Digital Transformation of Supply Chain and Joint Ventures

Digital Transformation of Supply Chain and Joint Ventures

Digital transformation introduces new technology to solve problems in many industries. Manufacturing is not foreign to this trend. Digital transformation is easily explained as a move from paper to paperless. While it is easy to grasp, you can think that most design, engineering and production planning is already digital as everything is transferred in a digital form. That would be a mistake. Here is why…

The main thing in digital transformation in engineering and manufacturing is to transition from “documents” to “data”. That can be a confusing thing, but it is very important. In the case of documents, the data is transferred in the electronic format but presented in a dumb way. Think about drawing printed or presented in PDF form for example. In the case of “data”, information and process are semantically connected and presented in a digital format in databases, interlinking between systems and can be used for digital processes.

How digital transformation will be happening for manufacturing companies? Vendors and industrial companies are still in the process of searching the right way to do so. My attention was caught by Aerospace Manufacturing Magazin’s article – Empowering PLM and the digital thread, which speaks about Rolls-Royce’s experience.

RR is using PLM systems for digital thread. The following passage speaks about uniqueness of RR PLM experience.

“We think we’re unique at Rolls-Royce in that we have one PLM system type. All users can see the same state of maturity of an individual design at any one point. Many in the industry have multiple PLM systems as they choose to remain with legacy PLM systems for their legacy products, rather than migrate to the new as we have done.

“The objective is that we have a digital workflow that mirrors the lifecycle of a component from early concept all the way through its use. We’re trying to optimise that use of knowledge as we go through the lifecycle. When we produce one engineering definition, when it goes into manufacture, there are such things as the machining programmes, jig fixture designs, and all of the tooling for that part; we have about a one to 400 ratio, so one definition can produce around 400 artefacts – that’s a lot to manage if we do it manually – as we traditionally have done. As we move towards being fully on PLM, we become more joined up in changes that come through to us from engineering. We are operating in real-time, flowing with those 400 artefacts that define the manufacturing process.”

It feels like the key is to have one PLM system and organization of digital workflow. My special interest caused the next passage, which speaks about how RR OEM works with contractors, suppliers and joint ventures. This is where it starts to be very interesting as suppliers are not working for RR only and might have different systems.

Many of Rolls-Royce’s suppliers work for multiple customers. “So, any OEM walking in and saying ‘you will use what we use,’ is never going to work,” says Pearce. No company has that power and scale. One of the challenges is getting better interoperability among different PLM systems, especially with SMEs and start-ups; they can’t necessarily afford the latest systems.

“Our PLM platform gives our people a very clear view of exactly where every design is, how mature it is, and we also have strong links into our supply chain and joint venture partners; we have different levels of interaction with the PLM system for those people. Our main suppliers can look into the system. It leverages a lot of communication through some fairly simple portals.”

The passage above didn’t give a recipe of how integration between systems can be done. From my experience, integration between various systems is always a challenge and OEM and Suppliers better search for options on how to make it happen. To believe that systems can be easily integrated is a recipe for disaster. I also can see how suppliers and joint ventures will have to use portals from multiple systems.

It made me think about what technologies can provide a solution to such a problem. Earlier last year, I’ve made a few presentations speaking about how multi-tenant data modeling can enable supply chain collaboration. Check this article – Why Multi-Tenant PLM technologies is a key to enable supply chain collaboration. In addition, please check my presentation at IpX 2019 event last year. The slides are here.

Most of PLM systems today are single-tenant and created around single data. There is nothing wrong with that besides this data management concept cannot be efficient when it comes to complex relationships between multiple companies. This is where multi-tenant data models can provide significant relief to all parties – OEM, suppliers and PLM vendors.

Multi-tenant data modeling layer as part of PLM platform can support out of the box access control, data sharing and collaboration between separate single-tenant databases. The following picture can give you an idea.

Think about multiple single-tenant systems and you got tons of wires in the integration. All these integrations require custom applications. When suppliers and OEM are using different systems there is no choice. But what if the new multi-tenant system can provide it as part of their solution. It will not solve the problem of multiple systems, but it will give a much better answer to the integration of the supply chain from all standpoints – cost, reliability, and ease of integration.

What is my conclusion?

Supply chain collaboration is a complex problem, which today mostly relies on hard-wiring PLM databases and specific integration. Opposite to that. a multi-tenant data model can offer out of the box model to organize data sharing and collaboration between companies while keeping these companies independent and isolated. Multi-tenant models can provide also a huge simplification and optimization for SaaS platforms, which can be a foundation for the future of digital transformation in the manufacturing and supply chain. 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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  • Roger

    I like the multi-tenant concept but that would still require all parties involved to be on the same provider of multi-tenant services. If companies used different providers, the complexity of integration would still exist. Or am I missing something?

  • beyondplm

    Hi Roger
    Yes and no. Multi-tenant model provides an umbrella to manage multiple tenants (companies, groups, users) while sharing resources and data. So, for companies using multi-tenant platform, it will be out of the box. Think how you do use Google Apps, Facebook and other SaaS platforms that are mostly multi-tenant. However, because of modern data management and integration technologies, the complexity of integration will be much lower. Check how easy you can integrate online SaaS applications today comparing to how difficult is to integrate 20 years old client-server products or desktop tools.

    Best, Oleg

  • Thadeus

    Major PLM Vendors (Siemens, PTC, Dassault) are providing supplier collaboration platforms. By this you can achieve three major activities,
    1) Managing supplier contacts
    2) Data transaction directly from PLM (One way or two way)
    3) Automated work flows and tracking of supplier data transactions

    Teamcenter Supplier collaboration allows,suppliers to maintain different CAD/PLM system from their OEM’s.

    Biggest advantage of these collaboration platforms is suppliers don’t need to have PLM license within their premises.

    Major hurdle to implement this solution is data security and new data models in the PLM landscape.

  • beyondplm

    Thadeus, thanks for sharing your insight. Yes, PLM vendors are “extending” their platforms to support supplier collaboration. And the hurdles you mentioned are actually result of “single tenancy” of all major PLM platforms. If you think about when and how these platforms were developed, you realized that Teamcenter, Enovia and Windchill developed for a “single company” approach.
    Multi-tenancy brings a foundation for multiple companies to work together without stretching existing security and data models.