Earlier this week, I shared my impression of Aras’ take on Digital Twin and Digital Thread. If you missed my article, check it out here. Aras has a unique view of these disciplines. You can see how Aras flexible modeling engine used to build dependencies and relationships between objects to express product information and connect various silos of the organization such as engineering, production, maintenance, and support. As much as it excites me, I also want to scream and say – wait a minute, I thought it is exactly what was the vision of PLM to connect silos and manage processes between departments and organizations in the extended enterprise. It sounds like circa 2000s PLM.
It made me think about what is so different in Digital Thread and Twin circa 2020?
I can see three major changes in traditional PLM strategy and modern Digital Thread (you can sometimes find companies, especially in Europe, call it Industry 4.0). Here are the differences I found important:
1- Migration from controlling documents (eg. 3D CAD) to more granular data management and dependencies. Data is in the center, the importance of the data is growing, and making sense of the data is becoming more important. Data connections are expanding and going much beyond engineering to production and manufacturing systems, sales, and support.
2- The importance of customer data is skyrocketing. Manufacturing companies want to know everything about customers and how customers are using their products. Shift from product to services is a big contribution to this process as well. Maintenance and services organizations are taking products and monetizing many activities by changing business models from selling products to selling services.
3- Manufacturing companies, their suppliers, and contractors are acting as an entire manufacturing and supply chain network. These relationships are becoming extremely important and complex at the same time.
Aras presentation of Digital Thread demonstrated rich data management capabilities to organize information and connection between engineering, maintenance, and customer data. However, there is one aspect that caught my attention as a limitation of traditional PLM data management. It is a focus on a single database to collect all digital thread information. Think about OEM, maintenance organizations, contractors, suppliers, and customers. How all these organizations will be able to use a single PLM database? How digital thread will be connecting all these companies? It is a big limitation of current PLM infrastructures.
What can make a difference? Multi-tenant data management architectures and network platforms is a solution to such problems. Multi-tenant network platforms are the way to create the next abstraction level to manage data about companies and their relationships. I shared ideas and possible architectures in my last year’s presentation – Manufacturing Web For The Future of Product Lifecycle. Here is how these platforms will be different:
- Multi-tenant data management will eliminate the limitation of “one database per company”. It allows simplifying data relationships between companies.
- Digital Thread abstraction model allowing to build information about how companies are working together and managing cross-company processes.
- Monetization mechanism for Digital Thread. Today’s relationships between companies are pretty much analog. RFQ and Purchase Orders. Supply chain management systems and ERP systems are very much company oriented and don’t provide ways to create a model of relationships and ways to optimize processes across multiple companies. Once new network platforms will be created, they will provide a way to monetize these processes.
What is my conclusion?
Current PLM systems are focused mostly on how to manage data inside companies or centralizing data of suppliers inside the OEM database. Some of these systems have rich data modeling engines, but even so can provide very little capabilities to manage data and processes across multiple companies, to provide robust mechanisms for the company and cross-company administration, data sharing, and monetization. Modern manufacturing demands to have systems capable to optimize an entire Digital Thread and not be limited to a single company. Multi-tenant network data management business platforms can solve these problems. It is a foundation for future PLM architectures. This is a big alert to PLM architects. Just my thoughts…
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.