Will future PLM order parts for makers?

Will future PLM order parts for makers?


Have you heard about “makers”? If you are in manufacturing business, you probably should pay attention to that. You may hear about “makers movement” these days as a new industrial revolution changing the way people are making stuff. I can recommend you Chris Anderson’s book to read more about that.

New digital technologies are going to change the way we design and manufacturing products. It appears today largely as a new group of manufacturing entrepreneurs, startup companies and small manufacturing firms. PLM vendors are not very successful in providing solutions for SME companies. Historically it was a tough call for PLM vendors. It was too competitive and confusing with major PLM business – large OEMs and suppliers. With new manufacturing eco-system, the situation is getting very interesting. One of the objectives of PLM is to help company to innovate and delivery new products fast. It sounds like a very compelling reason for new manufacturing startups. Read my earlier blog – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? This is an opportunity for new PLM solutions. However, it looks like something that PLM vendors are missing for the moment – PLM and Manufacturing Startups: Potential Mismatch? We have a complexity of new manufacturing products, multiplied by a complexity of new type of manufacturing processes. It looks like an existing enterprise software doesn’t fit very well a new and growing eco-system of manufacturing companies.

Let me take an example of PLM and ERP system breakdown. The traditional split between PLM and ERP is usually presented as “innovation vs. transactions”. PLM system is responsible for engineering part of the business and takes hands off from ordering  by moving business process to ERP. This is works well for traditional manufacturing companies. However, PLM v ERP interplay is a very challenging and complicated process in every company.  Would it be the same for new type of manufacturing entrepreneurs? This is a good question to ask… I’m pretty sure that new manufacturing companies can question a need to have multiple systems- they will be looking for some sort of intelligent online solutions that can easy interplay together and cover both engineering and manufacturing piece.

My attention was caught by Fortune article – In B2B e-commerce, Alibaba has solved the one problem Amazon can’t. Read the article. I found it very interesting. It is not about PLM. However, I captured a passage that speaks about B2B and supply chain communication.

But there is one true giant in the category: Alibaba, the Chinese retail darling that last week revealed plans for a $21.12 billion initial public offering, which has dominated in B2B e-commerce. I was reminded of this over the weekend while listening to Planet Money’s entertaining explainer of the Alibaba wholesale market. Through Alibaba.com and 1688.com, the company provides to people everywhere access to the Chinese supply chain. This means tinkerers, builders, entrepreneurs, and small businesses can order custom motors and parts from Chinese factories without having to travel there, find a scout, and forge a relationship with a manufacturer before doing business. It opens up the world of international suppliers to people who wouldn’t normally have access to it. They can buy in bulk through Alibaba, which acts as a trusted third party, vouching for the transaction.

It made me think about a potential of PLM software to get connected to online e-commerce systems to process  orders and even more- optimizing product design and engineering solution based on that. It probably sounds crazy. However, who knows… Many things that we knew as a separate parts in the past, now unified as a single products. Think about iPhone, which replaced many existing devices. Today’s Apple Watch and Apple Pay announcements are hinting about future transformation of well-known habits. There are some other examples as well.

What is my conclusion? I like to quote Mark Andreessen for the conclusion – “Software is eating the world”. There are lot of traditional system breakdown that are going to be transformed and disappear in the future. What looks like a right split between product innovation (PLM) and order-transaction (ERP) today, can be challenged in the future. So, who knows? Maybe tomorrow PLM systems will order parts from Amazon B2B e-commerce web services? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • My first reaction here was that you know PLM pretty well but you have gone too far. You have a hammer so every problem now looks like a nail.

    Then I realized the fault was mine. I see “PLM” and think of the business domain, not the words… “Product Lifecycle Management”. Maker me that works 2 days a week and 7-10 at night is generating a lot of product data. I have CAD files and their resulting STL files for my 3D printer, Arduno sketches for THREE different types of arduinos and a Pi, C++ and C# source code for mobile devices apps. I’ve even helping a friend with his Kickstarter project. There are bins of resistors, wires and bread boards all of which I need to manage and order if supplies get low. Collaboration exists but is poor going though github, Microsoft forums, vendor forums, and Facebook chat.

    I definitely need some product lifecycle management in my life.

  • beyondplm

    Mark, thanks for you comment! I like your reaction :). Actually, lots of things in “PLM” space are taken with an assumption and context of PLM system development in the past. I’m not sure future of PLM should be related to these PLM Three Letter Acronym. However, problems that engineers, manufacturers, startup and other companies will have in the future of manufacturing are probably will be different from large aero- and defense companies back 20-25 years ago. Therefore, we need to look for new concepts and ways to re-think PLM. Transformations in manufacturing space will bring a transformation in PLM. Just my thoughts… Oleg

  • spd

    You are on absolutely the right track. The incumbent vendors aren’t going to solve this. They are too big and bloated. And the market is crying out for a step change in cost, ease of use and supporting new business models.

    Stay in this spot.

  • beyondplm

    Shyam, thanks for your comment! You are right, the change is very hard for established vendors. This is could a be a case with existing established PLM vendors.