IoT, Industry 4.0 and PLM technological challenges

IoT, Industry 4.0 and PLM technological challenges


Connectivity and information technologies are changing our lives. Think about your everyday experience – news, driving, communication, banking. It is so different from we had 10 years ago. One of the main drivers behind the change is our ability to connect to different sources of information.

Now think about connectivity in a broader sense can change your business. I’m sure you’ve heard about Internet of Things (IoT) and about Industry 4.0, which is a broader vision of digital value chain and smart factory. Here is Wikipedia version of Industry 4.0 definition.

Industry 4.0 is a collective term for technologies and concepts of value chain organization.[1] Based on the technological concepts of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things[2] and the Internet of Services,[3] it facilitates the vision of the Smart Factory. Within the modular structured Smart Factories of Industry 4.0, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, Cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and humans in real time. Via the Internet of Services, both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and utilized by participants of the value chain.[1]

I’m preparing for my keynote presentation at ProSTEP iViP Symposium 2015 next week in Stuttgart. You can take a look on the program here. The theme of symposium – Smart Engineering clearly associated in my mind with the usage of information. PLM vendors are looking how to explore a potential of information usage for business. As an example, navigate to Harvard Business Review made by PTC CEO Jim Heppelman and Prof Michael Porter of Harvard Business School – How Smart Connected Products are Transforming Competition. Here is an interesting passage to think about:

…connected products are shifting competition in many industries, especially manufacturing. Smart, connected products enable four new categories of capabilities that create breakthroughs in differentiation and operational effectiveness, improve customer experience, and enable new revenue streams. To capitalize, manufacturing firms must rethink nearly everything they do—from how products are designed, and sourced, to how they are manufactured, sold and serviced, to putting in place a whole new kind of IT infrastructure.

Data management is one of the key elements in the success of connected technologies. The same happened in consumer products (think about scale of data technologies behind global connected product Google, Waze, Facebook, etc.)

Forbes article – Industry 4.0 — The Dollars In The Data brings an interesting perspective of data usage related to connected products. It speaks about self optimized assets and predictive maintenance. This topic is incredible complex and it goes much beyond a silly reminder on your car dashboard saying that your maintenance is in 21 days. It is about the ability to make an analysis of gigantic sets of information coming from connected products, mixing it with product data (eg. Bill of Materials) and creating predictive maintenance plans. Here is my favorite passage.

One of the most common use cases for high-value assets is predictive maintenance.  Let’s use the example of a gas turbine.  Almost ubiquitous internet connectivity means sensors from the turbines can transmit condition data (e.g. voltages, vibrations), usage (e.g. RPM), data, environmental data (e.g. temperature), and other parameters, almost in real-time.

The information sent by these sensors, combined with other information, such as the Bill of Materials, maintenance and engineering data, allows the utility company to retrospectively analyse the behaviour of a turbine.  This yields a list of situations that could take the turbine out of service.  Which will, in itself, be of great interest and use to the utility.

But rather than stop there, the utility carries on with their line of questioning.  Now that they know “What happened?” and “Why did it happen?” it is natural to want to understand “When will it happen again?”, and also “What can we do to stop it from happening?”

These use cases made me think about technological challenges behind product data management capable to recombine data sets coming from senses and stored in PLM systems. In this specific example, we talk about as built serialized bill of materials for a specific gas turbine. The complexity will be growing as we move to different types of industrial equipment and consumer products. Just think about scale of data for this purpose.

What is my conclusion? The real life data management challenges are coming to engineering and manufacturing software providers. Existing technologies might be not up to the scale to support connected product strategies. I can see manufacturing companies looking for new technologies for connected digital world. I wonder if current PLM databases will be up to the job. The gigantic flow of data management and analysis will require a completely different approach in managing data. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at



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