The calls to simplify PLM systems are not something new in the industry. Although industry pundits might keep arguing about who invented the PLM concept and when it was first introduced to the work, there is almost full agreement about the value and complexity of PLM at the same. It is not an unusual opinion that PLM is an expensive and complex strategy that requires a substantial investment in both technology and change management. The love for PLM is substantially dropping as you leave the doors of engineering departments. At the same time, PLM vendors are spending a lot of effort on how to re-think PLM complexity.
My attention was caught by Aras article – Systems Thinking and Radical Simplification. The article suggests that engineers are system thinkers doing work which is stored in files, which goes through the multiple processes of versioning and once is done is released to become a “formal version” to the PLM system, which takes ownership from engineers, while engineers move to the next design.
Here is the passage:
Engineers (and not only Systems Engineers) use Systems Thinking, (the gray area in the above graphic) while exploring design space, by applying many different “versions” of system contexts, requirement parameters, variability of features and options, functional and logical breakdowns, simulation studies, cross-domain optimizations, etc. They own the data, and it resides in the files managed by their authoring tools. At some point design is finalized and becomes a formal “version” in PLM—the point at which PLM takes the ownership of the data and maps it to its internal data model. And then engineering moves on to the next design. See the problem? All of the knowledge gained from Systems Thinking (again, the gray background) becomes lost and many of the same explorations must be repeated over and over during the next designs. That translates into missed market opportunities and significant costs that many C-Level individuals aren’t even aware of.
The idea Aras is coming with is to connect engineers and whoever is working on the projects after engineers with the so-called “Digital Thread” to maintain the connection and to simplify the re-use.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice if a Digital Thread also maintained traceability to these past Systems Thinking explorations (all results—good and bad) so that they would not have to be redone for the next design—regardless of who owns the data and where it resides? And it could also be equally accessible by engineers during their design explorations as well as PLM users during their change management (impact analysis!) and related activities?
In a nutshell, Aras proposal is to host Aras systems on Microsoft Azure servers and to connect engineering authority tools (e.g. CAD systems) to cloud-hosted platforms, which will keep the data extracted from engineering tools in the cloud. This is the part of Aras article that describes the idea
But there is a next step that will drastically simplify the whole situation. Aras’ industrial low-code platform, with its full functionality available on the cloud, is ready to connect with the engineering authoring tools that are also destined to move to the cloud. That will eliminate the need for PLM connectors as we know it because those authoring tools will no longer depend on their native files, but rather on native data structures in the cloud. This means that PLM/tool integration will be based on pervasive data federation strictly within the cloud. It also means that this integration will allow PLM to monitor what is being changed by engineering as it is being changed—dynamically—plus impose a permission model tied to the lifecycle management that defines what constitutes a “version” and what constitutes a “revision.
Aras is not describing how the entire process will work, but I can imagine a data management platform that is capable of the work of data extraction, to transform the data and keep the data in the cloud servers. Aras speaks about a federated model, which allows everyone access rights. While federation is not a new concept it is not clear what means federation in the cloud environment Aras suggested.
The entire idea sounds interesting and Aras seems to be not the only vendor that is thinking about how to use cloud backend environments (single-tenant and multi-tenant) to extract the data and to simplify the processes. Here are some examples of similar services.
1- Autodesk Forge
Autodesk Forge is a multi-tenant cloud platform developed by Autodesk to provide a data management backbone to multiple designs and manufacturing services. Autodesk connects desktop and cloud tools to Autodesk Forge to perform data extractions and transformations of the data into formats that can be available and consumed online via REST APIs. For example, learn how to bring Autodesk Inventor data to Forge using design automation APIs.
2- Dassault Systemes 3D EXPERIENCE Works (for SOLIDWORKS)
Dassault Systemes is expanding 3D EXPERIENCE and connected it to SolidWorks. In a nutshell, the idea of DS is to expand from SOLIDWORKS and grab the design data to provide all teams the possibility to manage the data, revisions, and access information downstream. 3DX is available in a hosted and cloud environment from DS. Learn more about 3DEXPERIENCE Works here.
OpenBOM (disclaimer – I’m co-founder and CEO) is a digital network platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks. OpenBOM’s modern SaaS real-time collaboration and data management technology allows it to create and manage product data and manage production planning and purchasing activities across networks of engineers, supply chain managers, and contract manufacturers. OpenBOM enables people to share and collaborate using online product information. OpenBOM allows easy extraction of data from multiple design environments via advanced integrations. In the following example, you can see how only in 5 minutes you can register an OpenBOM account and connect and extract design information. This information later can be used for downstream processes such as costing, production, and purchasing planning.
What is my conclusion?
Cloud services a very powerful approach to simplify the PLM environment. It starts from eliminating the need to have the system installed but most importantly continues downstream to extract and connect the information that earlier was only available via CAD files in the engineering environment. There is a growing number of online SaaS services that become available to extract engineering data and convert it into a digital thread of valuable information. 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, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.