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Manufacturing

Will future PLM order parts for makers?

by Oleg on September 9, 2014 · 2 comments

makers-plm-order-parts

Have you heard about “makers”? If you are in manufacturing business, you probably should pay attention to that. You may hear about “makers movement” these days as a new industrial revolution changing the way people are making stuff. I can recommend you Chris Anderson’s book to read more about that.

New digital technologies are going to change the way we design and manufacturing products. It appears today largely as a new group of manufacturing entrepreneurs, startup companies and small manufacturing firms. PLM vendors are not very successful in providing solutions for SME companies. Historically it was a tough call for PLM vendors. It was too competitive and confusing with major PLM business – large OEMs and suppliers. With new manufacturing eco-system, the situation is getting very interesting. One of the objectives of PLM is to help company to innovate and delivery new products fast. It sounds like a very compelling reason for new manufacturing startups. Read my earlier blog – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? This is an opportunity for new PLM solutions. However, it looks like something that PLM vendors are missing for the moment – PLM and Manufacturing Startups: Potential Mismatch? We have a complexity of new manufacturing products, multiplied by a complexity of new type of manufacturing processes. It looks like an existing enterprise software doesn’t fit very well a new and growing eco-system of manufacturing companies.

Let me take an example of PLM and ERP system breakdown. The traditional split between PLM and ERP is usually presented as “innovation vs. transactions”. PLM system is responsible for engineering part of the business and takes hands off from ordering  by moving business process to ERP. This is works well for traditional manufacturing companies. However, PLM v ERP interplay is a very challenging and complicated process in every company.  Would it be the same for new type of manufacturing entrepreneurs? This is a good question to ask… I’m pretty sure that new manufacturing companies can question a need to have multiple systems- they will be looking for some sort of intelligent online solutions that can easy interplay together and cover both engineering and manufacturing piece.

My attention was caught by Fortune article – In B2B e-commerce, Alibaba has solved the one problem Amazon can’t. Read the article. I found it very interesting. It is not about PLM. However, I captured a passage that speaks about B2B and supply chain communication.

But there is one true giant in the category: Alibaba, the Chinese retail darling that last week revealed plans for a $21.12 billion initial public offering, which has dominated in B2B e-commerce. I was reminded of this over the weekend while listening to Planet Money’s entertaining explainer of the Alibaba wholesale market. Through Alibaba.com and 1688.com, the company provides to people everywhere access to the Chinese supply chain. This means tinkerers, builders, entrepreneurs, and small businesses can order custom motors and parts from Chinese factories without having to travel there, find a scout, and forge a relationship with a manufacturer before doing business. It opens up the world of international suppliers to people who wouldn’t normally have access to it. They can buy in bulk through Alibaba, which acts as a trusted third party, vouching for the transaction.

It made me think about a potential of PLM software to get connected to online e-commerce systems to process  orders and even more- optimizing product design and engineering solution based on that. It probably sounds crazy. However, who knows… Many things that we knew as a separate parts in the past, now unified as a single products. Think about iPhone, which replaced many existing devices. Today’s Apple Watch and Apple Pay announcements are hinting about future transformation of well-known habits. There are some other examples as well.

What is my conclusion? I like to quote Mark Andreessen for the conclusion – “Software is eating the world”. There are lot of traditional system breakdown that are going to be transformed and disappear in the future. What looks like a right split between product innovation (PLM) and order-transaction (ERP) today, can be challenged in the future. So, who knows? Maybe tomorrow PLM systems will order parts from Amazon B2B e-commerce web services? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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historical-part-numbers

Part Numbers is a fascinating topic. I’m coming back to blog about what is the best approach to manage Part Numbers. My last post about it was – Part Numbers are hard. How to think about data first? was just few weeks ago. In that article, I outlined few principles how to keep PN separate from surrounding data focusing on different aspects of parts – description, classification, configurations, suppliers, etc.

Yesterday, my attention  was caught by ThomasNet article – Are Part Numbers Too Smart for Their Own Good? The article nailed down a key issue why companies are still having difficulties with management of Part Numbers. Nothing works from scratch in engineering companies. Complexity of characteristics and history of existing Part Numbers and products are making real difficulties to adopt new PN management concepts. The following passage explains the problem:

Another problem with descriptive numbering is that the description can become out of date and irrelevant over time. Individual parts can have their own life cycles; if a part has been identified according to the product, what happens if that product is discontinued but the part continues to be used in a newer product? Or what if a manufacturer changes vendors and the part number contains the name of the vendor that originally provided the piece?

Gilhooley admits that some Ultra Consultants clients have decided that switching from descriptive to auto-generated numbering would require too much organizational change. Some companies stick with old systems, and some opt for hybrid systems that perhaps retain descriptive numbers for existing parts but use auto-generated numbers for new parts.

It looks like there is no single solution or best practice to solve the problem. The “traditional” engineering approach to keep options to manage a diverse set company configuration looks like the only possible way to solve this problem in existing PLM/ERP systems.

What is my conclusion? History keeps customers from moving forward. There are two aspects of complexity in Part Numbers: 1/ complexity of definition and data classification; 2/ historical records of PN in every company including catalogs and existing products. Together, they create a block to make any changes in existing PN schema and prevent companies from migration towards new approaches. New data modeling technologies must be invented to handle existing data as well as supporting customers to migrate into modern PLM and ERP solutions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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google-data-center-crunches-engineering-data

The scale and complexity of the data is growing tremendously these days. If you go back 20 years, the challenge for PDM / PLM companies was how to manage revisions CAD files. Now we have much more data coming into engineering department. Data about simulations and analysis, information about supply chain, online catalog parts and lot of other things. Product requirements are transformed from simple word file into complex data with information about customers and their needs. Companies are starting to capture information about how customers are using products. Sensors and other monitoring systems are everywhere. The ability to monitor products in real life creates additional opportunities – how to fix problems and optimize design and manufacturing.

Here is the problem… Despite strong trend towards cheaper computing resources, when it comes to the need to apply brute computing force, it still doesn’t come for free. Services like Amazon S3 are relatively cheap. However, if we you want to crunch and make analysis and/or processing of large sets of data, you will need to pay. Another aspect is related to performance. People are expecting software to work at a speed of user thinking process. Imagine, you want to produce design alternatives for your future product. In many situations, to wait few hours won’t be acceptable. It will be destructing users and they won’t use such system after all.

Manufacturing leadership article Google’s Big Data IoT Play For Manufacturing speaks exactly about that. What if the power of web giants like Google can be used to process engineering and manufacturing data. I found explanation provided by Tom Howe, Google’s senior enterprise consultant for manufacturing quite interesting. Here is the passage explaining Google’s approach.

Google’s approach, said Howe, is to focus on three key enabling platforms for the future: 1/ Cloud networks that are global, scalable and pervasive; 2/ Analytics and collection tools that allow companies to get answers to big data questions in 10 minutes, not 10 days; 3/ And a team of experts that understands what questions to ask and how to extract meaningful results from a deluge of data. At Google, he explained, there are analytics teams assigned to every functional area of the company. “There’s no such thing as a gut decision at Google,” said Howe.

It sounds to me like viable approach. However, it made me think about what will make Google and similar computing power holders to sell it to enterprise companies. Google ‘s biggest value is not to selling computing resources. Google business is selling ads… based on data. My hunch there are two potential reasons for Google to support manufacturing data inititatives – potential to develop Google platform for manufacturing apps and value of data. The first one is straightforward – Google wants more companies in their eco-system. I found the second one more interesting. What if manufacturing companies and Google will find a way to get an insight from engineering data useful for their business? Or even more – improving their core business.

What is my conclusion? I’m sure in the future data will become the next oil. The value of getting access to the data can be huge. The challenge to get that access is significant. Companies won’t allow Google as well as PLM companies simply use the data. Companies are very concerned about IP protection and security. To balance between accessing data, providing value proposition and gleaning insight and additional information from data can be an interesting play. For all parties involved… Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

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PLM, ERP and the death of over the wall engineering

July 31, 2014

Do you remember “throw over the wall of manufacturing” statement? This is a traditional engineering world. Pretty much sequential. Engineers are doing their job and throw it over the wall to the next stage. Traditional manufacturing was driven by sales forecast. This is was the world that formed a traditional domains of PDM/PLM and ERP. […]

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PLM and Manufacturing Startups: Potential Mismatch?

July 14, 2014

Selling PLM for SME was always a very controversial topic among PLM vendors. No consensus here. I wrote about it few months ago in my Why PLM stuck to provide solution for SME post and got  interesting follow up conversations with few industry pundits. Every PLM vendor has some special product offering ready for SME market […]

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Who will make PLM for eXtreme Manufacturing?

July 3, 2014

I’m sure most of you are familiar with XP (Extreme Programming) – software development methodology, which intent to improve software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements. The history of XP goes back in the end of 90s. Despite very short history XP is very popular and it is hard to find a respectful software […]

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Security and permissions are showstoppers to adopt search

June 25, 2014

Search and information discovery is a big deal these days. Inspired by Google and other web search giants, we want information at our fingertips at the right time. I’ve been following topic of search long time. You can jump on few of my previous articles about search – Oslo & Grap – new trajectories in […]

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What PLM vendors can learn from manufacturing startups?

June 13, 2014

About half year ago, I was looking for bluetooth location trackers. The solution that caught my attention was Tile. I liked the slick video and interesting design. At that time I learned that Tile grabbed $2.6M via crowdfunding – very remarkable result. However, I noticed that solution is not available. I followed Tile since than […]

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PLM, Physical Experience and Homegrown IoT

June 3, 2014

To connect virtual and physical worlds was always one of the most important imperatives. What if I can experience my product before manufacturing – flying virtual planes, driving virtual cars, etc. Navigating back in my blog, I found few good examples of physical & virtual connectivity – Physical and Virtual Convergence; PLM and physical experience; […]

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Why Kickstarter projects need PLM?

May 21, 2014

Online business models are disrupting industries. E-commerce was probably one of the first disrupted segments. Just think about it… 10-15 years ago we debated if people will be ready to use their credit cards online. Changes will be coming to other industries and verticals. Manufacturing is one of them. Back in 2012, I had a […]

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