security and control over intellectual property even as their workforce becomes more mobile and distributed, and their computing environment becomes more diverse.

To achieve these goals, companies that rely heavily on collaborating and exchanging 3D models and 2D drawings need to overcome several key challenges. Product and design data residing on users’ workstations is difficult to secure and to share with other team members, partners, suppliers and customers. Indeed, the most common ways to exchange design data remain email, FTP and physical media — cumbersome and asynchronous methods that fail to support real-time 3D collaboration.

Data synchronization across global design centres becomes less efficient with each passing year as file sizes grow at a faster rate than network capacity. It is far too difficult to access designs from the factory floor or the field in order to make simple edits or analyse a change in real time. Security has become a critical problem as product and design data stored and shared among partners and suppliers increases the risk of intellectual property theft.

This article discusses a technology strategy to enable secure, real-time remote collaboration on design data and model-based deliverables with stunning visual performance.

Users of high-end design data embrace the centralized delivery of 3D apps and workstations
Centralization is transforming IT environments, as desktops, apps and data are moved from endpoints to the data centre, where they can more effectively be managed, maintained and secured. Desktops and apps are virtualized — that is, abstracted from the underlying hardware — and executed on server-based virtual machines rather than the user’s endpoint device. This makes it possible to deliver desktops and apps on-demand as a service to users anywhere, providing an experience that looks, feels and acts like a traditional PC no matter how people access it or what kind of device they use. Virtualization is now a core element of mainstream IT strategies to support mobility, consumerization, telework and other key trends.

For many companies, the trend of virtualizing and hosting 3D applications or entire workstations in the data centre is driven by several factors, including security, mobility and time to market.

Security – As organizations expand their collaboration with contractors, business partners and outsourcing providers, they need more effective ways to safeguard product design intellectual property and customer data across this virtual workforce. Many choose to lock down the corporate network and provide remote access via VPN solutions, but this approach is actually counterproductive, extending the secured network to unsecured remote devices. By hosting apps and workstations in the data centre, and sending only pixel display data to the endpoint device through a secure remoting protocol, they can eliminate the need to poke a hole through the firewall with a VPN.

Mobility – The rise of mobile devices in the enterprise is especially significant for design and manufacturing companies, making it possible to pull up design documents and sophisticated 3D models right on the shop floor or at a customer location. This can greatly accelerate design and production, and help companies communicate and collaborate more effectively with customers to meet their needs. However, most 3D applications are Microsoft Windows-based, optimized for a full-size screen and relying on right-click inputs for full functionality. For tablets to fulfill their potential in design and manufacturing, they need to be able to provide the full functionality of these apps through touchscreen inputs with a satisfying user experience. By centralizing and virtualizing 3D apps in the data centre, companies can leverage mobile optimization policies built into the remoting protocol to intelligently touch-enable Windows-based application controls. Users gain the ability to work with drop-down boxes, enlarged controls and automatic keyboard pop-up when touching a text field — without the need for source code changes.

Time to market – The demands of global markets make it essential for design and manufacturing companies to accelerate time to market while maintaining cost control. Follow-the-sun development cycles and geographically dispersed teams make it possible for work to continue around the clock — provided the company can empower team members with real-time, remote collaboration on design data. Application hosting empowers development teams to work productively during different time periods by centralizing data and making it available to other teams in real time rather than forcing them to transfer 3D model data in bulk over the network on a daily basis. At the same time, hosting workstations in the data centre is a highly cost-effective way to let multiple users share the same resources concurrently, even from different locations, and to provide the same workstations to other non-concurrent users in different time zones as the day progresses.

Early adopters have already been realizing the benefits of data centre-hosted design and engineering workstations, and graphics-intensive 3D design and PLM applications. Now, with recent technological innovations and falling hardware costs, centralization is quickly becoming a mainstream strategy for the design and manufacturing industry. Advancements in deep compression have improved utilization over low-bandwidth networks, and new GPU-sharing technology for hosted and virtualized environments enables a rich experience for even the most demanding graphics apps.

Faced with more complete, high-performance and cost-effective solutions than ever, organizations throughout the industry are moving forward and virtualizing their high-end graphics apps as a way to meet the demands of today’s business environment. Real-time collaboration, follow-the-sun work cycles and user mobility help companies accelerate time to market, while the centralization of desktops, apps and data improves security for intellectual property and customer information.

Yvonne Dresser is the senior manager of product marketing at Citrix, a global company that enables mobile work styles, allowing people to work and collaborate from anywhere.

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