What PLM tech is missing to get to markets of one?

What PLM tech is missing to get to markets of one?

Remember discussions about mass production and mass customization? I’ve been following this topic for quite some time from very early – The role of PLM in mass customization and morel recent articles Cloud CAD/PLM and mass customization future. Including few very specific topic speaking about role of Bill of Materials integration and specifically about the role of manufacturing BOM.

In one of my very recent pieces I share my thoughts about individual production and PLM platform challenges. Check this out if you missed it last year.

It is interesting that CIMdata’s Stan Przybylinski came last week with an article Getting to Markets of One. Read this passage:

Products have been a part of commerce since almost from the beginning of commerce. Artisans used their knowledge of (mostly) local materials and fabrication methods to deliver products locally. Advances in transportation brought new materials and made offering products in distant locales feasible, while also bringing new knowledge of competing products, materials, and manufacturing methods. Advances in communication technology made collaboration more feasible across great distances. Fast forward to today, where we have moved from vertically integrated firms in the early 20th century, to advanced supply chain management and marketplaces to bring the necessary value chain participants together in a collaborative extended enterprise.

The early 21st century brought a new vision, Industry 4.0, that built upon the three generations of manufacturing that came before. One major goal is profitably serving markets of one. This requires an enhanced dynamism in product design and manufacturing well beyond todays value network. The Industry 4.0 vision contemplates dynamic value chains configured with “App store simplicity.”

Industry 4.0 is a powerful concept. But, to be pragmatic, isn’t a Market of One is an extreme case of mass customization with quantity of article = 1 (sorry for brutal math :)). And it brings lot of challenges to all enterprise applications across the value chain from design to maintenance and support.

I found my thoughts from the last year about PLM challenges for individual production match really well the market of ones discussion. Here is my conclusion from the last year:

Individual production is a very nice vision. I can see huge potential there for future optimization in manufacturing and building a new production system tailored to growing demand of customers to build based on their specific personal needs. It might not be applied in all industries, but it will be coming. Existing PLM systems aren’t ready for this step, in my view. It is a perfect time for PLM strategists and engineering IT managers to come up with requirements and gap analysis.

So, what is wrong with PLM platforms? Maybe something is missed there? Here are some of my refined thoughts. These 3 things are clearly missing in major PLM technologies and software today:

1- Data openness. This is an outcome of single tenant systems. It is not the same as API and system openness. PLM systems learned how to deal better with interoperability. APIs, ETL, etc. But as data comes out, you’re on your own. Data is pretty much isolated by definition and doesn’t have mechanisms to be open to connect to anything else.

2- Online service integrations. There are so many online services these days. Yet, PLM systems are mostly relies on hosted or on-premise systems which limit standartization and ability to organize service communication between companies and systems.

3- No mature REST API. Most of PLM vendors are just coming to discover RESTful services. Most of API are still old fashion (SOAP based) and existing REST APIs are not proven enough.

What is my conclusion? PLM systems live in isolation. The integration is possible, but it is not that natural. Data sync in/out is possible, but data connections are clunky and pumping data in/out is hard from a logical standpoint and usually done on a specific time intervals and not natural. All together is a result of long time on premise life PLM systems have for the last 25 years. Markets of One requires connectivity and continuous data integration. The development of online services can make a difference. But majority of PLM systems aren’t there yet. And this is a missing part for PLM tech today to get to market of one. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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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  • Yes Oleg, when I wrote the title I meant the extreme case of mass customization. I agree with the digital thread comment as well.

  • beyondplm

    @smprezbo:disqus thank you!

  • Jorma Heimonen

    An average lot size of one is not at all uncommon in mass-customized B2B products such as elevators or larger electrical motors. I work in Northern Europe and somehow a lot of manufacturers here have specialized in complex configurable products for a couple of decades now. The first solutions to fully automate the configuration of standard cases (CTO) as well as to support ETO as far as possible were developed already in the 1990’s, and they included a lot of custom software (such as CAD automation on top of 2D CAD) as well as various ERP and in-house configurators (SAP VC, different Excel and Visual Basic based in-house sw).

    As you mention in this post and the ones linked to it, the mainstream PDM/PLM and CAD software has extremely weak support for 1) the life cycle management of configurable products and 2) the order-delivery processes of them. With standard PLM, the most advanced way to document a configuration model in R&D has been to create the 150% BOM and a Word or Excel document that describes the product modularity and rules, and hand that over to the ERP configurator team and to the team responsible for the CAD/production automation. Not extremely productive and absolutely a huge source for errors.

    Luckily, this lack of mainstream support has given us smaller players the possibility and motivation to innovate in this area.

  • beyondplm

    Jorma, I agree with your assessment. Major PLM providers have weak support for custom configured production planning. For most of them process ends when you push released BOM to ERP system. Gives some option to new players.