PLM Software and Business Process Scalability

Scaling up is a tough problem. I want to talk today and PLM Software scalability in unusual aspects – business processes. In the past, CAD and PLM vendors spent lots of effort to help software scale up in their ability to manage huge CAD assemblies and very sophisticated product configuration. When PLM system first loaded airplane 3D model, made a DMU and resolved different airplane or car configurations, we said wow… However, it was many years ago. Since then, PLM wizards are stacking with a problem they didn’t expect to see – how to scale up PLM in the organization?

Emails, Collaboration and Business Processes

In order to scale up in the organization, you need to have people using the system. After many years of different types of collaborative software experience, my fundamental conclusion is simple. Most of the engineering and manufacturing organizations are run by emails. This is where PLM failed massively – it doesn’t scale up to get people using PLM systems. PLM collaboration is very successful when you think about two designers are working on the same feature. However, it is different when you think about a design engineer and a manufacturing engineer are collaborating. Yesterday, I had a chance to read Develop3D article – Design and Manufacturing in Perfect Harmony. You may think, this is an excellent example where PLM system can help design and manufacturing people to work together. So, why it doesn’t happen?

Design to Manufacturing

PLM vendors spent lots of effort and resources working on collaborative processes. Design to Manufacturing is one of them, and this is probably is one of the most important if you think about how PLM implementation can scale up in the organization. However, I can identify top 3 reasons why collaboration is so not efficient between engineering and manufacturing:

1. Environment separation
Designer and Manufacturing Engineer sees a world differently. In most of the situations designers are living in their CAD/PDM world. At the same time, manufacturing engineers are on top of MRP/ERP environment and working on their MBOM-driven processes. PLM failed to scale up and establish a scalable process between these two environments.

2. Common Goals and Synchronization
How to achieve a harmony in a common work? You need to set up a common goal. When designer and manufacturing are working in different environments, they have a hard time to define a common goal and follow this goal in their daily operation. Most of their time they spent to synchronize their environments. The final stop in the synchronization is a weekly meeting. You can see how people spending their time literally synchronizing information between them.

3. Push Processes
How to get work done in the modern manufacturing organization? Unfortunately, email is probably the most widely used mechanism. And this is really bad, because it creates a ping-pong of information going back and forth between people in the organization. This is an environment where Excel is a king of the email road.

PLM and Process Scalability

In my view, this is the place where most of the current PLM implementations failed. Scaling up beyond the engineering department is a tough problem. The best organizations I had chance to see solved this problem by a massive customization work and enormous effort in making people work together in the same environment.

What is my conclusion? When I talk to people, I’m constantly asking the following question – what is the biggest problem you faced in all PLM implementations? Here is my today’s conclusion – PLM is a great concept and a very important organization strategy. However, it doesn’t scale up in the organization. In order to make it work out, you need to spend too many resources. When it comes to results you can see a very low value for money and resources you spent. Think about space shuttles. We need to spend a lot of rocket fuel to get a space shuttle in the space. The same with PLM… Something is wrong behind the scene. Is it technology? Implementation? People?

What is your take?
Best, Oleg


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  • Hi Oleg,
    I completely agree with you. Here are my Views.
    1)Technology – It will evolve
    2)Implementation – Involves People with their expectations.
    3)People – People implementing PLM need vision for organization including consideration of limitations that they may face. Most of the times organizations take PLM as solution for all their day to day problems.
    In my view, there is need of education regarding real needs of a organization.

  • Lev Desmarais

    There is a disconnect between the sales pitches of the PLM world and the reality of implementations. I think the tendency in sales pitches is to sell the dream of where we would like PLM to be.

    When it comes time to implement, we select the one part of the PLM dream that will likely have the most impact on the way the company does business, and build from there. The most mature PLM implementation I have seen was a company that had been using the same PLM software tool for over five years. They still were in the mode of throwing the engineering BOM over the wall to the ERP system. They had a pretty good integration with the ERP system, however it still required two developers to maintain the ERP integration. The PLM support team was about twenty people. How many corporations can afford that kind of overhead? Not many. Especially in this economic climate.

  • Venkatesh Krishnan

    Yes, always there is disconnect between what the sales (dream) is and what is achieved (reality). Unfortunately PLM is not for everyone (PLM Walmarting) and there is no tool that would give a good 90% OOB features and 10% customization. Hence, customers are forced to strip the PLM tool and perform huge customization to meet requirements of variosu departments which is an expensive affair and often most of the PLM project budgets exceed the plan. This is also partly due to “Vision” which exists only in the paper but when it comes to “Mission” all stakeholders are not agreeing the design. So, I say the challenge lies in

    1. Environment where people work together
    2. A good fit PLM tool
    3. A standard industry practice

    I strongly believe most of the projects fail is partly because industry is not ready to change the way it operates. I doesn’t matter legacy system is replaced with state-of-the-art PLM without changing the fundamental practice (As-Is). Most of the time customers want their As-Is to be mapped to To-Be with the new PLM tool. What matters is not mapping As-Is to To-Be but driving out the wastes in the As-Is processes and doing what is best/required for the organization rather than for departments.

    I don’t think Engineering and Manufacturing would be happy!!!!!!!!



  • Ashish, Thanks for your comment! I think, education needs to be balanced with technologies. Today, PLM still assumes lots of time consuming implementations. This is what makes PLM expensive and exclusive for large customers. Best, Oleg

  • Lev, thank you for your comment and sharing this information!
    What is your view on the reasons for the company you mentioned to be over five years in such a type of the implementation?
    The “dream sales” have a negative impact on industry, since they created a perception of under-delivered values. My vision is that PLM companies need to find business models to reflect the reality of PLM implementations. This is needed to be combined with new technological innovation.
    Best, Oleg

  • Venkat, thanks for your comment and insight! I think, that what is needed is to achieve a balance between business reality and software tools aligned with “vision”. Let’s take a historical lesson. When a vision was to manage CAD files and revisions (and of 1990s), company delivered a very innovative way to do so base on flexible data modeling and user interface. Since then (about 10-15 years), PLM developed a significant “vision” that wasn’t supported by technologies and implementations. My thoughts… YMMV. Best, Oleg