Rethink PLM for the next industrial revolution

Rethink PLM for the next industrial revolution


The last decade changed  many things in our everyday life. It is hard to imagine, but just think about few examples. We printed driving directions from MapQuest just about 10 years ago. Your 17 years old kids grown up without tablets and YouTube. Our everyday life was based on paper communication and phone conversations. We visited post offices, shops and other organizations to manage our daily processes. Then something magical happened over the course of last 10 years. Our everyday life became much more digital. It comes in a way of mobile device with the map, online banks, mobile payments,  video communication, online shopping and entertainment.

Let me switch gears and speak about business domain. Engineering teams and manufacturing companies are traditionally managing product development with a mixed set of tools such as emails, spreadsheets, PDM and PLM tools. Product lifecycle management was originally born as a method of organizing product development data and processes for large organizations. It was tailored to operate as part of large companies with complex organizational structure and processes spanning across an organization. Every PLM implementation is a bit different because it reflects customer requirements and specific product development processes.

Popular science article – Welcome To The Maker-Industrial Revolution speaks about changes in manufacturing eco-systems. Read the article – I found it interesting and inspiring. Large manufacturing companies are struggling to develop new products with speed and level of innovation demanded today. The following passage describes how local hacker collective LVL1 helped GE to develop an innovative solution for bar-code scanning of cooking instructions from frozen products.

To the executives at GE, Cprek’s hack came as a wakeup call. The idea for a bar-code-scanning oven had come up in internal ideas sessions before, and they knew it had great potential. In retirement communities or urban food deserts, such an appliance could help people eat healthier meals without requiring much time or expertise. And yet, the concept had never left the brainstorm stage at GE. That’s because, for giant manufacturing companies, putting something into a production run is a giant gamble. Navigating the obstacle course of requisite departments (R&D, design, prototyping, market research, manufacturing) can take years, and tooling a factory line can cost tens of millions of dollars. That the executives were now staring at a working prototype of an idea they already liked—and it hadn’t come from them—made them wonder how much innovation they were letting slide by. Why couldn’t they build a more nimble product-development pipeline? For that matter, why couldn’t smart hackers like Cprek have an ongoing role?

Smaller teams can develop faster and bring results that cannot be achieved in large organizations. This observation made me think about changing role of PLM in new industrial eco-system. Originally, PLM was considered as an organizational force that can help to run business and product development processes. For example –  “change management” processes or provide a template to run New Product Development Introduction (NPDI). It looks like smaller teams and new agile methods can better stand for the challenge – develop fast and innovative products. It can create a next opportunity to rethink PLM into a system organizing collaborative work in small agile teams. It can be a fresh change for PLM opposite to focusing on process approvals and synchronizing data between engineering, manufacturing and sales.

What is my conclusion? Speed is one of the key differentiation factors to innovate. PLM should adopt it to support new agile process product development environment. What if we can revise existing approach of PLM systems. Thin about shift from processes management to instant collaboration. Instead of spending time and effort to define processes, new PLM paradigm will focus on communication and collaboration as a new form to run processes in organization. It won’t eliminate process management, but it will turn it upside down for a quicker run. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



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