Manufacturing companies are speaking about the necessity for openness. You can learn it from Steven Vettermann’s article – Ready for openness. You can read the following passages quoting Daimler and Mercedes-Benz IT executives:
No one can live shut off from the rest of the world any more. Openness is crucial. We expect genuinely open systems because we must be able to integrate components from different vendors on the basis of open standards [Helmut Schütt, CIO Commercial Vehicles Trucks Buses & Vans at Daimler]
PLM manufacturers now have the opportunity to offer innovative new products and that’s not a bad thing. But for us as an OEM, the essential thing is that the individual modules can not just be bolted on but are instead highly integrated and that, if necessary, we can replace them by other best-in-class systems. That is the main challenge, and one to which the IT vendors have not yet paid enough attention. That is why we are so vociferous in demanding openness, interoperability and support for international standards [Dr. Siegmar Haasis, Head of Information Technology Management at the Mercedes-Benz Cars Research & Development Department]
As you can read, manufacturing companies are ready and openness sounds like inevitable future. However, the vision of the openness as it articulated by manufacturing companies is not as simple. For example the idea to use PLM individual modules as highly integrated, but also easy replaced by other (similarly?) components from other vendors and systems is profound and solid, but very hard to implement.
While the demand for brutal openness is clear, the technological readiness remains questionable to me. Even if I imagine PLM vendors to agree about how “to bolt and integrate” modules in the way manufacturing companies will be able to replace it, I can it as a significant technological challenges for PLM platform providers to bring it into reality.
As manufacturing is growing into large global interconnected systems, the examples from web world can become a good place to learn about potential challenges and think about potential solutions.
One of the example of standards and content interoperability is schema.org and some related initiatives. You might remember my earlier articles mentioning schema.org initiative. Check out these articles – Why manual data modeling should be a thing in the past; Online product data is a critical element for the future of manufacturing brands; The future of Part Numbers and unique identification; How to forget ODBC and rethink PLM data openness.
Google research blog published Four years of Schema.org – Recent Progress and Looking Forward article. Schema.org started as a vocabulary for structured data markup on web pages. Here is an interesting passage:
Four years after its launch, Schema.org is entering its next phase, with more of the vocabulary development taking place in a more distributed fashion, as extensions. As schema.org adoption has grown, a number groups with more specialized vocabularies have expressed interest in extending schema.org with their terms. Examples of this include real estate, product, finance, medical and bibliographic information. A number of extensions, for topics ranging from automobiles to product details, are already underway. In such a model, schema.org itself is just the core, providing a unifying vocabulary and congregation forum as necessary.
If you are interested in a more deep look into what is schema.org is you can navigate to the following article – Schema.org: Evolution of Structured Data on the Web. This is where things are getting really interesting, in my view. The article look into retrospective of various initiatives helped to form and create a standard data representation for the web.
The early vision of the information pulled from multiple websites can be presented as the following picture as common data model:
MCF18 (Meta Content Framework), introduced ideas from knowledge representation (frames and semantic nets) to the Web and proposed going further by using a common data model—namely, a directed labeled graph. Its vision was to create a single graph (or knowledge base) about a wide range of entities, different parts of which would come from different sites.
An initial idea of description of data on the web looks very much similar to many initiatives to create common PLM data model these days. Structured data, relationships, networks, logical statements. The idea itself is simple and powerful. However, to bring such simple idea to the world is very hard. I can see the evolution of schema.org as an interesting example shows an evolutionary trajectory of structured data modeling into much simpler scenarios of web search. It presents an interesting practical route for standard web data representation on the web and it can help to find a right approach of standard solution for PLM.
Here is my favorite passage from the article with conclusion about schema.org evolution:
Over the past four years, Schema.org has evolved in many ways, both organizationally and in terms of the actual schemas. It started with a couple of individuals who created an informal consortium of the three initial sponsor companies. In the first year, these sponsor companies made most decisions behind closed doors. It incrementally opened up, first moving most discussions to W3C public forums, and then to a model where all discussions and decision making are done in the open, with a steering committee that includes members from the sponsor companies, academia, and the W3C.
Four years after its launch, Schema.org is entering its next phase, with more of the vocabulary development taking place in a more distributed fashion. A number of extensions, for topics ranging from automobiles to product details, are already under way. In such a model, Schema.org itself is just the core, providing a unifying vocabulary and congregation forum as necessary.
What is my conclusion? Although OEMs and other manufacturing companies are looking for the most sophisticated scenario of bolting and integrating components and subsystems of PLM infrastructure, the right approach might be much simpler. For example, to find connecting points between these solutions similar to how schema.org became a solution to standard information representation for web search. Schema.org has been a resource for web masters looking to add markup to their pages so that search engines can use that data to index content better and surface it in new experiences. Web masters and websites benefits from that. That was the main reason why adoption of schema.org has grown. To look for similar mutually beneficial solution for all PLM vendors and manufacturing companies will help to find a new way of openness for manufacturing and PLM systems in the future. Just my thoughts…
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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.