How NX CAD Meets the Needs of Small and Medium Businesses (SMB)

By Mollie Gladden

It is no news that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit small and medium businesses hard. But the good news is that a snapback has been observed in small and medium businesses (SMB) after it has faded. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of the comprehensive digital twin concept among SMBs, making it important to stay connected as much as possible. 

On this episode of the Next Generation Design podcast, our host Jennifer Piper is joined by Jeff Shagena, the SMB Product Manager for NX Product Engineering Software (CAD) at Siemens Digital Industries Software.

In this episode, Jeff will help us understand the state of the SMB CAD market, especially after the pandemic. You will get to learn about the trends that are driving changes in this market, with the first being digital transformation. You will also hear more about Siemens’ future vision for NX and how it is adapting to fit the needs of SMBs – which includes improving awareness of the software and its packaging options, investing in tools like the Discovery Center, and focusing on innovation in areas like AI and machine learning.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • Trends in the SMB market and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • How Siemens’ NX  fits the needs of the SMB industry
  • Cloud-based solution for SMBs
  • Efforts made to make it easier to learn and use NX
  • The future of NX

We want to make sure that we’re communicating effectively what we’re doing to everybody using NX, specifically targeting the things that they care about.

Jeff Shagena, Siemens Digital Industries Software

Listen to the Next Generation Design podcast wherever you do podcasts.

Connect with Jeff Shagena:

Connect with Jennifer Piper: 

Listen to or read the next episode of the Next Generation Design podcast: Siemens’ CAD Solutions for Startups and Small & Medium Businesses

Listen to or read the previous episode of the Next Generation Design podcast: Inside the Design and Manufacturing Processes at Piper Aircraft 

Podcast Transcript

Jeff Shagena: Some people have this perception that NX is for the big guys, it’s just for the big OEMs, or something along those lines. And the good news is that that’s not accurate at all.

Jennifer Piper: Welcome to the Next Generation Design podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer Piper. Today, I’m talking to NX Design Team member Jeff Shagena about the innovations being made in the NX world, what his team is doing to enhance the small and medium business user experience, and how customer suggestions and feedback play a vital role in their process.  Before we begin today, let’s meet our guest. Jeff, could you introduce yourself to the audience?

Jeff Shagena: My name is Jeff Shagena and I’m with the NX Design team, Product Manager, specifically in core design. And my general focus is on small and medium businesses. I’ve been with Siemens for about five years now, and about half that time has been in this role as the SMB Product Manager for NX Design.

Jennifer Piper: Thank you for joining us today, Jeff, we’re very happy to have you with us. To start, I’d like to start by talking about some of the trends that you’re seeing in the small-to-medium-business market.

Jeff Shagena: It’s important to take a step back and look at just the general state of the SMB CAD market. We think a couple of years back, with the pandemic, small and medium businesses were hit particularly hard by that, generally, but tighter on margin. So, when something really unexpected like that happens, obviously, they’re definitely very much impacted by that. But the good news, though, is the snapback that we saw in SMB after the pandemic initially faded into the background a little bit. We’re really seeing this rapid acceleration of growth now in SMB. And not just a bounce back, but it’s also accelerating even further now looking into the future; we didn’t stagnate the overall market share of SMB in CAD, it’s actually growing relative to the enterprise we’re seeing. So, the majority of the growth if you think of the CAD market as a big pie of revenue, I guess, you could say the market share of SMB or the slice of the pie of SMB is growing relative to the other enterprise and other business segments out there. So, I think that’s really exciting to see. And looking at some of the analysts’ data—like CIMdata for instance—they’re actually showing that most of the growth in CAD over the next five or so years. It is expected to come primarily from the design-focused, which is a little bit more CAD/SMB kind of area. So, I think it’s really exciting to see so much growth and so much innovation. The disruption caused by the pandemic has really been the big catalyst. It’s a bit of a blip in the radar initially, but I think it’s really going to take SMBs to the next level in terms of productivity with CAD.

Jennifer Piper: Would you say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest driver of that change in the market?

Jeff Shagena: The pandemic has really accelerated the digital transformation. And when we’re talking about the comprehensive digital twin kind of concept, that was something that was slowly being adopted among SMBs and now it’s a really rapid acceleration of that adoption; you’re moving into the future here. Because of the work environment flexibility, people working in different places on all sorts of devices, it’s really important to stay as connected as possible. And one of the best ways to do that from a CAD perspective is with the comprehensive digital twin and all the other benefits that come with that. So, that’s definitely been one of the big drivers of change in SMB, the digital transformation as a whole. And along with that, as I mentioned there, the work environment flexibility; we’re seeing now more people working from home, we’re seeing people working maybe in a coffee shop on all sorts of different devices. So you need to be able to meet your own users’ needs, depending on where they are or what they’re using. You’re not all necessarily in the office on the same type of high-level machinery anymore, high-level hardware and computers. So you have to be able to account for those IT types of things now. 

Jennifer Piper: What about the so-called Great Resignation? How have you seen that impact the field?

Jeff Shagena: I think it’s kind of a funny way to look at it because it sure people are changing jobs, but they’re not just resigning and staying at home all day or something like that; they’re resigning from their current job because maybe they see the other side, the disruption that’s happened with the pandemic with Work From Home and all those types of things, and they see they want to pursue a passion, they want to maybe do their own startup business, their own venture, upgrading to a better job, for instance. But I really want to focus on I know a lot of different people who have quit their jobs to go work at a startup or try their own hand at being their own boss. All these startups that are forming up are going to be one of the huge drivers, I think, of that SMB growth that we’re seeing over the next five years. We’re seeing such crazy innovation and a lot of that is being driven by CAD. And I don’t think it would have happened if it weren’t for the pandemic and the Great Resignation; I really think is more of a big upgrade, in general, with startups. From that, we’re also seeing all this accelerated cloud and SaaS adoption as well, talking about another trend driving change in SMB. 

Jennifer Piper: So, it sounds like you’re seeing it as a real advantage as opposed to many who see it negatively. 

Jeff Shagena: As I said, you’re working all these different places, different environments, different devices now, you need to be able to work productively—anywhere, any device—and that’s really where the cloud really comes in handy because you don’t need to have the latest and greatest hardware necessarily—like graphics cards and things like that—to be able to use NX, for instance, on a mobile or on a tablet. It’s just crazy to think about where we were a few years ago to where we are now in terms of how we work and what’s possible with the cloud. And then I think the other big trend that I, at least, highlight for SMBs is really smart manufacturing and how that’s driving the Internet of Things now. Everything is smart now: you’ve got your smart TV, you’ve got your assistants, your Alexas, your Siris, all those types of interconnected devices. What that’s really meaning is that products are getting more complex, you need to bake a lot more into your product now if you want to be successful. Because of all that smart manufacturing, you need a lot of CAD. You need all sorts of different processes now. I think that’s one of the other big drivers of change that all these innovative SMB companies are making these incredible devices. And to do that, they need the best CAD on the market that you can get.

Jennifer Piper: Jeff, as you said, small and medium businesses are your main focus. How would you say that Siemens NX fits the needs of the SMB?

Jeff Shagena: I’ve talked to a lot of different people over the last couple of years: customers, users, and prospects. Some people have this perception that NX is for the big guys, it’s just for the big OEMs, or something along those lines. And the good news is that that’s not accurate at all. We’ve done a ton of work here, especially over the last couple of years, to really increase our presence in SMB and make the market more aware of that presence. We’ve always had some presence, but making sure that people are aware of what we’re doing here, it’s been really great. We see that we’ve got a really huge exposure to SMB, it’s actually the majority of our revenue and a couple of our industries, where we’ve got a huge presence really in SMB across all of our key industries: machinery, automotive, aerospace, et cetera. We’re certainly a great fit for SMBs as it is. Run through the list here, some things I can think of off my head here that we’ve done to help support SMBs even more in the last couple of years, and I think we’re really in a great position to further expand the NX presence in SMBs as well across the entire market. I think packaging is one of the big areas, people think, “Oh, I don’t need all that functionality that NX has, or it’s maybe it’s out of my price range,” or something like that. The great news is that’s also not the case. It’s a big area that we’ve tackled, especially the last couple of years really being focused on making sure that we have that right size packaging or the right size fit for SMBs or really of any size. No matter if you’re the one-seat guy at home or you’re the thousand-seat OEM customer as well. 

Jennifer Piper: Are there any other tools in addition to NX that you’d recommend for SMB needs?

Jeff Shagena: One of the big things that we’ve done and we’ve been pushing, even the executives brought it up internally and externally to just illustrate how important this is to them, is the Siemens Mechanical Design Bundle. I don’t want to get too into details with the packaging because I know it‘s kind of boring. But comes with the seat of NX Mach 1 — core design tools with NX. And then also two or three seats of Solid Edge, depending on the geography. And what we found is all that comes with that, all those seats for the price that you’re getting was actually among the best in the market relative to the competition of seats versus the functionality that you’re getting with the core design type tools. So, that’s a really exciting thing. And I know this is the NX design podcast, but I mentioned briefly on Solid Edge, I’ve worked quite a bit with them on interoperability between NX and Solid Edge. The work that they’ve done to help with the learning curve between NX and Solid Edge really make it look and feel very similar across the board. So, I think that bundle makes more and more sense by the day for customers to adopt.

Jennifer Piper: I know you’ve got a new startup program that’s just launched with NX as well, can you tell us a little more about that?

Jeff Shagena: You’ve got to prove that you’re a startup because we open up the entire Siemens Xcelerator portfolio to you at a cost that, obviously, would make a lot of sense for a startup company, given that we want you to grow, we want to see you succeed. So, the startup program, we just launched towards the end of last year, so it’s still relatively new on the NX side of things, but it’s really exciting. And I know that it’s already being adopted across a number of great areas, and I think we’ll see some good success stories coming out of that sooner rather than later, for sure. And then one other packaging thing I was just thinking of, it’s actually value-based licensing as well, which is something relatively new. I know it’s starting to be adopted more and more across the industry, but I think it’s really interesting to point out that with value-based licensing, we basically have taken all of the different NX add-on products and put them all together in this pool so you don’t have to buy all these individual licenses or try them all out to figure out if it’s worth buying or not for you; you can just buy this pool of tokens and it gives you access to basically the entire NX add-on portfolio. It’s a really great way to fully leverage all of the NX portfolio at a much better price than buying every single add-on individually. So, it’s a great way as you expand your company and need more add-ons and more functionality within NX, tokens are definitely the way to go.

Jennifer Piper: That’s more of a library-type of system, correct? So, a user may be able to use one of the add-on functions, and then put it back into that token pool where somebody else in the company can then pick it up and leverage the same type of functionality.

Jeff Shagena: Yes, exactly right. They’re reusable, they’re not like one-use tokens. 

Jennifer Piper: And what about the cloud? What are you offering for customers who are looking for that option?

Jeff Shagena: Cloud is a huge thing for SMBs these days, and really, for everybody, frankly. But NX is certainly doing our part to move into the cloud space as well and support our customers who need a cloud option. Probably the most exciting thing to talk about with cloud is the NX X product that we’re launching here; it’s a prepackaged cloud-based solution that we’ve got that delivers the full NX stream into the entire infrastructure that you’ve got. So, it comes with all the back end, all the service management, all the capabilities, and it’s all packaged up as one, available globally here. So, I think it’s a really exciting option for people who want a cloud-native solution, but still realize all the benefits of NX that you would traditionally have on a desktop, for instance — functionality-wise, it’s no different. And then we’re also working towards some specific NX cloud-native applications as well. We just released one Mold Connect, which is actually targeted towards SMBs in part. It’s a way for suppliers to communicate back and forth and evaluate pricing and things like that for mold, tool, and die design. So, I think it’s really exciting to see that we’re already getting started there with some SMB products. I know there’s a lot more in the pipeline as well that I can’t share yet, but it’ll be out sooner rather than later. 

Jennifer Piper: Well, that sounds very exciting. Can you tell us what programs your team has for students?

Jeff Shagena: Recently, we’ve also released the NX Student Edition, which I think is a really exciting way for us to really grow our presence in academics and education as well. It’s totally free. That’s one big thing to mention. So there’s no reason not to try it out. It’s just quick sign-up and download. We give you the full NX suite of tools. And I know, there are more coming there in simulation even as well, for instance. I think we’ve got a really exciting offering for students. If you’re a hobbyist, you’re a student, you want to use some CAD in your free time. I know 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing is always a really exciting technology. When I was a student as well, I always wanted to play around with that kind of stuff. So, NX is a great way to do that with the NX Student Edition. Of course, you can do any of your real work as well as a student. If you’ve got a senior design project or something like that, we certainly encourage you to take advantage of the NX Student Edition. We’ve also got all sorts of events now as well; we’ve got NX Student Day, we just had the second annual one. So we have all these industry professionals come in — Red Bull Racing, for instance, was one of them for those who like F1. And it was really cool just to see what these industry professionals are doing with NX and how you as a student can get more involved with NX, with Siemens, and I think it’s just a really great opportunity for us to expand our presence with academics.

Jennifer Piper: What a great opportunity for students to get their feet wet in the NX sphere. Jeff, you talked earlier about increasing the value that the user is getting. Can you talk about some of the things that you’re doing on the product side of things to make that happen?

Jeff Shagena: I think it’s one of the key areas for SMBs: efficiency — make more with less time. So, we certainly want to support that. And obviously, these types of efficiency things are great for everybody and one of the big ones that we’ve done. So, we’ve got Continuous Release, so we’re releasing new updates all the time now. It feels like every six months, we’ve got a major release of NX. And we’re doing a lot of things on the product side. And we want to make sure that everybody using NX if we’re communicating effectively to them what we’re doing is specifically targeting the things that you care about. We know that somebody who only works in MBD and PMI, maybe they don’t care about what we’re doing in sketching or something like that. But we want to make sure that we’re giving information that’s relevant to you. So, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve overhauled the startup page you see with NX. It was the welcome page before, we’re calling it the NX Discovery Center now. And essentially what it does is it helps you learn NX for sure if you’re a new user. But we realized that that’s such a great opportunity there—the homepage—to really help all of our users get more value from NX regardless of if you’re a new user or you’ve been using NX for 25 years. And we want to use that space to really communicate what we’re doing to you specifically. So we’re looking at a high level, what applications is this user in? What sorts of functionality is this guy using? And then we’ll target some of the tips and tricks and enhancements that we’ve been doing in those certain areas to you. So, if you work in MBD a lot, we’ll say, “Hey, here are some of the MBD enhancements that we’ve done over the last year. So, are you aware of these? We think you might be interested in this kind of information.” So, it’s a great way to get as much value out of NX as you can so you’re aware of all the new things that we’re doing. It’s tough for me to keep track of all the things that we’re doing across the team. So I’m sure it’s certainly a challenge for customers, as well as individual, users to keep up with all those things that actually matter to them and their own workflows. So, the Discovery Center is really geared towards that. 

Jennifer Piper: And I would think especially with NX’s continuous release cycle of every six months. What are you doing specifically to make the user experience easier when learning NX?

Jeff Shagena: We’re trying to make that a lot easier for our users to really understand what we’re doing that’s actually benefiting them. Also, if you’re anything like me, I’m a visual learner, so we’ve got some great documentation, it’s kind of a little bit more text-based. But I’m a visual learner, so if you’re anything like me, you’d be happy to hear that we’ve added over 200 new help videos embedded directly within NX for all kinds of core design types of commands so you can see different workflows, different use cases for using specific commands. I’ve taken a look at a few of them. And I think it’s really going to help a lot of our users—new users and also users who are maybe moving to a new workflow—to get an idea of all the possibilities with all the different settings and options that we have with all these core design commands. And then the other one, I think is worth highlighting is just kind of a high-level efficiency gain would be NX Search. We’ve got a lot of commands in NX. And I generally know sort of where they are, but I feel like I’m looking right at them, and I can never seem to find the command I’m looking for, so I find myself using the Command Finder all the time. One of the nice things here is we realized that there was a lot of potential there that we weren’t necessarily fully taking advantage of either. 

Jennifer Piper: And what about in terms of innovation?

Jeff Shagena: Staying with the functional side of things, I think innovation, in general, is always a good point to touch on, especially for SMBs. And this number always blows me away. But in the last two years, over 100 new patents for the NX design team, the functionality you’re not going to see anywhere else. It’s really exciting all the work that we’re doing, especially in the AI and machine learning areas. We launched the Command Predictor a couple of years ago — a lot of success, a lot of fanfare with that — able to look at your workflows, and then tell you exactly what commands you’re probably going to want next based on what you normally do and it learns from you and adapts its suggestions to your workflows, which is really great. We’ve also got the NX voice command assistant now as well. It’s like your own personal NX assistant. Instead of talking to Alexa or Siri, you can tell NX to start doing CAD for you. 

Jennifer Piper: Wow, that’s pretty incredible. How is the functionality with that feature?

Jeff Shagena: I was a little skeptical at first, like how good is a personal assistant going to be doing CAD for me. Alexa searching something on the internet is one thing but NX just doing CAD for me is another. And I was actually really surprised at how well it works already and certainly an area that we’re looking into quite a bit and what we can do in the future there. So I think all the AI enhancements are really great.

Jennifer Piper: Are there any other developments that you’re particularly excited about?

Jeff Shagena: One of the really cool areas within NX design is NX synchronous modeling. We invented it. We’re certainly innovators and leaders in that space, it’s where a lot of the patents are coming from. We try to add a new command and a new feature to synchronous at least every release or two because it’s kind of our baby and it demos really well, and we always really like to show off what we’re doing. So, the new thing that we’ve added this time around was finding clones of faces and holes. So now when you’re in your model, you get your synchronous command up, you’ll see some dumb geometry, just some unknown parameterized body. NX doesn’t know how it was made, it’s just a dumb body. Finding clones of faces and holes within synchronous now, I can pick on one hole and it can be like a counterbore hole, not just like a simple extrusion — counterbore or countersunk hole, for instance. It can recognize that and let you edit that specific hole or also find all the clones of that hole within the part and let you select all of those as well, so you can make these mass edits to a body that, frankly, doesn’t have any background built into it, any part history built into it. So, I think the functionality that we’re doing in synchronous always blows me away — I’m like, “How do we do that? I don’t know.” It’s really incredible technology, it’s really generating a lot of new commands for resizing holes, helps you resize patterns as well, so as a human, I can look at it and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a circular pattern.” But there’s no part history to tell NX that it’s a pattern. So, with synchronous, you can get past that hurdle by using a Resize Pattern command that we’ve gotten now. And you pick one of the holes in the pattern and it says, “Oh, hey, that’s a circular pattern,” and you can edit it just like the pattern command would work with spacing and pitch and count. It’s really incredible how quickly you can make changes with synchronous modeling. 

Jennifer Piper: Obviously, when you’re releasing software continuously there’s a fair amount of changes you’re making between versions. How much does customer feedback come into play when you’re making those updates?

Jeff Shagena: Yeah, that’s a tough one because we’ve got so many passionate users out there, we actually get thousands of enhancement requests every year. I talked to some customers out there before and some users who think, “Oh, maybe Siemens won’t see my ER, maybe they don’t care about my ER, they don’t care about what I have to say.” Well, the good news is, that’s definitely not the case. Enhancement Requests, we realized, are probably the best way for customers on a day-to-day basis to reach out to us with feedback, and that’s especially true for SMBs. We want to hear all the good ideas that are out there. We’ve got a passionate user base, we want to hear the ideas that are passionate user base has. We don’t want you to feel like you’re sidelined here. So, we’re working really diligently across the team to react as quickly as we can to all the incoming ERs. Again, as I mentioned, we’ve got thousands of ERs every year coming in, so bear with us on that. We’re not always as timely as we’d like to be but we do recognize all the effort that goes into creating an ER. And some of the ones I’ve reviewed, they’ve got videos, they’ve got PowerPoints, PDFs, part files, there’s a lot of time and effort that has gone into creating some of these ERs and putting together, basically, a whole project proposal detail with requirements. It’s really, really impressive, some of the thought and time that’s gone into some of these Enhancement Requests. 

Jennifer Piper: So if a customer has a request, they should submit it?

Jeff Shagena: I certainly encourage all of our customers: If you’ve got a good idea, submit it to us. A good idea is a good idea, we don’t care who submits it. If it’s a great idea, we’ll do it. So, I’d certainly encourage people to get engaged with the ER process for sure. 

Jennifer Piper: Jeff, before we wrap up, I’d like to talk about your vision of what’s next and what’s coming in the future for the NX and SMB market. Can you share with us what you think that might look like?

Jeff Shagena: We’re going to be investing continually in the tools like the Discovery Center, as I mentioned, to maximize the value that everybody gets from NX, regardless of whether you’re a new user, you’ve been using it for 25 years, the Discovery Center is going to help you get even more value out of NX. And then we’re also definitely going to be focused on advancements in innovation. I mentioned the over 100 patents number in the last couple of years, and I’m sure we’re going to have even more patents coming in the pipeline here shortly, especially in the AI and machine learning space — always very interesting. And we were a finalist for the AIconics Award recently here for the best in AI. I think that really is a testament to all the work that we’ve done internally on that and we certainly are industry leaders in that space. 

Jennifer Piper: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jeff Shagena: We want to make sure that users who are embracing the benefits of cloud, the work environment flexibility, working on any device, we want to make sure that we’re supporting all of those people. And I would point out that we recently—and this is something we’ve also been really highlighting internally and externally as well—just won actually an award in SaaS as well for the best SaaS Product for Engineering Management PLM or CAD at the 2022 International SaaS Awards Program. I think that’s really remarkable. And I would point out of the highlights that they gave us was the interoperability between desktop and cloud-native software was second to none. I think that speaks volumes. I feel like we’re in our infancy still in the cloud and yet we’re already getting awards for being best in class there. So, I think that just speaks volumes to where we’re heading in the future. And then, otherwise, just listening to our customers. They’re the reason we’re here, the reason we’re successful. We don’t want to forget about our customers or have them think that we’re forgetting about them, which definitely isn’t the case. I’m happy to report on all those ERs that we’re implementing. 

Jennifer Piper: What are the three main takeaways that you would like our audience to remember from our discussion today?

Jeff Shagena: Maybe I’ll sound repetitive. I think there are so many things to choose from here. But I guess the big one is that Siemens is right for SMB. We’re expanding our presence in SMB. We’re doing everything that we can to support our small and medium business customers and prospects. I think that’s the big one. And again, that’s across the board, whether it’s from a packaging standpoint, the technology standpoint, a listening standpoint — those, I guess, would be my three big points there that we’re not leaving anybody behind here. We’re moving into the future and we want SMBs right there with us.

Jennifer Piper: Thanks again, Jeff, for joining us. I look forward to talking with you again soon in our next episode.

Jeff Shagena: Absolutely. There’s always more to talk about in SMB. So, I’ll be happy to be back anytime.

Jennifer Piper: Thank you to our listeners for tuning in to today’s episode. Stay tuned to Next Generation Design for part two of our conversation with Jeff Shagena. Join us next time for more discussions about the latest in design innovation and software applications.  I’m your host, Jennifer Piper, and this has been Next Generation Design.

Next Generation Design Podcast Podcast

Next Generation Design Podcast

As product engineering tools continue to morph and expand at speeds human expertise may not be able to endure, Revolutionary design technologies that span beyond industry borders, will prove their necessity for companies looking to take over their markets in the future. What will the future of design technologies and machinery look like? What will your digitalization story be? Where engineering meets tomorrow.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/next-generation-design/nx-cad-for-smb/