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The Microeconomics of Plant Design

By on January 13, 2013 in Editorial, News, Plant Software with 1 Comment

I have to admit to one thing: I really didn’t like the economics classes I had in college. Maybe it was the fact that I was broke most of the time and the concept of massive economies the size of nations was beyond what I was able to understand at the time. Fast forward to 2013: I’m reading this book that a friend recommended to me called “Consumption Economics – The New Rules of Tech” by J.B. Wood, Todd Hewlin and Thomas Lah. More than just reading it, I’m understanding it – and believe me it makes a lot of sense.

I agree with the authors that this may be the “next big thing” in tech

The basic concept is that there are a number of converging trends in technology today that are changing the face of how it is delivered to the consumer. Mobile apps, “the cloud”, SaaS (Software as a Service), and of all things, the iPhone have paved the way for this new zeitgeist in the tech world. I don’t use that word lightly either: I agree with the authors that this may be the “next big thing” in tech. In a nutshell, the power of the consumers to choose a la carte the services, media or apps they want – and pay for it as they need it – seems to appeal to the smart shopper in me. Big dollar, complex enterprise software has definitely paid for more than a few mortgages over the past couple decades but is it the only game in town? Specifically, when it comes to plant design software: are the top software vendors playing the game the only way it can be played?

Mobile apps, “the cloud”, SaaS (Software as a Service), and of all things, the iPhone have paved the way for this new zeitgeist in the tech world

I remember when PC CAD software was being ridiculed by the mainframe and mini-computer world at the same time it was sweeping through the schools and mom-and-pop engineering firms. This transformed design all over the world, putting amazing drafting and design tools in the hands of creative people at a fraction of the cost of big-money CAD applications. Here we are now in the 21st century with the power of the internet, cloud computing and some really fast hardware compared to 1985 – so why not have another revolution? In plant design, maybe we designers should demand something other than the current assortment of complex, datacentric software solutions that require a pack of admins to run.

Maybe the answer is akin to something like the iTunes App Store. How about this: instead of paying anywhere from $9000 to $30,000 per seat for a plant design system I just buy the “base” application for a $1000 per user and pay as I need more functionality. Believe me, some of the people I’ve worked with would do just fine with only the basic functionality; while others would love to do more if it didn’t cost so much to add on functionality. With just an internet connection, a decent workstation and the input data, I should be able to have the cloud do my isometric generation, stress analysis or clash detection on an as needed basis.

…there are still a lot of small and mid-sized engineering firms that balk at the capital expense involved in purchasing, customizing, and deploying a fully-functional plant design platform…

Why should I fuss with software patches, workstation limitations and configuration headaches when I could pay, say, $0.25 per isometric run. Pencilling out this hypothetical example, let’s say a user generates 1000 isos that year, I’ve still only spent $1250. Potentially, my small engineering firm could have much the same software functionality of a much larger firm without the extensive initial financial commitment. Why would software companies do this, you ask? First, running cloud-based apps gives the vendors instantaneous and accurate usage data that could be used to steer future development and marketing efforts. Also, I think they would attract a loyal and active user base; there are a lot of small and mid-sized engineering firms that balk at the capital expense involved in purchasing, customizing and deploying a fully-functional plant design platform. Moreover, the cyclical nature of the construction business and project execution poses a unique challenge to companies that aren’t large enough to merit enterprise-level software licensing. Having an extensible solution geared to allow those companies to compete and continue to provide excellent service to their industrial clients seems to be the answer. Otherwise, we may all ultimately end up working at some very large engineering firms with complex software that will always do way more than we need and never what we actually want.

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About the Author

About the Author: The almighty Zortar (Joel Harris) is a piping designer with 25 years experience. In addition to piping design, Joel created the first Autodesk Plant 3D college level curriculum and teaches piping design fundamentals at his local college. Joel was a project manager on Project X and is a leader in the Krew. He has garnered the reputation of being "The Most Interesting Man In The World". .

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  1. Plant Salad says:

    Great read, and great ideas. Definitely something to think about. We just need to get past all the “but this is how we’ve always done it” people.

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