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By Ralph Grabowski and Roopinder Tara, Apr 27, 2012
It was back in the fall of 2009 when Siemens PLM Software bought Rulestream. Since then, silence.
Rulestream had been founded in Cleveland by programmers experienced in knowledge-based engineering software. They took a different approach in developing their ETO software (engineer to order) by storing ETO product configuration rules in a relational database. This unique approach meant it was easy to handle versioning and history.
When Siemens PLM Software announced their purchase, they promised to support "current and future Rulestream customers. The company also plans to tightly integrate Rulestream with NX ... and Teamcenter software." Other than moving the office to Troy Michigan and setting up a Web page for Rulestream, we heard no more.
"We don't want to be so quiet anymore."
To learn more, we spoke with Brian Grogan, director of Rulestream products. He explained that his staff has spent the last few years on integrating Rulestream into the Siemens PLM business and into the product portfolio, primarily with NX and Teamcenter, because they hadn't been before the acquisition. Before the acquisition, Rulestream had already supported SolidWorks, AutoCAD DWG, and Pro/E; Solid Edge will come later.
Q: How does being part of Siemens change things?
A: We now have the weight of Siemens PLM behind us. Rulestream becomes a mission-critical system for manufacturing companies, where it touches almost every order and/or proposal for their ETO products. Most companies look at a vendor’s size and financial stability before making such an important technology decision. That was sometimes a challenge as a small company, but being part of Siemens gives our customers confidence we’ll be able to support their long term needs. Also, being able to leverage the technology components within the Siemens PLM portfolio, such as JT 3D visualization, means that we can bring new features to market faster.
Q: Big companies like to buy from big companies?
A: Big companies like to buy from companies they see as having the longevity to be a long term partner. I think that is true for all companies.
Q: Is Rulestream purely an enterprise size solution? I assume it
is not for small biz.
A: Medium or large size companies generally adopt our software, although we do have small companies as customers.
Q: What is the pricing cost?
A: Pricing depends on a number of factors, including the number of users. I don't believe I can provide general pricing, however when we do quote a price to a customer we also articulate the business benefits and ROI.
Q: Why would a manufacturing choose your software?
A: We offer our customers the ability to automate complex ETO processes without the need for custom programming. However, we are not just focused on automating sales proposal and engineering processes, we are equally focused on helping them improve how they manage their product configuration rules and knowledge. We also provide out-of-the-box integrations to the authoring tools and systems that our customers commonly use within their processes, such as CAD, Microsoft office, database systems, and PLM in terms of Teamcenter. Our Microsoft Office integration even includes Visio to allow 2D schematics to drive the ETO process or output as technical documentation. We support several different deployment environments, including web deployment, desktop deployment, and batch processing. This means it is usable by many different people in the organization.
Q: Who are some of your customers?
A: We have customers in a broad range of industries including Power Generation and Distribution Equipment, Industrial Machinery, HVAC, Oil and Gas, and Specialty Vehicles to name a few. Babcock & Wilcox, S.A. Armstrong and TLT Babcock are some customer examples.
Q: And who are your main competitors?
A: We often compete with sales configurators, such as those found in ERP systems like SAP. Actually, our biggest competitor is the home-grown system, yet it is also our biggest opportunity. Fifteen years ago, there were no commercial ETO offerings, so manufacturing companies made their own, which are now reaching their end of life and need replacing. This gives us the opportunity. Another driving factor for legacy system replacement is when companies introduce new technology, like 3D CAD or PLM, because that often forces a costly upgrade to their legacy ETO system which must now support those system integrations.
Q: It seems to me that Rulestream used to be very hard to learn,
have you been improving the ease of use?
A: Actually, ease of use is one of our advantages and is one of the reasons our customers’ site for selecting our technology. Even so, ease of use is something we always want to improve upon. Also, ease of use has a number of dimensions. For example, ease of rule authoring, ease of system integration, and ease of deployment.
Q: What sort of training is required to learn Rulestream?
A: We offer a one week on-site training course to teach users how to author rules within the system. We back that up with some consultative support to coach them through their first implementation. However, our customers are generally the ones entering the rules and building the process automation, not our services team. Rulestream is a product that our customers can implement themselves without having to contract a third party to do it for them.
Q: What should students know before starting the course --
programming, math -- what are the prerequisites?
A: They should have "domain knowledge" and have some experience automating a process, like writing spreadsheet automation or CAD automation. The important thing is to understand how to break a problem down for automation, or how to break a product down in terms of its configuration. They don't need to be programmers.
Q: What is "domain knowledge"?
A: : It means they know about their product domain, such as machine design.
Q: Is Rulestream partly or entirely Web based?
A: Sales people normally use the web browser interface, but inside the back office the desktop client is typically used. Rulestream can also be deployed as a web service.
Q: Can manufacturing company's customers interact with the ETO,
like ordering a customized computer from Dell?
A: Yes, some of our customers deploy Rulestream to their end customers or dealer network. However, complex ETO equipment usually requires some manual oversight and engineering, and online customer requests usually do not go straight to being scheduled for manufacturing such as in the Dell use case.
Ralph Grabowski is the owner of upFront.eZine Publishing and hosts the WorldCAD Access blog. He has written over 100 books and several hundred magazine articles about CAD. In addition, Ralph has served as technical editor for Cadalyst magazine, and has been a columnist for CADENCE and AutoCAD World.
Ralph holds a civil engineering degree from the University of British Columbia. He was awarded "Best CAD/AEC/PLM Editor" by Strategic Research in 2005, and received the CAD Society's "Community Award" in 2002.
Complete bio on upFront.eZine