Trip Report from the 2017 Aras Community Event (ACE)

By David van der Roest

Event Held March 21-23, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee

It’s Tuesday morning, March 21st and the Aras Community Event (ACE) in Nashville is getting underway.  Attendees mingled about for breakfast, and early conversation as the opening keynote kickoff was about to begin.  As you walk into the meeting center, it’s immediately noticeable that, unlike previous ACE seating arrangements, the seating was organized around roundtables instead of rows of chairs.  Aras’ leadership and partners were mixed in throughout the tables and engaging the attendees.     

This subtle change in seating embodies the spirit of ACE – community, collaboration and accessibility.  The roundtable seating immediately created a feeling of connectedness that continued throughout the week and fueled some of the most productive discussions, idea-sharing and networking that I’ve ever seen at an ACE event or any industry event for that matter.

After a short film recapping the 17-year history of Aras with pictures and interview snippets, Peter Schroer, co-founder and president, took the stage and announced that Tony Affuso has joined Aras’ board of directors.

IMAGE - Peter Schroer (left) introducing Tony Affuso at ACE 2017    

IMAGE - Peter Schroer (left) introducing Tony Affuso at ACE 2017


Anthony (Tony) J. Affuso is a PLM industry luminary and former CEO of Siemens PLM Software.  Before Siemens, Tony was the CEO of UGS, who’s solution (Teamcenter) became a leading PLM solution in the automotive and aerospace industries.  For more than 20 years, Tony led the growth of UGS from a start-up to a multibillion dollar global company and ultimately to a successful merger into Siemens PLM. In addition to his role on the Aras board, Affuso serves on the board of directors of Symbotic, where he was formerly CEO of the robotics automation company.

After Peter’s warm introduction, Mr. Affuso said, “I was attracted to Aras because of their disruptive technology, open-source customer engagement model, and the fact that their technology has recently been selected over their competitors by several of the world’s leading engineering/manufacturing companies. Additionally, I have been equally impressed with Aras’ customer-first mentality – a culture that I have always passionately believed in and one that I see across the Aras leadership team.” 

Affuso continued by saying, “We are seeing a resurgence in the demand for PLM as manufacturers are dealing with increased product complexity and the digital transformation of their business to achieve new levels of efficiency and competitiveness. Manufacturers are re-evaluating their systems infrastructure and investing in new capability such as the Aras ‘Digital Thread’ that enables full life-cycle traceability of their products. Based on all the factors I am seeing, Aras is emerging as the new PLM leader with the right technology at the right time.”

Following Tony’s remarks, Peter Schroer reinforced Tony’s credibility by reminding the audience that “…Tony brings a depth of customer knowledge and insight that is just unmatched in the industry. He has seen PLM evolve from the early days of mechanical CAD to the systems engineering era that Aras enables. As a board member, he will play a key role guiding our course and deepening our connections as we continue to redefine the industry’s expectations of PLM.”

The mutual respect and shared urgency to see Aras’ vision of PLM come to fruition energized the room and set the tone for the rest of the event. 

There appeared to be an uptick in attendance this year despite, for the first-time, a conference fee to attend.  The audience seemed well represented by current subscribers, open users, prospects and partners.  And, as Tony observed earlier, it’s the open users that make this community unique in the PLM space.  Unlike other vendors, Aras makes the subset of its Innovator platform available at no cost.  Open users are inherently resourceful, and this was evidenced by some of the innovative applications that were discussed and shared.

What also emerged during ACE was the messaging of Aras Innovator as a platform serving the broader subject of the “business of engineering.”  They are breaking out of the traditional mold and characterization of PLM.  It’s almost as if the term “PLM” seems to constrain the possibilities and opportunities for managing a full range of life cycle activities. 

For example, Lear had a session on how they are leveraging Aras as a platform to drive improved quoting and visibility into the impact of changes on costs.  In another breakout session, IBM spoke of using Aras’ connected platform to integrate hardware and software for the internet of things (IoT) and adherance to their new MBSE guidelines.

In addition to highlighting some of the recent application releases such as quality management, CAPA, and manufacturing process planning (MPP), Aras painted a picture of what it means to establish a digital thread through the life cycle activities and how this thread can optimize reuse, traceability, continuous product improvements, and visibility into design maturity.  This later idea is quite significant.  Driving insights into product improvement can be missed without connectivity of data between the different stages of a product’s lifecycle.  Now, with the addition of corrective action, preventative action (CAPA) and manufacturing process planning (MPP), traceability will be greatly improved. 

In the spirit of transparency and accessibility, Aras finished ACE with a session called “Aras in the Round.” This interactive session is like no other in this industry.  Peter Schroer and Chief Architect Rob McAveney are encircled by the conference attendees and respond to unscripted questions about the business, Innovator and the broader industry. This open forum environment seems to embody that old communication adage of “seek to understand before being understood.” 

2017 looks to be an exciting year for Aras and the community.  With the addition of new clients like General Motors, Microsoft, Airbus and Huntington Ingalls coupled with Aras’ ambitious product roadmap, it seems Aras is poised at a tipping point.  A point that will define them as a leader in an industry that’s been desperate for technology and a community that is up to the challenge to solve today and tomorrow’s PLM problems.