What trends will shape product lifecycle management (PLM) in 2023? We spoke to three PLM experts about this topic: Prof. Dr.-Ing., Martin Eigner (Eigner Engineering Consult), Ulrich Sendler (PLM trade journalist), and Jos Voskuil (PLM Green Global Alliance). They identify four key trends: networked systems are becoming more important, businesses follow a model-based approach, digital twins are becoming commonplace, and sustainability determines corporate strategy. This blog post looks at these four themes that will shape PLM in 2023.
System lifecycle management: networked systems are coming
"The German manufacturing industry is still very much driven by product thinking," says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Eigner. "But nowadays, products are increasingly transforming into interdisciplinary, networked systems with a high proportion of software and service." Such service-oriented business models are based on smart products. Companies receive information from sensors, which they use to enhance the product with services, such as status monitoring in the cloud or remote maintenance – unthinkable without software.
This is particularly evident in the automotive industry, where the share of new types of electronic components and software is already significantly higher than it was ten years ago. And this development is ongoing. Autonomous vehicles allow for new business models such as "robotaxis" or autonomous transportation. Once autonomy level four is realized in the near future, they will act as a system of hardware and software components, interacting with each other and with the environment.
"This development also changes classic product lifecycle management," says Martin Eigner. "It reflects the system aspect much more strongly and becomes system lifecycle management." Businesses need to catch up with this development, even if they have had great success with other concepts in the past. Work in companies today is often still siloed. Each technological discipline does its own thing. However, new, interdisciplinary business models are the future.
Model-based work: PLM from start to finish
The development of product lifecycle management is ongoing. Classic bills of materials are still important, but the model-based approach is becoming dominant. In most companies, PLM has focused only on individual product lifecycle stages. This is due to the document-based way of working, which corresponds to the usual linear product cycles.
"Model-based work is the key," emphasizes PLM expert Ulrich Sendler. Models give businesses a formal description that is used throughout the lifecycle. As Sendler put it, "The model is created at the initial idea for a new system and then transferred through design, manufacturing, and aftersales service to every stage of the entire lifecycle." PLM software supports the model-based approach but is still underdeveloped in German industry.
One major gap is software development which is only sparsely integrated into product lifecycle management solutions. Although there are specialized applications for software lifecycle management, they often lack an interface to industrial PLM systems. In addition, the overarching aspect is also not realized: the software is often developed as a black box independent of the actual product lifecycle.
Digital Twin: PLM goes real-time
Model-based PLM leads directly to the use of digital twins. Digital twins are the digital representation of a system, that is, the end product of the digitalization of the engineering process. They are based on digital models, for example, architecture, process, and simulation models.
This digital twin – the model of a system – is linked to the original system by a two-way data link. The data comes from integrated sensors and control systems. In this way, the twin reflects the current status of the linked object in real-time and can control it if necessary. In the manufacturing industry, this is often used to control individual machines or entire production plants.
"Managing digital twins with a PLM solution changes the entire character of product lifecycle management," says PLM specialist Jos Voskuil. "It now uses real-time information and is not just a database." The data visible in a PLM solution provides information not only about normative aspects ("This is how the design should look") but also about the reality of product use ("This is how the customer is currently using the product").
Sustainability: the circular economy with PLM
The current trends in PLM, such as systems thinking, model orientation, and digital twins, point to the megatrend of sustainability. "Modern PLM systems make it easier for companies to enter the circular economy," emphasizes Jos Voskuil. "In doing so, the systems cover the entire product lifecycle, including the time after sale until disposal or take-back." Find the full interview with the co-founder of the PLM Green Global Alliance here:
New PLM systems capabilities allow companies to incorporate features such as the ability to repair or recycle into their products much more easily. In addition, PLM helps reduce the carbon footprint of the entire company. In this context, sustainability starts with the initial preliminary design considerations for products by selecting sustainable and environmentally friendly materials and components. The fact is that 80% of an ecological footprint is determined in the design phase.
"Sustainability also involves a new mindset," says PLM expert Ulrich Sendler. "Companies need to adapt to the fact that sustainability and the circular economy require continuous data collection throughout the lifecycle." Once again, this necessitates real-time data collection. Detailed PLM data on sustainability can be used to improve a product and make it even more environmentally friendly.
Conclusion: PLM is becoming more complex – and more useful
Systems, models, digital twins, and the move into the circular economy - product lifecycle management has become more than just managing bills of materials in a database. PLM accesses many data sources and, in the future, also includes external information integrated via data sharing but not stored within the company. From this, a PLM system generates a dynamic representation of the product, either as a real-time representation or as a view into the product and design history. These possibilities will become indispensable for a company's sustainability and economic success.