It was never a better time to be in the PLM business than today. I said it in my last article covering what happened with PLM in the 2010s. There are three fundamental things that convinced me to think so.
1- Maturity of the technology that can be applied to a global scale.
2- Business experience gathered in different markets (both B2C and B2B).
3- Manufacturing companies are looking for a better way to work
A 10+ year vision is more reliable than “next year prediction”. Nevertheless, everything I say can be a pure sci-fi and whatever I wrote below might not be true. By calling it PLM in 2030 I’m not making any statement about the survival of PLM Three Letter Acronym until 2030. Any similarity with existing presentations from PLM vendors are accidental and should not apply to the availability of specific functions from any vendor.
I strongly believe in the power of networks. A long list of very successful businesses founded for the last 20 years is behind this belief. You can check my article – Manufacturing Web and the future of Product Lifecycle for more info.
Current manufacturing companies’ technological environment has a lot of legacy data and systems. Digital transformation is one of the top priorities for companies. But very often digital transformation projects stuck because systems are disconnected and new initiatives are stuck with old habits and status quo.
I learned (in a hard way) to tell a story is the best way to explain something. So, today, I will make the first attempt to tell you 3 stories about PLM in 2030. To make it easier, I imagined the roles my kids can play in this future manufacturing and PLM world, but any specific associations with what they do today and what they can do tomorrow are completely accidental.
Custom Product Manufacturing
For my first story, a jazz-rock musician is looking for a new guitar. In 2030, manufacturing will be completely personalized. Everything manufacturing companies will be making is created directly for a specific customer. Each manufacturing OEM is providing a virtual product development aggregator (configuration environment) helping a customer to make an order or match his needs to what is available on the market.
The experience ( (and you can experience them before buying the product) should remind you of car navigation or booking travels in 2020. The manufacturing company aggregates a network of contractors and suppliers sharing information about the availability of products with specific characteristics, time availability, the reliability of components, country of origins and other parameters. As a customer, you might discover that the product with the characteristics you need can be available in few weeks, but as an alternative, the company can remodel or refabricate an existing product that used by somebody else. The trade-offs, cost, suppliers, availability will be calculated and included in the process of the order. The financial support will be provided by the new generation of PLM service providers (next evolution of PLM implementation companies such as IBM and others)
What is behind the scene of such an environment? It is highly sophisticated data intelligence knowing about what product is built from, what components and parts are available on-demand, what contractors and suppliers can be used and how much it will cost. Re-manufacturing, making the product available as a service, country and regulations, etc. – all these factors are calculated, simulated and included in the knowledge graph about the product and its manufacturing process. OEM manufacturers are relying on a network of information available to provide on-demand manufacturing services. The suppliers are organized and using their own networks to communicate, making quotations, bidding, and orders.
New Product Development
The previous story is focusing on how customers will be ordering products manufactured on demand. My next story is about how new products will be designed and created. In this story, an engineer is working as part of a product development team designing a new micro-transportation tool for the modern city. Recent modernization of communication services, city network, and new infrastructure created a need for a new model of transportation device with upgraded dashboard unit and improved sensors for traction control in harsh weather conditions of New England with ice and snow. The original models were mostly used in California.
The virtual engineering dashboard allows Ron to put set or requirements and connect to the engineering team virtually working together. Functional and system requirements are combined with the product information and physical model of the transportation tool to help identify what parts and units are used in a current model, what must be redesigned and who can be involved in this process.
The network of engineers will be engaged to perform analysis, design and planning tasks. The data will be instantly available to perform the job and results will be accumulated to create a product information model. The instant cost analysis tool will provide visibility on how much the new transportation tool will cost for the consumer and for the operator as well as possible engineering, manufacturing and procurement options.
After analysis of variants and virtual demonstration of the tool, the product development environment will be getting online bids for supplied parts, contractor services and estimating the cost of prototype manufacturing. The power of the network intelligence will connect all pieces together and distribute the data needed to perform all tasks and monitor the progress.
Maintenance and Repairs
My last story is about a company that is managing a fleet of self-driving cars serving the Boston Seaport District. The car operation is fully automated and the cars are helping people to ride between nearby South Station as well as to commute inside Seaport District. The product manager of the company designing and manufacturing these cars also provides a full operation user experience for customers. The fleet management system is a system generated by OEM manufacturer of the self-driving car as an instance of their “PLM” environment. As a result, when the system is initiated to the operation, it has all the needed product and system information, bill of materials, maintenance specifications, and instructions.
The operating company is getting access to the management environment, which is configured with maintenance plans, monitoring tools and network of suppliers and service providers. The operation is fully automated. Management and service people are receiving maintenance plan orders, cars are driving themselves to maintenance sports and service technicians are using VR devices to perform maintenance tasks.
An entire system is connected to the mothership “PLM” environment, which is providing manufacturer updates, fixes and in return enabling access to monitoring information and customer service.
Technology and Business Model
PLM 2030 is a virtual online system operating in the environment that can remind you of today’s online e-commerce services combined with transportation, consumer and online gaming environment combined together. The elements of such system are available today and various B2B online systems are capable to provide such environment operating on a global scale. So, what is missing? The key element of PLM 2030 is a sophisticated information model connecting companies, suppliers tiers, maintenance, service, and customers together. There is no way a single system from a single vendor does it. Imagine Google only can index and process data from the websites and other services designed using Google tools. This is no how it works today. Product development and manufacturing environments are heterogeneous with their own lifecycle. Therefore, to make the 2030 dream come true, companies will have to agree on a variety of ways to make data available and charge other companies to provide data and services. The new business model is a foundation that will bring companies to work together.
What is my conclusion?
PLM 2030 is a giant online environment connecting people, companies, and services together in a big network. It might sound like a super dream. But let me give you an idea of why I think it is possible. We live in a world of connected information today. For many parts of our life, we are relying on online services as much more reliable system and we are trying to avoid everything that demands a high level of maintenance, local data storage, and tools. I know there are many questions and unsolved problems. But hey… this is a dream. Back in 2010, I still had to print a map to drive around New England and I needed to go to the mall to do shopping. These days I’m connecting my phone to the car and getting information about driving, routes, police, gas stations, hotel rooms, food, buying products and services online. I’m buying products online and sending them home for the time I back from the trip. Think about our life today as a prototype for the future of manufacturing. Many manufacturing companies and teams are still working with product information in Excels, design data in CAD files and invoices to suppliers and contractors sent using emails or Fax machines. In the year 2030, we will approach a no return point for fax machines. And I can not wait to see this dream come true. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tools for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.
Image credit theformgroup.com