Today’s manufacturing environment is changing more quickly than ever before. New technologies are allowing manufacturers to increase the speed at which they design, manufacture, and distribute their products while still maintaining high-quality standards. These changes have led some industry insiders to believe that product lifecycle management (PLM) will expand into electronics and semiconductor design fields in addition to traditional manufacturing industries like automotive, aerospace, oil & gas, construction equipment, etc.
Most of the current PLM systems originated from product data management and CAD document management for computer-aided design tools (CAD). Product lifecycle management was for a very long time a separate domain from electronics and semiconductor industry manufacturers that live in their own silo, while PLM was considered more as a discipline used in mechanical design and complex product development industries such as complex automotive and airplane design, defense products and very complex and configurable machinery.
However, multiple trends are happening now that makes companies rethink their approach in siloing electronics and semiconductor from an entire product development process and by doing so, introduce the opportunity to bring PLM to electronics and semiconductors.
Why use PLM for Electronics and Semiconductor Design?
To have better visibility in top-down design is one of the factors that bring PLM into the electronics and semiconductor space. My attention was caught by the Semiconductor Engineering article PLM for Semiconductors. Check this out and draw your opinion. Here is how the need for PLM is described there with the quote of the Cadence engineering group director.
When looking at large systems that have many complex parts, and when companies need to make sure they meet the earnings expectations given to Wall Street, knowing exactly where everything becomes crucial. The C-suite wants to be able to see progress towards goals in every aspect of the company and some think the semiconductor industry has gotten away with their sloppy processes for too long. “This is usually a top-down decision,” says Mark Hepburn, product management and engineering group director for Allegro Pulse at Cadence. “It rarely starts from engineering. The C-level says we need better control, better visibility on our overall solution to be competitive. And then it’s basically given to the electronics folks and they have to be compliant.”
Competition and better control and visibility are reasons that are hard to avoid. So, the need for PLM is growing. Together with that, also questions of how to bring PLM products traditionally isolated and connected with the electronics and semiconductor industry. This brings tons of challenges for the electronics industry as it raises many questions about how to intertwine the processes and the data. Here is another passage from the same article by Marc Hepburn that speaks about it.
“PLM is a very nebulous beast. It’s not a tool. It’s more of a process and methodology that a company may put in place. Even to this day, a large number of the business systems inside some of the large enterprises are homegrown. PLM is focused on how a product is realized inside a company. The terminology often used is that ‘it acts as the single source of truth,’ and it basically represents a complete picture of a product. It provides a picture of the impact associated with a change, the cost, the risk to the product, etc.”
Such a position brings the question of integration and data handoff and traceability. The important aspect of how to create a system with full accountability top down to every single piece of the system, but looking holistically on all elements. It can go down from the top-level system design to the details of a single chip or PCB assembly. This is where chip and electronics design are going to meet the PLM system and come together to organize the data for an entire product lifecycle
Altium article – Using PLM Software for PCB Design article written by Zachariah Peterson earlier this year, speaks about how to organize a single business including PLM and circuit design, which also raises the question of better PLM/Electronics design integration.
Product life cycle management and circuit design may seem like separate business processes, but the two are intimately related. Companies that implement continuous innovation must continuously improve their circuits designs with new components as new technology becomes available. Eventually, a product will become obsolete and will require major changes, or even entirely new circuit architecture. Product lifecycle management software can be your PL solution and solve both problems at once by providing supply chain visibility and obsolescence information during sourcing. When this solution is integrated into your PCB design software, you can immediately identify soon-to-be-obsolete components in your printed circuit board and plan to redesign circuits during the product development process.
The same Altium articles bring the point of how products such as Altium Designer and Altium 365 provide that level of integration and traceability. Here are few passages:
In order to keep up with change, your design software needs to help you identify obsolete components in your printed circuit board and your schematic so that you can immediately replace them. Replacements need to be chosen based on updated supply chain information. Finally, updates to component data need to pass directly to your PCB libraries. This prevents your data from going stale and allows your designs to keep up with changes in the manufacturing supply chain and technology in general.
The PLM software functions in your PCB design package should quickly create updated documentation from your design data so that you can get to manufacturing quickly. The best software for these life cycle management tasks provides all your important tools in a single program. Your design and PLM software application should take this data and generate consistent documentation, making it easy to track design revisions and begin new manufacturing runs for your product.
Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers an unprecedented amount of integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.
Challenges and Opportunities in Developing PLM System in Electronics and Semiconductor design
While PLM can only bring advantages to semi-con and electronics development, we are immediately facing the challenges of finding a single system to perform well in traditional PLM disciplines as well as to be tightly integrated with electronics design systems. While each of the domains (traditional PLM and EDA) comes with its own data management tools for PDM, connecting them together is usually not an easy process.
A big vendor approach taken a few years ago was leading one of the largest market players in PLM, Siemens Industrial Software to purchase Mentor Graphics. The idea of Siemens to get PLM into semiconductors and electronics was clear, but the process is not going smoothly and easily.
That integration may be slow, and the semiconductor industry continues to create internal tools that utilize specific knowledge of the domain. “By creating and maintaining traceability between disparate systems for requirements, specifications, EDA and hardware designs, software code, and documentation, engineers know immediately when a change occurs and the effect of that change on other design artifacts and parts of the system,” says K. Charles Janac, president and CEO of Arteris IP about their new trace application. “Unlike application lifecycle management (ALM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions that require engineers to use a single environment that is not best-in-class in any one aspect, domain-specific solutions create a system-of-systems that allow complete visibility of requirements traceability through the entire SoC design flow and product life cycle.”
While Siemens approach is a move from PLM vendor towards EDA vendor, the opposite move can be also a very interesting step, especially for a medium-size companies market that is dominated by software coming from Altium Designer and Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS. Just a few months ago Altium rejects a $3.9B buyout offer from Autodesk. Altium has its strategy is in place and reading an earlier AFR article has the goal to become a market leader. Here is an interesting passage.
When electronic printed circuit board (PCB) design software company Altium set out a vision to be the dominant player in the market by 2025, with $500 million in revenue and 100,000 subscribers, this time last year, it seemed like a lofty goal. Altium has released products aimed at the higher end of the market, while simultaneously also developing its Altium 365 cloud product, which is its first online design software solution and a core part of its future vision of connecting PCB design to manufacturing floor.
Altium is growing its cloud development and potentially can grow Altium 365 as a system that can be a complete data and product lifecycle management tool for the industry.
What is my conclusion?
The biggest opportunity in the PLM industry is to move from siloed old-fashion legacy PLM software into connected PLM can be directly linked to the opportunity of multi-disciplinary data management and collaboration. Product optimization will play a key role here. The interests of top management to have full visibility into a product lifecycle and the demand for traceability and accountability in the development of complex products are aligned and the outcome can be very interesting. Traditional PLM players (Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, Siemens) are looking at how to acquire EDA software tools, developers. At the same time, EDA / PCB software vendors (eg. Altium) might be looking how to capture PLM initiatives in the space where traditional PLM vendors have a low presence. The next 5 years in PLM will be a very interesting period of consolidation and new technologies and system development. 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.