PLM for Everyone?

PLM for Everyone?

PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) has been around for a long time. It was initially developed as a a set of software tools (often as a toolkit) to assist complex engineering and manufacturing processes. However, the concept that PLM can benefit any manufacturer has been circulating for the past two decades. PLM vendors have shown a real interest in bringing PLM to wider markets. Yet, customers, engineers, and manufacturing companies have been skeptical about whether the existing paradigm can hold up when scaled down from both technical and organizational perspectives.

In the past 20+ years, I’ve seen multiple attempts of PLM vendors to bring solutions that can work for a wider customer category (everyone, SMB, etc names were used to mark these initiatives). Some of these tools were quite successful, some others lived a very short life mostly in Power Point slides from PLM vendors. Some of them were shutdown (eg. Product Point), some of them were places to a long maintenance mode with the transition to a new platform (eg. SmarTeam). I’m sure my readers can bring more examples. My attention was caught by the last news from Siemens Realize LIVE event in Las Vegas. Siemens makes product lifecycle management more accessible to businesses of all sizes with Teamcenter X Essentials. Teamcenter, which is a great platform with the biggest market share in PLM industry was announced their Teamcenter X SaaS option a few years ago and now making an announcement to bring its product data management features of this PLM system to everyone (starting from MCAD document management functions).

Teamcenter brand has a long history of transformation brining multiple tools and platforms under the same roof. In 2024, there are many other initiatives and programs focusing how to make PLM tools affordable and adopted by a wider audience to name a few (eg. Autodesk Fusion platform and tools, PTC Atlas and Onshape, and also a few smaller startup companies focusing on how change the way engineers are designing new products, sharing data and collaborating with suppliers and contracts. (eg. OpenBOM, DuroPLM, Propel, Colab Software, Five Flute, Jiga, and few others. Check G2 Best PLM for 2024 to see who is around these days in PLM and what services can be easy adopted. Blake Courter, Alex Huckstepp and few other fellows created Engineering Software Moat Map.

Let me share my thoughts about what I can see is happening in the industry and how it can project the change and the opportunity to establish a service(s) that can be adopted by other companies (and not only Fortune 1000 manufacturing companies)

2020s Trends

The manufacturing and product development world has changed for the last 10-15 years. It related to business processes, supply chain management, and the entire product development process. The entire lifecycle has changed. Let me outline the most important trends I can see.

  • Increased Complexity: The complexity of products, configurations, processes, supply chains, and contract manufacturing has significantly grown. Products these days requires a multi-disciplinary design (mechanical, electronic, software) , companies are distributed and contract manufacturing has grown. It impact business systems and put a new demand for PLM solutions.
  • Technological Developments: Advances in cloud technology, new data management approaches, tools, and AI have emerged. The space that was occupied by SQL database and MS Office back in 1995 is now full of modern technologies to manage data on a global scale, including data sharing, data analytics and recent AI development. Product lifecycle management platforms from all mindshare PLM vendors were architected and built back 20 years ago.
  • SaaS Adoption Growth: Companies are increasingly using multiple services, making SaaS a common approach. For the last 20 years, the number of SaaS services used in business has grown significantly. As a result, manufacturing companies are already adopting and using multiple online services.

Can we make “PLM for everyone” a reality?

Do we have a unique moment to change the way we think about PLM, products, tools, technologies? Maybe we are living through the time when “PLM for everyone” can come true? Here are some of my ideas about near time opportunities and development of PLM-related technologies, services and solutions.

  1. PLM Vendors Leveraging SaaS Momentum: PLM vendors are attempting to expand their reach by adding new services on top of their platforms and acquiring new vendors. The current momentum allows the introduction of new services to see if they can be effectively utilized by manufacturing companies of all sizes to support their product development processes and help them to optimize design process and build new products faster.
  2. Shift in Data Management Paradigm: The focus is shifting from applications and tools to data and intelligence. Companies are considering how to transition from documents to data, optimize information flow, and ultimately derive value and intelligence from their data. This is a complex process that requires a blend of openness, user experience, simplicity, and organizational transformation to facilitate this change.
  3. Creation of New Data Management Platforms: New platforms are being developed to replace tools from the late 1990s. The main goal is for PLM software vendors to rethink “data” and create a way for services to be consumed by various user groups. Companies will prioritize experience and ease of use, then remain for the data intelligence and AI that help them develop new products faster and optimize costs.

What is my conclusion?

I think, we are going to witness a lot of transformation. Will we see “PLM for everyone moment” coming soon? Are we going to see “PLM” name replaces with another abbreviation. While I don’t believe the mantra will change (PLM vendors will continue to develop PLM software), I can see how product lifecycle management software domain is going to change and focus more of product data instead of application. Product data will bring the change because it will allow to think less about tools and PLM solutions and focus more on how to solve problems of design project management, supplier collaboration, product quality and product’s lifecycle for connected products.

New data management platforms will come in a form of easily adoptable SaaS services with efficient unit economics to services that offer better solutions for existing, highly inefficient processes. Additionally, the introduction of flexible and open data management platforms will help aggregate existing files and data, turning them into intelligence and knowledge that can be utilized by everyone. The amount of data that manufacturing companies are losing today because of inefficiency of existing tools is astonishing. Finally, the AI will thrive from the opportunity to use the data to bring intelligence to the companies. Think about all communications that are happening today in a way of emails, spreadsheets, powerpoints, etc? Think how much information is lost. How much design intent, traceability related to customers and suppliers cannot be analyzed. By brining all this data “into actions”, we will be able to make PLM for everyone real.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital-thread platform with cloud-native PDM & PLM capabilities to manage product data lifecycle and connect manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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