PLM Waves – The History Of The Future

PLM Waves – The History Of The Future


Time is running fast. Ilan Madjar, my former SMARTEAM colleague and managing partner of xLM Solutions LLC reminded me about that in his article – Cyclical Trends in PLM Is PLM Recycling Itself Over and Over? on LinkedIn. This kind of articles you want to read during the weekends. Ilan is sharing his perspective on changes in trends, business, technologies, products and transformation for his past 20 years of work in PLM.

As I reflect on the many PDM/PLM trends over the years, I notice repetitive, recycled trends, ideas and methods from both a technology and a methodology standpoint. For a field which claims to address innovation, change and technologies, it is interesting to see these trends come in and out (and then back in) of fashion.

The article brings many examples of new development of products and technologies made for the last two decades. Some of these products and ideas have gone and disappeared. But some of them stayed and succeeded. Interesting enough, some of the ideas and products came back later. Which reminded me Bill Gross’ presentation about the role of timing in startup success. Watch this short TED video.

The number one thing was timing. Timing accounted for 42 percent of the difference between success and failure. Team and execution came in second, and the idea, the differentiability of the idea, the uniqueness of the idea, that actually came in third. Now, this isn’t absolutely definitive, it’s not to say that the idea isn’t important, but it very much surprised me that the idea wasn’t the most important thing. Sometimes it mattered more when it was actually timed.

It made me think about intersection of timing and different PLM (or more specifically cPDM) development waves that independently created PLM industry outcome as we can see it now. Some of these waves resonated and created very successful products. And, some of these great ideas came at the wrong time and stalled.

Technology Waves

Networks created first foundation for PLM technologies allowing to control and share data. 25 years ago, network created infrastructure to share files and immediate question how to control files and manage records of revisions. Earlier data management systems used variety of databases. Relational database technology was too expensive and heavy at the time to provide engineers with reliable experience. It required additional installation, configuration and administration. At the same time, earlier versions of PDM systems had rigid and non-configurable data models.

Future improvements of RDBMs and development of client server technologies open the doors to create more flexible and scaleable systems. Flexible PLM data modeling and file management was developed first in 1990s.  These technologies created a foundation for most of PLM platforms available today on the market.

In 2000s, early web experience and browser technologies unlock the possibility for PDM and PLM system to bring a better connectivity and scale. Web servers allowed to scale database driven backend system and allowed to build PLM technologies for large enterprise companies. It was also the time when many global consumer web systems were developed to create a foundation for cloud PLM system.

in 2010s, the technologies developed in consumer web such as browser, mobile, NoSQL databases, cloud infrastructure, data analytics create the opportunity to scale PDM and PLM system to the global deployments. Browser and related UI technologies are sophisticated enough to support complexity of engineering and manufacturing information and 3D interactive graphics. In addition to that mobile technologies went mainstream and created a demand to make PDM/PLM experience available on every device.

PLM concepts wave

The grand idea of PLM to create “single version of truth” about product including all aspects of information – requirements, design, engineering and manufacturing”. The idea is great, but implementation became a bit bumpy for the past 20-25 years.

At the beginning it was mostly about how to control access to CAD files and manage additional metadata about design. The outcome was document lifecycle and it allowed to first PDM/PLM to control a set of engineering information ready to manufacturing. As much as the goal is important, it created many conflicts with designers using CAD system.

PLM vendors came with the concept how to go “beyond file data control” to manage variety of information about product, organize engineering to manufacturing processes and realize the vision of single point of truth. It was a grand vision that resonated mostly with large organizations with high level of product complexity and processes. Theses systems were designed to manage complex configurable BOMs and workflow processes, control information flow and ECO processes. It was a wave of big PLM systems.

New wave of PLM concepts is characterized by globalization and distribution of engineering and manufacturing organizations and explosive growth of communication, connectivity and sensors. Cloud PLM ideas are part of these new concepts. However, the idea of “big PLM” doesn’t scale much beyond single organization. This is a time to bring new ideas and new concepts to build PLM system capable to cross borders of organizations and geographical locations.

Customer adoption waves

Everyone needs the data, but nobody wants to manage the data. This is a very simple summary how end users see most of PDM and PLM systems. So management and IT were the main target to sell the ideas of data control and single point of truth. It usually came as a real need to manage file revisions and find right data in the organization. And it often came after some sort of data management disasters.

The grand vision of PLM single point of truth required heavy lifting and effort to make it happen. It usually came as the idea to transform product development processes, streamline engineering to manufacturing, connect to suppliers and contractors. Adopted mostly by large and very large companies and heavily over-sold by PLM marketing, it created a perception of complexity and high cost. Most of PLM initiatives to downscale existing PLM to smaller organizations failed.

Cloud PLM created a new wave in customer adoption. It removed the complexity of IT, installation and infrastructure cost and created a promise that PLM can be less scary and less complex. I can see smaller organizations are deploying PLM systems today. However, the idea of single point of truth is still too heavy and too complex. The implementation of PLM system is still demanding lot of steps to map existing product development processes to PLM concepts.

What is my conclusion? To choose the right technology at the right time – this is a formula of successful PLM system development. The technological waves and intertwined with concepts and create new generations of PLM systems. But the trickiest part in PLM development was always to choose the right time. Watch users and their readiness to adopt new systems, concepts and technologies. Some web based PLM systems came way ahead of time in 2000s and died. The same concepts 10 years later made it very successful with new technologies and users ready to adopt it. So, getting back to Ilan’s article, it is not about recycling of PLM ideas, but about choosing the right time. Just my thought…

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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