Will manufacturing complexity become PLM goldmine in 2018?

Will manufacturing complexity become PLM goldmine in 2018?

Complex is not a good thing. Complex things are prone to break. There is a good chance complex project will be late or fail. Last decade of development in software and business brought many examples how complexity made horrible thing to user interface, customer experience and, after all, affected business in a negative way. Complex products have slow adoption rate and expensive to sell.

You can think what can be good about complexity. Some people made a prediction that complexity of manufacturing can help to sell more PLM. Aras’ Jason Kasper article – Complexity in 2018: PLM for manufacturers brings some interesting predictions for 2018 related to how complexity in manufacturing can create some benefits for PLM industry in 2018. Read the article and draw your opinion. Here is an interesting passage:

Product complexity was the elephant in the room in 2017, as companies across aerospace and defense, automotive and industrial manufacturing looked to differentiate their offerings and create disruptive business models. These challenges exposed significant gaps in their existing processes. As a result, product lifecycle management (PLM) found a resurgence as manufacturers recognized the need for a new generation of PLM to manage their product processes—one that legacy systems have failed to provide.

Manufacturers will find even more ways to create value using next-generation PLM product platforms, primarily by addressing the disconnected processes that have arisen from legacy PLM. Today’s world is about the business of engineering—the development of smart, connected products that require complex, cross-discipline processes and data exchange. Design disciplines across software, electrical and mechanical systems have been siloed for too long. Next-generation PLM is addressing these issues by connecting functions and domains for improved collaboration. We expect leading-edge companies to implement deeper connections to enterprise systems such as ERP and CRM, both internally and with suppliers. Ultimately, the result will be digital transformation that yields a competitive advantage.

So, PLM vendors will help to create complex business process for large enterprises to manage manufacturing complexity. The complexity enterprise companies failed to manage until now will be fixed by implementing new PLM. One the surface it sounds like a great opportunity especially for vendors such Aras with “overlay PLM” strategy.

The article suggests that PLM is an answer to a growing demand of complexity in manufacturing. The idea has some legs in my view. It is certainly better to use PLM system rather then fight the complexity using Excel spreadsheets. But, PLM implementation is still a very complex initiative. To integrate PLM system with existing PLM, ERP and CRM systems is a complex project. Companies were going into these integration processes in the past, but it is a very expensive and long duration projects. So, complex projects are still bad. Systems, processes, databases and data integration. Whatever you do complex won’t work.

You can ask me – what is the alternative? This is a very good question. One of my answers – simplification. My favorite works related to that principles is related to researches and publications by John Gall and his Gall’s law.

Gall’s Law is a rule of thumb for systems design from Gall’s book Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail. It states: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. – John Gall (1975, p.71)

This law is essentially an argument in favor of underspecification: it can be used to explain the success of systems like the World Wide Web and Blogosphere, which grew from simple to complex systems incrementally, and the failure of systems like CORBA, which began with complex specifications. Gall’s Law has strong affinities to the practice of agile software development.[9]

Underspecification is actually something manufacturing companies can use as an alternative to fully blown PLM implementation projects with millions dollars in expenses and no visible results. Don’t plan for 3-5 years. Think about small improvements you can do. Baby steps. Clear return of investment. Short implementation sprints. Simple goals. Don’t plan for what unknown.

Simplification vs complex processes. This is one of the biggest challenges every PLM implementation is following. You can spend time defining complex processes, but the implementation won’t survive the first meeting with customer use cases. So, while complexity of manufacturing is growing, PLM implementers should think about baby steps to turn processes in a digital form. To acquire data from spreadsheets. To set change processes. To integrate with existing systems .

What is my conclusion? Will PLM in 2018 become a goldmine to manage product and manufacturing complexity? It is hard to say. But complex is usually fails and so did complex PLM implementation in many large automotive, defense and aerospace companies. We must change it. It is a time to think about simplification of PLM IT. In my view, customers that will follow underspecification in their PLM projects will bring a better cost/value results in 2018 comparing to fully blown big PLM projects popular in the past. 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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