Existing PLM systems were born few decades ago to provide a solution to control engineering data. Hence the paradigm of data control is built in on a very fundamental level. In a nutshell, PLM is a databases to store, retrieve and protect extended CAD data, which can include files, related information such as specs, BOMs, etc. All these things are good and manufacturing companies are using it in variety of ways in product development and manufacturing.
But, manufacturing is changing these days. Vertical integration and data access control in a single database are going to be replaced by a new reality of distributed processes, eco-system of manufacturing companies, suppliers and contractors. Manufacturing is organized in networks, using new computing architectures. New digital habits formed for the last decade of web and social networking is impacting modern manufacturing environment. Modern data management technologies and architectures are opening new horizons and opportunities for PLM developers.
It made me think about what technological elements can form a foundation of future PLM systems. Here is my take on a following 3 things that will change future of PLM: 1- Multi-disciplinary search; 2- Global data environment; 3- Real time collaboration and change management.
1- Multi-disciplinary search.
Search isn’t a totally new category in PLM systems. Current CAD, PDM, PLM systems are able to perform some search functions. But early search systems are focusing on a specific discipline like predefined categories of meta data, 3D model or image. As a result existing search system is limited to a specific data silo or information type. New search systems will have to do two important things – simplify search input mechanism and to connect multiple data disciplines into a network of information allowing to extract data in a meaningful form. The critical aspect – speed and effort to find what you need.
2- Global data environment
Existing PLM systems are managing data in a database usually created for a specific customer. While it is a very natural way today, such data management paradigm combined with long product lifecycle creates lot of problems. There are no products developed by a single company these days and existing systems are ignoring such aspect of data management totally. Global traceability of information is limited as well as an ability to improve decision management. Future PLM environment will have to extend existing data management by creating global manufacturing data environment not limited to a single company.
3- Real time collaboration and change management
Existing systems are processing data in a very serialized form. The fundamental scenario is to check-in/out data or lock records before data can be changed by a single person. Although, this is valid paradigm that worked for many years, it creates lot of additional complexity levels while operating in a global distributed environment. The demand of people these days is to make work in parallel and allow to system to process changes. It is not a simple thing to do while existing PLM technologies are working with files and traditional relational database records. Future PLM technologies will allow parallel work by people involved into product design, engineering, supply chain and manufacturing.
How industry will transform from an existing status quo to a new paradigm? New paradigms might create lot of new challenges for manufacturing companies concerned about new technologies and software adoption and retiring existing products. The adoption of PLM systems is usually long process involving change management and organizational transformation. You can change technologies overnight, but you cannot do the same with people. As systems are growing in complexity and scale, big bang approach is losing its popularity and companies are considering co-existence as a strategy for change. Some vendors considering bi-modal PLM approach as a way to make a change by keeping stable PLM level and introducing new systems capable to provide agile product development environment. The key element here will be manufacturing competition. New PLM paradigm will create a new environment capable to re-write existing competition rules for manufacturing.
What is my conclusion? Working remotely, connecting with people across multiple organization and having the ability to access data immediately can change PLM paradigm for manufacturing companies in 21st century. While previous PLM paradigm was mainly to control data, new digital environment realities are different – connectivity, data sharing and work distribution will be playing an new important role. New PLM will move from data controlling environment to become a tool to change manufacturing competition 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.