As a career engineer, the need to coordinate large-scale design activity and all of the associated information has presented an ongoing challenge. In my opinion, one of the most exciting developments over the past decade has been the mainstream adoption of open source techniques.

In the R&D and engineering world, the open source trend is transforming how we work and is enabling new forms of collaboration. In the beginning, open source meant Linux. Not anymore. These days, open source has been widely embraced, creating high-quality software solutions for most purposes. “Enterprise open source” typically means that a solution is sufficiently robust to compete directly with conventional proprietary offerings on functionality and capabilities, and that there is a company standing behind the solution to provide enterprise-class support and value-added services.

For example, several years ago, Aras released our flagship engineering data management PLM software as enterprise open source, making the solution freely available for collaborative development. This meant that document management, online change control workflows, FMEAs, program management, and other important engineering processes all became accessible for continuous enhancement.

Now, organizations all over the world are using the system and contributing innovative improvements. Last year, a Lockheed Martin contribution embedded the corporate security protocols into the software while others added Earned Value Management and Resource Management. The open source format has led to internationalization with translations into a wide range of languages including German, Japanese, and Hebrew. Additional addons now include integrations to all of the major CAD and EDA systems like CATIA, NX, Pro/E, SolidWorks, AutoCAD, OrCad, PADS, and others.

The 21st Century’s Internet enablement has changed what is possible, and now the global recession is driving these new approaches, like open source, throughout industry and government alike. The advantages of the open approach in engineering span both the technical and business spheres. From a technical perspective, collaborative development introduces new innovations with greater quality at a faster pace than previously possible. From a business standpoint, enterprise open source removes the license fees, thereby eliminating the capital expense and significantly reducing the total cost.

The flexibility and control inherent in the open model represent a fundamental shift away from the restrictions imposed by the conventional software mentality, which forces complexity, cost, and risk onto the customer. With enterprise open source, packaged software solutions with commercial-off-the-shelf or COTS features are freely available for use “as is” or for modification, integration, and extension at the user’s discretion. In fact, the ability to leverage and incorporate systems in place already makes secure access to existing data a compelling proposition. In other words, an organization can modernize without the rip-and-replace proposition.

As engineers around the world solve the technical challenges of the new millennium, the techniques and tools that make this possible will be different. Together, our embrace of open approaches will be one of the factors that determines our success, and our collective innovation will be the engine that drives our future progress.

For more information on Aras Corp.’s open source PLM software, contact Peter Schroer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or click here .

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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