There are endless debates about the scope and definition of PLM in the industry. One day I thought to collect them, but then gave up. However, I can see how some advanced companies started to develop a concept of “beyond PLM” system.
Over the weekend, I was reading Engineering.com article Vision and Practice at Volvo Group GTO: Industry 4.0 and PLM in Global Truck Manufacturing. The following passage caught my attention.
“Vera” is a transport and truck project that Volvo Group is developing related to autonomous and electricity-based transport system solutions for port areas, logistics centers, and shorter distances. It is an elegant, futuristically styled cab and driverless, “cloud-operated” vehicle that Tomas Mörk and Claus Biller show in a video as a prelude to the presentation of the company’s Industry 4.0 venture.
“It’s a glimpse of the future,” says Mörk, “a future that we have already stepped into and which changes most of what we have become accustomed to in terms of product development, industrial production and other areas, such as operation, constant connection and feedback to ‘beyond PLM systems’. It is a huge change where electromobility, automation, cloud connection and the increasing importance of software are characteristic features.”
So, what is behind Volvo vision of “beyond PLM” system? It is hard to say at least based on the information provided by Engineering.com article. Volvo Group’s PLM is a combination of multiple solutions mostly relying on PTC solutions and PDM link. This is PDM system. Beyond that, you can find everything – Dassault, Siemens, and Eurostep products at Volvo Group.
So, where is the future for Volvo Group? How all these platforms will be connected. It seems like ThingWorx and many sensor systems are serving the main goal to connect virtual and physical worlds at Volvo. And a concept of a digital thread is the one that supposed to connect both worlds into a single beyond PLM system.
Connectivity of information seems to be a foundation of future PLM systems. Manufacturing companies will have to build a digital thread of information between physical worlds. It looks like a difficult problem to solve using today’s PLM. None of them are perfect and history will keep manufacturing companies. Therefore I wasn’t very much surprised the read about the presence of IT tools such as Azure.
Volvo’s Claus Biller, director of architecture at GTO, describes a picture in which the current IT landscape gets “wrapped” with solutions for new capabilities that are linked to legacy bits. This sort of “cover” or “umbrella” contains an IoT platform, a platform for digital exploration, and a data lake solution based on Microsoft’s Azure Data Lake. The latter is a storage location where data can be managed regardless of size, shape or speed requirements. An apt analogy that describes the data lake concept is the parable of James Dickson, (founder and CTO at Pentaho: if a traditional ’Data Warehouse’ is like bottled water, a data lake is more like a big puddle of natural water, where data flows in and where users can utilize any data in various forms.
The article reminded me of my old blog – PLM downstream usage and future information rivers, which discussed an opportunity of IT system used to distribute information out of PLM systems. The concept of data lakes and infrastructure providers fulfilling these roles can become a serious competition for PLM vendors unless they will provide a scalable cloud architecture to connect different pieces of information.
What is my conclusion? PLM architecture is still old and often limited to distribute information from centralized PLM system storage downstream. It requires complex data architectures and often multi-tenant systems capable to distribute and collect information from multiple players, contractors, and physical systems. Beyond PLM system of the future will be able to go beyond a single PLM system tenant as we know it today. Just my thoughts…
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.
Image courtesy of Amazon.