Propping Up PLM

By December 29, 2017 PLM
Le Sommeil (Salvador Dali, 1937)

Why Are Companies Creating Uber-PLM Environments?

“Engineering Cockpit”, “Product Development Dashboard”, “Product Management Environment”, these are but a few actual names of integrated product lifecycle management environments developed by product companies on top of their standard off-the-shelf PLM software. Typically, these are a blend of customizations, integrations, and software add-ons, touted as a better and more comprehensive way to give design engineers a complete view of product information.

Is something wrong here? Isn’t a complete and up to date view of a design information the promise of PLM? Weren’t we told that the PLM system is THE system of record and represent the only version of the truth?

Why do companies find it necessary to prop up of-the-shelf PLM by customizing them and adding layers of software, workflows and user interfaces?

Let’s set aside the cynics’ point of view that between Engineering and IT, there’s the propensity to modify any off-the-shelf tools just because they can, under the prevailing mindset that everything off the shelf must be customized.

The fact that companies see a need to build these uber-PLM environments could point to important gaps in existing and emerging needs in product development needs that some PLM tools do not meet fully.

Rapidly Changing Product Development Environment

The increasingly complex multidisciplinary nature of product development continues to burden engineering organizations that must keep up with new technologies, shifting market demands, and complex supply chains.  Multiple value-chain participants, both internal and external, represent different, often conflicting, design goals and constraints, and employ different workflows and collaboration paradigms.

The typical product development environment encompasses multiple tools and knowledge processes scattered across the enterprise that include PLM, PDM, and ERP that use incompatible interfaces and different semantic models. The remedy, as we know all too well, it to recruit the help of less formal but highly effective tools such as spreadsheets and email.

The disdain for the rampant use of Excel to manage product lifecycle data may be justified, but the demand to get rid of it is impractical and unrealistic. Excel will to not go away because, let’s face it, it has the attributes of the perfect software tool:  it is highly flexible, has a familiar user interface, and is ubiquitous and inexpensive. Furthermore, it connects to and exchanges data with many other tools, including other rogue product development tools such as email…

The New Era of PLM

Product development concepts, such as Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE)  and Product Line Engineering (PLE), are relatively new and still emerging attempts to model and manage logical connections among requirements, design information, simulation results, test data, and other product lifecycle artifacts.

Additionally, there are new value chain participants in product lifecycle management process and practices. Some, such as the Internet of things (IoT) are truly newcomers, whereas others, for example service lifecycle management (SLM), are not necessarily new, but are finally claiming their rightful role in product lifecycle decisions.

Integrating these and other objects, data types and processes in a way that creates rich multidisciplinary context and enables frontloading key decisions requires extending the semantic model of PLM software. Admittedly, in some organizations, it also requires an overhaul of collaboration and decision-making processes.

It takes more than a better product data management (PDM) system or a single sign-on environment that some of the in-house developments boast about. Modern PLM software must be able to adopt new product development paradigms and workflows, whether formal methods such as MBSE or a company’s best practice, and integrate them at the semantic modeling level. Or else design engineers will resort to excel…

Image: Le Sommeil (Salvador Dali, 1937)