Why small engineering [product] teams aren’t buying PDM / PLM solutions?

Why small engineering [product] teams aren’t buying PDM / PLM solutions?

Engineering.com just published an article confirming that small design and engineering team aren’t interested much in buying and implementing data management solutions (PDM and PLM). The following picture shows you an ugly truth – 60% of users aren’t using anything but shared drives and Excel spreadsheets to manage design and engineering data.

I think, 40% is already good number compared to adoption of the same type of solutions 10 years ago, it is still leaves a big adoption gap. So ,why these teams aren’t buying PDM/ PLM solutions? Especially, if the value of these solutions is very much compelling as it was described int he article.

It made me think that PDM/ PLM companies are missing some important elements of PDM / PLM solutions to make small team to get interested in the project.  In sales and marketing it called a competition with status quo, which is recognized as one of the most complex competitive use cases. 100% of design teams are working with CAD systems. Unless CAD system is sold together with data management solution, PDM / PLM is competing with the status quo of un-manages design data and some solution that company already have implemented.

How to compete with status of quo? Most of recommendations are focusing on the following 3 things – identify fear of change, demonstrate negative impact of doing nothing and influence companies by successful examples of PLM implementations.

It should start from the identification of fear of change. Such fear of change is actually one of the most critical contributors to the decision. Engineers don’t like PDM / PLM solutions because it put to much constraint in engineering process flexibility. Also, it might limit CAD system functionality. Finally, there is a risk of limiting updates to a newer version of CAD when it become available.  PLM vendors mostly addressed these aspects by creating seamless integration between CAD and PDM systems. Even lot of work was done by vendors, it is still far from an ideal.

The second thing vendors can do it is to address the impact of doing nothing. Lot of publications and case studies are demonstrating a potential disaster of not managing data and processes, relying on Excel and shared drives. Analyst researches shows how companies outperform competition by managing data and processes.

And finally, vendors should focus how to engage the emotional part of the engineers brain by telling multiple stories about how specific companies implemented PDM / PLM system successfully and demonstrated valuable outcome.

I can see 4 potential reasons why companies aren’t buying PDM / PLM – 1/ The value of change is too low; 2/ The risk is too high; 3/ Priority to solve the problem is relatively low; 4/ There is no money (solution is too expensive).

In my view, the reality is really about a combination of (1) and (2). These are real things stopping users. A significant disaster can accelerate the decision process and motivate users However, I don’t think, this is really good way to to increase an adoption of PDM/PLM solution.

I can see 2 possible ways to improve the situation – 1/ to embed data management functions into CAD system; 2/ mimicking existing environment. Bundle of CAD and PDM is a long process that requires lot of changes and can create a potential negative reaction. To create systems that mimicking existing PDM/PLM-less environment can be nice and interesting solution. A good example of such approach in the past was usage of file explorer paradigm in Solidworks PDM system.

What is my conclusion? PLM vendors are competing with the reality of DIY data management  using Excel spreadsheets and shared drives. Even it is not a simple conclusion, but vendors should review their products, processes and find way to change the status quo between value and risks in PDM / PLM implementations. Big idea to think about. 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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  • DavidChadwick

    I think there is a lot of mileage in your suggestion for smaller engineering teams to try and mimic their existing environment and take advantage of data management capabilities that are embedded in their CAD software. This has been our approach with the built-in data management capabilities in Solid Edge. These capabilities are included in all levels of Solid Edge and are easily put into action by running a Windows indexer based process on the file folders where their CAD files currently reside. The users then immediately benefit from fast searches and easy control of revisions and release to manufacturing.

    You mentioned the importance of users seeing valuable outcomes – one of our users who is using built-in data management capabilities is Bird, a manufacturer of RF devices. One specific benefit they experienced was the ability to quickly identify duplicate parts in their current data – and the fact that their data management tools will largely prevent duplicates from occurring in the future. Bird has calculated the cost of creating a custom part and managing this part through manufacturing and into service. By eliminating duplicate parts they have been able to identify very specific cost savings by implementing built-in data management: https://community.plm.automation.siemens.com/t5/Solid-Edge-Blog/Built-in-data-management-speeds-design-at-Bird/ba-p/404165

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  • beyondplm

    David, Thanks for your comments and link sharing! Indeed Solid Edge was on the path to develop embedded data management solutions for long time already starting from Solid Edge Insight, then going to Solid Edge XT and now with new data management based on Windows data management solution and local indexes. But I’m missing something in this Bird story you have referenced. How Windows local search can help you find duplicated parts in a company (presumably more than one engineer is using Solid Edge and they are collaborating). Look forward to discuss it more. Best, Oleg

  • DavidChadwick

    Oleg, the Windows indexer is run on all the locations where Solid Edge files are stored (these could be in different locations) and adds them to a single index. There is also a specific command that looks for duplicate filenames and gives the user tools to resolve this situation. When Bird started using the built-in data management capabilities they were able to identify that around 1% of their 5,000 legacy CAD files were duplicates are were able to eliminate these duplicates. Bird has 2 main sites and they use Google Drive in conjunction with Solid Edge built-in data management to make a single, synchronized set of files available at both sites. We have a webinar that talks in more detail about using cloud-based file sharing solutions like Dropbox together with Solid Edge here (the relevant content starts at 5 minutes into the webinar): https://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en/products/solid-edge/index.shtml?elqTrackId=6abf26221556411d8bbff954c03abb95&elq=dc23f359658d4f3ba8f51b90b0ea4825&elqaid=26120&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=#lightview%26uri=tcm:1023-256729%26docType=.mp4

  • beyondplm

    David, thank you for sharing the info as well as video. Best, Oleg

  • Doug J

    The main challenges I see:

    1. Integrating separate CAD and PLM tools takes more effort than small groups want to expend.
    2. Small groups can still function with duplicated data in different tools. Larger groups cannot.
    3. Most PLM tools have not gone far enough in trying to emulate the conveniences of spreadsheets (scanning and sorting data, bulk editing of attributes, etc.).
    4. PDM only really becomes compelling when in the cloud. Small orgs do not want to maintain IT infrastructure like replicated servers. Cloud CAD will change this though, because PDM will be built in as the tools mature.

  • beyondplm

    Doug , thanks for your comment! Agree completely. My favorite is #3. I’ve heard it from many users- the convenience of the tool, which is very much similar to spreadsheet is unbeatable when it comes to day-to-day engineering work.

    Check my earlier blog – http://beyondplm.com/2015/12/16/spreadsheets-vs-plm-dilemma-to-manage-bom/. Scott Miller, ex i-Robot said – “Nothing stops us faster than Windchill. PLM can put us in a dead stop when we are trying to get product out”.

    Cloud infrastructure will change it in a fundamental way.
    Best, Oleg

  • Ilan Madjar

    Oleg another good blog. My two cents:
    1. Fear of change – millennials are coming, give it a few years and it wil change.
    2. Focus on cad and EBOM is so true. The fact is that the PLM umbrella of processes and control, extra click and outdated technology and UI also makes it harder for engineer to change. Vendors should improve their tools by using AI, CAD cloud and better web technology along with cross industry and PLM solutions’ standards (I know it will never happen) could also help.
    3. It would help if there was more standardization in the PLM market also.

  • beyondplm

    Ilan, thanks for sharing your thoughts… I agree, millennials will laser focus on important things and I’m sure will kill “PLM for SMB” workflow atavisms.

    In case you missed this article –> PLM WORKFLOWS ARE DEAD. “INTERACTIVE” USER EXPERIENCE IS COMING http://beyondplm.com/2015/10/07/plm-workflows-are-dead-interactive-user-experience-is-coming/

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