Can digital twin help PLM to unstuck from engineering?

Can digital twin help PLM to unstuck from engineering?


IoT and connected products are transforming businesses and industries. The expectation is high, so we can see how whole industries are switching towards IoT adoption. However, as I mentioned in my article earlier, it takes time and requires redefinition of tools and processes.

Design World article reminded us about challenges of IoT and Digital Twin concept in the last article – Challenges for the Digital Twin concept. It raised 2 interesting questions related 2D drafting and small manufacturing suppliers. Here is the passage that caught my attention.

Connecting the digital silos The first step to implement the digital twin concept requires 3D models, not 2D drawings. The 2016 Worldwide CAD Trends Survey by Business Advantage shows that two thirds of users surveyed out of 610 still rate 2D drafting as highly important. 39% of design work produces 2D drawings, 27% 3D models and 34% both 2D drawings and 3D models. 2D drawings automatically generated from 3D CAD models are important as is more software development on 2D drawing capability.

While large corporations can demonstrate proof of concept, this proof will not be enough to realize economic gains. A digital twin will be required across entire supply chains. The challenges here involve globalization, new manufacturing techniques and liberalization policies. Managing all these design data for digital twin amongst partners and suppliers as the physical product evolves will be a challenge.

For a successful implementation of a digital twin concept, the key is to first assist and support small suppliers in adopting a digital approach. Looking at the survey data mentioned earlier, there is a need for organizations to transform their design operations to completely 3D and get rid of 2D drawings. The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) is making efforts in this direction through a U.S. federally funded R&D organization that recently issued a project call to demonstrate technologies for digital twins from supply chain participants.

I found fascinating that in order to deliver digital twin promise, manufacturing companies will have to solve 2 very old and significant problem in CAD and PLM – eliminate 2D drawings and bring PLM to small and medium companies (suppliers).

The transition from 2D to 3D started several decades ago and never ended. And if you look at modern professional CAD systems today, 2D drafting is still coming as one of the most fundamental requirement. In my view, one of the best explanation about longevity of 2D drawings is belonging to Mike Payne. He made it at COFES 2010 in his 18 min speech about the future of MCAD. According to Mike,2D is still alive – “because it just works”. Whatever you’ll do in 3D will depend on the software you use. Whatever you are making in 2D can stay forever.


The second topic is related to suppliers and digital processes. As much as we like to see PLM transforming product development processes, when it comes to small suppliers, Excel and 2D drawing is the most efficient collaboration tool. PLM systems for SME companies are glorified document management for the best. Read Why PLM stuck in PDM? And spreadsheet is the best communication model with contractors and suppliers.

In my view earlier article Why PLM stuck to provide solution for SME I mentioned that all earlier used PLM models for SME didn’t work. PLM vendors tried out-of-the-box product and it failed. Toolbox approach have failed too. The cost of implementations is still very high and it is prohibiting SME organizations and suppliers to adopt PLM technologies.

What is my conclusion? The best vision for the future of IoT can fail because of fundamentally problematic issues – 2D drawing and outdated PLM approach for suppliers. Without these 2 issues,to convert manufacturing and PLM industry into a bright IoT future will be very hard. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

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


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  • David

    Hi Oleg another good article to start a very relevant discussion around IIoT.

    IMHO eliminating drawings is not essential to realising IIoT, instead the goal should be focused on creating a network of interrelated information that defines, describes and drives the operation of an asset or thing. This can be started with 2D drawings or even paper as long as you have a way of extracting classified and indexed data form those documents. I have some customers who have digital ‘assets’ consisting of indexed drawings where the items contained in them have been scraped off and converted into objects in a database. I also have customers who have just laser scans, but each item that is relevant for operations and maintenance is tagged and connected to all the other information available on them. I totally agree that we need to find a way to get suppliers/vendors into the loop. I had some experience with this in the dot com boom of the late 90s, where i was involved in a database of equipment that connected suppliers to designers. The key KEY concept was to ensure a UUID (Universal Unique Identifier) was added to any object as soon as it was created digitally. This UUID kept everything together throughout the lifecycle regardless of what database or platform it resided in.

  • beyondplm

    David, thanks for sharing your experience. To connect information related to product and then suppliers, manufacturers and users is indeed a key to move forward.