In the digital age, it’s more important than ever to keep track of your data. Managing the complexity of the information about modern products and complex product development and manufacturing processes can be difficult. Digital Thread is quickly becoming a place where manufacturing companies are looking to invest. The capabilities of digital thread technologies are expanding and PLM vendors are looking how to improve what they do about it.
My attention was caught by the Lifecycle Insight article – Expanded Digital Thread Support a Major Theme in NX’s Summer Release.
An overarching theme for the release is a continued investment in digital threads, or digital business processes, that allow for seamless transitions and better digital continuity. Supporting more and more digital threads has been an explicit, public goal for the company. And the summer release of NX shows that Siemens is following through.
But the new release of NX is not about delivering a disconnected best-in-class CAD solution to the market. The latest release connects with other solutions in a meaningful way. A case in point is the connection between NX and NX Mold Connect, which Chad Jackson covered in his recent post on the NX summer release. This feature allows design engineers to collaborate with suppliers early in the design cycle to ensure that the plastic components are manufacturable and get a reasonable cost estimate. Siemens NX provides seamless transitions between different roles within and even between organizations. This fluid transition between the various participants in the product development process is enabled by ensuring digital continuity and seamless transition between the various tools. And this is all about maintaining the digital thread throughout product development.
The Need for Digital Continuity
For me, the question of digital continuity is the most interesting trend that is coming to PLM technologies. In a nutshell, it means that the focus on individual productivity is replaced with the need to think more about collaboration and communication between multidisciplinary teams working together. Another aspect of collaboration and digital continuity is a connection between organizations. Such capabilities of PLM tools are quickly becoming a key as companies increasingly demand collaboration with suppliers, tiers, and contractors to perform different works together.
Existing PLM Architecture Shortcoming
While PLM vendors are looking for more collaboration and connections, the shortcomings of existing PLM architectures can quickly become a key bottleneck to achieving that. Today I want to talk about two shortcomings of PLM architecture – (1) file collaboration and (2) siloed databases.
The majority of production design tools heavily rely on file storage technology to provide data management and communication. Desktop tools are getting more sophisticated, but passing files around without proper data technology can quickly become a problem. Especially when the complexity of design and focus on multi-disciplinary design is increasing.
Traditional SQL databases, which are a foundation of existing PLM platforms are well developed and matured, but they were designed back in the 2000s and assumed the siloed data modeling (database per company). It works for many use cases but fails when companies are trying to use these tools for communication between organizations.
Platforms for Digital Thread?
Supporting digital continuity and collaboration requires technologies and tools to go beyond the limitations of existing platforms. Multi-tenant platforms are the architecture to solve the problem of siloed databases. While still at their early beginning, these modern digital platform technologies can provide a network-based environment to connect multiple organizations and unlock siloes.
Just 5-10 years ago, CAD file size was a big problem for connected cloud-based environments. During the last 2-3 years, we’ve seen huge progress in cloud communication and internet connectivity. One of the outcomes of the COVID pandemic disaster was substantial improvement of connectivity and coming 5G mobile technologies are making it available broadly. So, passing large files and introducing file collaboration technologies can achieve new horizons.
What is my conclusion?
PLM vendors are looking for ways to support manufacturing companies to develop better solutions for digital thread, data connectivity, and digital continuity. One of the limitations of existing PLM architecture is related to siloed organizational databases and the limitation of file collaboration. The time is now to uplift the capabilities of existing platforms to bring new technological capabilities, embrace new technologies to deliver these solutions and eliminate complexity by bringing online web services well integrated with existing products. It is time to expand PLM technological paradigms. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PDM & PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.