Do you need to get a “Life”?

Many companies are struggling to get beyond PDM within Engineering to full PLM with end-to-end lifecycle management. What happened to the “L” in PLM? The “Lifecycle” in Product Lifecycle Management is, after all, the key to enabling companies to digitally transform their businesses and deal with the ever-increasing complexity of their products, which will continue in operation. Without the L, there is no continuous feedback loop, no Digital Thread, and no full traceability to products that will continue to evolve long after they leave the factory.

The promise of PLM is to manage every aspect of the product through the entire lifecycle, from inception to grave. The “L” is often depicted along a horizontal line showing different stages, such as concept, design, manufacturing, and service. Depending on industry and specific business practices, the stages may vary, but the key is that PLM provides a means to connect the lifecycle stages to business processes with other software systems so that people can use and enhance product data anywhere along its lifecycle. Without the “L,” there’s a disconnect—“a failure to communicate”—and it smells an awful lot like PLM’s predecessor, Product Data Management (PDM), struggling to get out of Engineering.

Most companies deployed their first-generation PDM in the 1990s. And despite references to lifecycle stages in the 1980s, most PDM deployments were targeted at CAD drawing management or configuration management of parts in Engineering. This typically included version control, change management and integrations to CAD, technical specifications, and relationships to product structures like EBOMs, and, occasionally, MBOMs. Regardless of the definition, PDM was an engineering tool, and a subset of what became PLM, which was intended to be an enterprise system, similar in stature to the company’s ERP or CRM tool.

The days of the product launch-and-forget are over and jacked-up PDM systems pretending to be PLM have gone with it. OEMs need to get a “Life” and PLM vendors will either respond or be replaced.

Companies are in the midst of digital transformations. The demand for more complex, connected, and personalized products is driving OEMs to use a digital platform that manages their product lifecycle end-to-end. The convergence of the need to manage multiple disciplines concurrently, control variability, and manage configurations across a connected Digital Thread with feedback loops, product insights, traceability, in-service updates, and continuous innovation must be delivered for OEMs to compete.

PLM has been sold for 15+ years, and 65% of PLM deployments are 10 years or older, so it’s high time for us to discuss the elephant in the room—the missing “L.”

It’s no secret that there have been many PLM deployment-related issues, such as scope creep and poor data strategies that lead to getting locked-in. This can then lead to suboptimal processes that have ground a company’s PLM journey to a slow death, where it is then relegated to use just within engineering. There are many references to Aras’s speed to deploy and upgrade: CIMdata on Aras PLM Platform: Redefining Customization & Upgrades

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that some PLM vendors have never had a full PLM capability.  Except for the phrase “PLM,” until recently, some never claimed to either. In 2017, if I did a search on “Digital Twin” or “Digital Thread”, it would not even appear on all PLM vendors site.  This is not a shot at the PLM vendors as much as the need to understand what requirements you have that will give you a working PLM system.

It’s just as important to not impede the PLM system by using software modules that get in the way—a mistake I often see due to vendor bias. Be disciplined and only use the best technology and best practices that will result in the most flexible, streamlined end-to end lifecycle capability.

The flexible architecture and support of common industry standards enables Aras Innovator to serve as a PLM backbone for more and more companies. – CIMdata

When it comes to PLM, no one ever stood up and proclaimed, “Tear down this wall!” If the strategy was to “throw it over the wall” to ERP in the form of an integration, that’s just PDM. Unfortunately, I see this in loT, and it is essentially stepping off the Digital Cliff. Instead, the same CM2 rigor applied to engineering is required across the Digital Thread through organizational silos (especially interacting with ERP) to the Digital Twin of the physical product in service. This lack of a horizontal drive by companies to streamline their Digital Thread is one of the primary failures of what has happened to the “L.”

Given the increase in product complexity, you can no longer afford to work in isolated silos and reduce your time-to-market. Product development is no longer a serial activity, such as hardware, then software, then test, but rather, an interconnected concurrent process. This means PLM has to transform to accommodate multiple disciplines, not just in engineering but throughout the lifecycle.   This requires more upfront, downstream, and cross-discipline systems engineering to control variability. If this is not part of the lifecycle process, you’re forcing unconstrained complexity on your supply chain and services with little to no traceability.

A digitally connected company can redefine the relationship between products and customers. In the past, ideation was essentially a green field with many assumptions, but it lacked the insight of many disparate groups including the customer. Now, with a multi-discipline end-to end PLM innovation platform acting as your Digital Thread with a Digital Twin and continuous feedback loop, including IoT data, companies will have the ability to validate their assumptions and accelerate the innovation of their products as well as continue to improve them in-service. I would further contend that the product lifecycle is no longer a straight line from cradle to grave, but one that iterates around the customer in a series of tightening concentric circles where inception and the grave begin to blur as one fuses into the other. This iterative loop allows for agile development, accelerated innovation, and provides a less risky method for new product introduction. The manufacturer that disrupts their competitor needs to know their customer’s needs before the customer, and to do that, you’re not using PDM–you must be connected to the product throughout its lifecycle.

In order to achieve a digital transformation and control the configuration and complexity of your products, including in-service, you must have an end-to-end product lifecycle. In the Digital Age, with the emergence of smart, connected products, it’s critical to aggregate all product data horizontally across organizational silos throughout the lifecycle to the Digital Twin. I believe you must have an open, flexible, scalable, and upgradeable product innovation platform that encompasses a multi-disciplined closed loop product lifecycle system. This enables processes to be continuously optimized to allow a company’s ecosystem to be hyper-connected, facilitating accelerated product innovation, an end-to-end customer experience, improved operational flexibility, and efficiency.

I urge you to find your L.  And as always, I welcome your thoughts.