What changed in PLM since 2004?

What changed in PLM since 2004?


Few days ago, I my attention was caught by Allan Behrens’ tweet  with a very provoking question about what changed in PLM for the last 10-12 years. He posted a link to an old article from 2004 – PLM: evolving tools for an evolving market?

Thoughts or comments on how much OR little has changed since this article on #PLM? 🙂

I thought, such a question will be a good topic to talk about just before end of the year. Read the article and form your opinion. I think, fundamental things related to mid-range PLM implementations didn’t change much. I picked 3 passages from the article that in my view, can be easily written just few days ago.

1. PLM ROI problem is still the same 

ROI is still a biggest problem in PLM and especially for mid-range implementations.

While SMEs are certainly grappling with and solving problems relating to the above business realities with what we might choose to call PLM tools (although they don’t), by and large they categorically aren’t buying into anything like the overall PLM vision – yet. Even though the few among their peers that have done so, can demonstrate enviable return on investment (ROI).

2. Understanding of PLM is still questionable 

Most of mid-size (but not only) manufacturing companies are still debates how to connect PLM -vision to PLM -implementation.

Peter Bilello, who heads up consulting services for international specialist PLM analyst CIMdata, defines PLM as: “a strategic system for the creation, management and dissemination of product definition, covering mechanical and electrical components, documents, software configuration, and all associated processes throughout the as-built, as-shipped and as-maintained lifecycle, all the way from requirements management, starting with customers.” Take a deep breath. Why do you need such an overarching system? “Because all companies create IP [intellectual property] assets and transfer them into deliverable assets … but if you ask them ‘How do you do that?’, their people don’t know.” And he’s referring to the big picture of managing everything from conceptual product design, through all the facets of development, change control, manufacturing engineering, production, subcontract, supply chain, documentation, maintenance and the rest. Nobody knows.

3. PLM scale-down problem is still the same

PLM vendors are still struggling how to scale down existing PLM suites and products.

…how vendors disseminate and deliver the PLM vision with users will dictate uptake. Once the metaphorical ball is rolling, understanding of that ‘85%’ is going to fall into place, and we’ll maybe see PLM move onto the business agenda from, well, effectively nowhere. As Behrens puts it: “Until applications on the scale of grand PLM can be moved from a Ford to a small crane manufacturer in Chapel-en-le-Frith and mean something to him, it’s not going to happen.” Perceived barriers will remain that it costs too much and that it’s too hard to change the processes throughout the end-to end lifecycle.

At the same time, things are changing and we need to acknowledge that. So, I picked up on 3 things that changed since 2004.

4. PLM components mantra is gone.

Remember the vision of “PLM components” back in 2004?  It is not with us any more. PLM cloud services and apps are trending now. To be fair, some of these components are now “rebranded” as services.

Behrens cites Solidworks’ e-drawings package as a useful PLM component that does a job. “Collaborators can see how [assemblies] are being put together, without having to run the application on their desktops, and then provide electronic feedback.” Similarly, there are products like those from CoCreate that aim to ease specific aspects of collaboration simply by providing multi-media web-centric workspaces – good for subcontractors and the like. They’re not the single digital, global, all-singing, all-dancing view enshrined in the big-picture concept of PLM, but they’re pragmatic solutions to real engineering issues.

5. The category of “pure horizontal” PLM players is gone. 

Few PLM players mentioned in the article got acquired. Despite praised as a successful “early adopters”, the whole category of pure horizontal midrange players is gone and practically disappeared from a marketplace.

On the other hand, ‘pure play’ PLM systems, like those from MatrixOne and Smarteam, are doing an excellent job for early adopter SMEs, and providing the cherished single overall view at a realistic cost. “With these, quality assurance, production, service in the field, can all look at the original requirement, definition and specification for their own purposes,”

6. There is general agreement about core set of PLM function 

Article is mentioning so called “conflicting advice” from multiple vendors about what PLM can deliver. It is gone in my view. I can see an agreement about basic PLM functions shared by most of PLM vendors, advisors and consultant. So, instead of “conflicting advice”, PLM vendors have ‘differentiation challenge’.

All of that is your IP, and almost invariably there is no consistent system managing anything like all of it – or even communicating anything as simple as status to other operational systems. That’s what PLM should be doing. No wonder we’re not that great at making the most of what we have. So why aren’t we using it? Nick Ballard, senior PLM consultant at UK CAD/CAM/PLM analyst Cambashi, says: “PLM as an issue, or a distinct topic in its own right, is pushing the definition too far.” His point is that doing an education job for grand-plan PLM is very long and too hard. And, as Allan Behrens, formerly vice chairman of CAD vendor Cadtek, now also with Cambashi, says: “Each software vendor has a different slant on what it believes are the deliverables.” So users are also hard pressed to makes sense of conflicting advice.

What is my conclusion? Even, PLM industry made a huge progress since 2004, vendors are still struggling to deliver viable and scaleable solution for SME companies. Some PLM products and technologies got acquired. Some other promising PLM for SME packages were discontinued by vendors. Technology landscape moved from “components” to “cloud services”. But the fundamental needs of manufacturing on their way to adopt PLM packages – ROI, implementation complexity and simplicity of value proposition are still not resolved. Seems like am opportunity and space for innovation in 2017. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased


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