It is not unusual to hear about PLM as a single system capable to drive overall product development processes in the organization. Even more, if you look over PLM vendors marketing materials you can see many nice pictures and charts that will show you how to organize single PLM system. The reality is far from that point. Especially if you come to large enterprise organization. Enterprise is complex, driven by lots of requirements, enormously regulated and has to maintain connection with thousands of suppliers and people working in outside of the office facilities.
Engineering.com interview with Airbus’s top-ranking IT executives, Anders Romare brings lots of lights on how such a comlpex enterprise is organizing their product development and manufacturing activities as well as what PLM word means for Airbus. Navigate to the following article - PLM Systems Cleared for Take Off at Airbus, read more and draw your opinion. Airbus is using three main systems to accomplish their PLM goals. Here is a short passage that explains that:
Q: What are the major software solutions in use at Airbus? A:Catia for MCAD and digital mock-ups, with Dassault’s Enovia VPM as vault is the foundation, says Romare, while we manage and control product data via Windchill/PDM Link from PTC. Manufacturing data is managed by SAP on the ERP side, in conjunction with PDM Link. Then there are of course a number of other applications for specific needs, such as simulation. But the overall foundation is based on software from SAP, PTC and DS.
Modern enterprise is diversified. PLM environment must be able to provide an access to thousands of organizations outside of firewall. It brings the complexity of security, data access, sharing and computation to extremely high level. The interesting number for was to learn that 85% of PLM system users are external. Here is another interesting passage:
We must, for example, ensure that approximately 20 000 users are able to reach and access the PDM data. Not only that, we can have as many as 4 000-5 000 concurrent users, in real time, that share 3D data in context. This in turn requires a lot of computing power, especially when you consider that important parts of our product development work is focused on simulation, something that we enable with one of the world’s largest corporate-driven HPC facilities (High Performance Computing).
There is a single keyword explaining everything in the enterprise organization – complexity. If you think about data processing, you see a sequence of at least 3 systems processing CAD structures and Bill of Materials – Enovia VPM, Windchill and SAP.
In the 3D assemblies of the design stage, Airbus treats the engine as a “shell” to which a number of access points for mechanical, electrical and software is to be added. The responsibility for motor the area is held by the engine supplier and the aircraft operator. On the MCAD side DS ENOVIA VPM serves as vault and collaboration platform on mock-up level, but reporting under the umbrella of PTC’s Windchill/PDM Link. All of the general process and data management tasks and things like configuration management are managed directly in Windchill. Even the bills of materials (mBOM and EBOM) are planned and configured in Windchill, for instance when downloading Catia product data, although these will not be accepted until they’ve passed through the SAP ERP system. Note that Airbus also uses a range of software other than the above.
The article about Airbus PLM implementation made me think about two fundamental challenges of enterprise PLM software today. The first is related to the lifespan of the system. While most of software vendors are release software on annual basis, enterprise customers are not interested and not capable to use it. Release of software is expensive process. With no much between release and consumption, significant amount of software development budget is going to be wasted. The second one is related to desired level of complexity in data management – 1000s of users, highly complex data, requirement to provide a global access to highly configured data. All these things together make data management problem bigger than ever.
What is my conclusion? In my view, enterprise software development practices should be reviewed. There is no sense to release a product while customers won’t be able to use it. Maybe an alternative is to move from annual software release into continuous release practiced by many cloud vendors? Data management complexity of enterprise organization can compete well with challenges of global web brands. It is a time to look on the web as a source of future innovation in enterprise. Just my thoughts…