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Data, Data Everywhere OPEN ACCESS

For Companies Awash in Information, Product Lifecycle Management Provides a Way to Steer a Clearer Path to Innovation.

[+] Author Notes

John Martin is a writer based in Ithaca, N.Y.

Mechanical Engineering 137(07), 46-51 (Jul 01, 2015) (6 pages) Paper No: ME-15-JUL-3; doi: 10.1115/1.2015-Jul-3

This article explores evolution of product lifecycle management (PLM) and its advantages. PLM is commonly defined as a set of applications that enable the creation, design, and development of new products through rollout, servicing, upgrade, and end of life. PLM seller Dassault Systèmes, for example, said its 3DExperience platform is compliant with more than 40 standards requested by industry, including web, communication, visualization, and security standards. Most PLM software is able to generate reports from information located in a single system; but only skilled users are able to access, aggregate, and analyze real-time structured and unstructured data found in multiple applications across the organization. Social networks are cropping up in PLM, helping users quickly identify and construct communities with complementary skills to solve problems and enable processes. The experts comment that wherever the end user is working, behind the scenes, the PLM platform is ensuring real-time visibility and control—driving better products and reducing liability and risk.

Product lifecycle management is evolving. What was once just a data vault in engineering has become a gateway to the entire product and innovation cycle of the business. That change has given engineers and managers greater perception into the design process, leading to better decision making and cost and risk management.

The need for speed—due to frequent turnover in the product portfolio—is a big reason for the increasing transparency.

“Our research consistently shows, from year to year, that product velocity is one of the most important defining drivers for a company,” said Kevin Prouty, senior vice president for research at Aberdeen Group, a Boston research firm.

So PLM is networking across the business, linking to applications like supply chain, customer management, and manufacturing. It's capitalizing on enabling technologies like mobile, social, cloud, big data, and analytics. The Internet of Things also looms large.

McKinsey Quarterly captures the essence: “The predictable pathways of information are changing: the physical world itself is becoming a type of information system. When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly.”

In PLM's case, “The Internet of Things is becoming increasingly important for both products and factory equipment as a means of getting life cycle data for service and continuous product improvement,” said Marc Halpern, vice president for research at Gartner Inc., a research company in Stamford, Conn.

The goal is a new business scaffolding—called the Product Innovation Platform.

“Next generation PLM systems will be platforms to realize innovation, by engaging users to give everyone in the process the information needed to make the best decisions in the shortest time,” said Tom Maurer, senior director of strategy for Siemens PLM Software in Plano, Texas.

PLM is commonly defined as a set of applications that enable the creation, design, and development of new products through rollout, servicing, upgrade, and end of life. The benefits can be enormous. “Best-in-class users of PLM hit 87 percent of product launch dates vs. 64 percent of all others,” Prouty said; “84 percent of best-in-class hit product cost targets vs. 66 percent of all others.” Prouty is constrained by nondisclosure agreements from identifying specific companies.

Ron Close, Dassault: Giving process owners quicker access to key information.

Grahic Jump LocationRon Close, Dassault: Giving process owners quicker access to key information.

Peter Schroer, Aras: An increasing focus on process control.

Grahic Jump LocationPeter Schroer, Aras: An increasing focus on process control.

The first product data management systems were introduced in the early 1980s with the purpose of managing engineering documents, CAD files, and bills of material, said Andreas Lindenthal, managing partner at consulting firm PLMadvisors in Mission Viejo, Calif. Since then, he said, “Many companies have adopted PLM, but only a very limited functionality and in a small part of the organization. About 80 percent of companies that have adopted PLM use it only in engineering to manage design data, such as CAD models, drawings, assemblies, BOMs, etc.”

Still, most describe it more expansively.

“PLM is more about discipline, process, and culture than software,” Halpern said. “PLM is a discipline for guiding products and product portfolios from ideas through retirement to create the most value for businesses, their partners, and their customers.”

PLM core applications include customer needs management (capturing, ranking, and analyzing new product ideas); product portfolio and program management; product data management; collaborative design and engineering; supplier relationship management; and CAD/ CAE/CAM for design and simulation, according to Jeffrey F. Hojlo, program director at IDC Manufacturing Insights, a research and consulting firm in Framingham, Mass.

PDM is the flagship capability—managing product data—and includes a data repository, workflow for engineering change requests and change orders, and product configuration and bills-of-materials management. Increasingly, these products are not solely physical items.

“The products with the most compelling time-to-market and cost issues [consumer electronics] and the highest risk and liability concerns [automotive and aerospace] are no longer mechanical products,” said Peter Schroer, CEO and founder of Aras, a PLM company based in Andover, Mass. “While there is, of course, still mechanical content, the real IP in these products is now increasingly software and electronics.”

That ramps up the degree of difficulty. PLM traditionally has been focused on the design of physical products; embedded software was written separately and integrated afterward.

“But so much software is being applied to products today that engineering groups are losing control of it,” Prouty said. “Senior managers want more detailed visibility into how the design process is operating. We are seeing PLM vendors and users pushing to integrate the software development process into traditional PLM, whether through the vendors themselves or better integration of the development tools and processes into the overall design process.”

As software both enriches as well as complicates products—adding greater functionality and performance, and the ability to communicate back to the manufacturer—products increasingly need to be “designed and developed with a systems approach, where mechanical, electrical, software engineering, and manufacturing domains have access to all product data and designs,” Halpern said. “PLM is an enabling technology for this.”

The emphasis is control over the entirety of an interlinked and widely dispersed process.

“Centralized data management was the correct goal—and a major achievement— 20-plus years ago,” Schroer said. “Today, though, the reality is remotely distributed design teams, significantly higher reliance on supply chain partners, and tremendous pressure on reducing the time to market. These drivers demand a shift from managing data to managing process. Modern PLM methodology and software benefit from an increased focus on process control.”

That requires, for one, more attention to standards, to smooth the connectivity of systems, applications, and data. Halpern believes progress on standards for exchanging data has been slow.

“We need to pay more attention and provide more support to development and use of technical product data exchange standards such as ISO STEP Part 10303,” Halpern said. (STEP stands for Standard for the Exchange of Product and Model Data).

Vendors have taken note. PLM seller Dassault Systèmes, for example, said its 3DExperience platform is compliant with more than 40 standards requested by industry, including web, communication, visualization, and security standards.

“At the urging of our customers, the platform integrates exchange ISO Standards STEP AP203/214/242 to develop a long-term archiving strategy,” said Ron Close, senior director, Enovia marketing, at Dassault's U.S. office in Waltham, Mass. “It includes industry standards like Autosar [Automotive Open System Architecture], IFC [Industry Foundation Classes for building and construction industry data], and cross-industry standards like the Modelica modeling language, to generate sophisticated physical systems content.”

A heightened focus on standards and connectivity will go a long way toward bringing field service under the PLM big tent. Schroer sees the integration with maintenance as critical.

“In many industries—like automotive, industrial, aerospace, defense, and shipping—five to ten times more is spent on maintaining product than on designing and producing it,” he said. “The opportunity for profit optimization by applying PLM methodology to these field service and maintenance operations is huge. Equally important, if we can build a bridge from design/build makers to use/maintain operators, there is valuable feedback there to improve the next generation of new products and product IP data to empower more efficient maintenance in the field.”

Mobile will be big in this area. When field service engineers get stumped at a customer site, tablets and smartphones can deliver virtual part and product models, schematics, procedures, and other content to help break the logjam. Customers and field service people can also use mobile to offer feedback that can lead to product improvements and new ideas.

An entire production floor visualized in Siemens PLM software.

Grahic Jump LocationAn entire production floor visualized in Siemens PLM software.

That's where big data and the Internet of Things come in—converging with mobile and cloud. Halpern laid out the scenario in a Gartner report, Product Innovation Platforms: The Foundation of Product Design and PLM in the Digital Business Era.

In the report, Halpern wrote: “Big data collected via mobile devices and transmitted via the cloud, supported by IoT embedded in products and factory infrastructure, provides insight into multiple dimensions of product life cycles—including manufacturing cost and quality performance, supplier performance, customer experience, and product service experience—to both enable continuous improvement and identify new revenue generating opportunities.”

The key is for R&D and engineering to design products with internet connection in mind. According to Garrett Miller, vice president for engineering and R&D at SAP, the enterprise applications giant based in Walldorf, Germany, the Internet of Things will then, in turn, help optimize product design as companies monitor connected products in real-world use.

It’ll still take some doing. According to Thomas Ohnemus, another SAP vice president, “Being able to tease out product improvement, or even new product opportunities, from the massive amounts of data that the IoT will generate poses the biggest challenge for data management.”

Maurer agrees: this isn’t quite here yet. “There is a lot of hype about the IoT, and the connected world offers a tremendous opportunity in the future,” he said. “The bigger opportunity in the near term for big data is in collecting, analyzing, and using product performance and utilization data to improve quality and enable next-generation distributed, flexible production.”

A CMM scanning path rendered in 3-D by Siemens NX.

Grahic Jump LocationA CMM scanning path rendered in 3-D by Siemens NX.

Peter Bilello, president of CIMdata, a management consulting and research firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., is on the same page, saying that big data and analytics “will play a major role as PLM continues to move to the enterprise level. PLM is data rich, and the requirements for an innovation platform that it enables calls for extensive analytics.”

Halpern thinks areas where analytics can contribute include “understanding performance on the development and introduction of new products, product acceptance in a market, product quality, lifecycle product costs, product sustainability, and regulatory compliance.”

Although reporting and analytics on the product development process have been available in PLM, Hojlo of IDC Manufacturing Insights believes that there has not been a broad PLM analytics platform to analyze all aspects of a product lifecycle, “from design to after-market—new product ideas, product portfolio performance, costing, supplier performance, manufacturing execution, product quality, and service execution. This is evolving, with some vendors in the space offering analytics, or at least tools that enable analysis of some of the aforementioned information.”

More users are demanding it. According to Close at Dassault: “Process owners such as engineering program managers, designers, purchasing and manufacturing department personnel, and others are demanding instant data visualization and report generation to improve internal efficiencies. Most PLM software is able to generate reports from information located in a single system; but only skilled users are able to access, aggregate, and analyze real-time structured and unstructured data found in multiple applications across the organization.”

To democratize the intelligence gathering, Dassault, for example, offers web-based analytics, where users can tailor the interface and toolbars to customize reports.

“From project status and program assessment, to compliance and financial reports, to KPIs [key performance indicators] for monitoring production … the rapid discovery of hidden information, configured for user-friendly visualization, ensures users can quickly access the information needed to make better-informed decisions or take corrective actions,” Close said.

Vendors outside the product lifecycle management space recognize the opportunity. “We see more and more traditional BI [business intelligence] companies looking at apps for managing the design process,” Prouty said. “Users are driving it from the executive level.”

Social networks are cropping up in PLM, helping users “quickly identify and construct communities with complementary skills to solve problems and enable processes,” Halpern said. Dassault includes social collaboration applications in its 3DExperience platform.

The key, as always, is change.

Halpern recently met with a large company in Europe that has its hands full with PLM discipline “because engineering and manufacturing organizations struggle with transitioning their processes and practices to more systems-centric approaches,” he said. “No investment in PLM software will work if companies cannot change their behaviors.”

And it's not just people being ornery, protecting silos, or moving slow—some of it is technical. “Our studies have shown that companies struggle with consensus on data architectures and processes that will support all PLM stakeholders across engineering, manufacturing, procurement, defining product strategies, etc.,” Halpern said. “The change management and consensus building needed to evolve PLM discipline is the key challenge.”

Lindenthal of PLMAdvisors recommends tackling the issue up-front. “Most PLM software companies and system integrators underestimate or largely disregard the importance of organizational change management during the evaluation and implementation of a PLM system in the organization,” he said.

As a result, PLM is rarely fully utilized.

According to Bilello, “PLM is only scratching the surface in most organizations.”

Prouty agrees. “Our research shows that less than 40 percent of a PLM suite is used,” he said. “And this is in better companies. It comes down to training, and ability to adapt the organization to using new tools.”

Schroer at Aras thinks the solution is to make PLM vanish—“cloaking” the suite of tightly integrated services and its mix of on-premise and cloud IT underpinnings.

“To the end users, the key value proposition for the future PLM environment will be the disappearance of PLM itself,” he said. “The PLM methodology and IT technology should be embedded in the tools and applications that are used every day—MS-Office, CAD, mobile, web portals, etc. Wherever the end user is working, behind the scenes, the PLM platform is ensuring real-time visibility and control—driving better products and reducing liability and risk.”

 Collaboration— and Design—in Motion

The following scenario, created by Marc Halpern, vice president at Gartner Inc., illustrates an application of product lifecycle management. It is adapted from his report, Product Innovation Platforms: The Foundation of Product Design and PLM in the Digital Business Era.

An engineering manager leaves her Boston office for the airport to meet a prospective customer with a proposed product design. She knows the customer wants a lower price or will not accept the proposal. She analyzed performance and manufacturing quality data from similar products in the field using Internet of Things technology; her new design reflects these findings.

In the taxi, she sends a link to the design—from her mobile device, via the cloud—to a colleague in Munich, an expert in manufacturing cost estimating. When she reaches the airport they hold a collaboration session— she using her smartphone and he on his tablet, both viewing, rotating, and annotating a 3-D model of the original design.

She also knows design changes might impact the electronics packaging, so she uses the internal social network to find a packaging expert and determine that person's availability. She finds her expert in the company's Singapore office—figuring that using someone in Asia will allow her to leverage the time difference between Singapore, Munich, and Boston.

The Singapore expert does not have a license to access the company's design software; the manager approves a copy of the cloud-based application, and links the German engineer with the expert. While she is traveling and sleeping that night, the German and Singaporean engineers collaborate and propose two design alternatives that reduce the cost and satisfy packaging needs—performing simulations of mold filling and packaging (using cloud-based computing power) with predictive costing on their mobile devices.

Part of the redesign process involves finding parts from suppliers. They use geometry-based search to find 3-D models on the Web that they can test for fit, form, and function without building prototypes.

The next morning the engineering manager uses her tablet to access the design from her company's private cloud. She finds features from both designs that she wants to merge. After completing her proposed changes, she sends a quick text from her mobile device to the German engineer's laptop to confirm that her changes will not increase manufacturing cost or sacrifice quality. He works with her online to discover that a slight change to the merged design would improve manufacturability, thus improving quality and reducing cost.

Throughout the process, a cloud-based content management software is transparently capturing the progressive design. Anyone with access can roll backward and forward through the history of the design to understand who was involved, what they did, and how the design progressed.

During the customer meeting the engineering manager performs simulations in a virtual environment to demonstrate how the product will operate.

Copyright © 2015 by ASME
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