I’m going to attend Eurostep Share-A-Space 2011 forum later this week in Stockholm, Sweden. The history of the invitation to this conference is going back to my long time interest in the topic of standards. I’ve been researching and learning about this topic many years. I posted few blogs about what is my view on what happens with standards in engineering and manufacturing in general and how I see standard-related activities in PLM. If you had no chance to look over this particular topic, here is the partial list of my posts related to standards: Open Standards and Data Sharing, PLM and Open Standards: Money Talks? and PLM Standards: From Formats to Frameworks
As a result of my posts about standards, I had a very interesting discussion with Hakan Karden of Eurostep, and he invited me to attend Eurostep Share-A-Space 2011 forum. So, I’m heading to Stockholm this week and hope to learn more about what Eurostep is calling “Standard based PLM”.
Standards: A toothbrush approach?
A common problem with standards is that every company in manufacturing has their own way of doing things, but they do it differently to how other companies do it. However, they don’t want to do things the way other people do it. I can see two main reasons – 1/ the way engineers and manufacturing people see the company value and differentiation with what they do; 2/ high level of diversity in the manufacturing sector (especially when it comes to smaller companies). Company attitude to PLM standards can be compared with how they feel about their toothbrush. Every company has one and nobody wants to use anybody else’s.
Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data (STEP) is an ISO standard that describes how to represent and exchange digital product information. If you have never seen and heard about it before, it is a time to navigate your browser to the following Wikipedia link about ISO. In my view, this is the most comprehensive and mature standard when it comes to CAD, PDM/EDM and CAx systems. It started almost 30 years ago (1984) and was intentionally directed to become a single, complete, implementation-independent Product Information Model, which shall be the Master Record of the integrated topical and application information models.
Standard Based PLM?
Product Information model is one of the central pieces of every PLM implementation. What if we can use STEP as a standard to implement it? This is sounding a good idea. However, in my view, devil is in details. It always looks good on slides and gets very complicated when start to implement that. STEP is a mature standard and support by many applications must exchange and save data in a neutral format. From my perspective, there is a difference between how you exchange information vs. how you need to manage information. I found that standard based approach can be interesting when you’re implementing a system that helps people to collaborate. I found a reference to Implementing the Engineering Collaboration Hub project. Navigate to the following link to read more about that. This implementation reminded me some BPM (Business Process Management) examples of interaction between multiple systems. In a big company, PLM is always a system that involved into serveral interactions with other systems. The benefit of a standard data exchange framework is obvious in this case.
What is my conclusion? Life would be definitely easy if we can make it according to the standards. Standards can simplify a lot of things. Actually, they do. We can see lots of very useful standards around us that were formed during years and centuries. Is it something that helps people to run their product development? Yes, definitely. There are many well adopted standards and STEP is one of them. There are some others in CAD, CAx and related fields. In my view, there are some limits on how fast standards can proliferate. One of the factors is acceptance by industry ecosystem (in our case, we are talking about software vendors). If industry vendors will see direct benefits, the proliferation will speed up, otherwise standard can slow down and even die. I’m going to learn more during this week and, of course, will share it with you.