As the year goes towards the end, it is a great time to make some conclusions and observations about what I learned about the PLM industry this year. It was a very unusual year – COVID and pandemic situations across the globe changed the life and habits of people. It had a very interesting impact on different industries and manufacturing. Some of the industries were going nowhere, while some others thrived.
The industry received a huge push towards remote work and the realization of how to use modern technologies for better communication, planning, and adaptation to new realities. It made technologies to support remote and connected work to shine, eliminated some of the red herring concerns, and stressed the importance of future transformation.
Here are my observations about business, products, and technologies related to engineering and manufacturing software broadly called by CIMdata as PLM, which includes collaborative product definition management (cPDM), tools, and digital manufacturing.
1- New PLM, Digital Twin and Digital Thread
The Digital Twin and Digital Thread are continuing to be dominant visionary concepts behind ‘new PLM’. Some industry players are getting tired of “PLM” as a name of the game and looking at how to bring new flavors of marketing and strategy. Don’t get me wrong. Digital Twin and Digital Thread is not only new marketing for old concepts but also an interesting set of maturing technologies that are getting a better adoption in the new manufacturing and business realities.
What is behind is a desperate need to connect data, processes, teams, companies, and activities in the modern manufacturing world. It is a huge mission and one of the biggest pains that I can see in front of PLM vendors and manufacturing technologies. The existing cPDM technologies are still a bunch of tech running on top of SQL databases to store objects and such a paradigm is slowly dying in front of the reality of the new world.
2- Focus on Product Data
The data such as BOMs and product structure in different representations is regaining importance as a foundation on all processes across different disciplines. Model-based approaches focusing on how to get data out of the existing document envelopes and enable sharing the data across multiple disciplines and teams as well as using the data for intelligence and decision process are leading companies strategies. The ultimate goal is to turn data into an asset and to eliminate petabytes of Excel files and legacy databases. I can see more efforts in this direction going in multiple companies and entire industries.
3- Resilient Systems
The upgrade is not an option anymore in the PLM industry. Nobody is thinking about 10 years of the system implementation cycle. The deployment and implementation time is shrinking and the demand of companies for the quickest ROI is skyrocketing. The effort of the companies is directed towards how to eliminate legacy and deploy new technologies capable of evolving together with the business as well as to be changed by vendors as they develop new versions, enhancements, and improvements.
4- The Next Round Of Cloud – SaaS
PLM is still waiting for cloud solutions to come. The adoption of cloud solutions is still low compared to the overall PLM market. The decade of the 2010s was spent convincing manufacturing companies into legitimacy, performance, and security of cloud solutions. The timing is now for cloud solutions to show off their capability. And it is coming now in a way of SaaS applications. In the past year, we’ve seen strong moves by all vendors towards SaaS. It brought up many business and technological issues and debates. The most important one is how cloud/SaaS technologies can step beyond simple hosting and enable companies’ connections and new business functions.
5- Open Architecture and Standards
During the recent PDT 2020 conference online, I captured an interesting perspective provided by Marc Halpern. He compared two end games of digital thread – (1) The Vendor Black Hole and (2) Enterprise Architecture Mess. This brings up the question about the standard and open architectures. During the past year, I’ve heard a lot of discussions about the importance of openness and connecting companies together. The topic requires re-thinking, in my view. The past standard and openness efforts were mostly focusing on how to align data files and data representations. Those are very important. The question remains how to put them at work in many companies with the reality of existing systems. The new web architectures and web openness experience can bring the next shift in the future of open systems and architectures.
What is my conclusion?
What happened in 2020 demonstrated the importance of PLM technologies and strategies to support manufacturing in the need to work in the new environment and new realities. The manufacturing industry is coming to realize the new potential of modern PLM technologies, the ability to eliminate old file-based document management systems, to establish data models for future connected systems and processes, speed up design, connect suppliers and bring new sustainable PLM software to replace old legacy paradigms of PLM. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.