There’s a certain beauty in being an open source platform–that is, you can always count on others to deliver enhancements that will really resonate with your user base.
That’s certainly the case with Aras Innovator, which is the only open source PLM platform that I know of. The company says there are over 120 add-on products and modules available that integrate with or enhance the PLM platform (some open source and some paid). They range from language packs and new capabilities to full-scale enterprise applications in the areas of Risk Management, Environmental Compliance and Simulation Data Management. Once it shifted to the open source model several years back, Aras put time and muscle into cultivating an ecosystem of partners, an effort which appears to have paid off since the firm says there are 75 partners to date.
One area where the ecosystem has been particularly active is around enterprise search. The idea is to help users of all kinds–from engineers to field service people–zero in on finding the right piece of information among all of the complex data sets related to product development that are managed by Aras PLM and other enterprise systems. Aras’ Marc Lind says PDM and PLM systems have taken a hit over the years in their ability to easily store information, but not necessarily allowing users to easily find it. Search is also a hot button given that the technology has improved so significantly over the last five or so years and because there are so many ways and use cases that people want to search for product-related materials depending on their role or the task at hand.
The latest addition in the Aras Innovator search lineup is Discover Innovator Community Editor, what’s being billed as a sophisticated search solution developed by NorthRidge Software. Northridge is a developer of enterprise search offerings and a key member of Aras’ Partner Program. Developed with Apache Lucene, an open source search engine, Discover Innovator is designed to let Aras users quickly and easily find open drawings, documents, quality data, regulatory specifications, requirements and BOM data all by searching on key word terms, phrases or meta data. The system lets users initiate such searches via a Google-like interface, and the results are displayed in a shopping cart-like view, allowing even non-PLM-fluent users to drill down into results. Discover Innovator will initiate searches within Aras Innovator or can also be used to facilitate searches on data stored in other locations, including intranet sites or in SharePoint databases.
No doubt, companies will have concerns about security. Upping the ante around search capabilities is fine, they’ll say, but how do you control what those search results turn up so people don’t get access to intellectual property they have no business seeing? To allay companies’ concerns, Discover Innovator has been designed to connect directly into the Aras Innovator security model, so search results will be provided within the context of already established permissions levels. Seems like a reasonable approach for stemming possible breaches.
Again, Discover Innovator isn’t the only search solution being readied for the open source PLM tool. Alcove9, a business unit of The vdR Group, also recently launched an advanced search solution for Aras Innovator. The Alcove9 solution touts its ability to deliver unified access to disparate file system structures, allowing users to search, from a single tool, ERP, PLM and electronic content management (ECM) systems. There is also the 3D Geometric Search connector for Aras Innovator, a visual-oriented tool that lets any one in the design workflow locate and identify parts and components based on shape, size or other attributes. By providing a 3-D geometric search feature, Aras is hoping to foster parts reuse and reduce savings by helping to optimize parts inventories.
Of course, the open source model isn’t for everyone. But for those willing to roll up their sleeves and dig in, it does open the door to a host of functionality and not leave companies at the mercy of their PLM vendor.