Platform. This is a sweet word in a lexicon of every developer. The desire of software vendors is to become a platform to fuel the development of other products and serve needs of customers. In my debates with Chad Jackson about granularity and integration earlier this month, I outlined what, in my view, can differentiate tools, bundles and platforms. That discussion made me think even more about what PLM platforms are made today. In my view, there are two major foundations for most of PLM systems and tools developed today: 1- 2D/3D design platform and 2- object database modeling abstraction. Let me speak more in details about each of these foundations.
2D/3D design platform
Geometric paradigm provided strong foundation for design and engineering since early beginning of CAD/PLM. Therefore, CAD systems are deep in roots of PLM vendors today. Historically, all major PLM vendors today developed their software and businesses from CAD and related engineering applications. As a result of that, 2D/3D geometry, design, modeling and related information is a foundation of their products. Geometry modeling combined with PDM (product data management) created core foundation of these platforms.
Object Database Modeling
Object data modeling paradigm used by many CAD agnostic PLM vendors. Many of these vendors started as PDM companies expanded to support product development processes. Therefore, flexible data management approach became a main foundation layer for these products. Most of these systems were developed on top of relational databases (RDBMS). The flexibility of these platforms to manage any product information and related processes is a key strength.
Next PLM platform
What do you think will happen in the future of PLM platform? Are we going to see new elements and technologies to fuel future PLM development? In my view, last decade of innovation in open source, data management, web and cloud technologies created a new foundation for future PLM platforms. At the same time, the maturity of product lifecycle management implementations can provide a better understanding of functional architecture of PLM products. It made me think about what can become a foundation of future PLM platform development. Below, I put my four candidates to play a role of next PLM platform foundation.
1. MBSE (Model Based System Engineering).
As products are getting more and more complex, the approach that helps us to support product development becomes more visible and important. Product is going much beyond 3D mechanical design and contains information about system architecture, requirements, functional decomposition of mechanical, electronic and software elements. From that standpoint, MBSE is a good foundation to create a platform and I can hear many voices these days about future of MBSE approaches.
2- Unbundled 3D service
3D was born as part of CAD design. Engineers need to use 3D CAD system to create actual product. However, there are many people in manufacturing ecosystem that just need to consume 3D data or information in the context of 3D data. Think about 3D service unbundled from CAD system providing ability to visualize and re-use 3D information, combine it with other non-3D information. In my view, such approach can create a good foundation for future PLM platforms. I can see PLM vendors taking some elements of this approach today.
3- Product Development Standards
The level of dependencies in a modern manufacturing eco-system is huge. You can hardly find a single manufacturing company solely responsible for the development of their products. Companies are relying on development partners and hundreds of suppliers. Therefore, standards are getting more and more important. Some of product development and vertical industry standards can provide a functional foundation for future PLM platforms too.
4- Database technologies, big data and web infrastructure
Data technologies is a key element of any PLM system. We need to be able to manage a diverse set of information about product – visual, structured and unstructured. Functional requirements are different from the ability to create and maintain the information as well as ability to make analysis and re-use the information in a very scalable way. Modern data management software stack can become a foundation for future PLM platforms.
What is my conclusion? Product and technological development are going together. New platforms can arise from as a result of maturity of product and technological innovation. I see these four sources as a list of core elements of platform innovation sources. This is of course not an exhaustive list. I can see potential mix of these approaches together as well. These are just my thoughts and I’m looking forward to your comments.