From Digital Disturbances to PLM Discourse: The Changing Landscape of Data Debates

From Digital Disturbances to PLM Discourse: The Changing Landscape of Data Debates

It has been almost fifteen years since I embarked on the journey of blogging about PLM and sharing my knowledge. When I did it more than a decade ago, I knew very little about how it impact everything what I do and how a blog will becoming the place where I can share ideas and knowledge, learn from others and find amazing people online. Through these years, I’ve come to appreciate blogging as more than just a platform for individual expression; it has become a medium for open dialogue, a bridge connecting disparate minds, and an enabler of knowledge democratization.

I found each article brings a perspective and knowledge that helps people to understand each topic, answer the query or share specific experience. Which in my view, is very important for such a field. as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) very I found the difference in terminology, methodology, tools and experience are very diverse.

In my earlier blog how to learn PLM, I brought information and source of PLM knowledge and publication you can use if you want to gather information, opinion and just ask questions. Check them out. Having navigated the complex world of PLM, I’ve realized that while books and courses lay the foundation, the real nuances and insights often come from personal experiences and shared journeys.

Therefore I found personal experience of people and companies especially important. As PLM continues to redefine the contours of product development and management, equipping oneself with the right knowledge and connecting to right people is really important. And modern digital media sources such as blog, videos and social networks is an excellent source of information. It is a great place for collaborative learning.

PLM: Hate and Love Relationships

I found that “PLM” acronym can be a very polarized factor when it comes to debates about engineering systems and processes. Manufacturing evolution and PLM evolution is intertwined. There are companies that build amazing PLM implementations and optimized their performance. At the same time, there are failures and companies that spent money and time finding themselves returning to white boards and starting over. Therefore, you can see people that love PLM and hate PLM. This is another reason why I called my blog “Beyond PLM”, which is in many case my journey to improve PLM and find a path for digital transformation in engineering and product development process.

A LinkedIn post by Joe Bowler came across as a example of “PLM hate”. It caught my attention by the bold title “Death of PLM” and comments done by Jos Voskuil and Rob Ferrone. For my decade and half of blogging, I’ve seen different opinion about the role of PLM systems and evolution of digital tools in engineering and manufacturing. I appreciate Joe’s personal style and the level of anger he is brining to debates, as well as his personal opinion related to knowledge of people sharing their knowledge. I leave it outside of the debates. I would like to focus on the topic which is related to engineering process, document management and digital transformation.

Can we stop the digital train?

I’ve made my read of Joe’s document and here is my take. The opinion presented by Joe is simple – the life was great before 3D CAD systems were invented. The engineering documentation process has a single king – drawing and everything is driven by documentation delivery. This is how engineering process was organized and this is how it worked back in time when Joe was working for Boeing. Here is a few passages:

Engineering documentation was done by the draftsman. Today, many large companies have eliminated drafting. Sadly, many have eliminated the standard engineering process of creating, checking, release and maintenance of the documentation. They don’t seem to realize this was the only final product of engineering. I will state this again “The creation of concise, complete and unambiguous documentation.”

But remember most projects are released and the engineering is archived. In the past the drawings, as prints, were always available for new projects. Today, all we did was add the 3D model. How can it now be more complex and confusing than when the engineering was based on the manual drawing?

It is going to take more than disruption to cure PLM. It is going to take a fresh exterior look at what is really happening with engineering documentation. We need to take engineering out of out of the hands of “Data Managers” and the “Inspection Department” and put it back in the hands of the engineers. Boeing got rid of the Drafting Department and are letting the drafters retire and replacing them with degreed engineers. Drafting was the group that was responsible for maintenance and management of the engineering documentation. Sadly, Boeing did not prepare the engineers for this transition and the  added responsibility.

Boeing also eliminated the “Document Control Group”. This was an outside engineering admin group that worked closely with “drafting” to assure the documentation was current and readily available. Boeing was convinced by Dassault that Catia 5 and PLM could handle the complete engineering department, thereby, affecting every operation in the complete Boeing organization.

Sadly, Onshape has not focused on this incredible functionality, but only trying to bring another mediocre 3D CAD system to the market. Onshape is not a viable product due not having a locally saved part file. This subscription only and can hold your intellectual property or engineering data hostage.

One day a smart bunch of folks will see this need and offer this functionality at a great price whether the company is large or small. This is a huge market. But we have to define a new engineering deliverable. The PLM and MBE system based on the PMI will soon fail. It is just too complex and costly.

There is one thing I agree with Joe – in many manufacturing companies, drawings is still the main form of engineering documentation. Although, I don’t think someone does them on a drafting board, but creating from 3D CAD systems, it still a form of documentation that used to release work in production, send it to contractor or supplier.

However, here is the thing. We are standing in front of the biggest digital transformation in the industry and manufacturing. Companies will have to figure out how digital processes will be replacing document driven processes to connect manufacturing using data available via digital connections. We cannot stop the digital train and it is moving faster every day.

PLM Digital Discourse

Changes are hard. No one really like them. As a human, we like the way we do things and when something disturbs us, we are getting annoyed. This is normal. Therefore I can see how engineers working 30-40 years with drawings can be annoyed by the changes 3D CAD and digital communication brings in their lives. I can tell even more – I can see it in the opposite way. Ask anyone from a high school these days to write a document using Word and save it in the file? The reaction is very interesting, because I did it with some of kids I know. Here is the simple answer – Use Google Docs, save documents online, don’t use files.

Companies need an effort to change their processes and the way the design and build products. The generation change brings new people to companies and they are looking for new and modern tools. COVID-19 was an event that taught us that businesses must be prepared to a digital future where companies will be able to transform fast, to adapt to a new way of working and communication and to switch their processes, contractors and suppliers. It is a complex process that requires data to be digital and communication to be done in online and traceable way.

What is my conclusion?

We cannot stop digital train from moving to the next station. Every company I work with are looking how to optimize their processes around information that can be accessed, reused, analyzed and available for decision making. PDF archives printed on the paper were good in the past, but cannot provide a reliable mechanism to work in a digital world. But the change is hard and there are many incompatible systems these days. Companies are facing the presence of old systems, combined with people that can be confused and looking how to build digital processes. How it can all work? This is why we need to have multiple tiers of digital education and playbook how to manage change in the companies to switch from document oriented world to a data driven world. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital thread platform including PDM/PLM and ERP capabilities that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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