PLE: do we really need another acronym in PLM? 

PLE: do we really need another acronym in PLM? 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Very often we have the tendency to complicate things. We believe that sophistication means results and intelligence but it doesn’t. More information, options, productions, acronyms is not better. In fact, more information and complexity can make people disengage.

PLM has the tendency to over complication. Tons of acronyms and articles are spent to explain the domain, processes, terminology and form an agreement about the domain and functions customers are expecting to support. You might thing, more discussion about terminology can bring a clarify. Actually not – audience can miss you entirely.

In the past I wrote about buzzwords few times. Here are links to list of blogs tagged with buzzwords  and complexity in PLM. It is hard and confusing.

But buzzwords and acronyms in PLM are not stopping to surprise. My recent finding in the ocean of PLM complexity is… another acronym – PLE, which stands for Product Line Engineering. The topic was introduced to me by article. Not only it introduces new concept PLE, but also claims to be a root for another acronym digital twin. The last one is also hugely overloaded term. Here is a short definition provided by article.

While PDM aims to manage a product and all of its associated information and PLM manages that product across its lifecycle, PLE streamlines the management of product variation across an entire product line, and across an enterprise. And, whereas PDM and PLM are needed to manage the digital side of the digital twin, PLE is, in some ways, the place where that twin is born.That’s a strange thing to say, but it’s also an interesting perspective on both the concept of the digital twin and PLE.

This passage left me confused. I understood that PLE is not PLM. But what is PLE? Article is interviewing Dr. Charles Krueger, CEO of BigLever, a PLE company. According to the article customers of BigLever are Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, unknown automotive manufacturing.

Using the company’s Gears PLE Lifecycle Framework, users can select which features (referred to as a bill of features, or BOF) will be assigned to a given product within a family. Once selected, the digital assets associated with those features will automatically be included in that product. These include assets like requirement management, design models,bill of materials (BOM), software source code, user documents, test cases, calibration data, certification documents, and more.

This passage made me even more confused. Digital assets and bill of features combining requirements, models, BOMs software code, documents, test cases, etc. All these relationships are managed in any product development organization and if an organization is using PLM system, I’d expect PLM system to define product configuration with a specific list of requirements leading to a specific BOM.

The role of an additional system layer is clear and important – to define what elements of product information are required for a specific configuration. I’d imagining data relationships in PLM system defining relationships between systems, features, items and documents.

What is my conclusion? The functionality explained in the article is absolutely important for complex configurable product development. A comprehensive and robust PLM system should be able to define rich model capable to hold all things together. However, an additional terminology – digital twin, PLE, BOF, etc. look as something not adding a specific value. As a potential customer, I’d be concerned what system I need – PLM? PLE? anything else? What is a difference between configuration, BOM, BOF? I can see a clear need for simplification in a modern system of tools for engineering and manufacturing. An introduction of additional layers, acronyms and definitions won’t help to improve product development and streamline processes. 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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  • Oleg I fully agree. Modern PLM systems are covering functionality beyond pure product data management. In order to support a conceptual product or a product in the field (virtual twin) you need representations related to the design & physical structure. This representations have a name (logical view / system view / ,,,) but do not create the need for a new acronym

  • While I too am perplexed by the PLE TLA (Three Letter Acronym) what it is, how it is different from PLM and what the value is – I am not at all perplexed by the injection of the term Digital Twin into the discussion.

    The concept of operation of Digital Twins (note, there are always at least two to add value) is one of the hottest topics in various industrial fields – aerospace, power systems, oil & gas, industrial manufacturing, automotive, … so if you want to draw attention to a new company, solution, or TLA – from a marketing perspective – just throw in how it enables DT operations.

    Quick note on Digital Twins (and the work closing the gaps in the Digital Thread between PLM and SLM) the reasons there are always at least two is the same reason there are at least two final post manufacturing BOMs or configurations – the As-Designed and the As-Operated – one which carries with it the rules for allowable form, fit and engineering function (limits) and one which collects the sensor, operations, environment and maintenance data of how an instance of the design is actually functioning.

  • Patrick Kennedy

    On first impression to me this looked like marketing spin on existing PLM functionality. It seemed to me someone had found a new way to market what we have called a Product Configurator. However, as I looked closer I found this product is intended to be a system to drive production; effectively a production line configurator, integrated with existing ALM/PLM systems, used to automate production of software-driven products.
    This automation seems to focus primarily on software production automation, much like what has been done with factory automation for mechanical products. So, my conclusion is PLE is not overlapping with PLM, but is more of a DevOps tool for Build Management of released code. That functionality seems to overlap some ALM features. Also, I find the term “Product Line Engineering” inadequate or even misleading for this product. Instead I would call this a Software Production Engineering (SPE) system.

  • beyondplm

    Jos, thanks for sharing your insight! Even PLM might be too loaded with history, it is still the most straightforward acronym to absorb all engineering and product development topics.

  • beyondplm

    Michael, Thanks for your comment! Digital Twin is indeed one of the hottest buzzwords in the industry, but it is a buzzword and can be explained using normal words – function, model, specification, 3D, feature, BOM, etc. Why do we need a new acronym?

  • beyondplm

    Patrick, thanks for sharing your opinion and comments. DevOps is purely software term in my view. Production and manufacturing are still not replaced with DevOps. Even modern manufacturing products are often software wrapped with plastic and computers on wheels, I’m not sure DevOps terminology will replace manufacturing one. It is hardware after all 🙂