Lionel Grealou posted open for debate article – The Place of PLM in the Digital Future (open to debate). I recommend you check it out.
My first reaction after reading that the PLM industry believes that PLM digital future is more than guaranteed. I’d be very carefully believing in such a thing. Even PLM vendors’ landscape didn’t change much for the last decade, I’d be careful making the assumption that the digital future will provide good old-PLM a safe shelter in place. I rather think the future is more than turbulent.
The article says the future is digital and later put a bunch of debate points we’ve been talking about in PLM for the last decade such as the single version of the truth, master data, PLM / ERP overlap, and some others. My favorite passage demonstrating the problem of PLM is in this passage:
The open question is about which “consistent set of business solutions” or what is sometimes referred as “capabilities” that the business needs to operate – and whether or not it still makes sense to refer to these solutions as “PLM”, “ERP”, “MES”, etc. On the other side of the spectrum, other PLM evangelists suggest that future PLM mothership environment is to cover everything that connects data between virtual and physical worlds, including smart products / services, smart factories / Industry 4.0, smart operations, smart sensors / IIOT, smart everything – an interesting vision, but perhaps also trying to eat all the “cakes” from ERP, MES, IOT, etc.? Hence the question: where to draw the line to ensure a consistent PLM identity? This is important to help simplify and differentiate the relevant building blocks for each discipline, skills, technology standards and ‘best practices’ to be effectively deployed as part of PLM digital (and associated business transformation) implementations.
While PLM vendors continuously trying to eat cakes from other solutions such as ERP, MES, and IoT, the weakest point in all PLM strategies is related to the position of PLM (or whatever name we will use in the future) as a “glue”, “connector”, “link”, “hub”, etc. The following passage is a great demonstration of this approach.
In 2015, I had suggested that PLM is itself an operating model acting as the “glue” between digital product engineering, digital manufacturing, project engineering and execution – augmenting human creativity, enabling faster product creation and innovation. Assuming this definition stands, it perhaps implies that the PLM “footprint” is primarily aimed at product development and digital manufacturing. This footprint extend / interface to asset management in operations (in-field activities such as maintenance, service, optimization, etc.). Asset performance management is a broader subject as it covers both the product, production and maintenance equipment – which in turn have their own lifecycle. Taking the view of data business ownership and I/O mastership can help draw the secondary footprint of PLM data downstream and upstream its primary footprint – likely to be another open debate…
What is the problem with the glue between engineering, manufacturing, project and execution? Back few decades, PDM/PLM technology provided an infrastructure to manage and share data using the central database and file storage. Without such technology data stayed on the workstation or on paper. But the world changed and there is no need in such infrastructure anymore. We don’t need a glue in digital future. The technology for digital future is here and it is called internet. Combined with cloud infrastructure, it gives everything digital manufacturing need to glue things together on the technology level.
So, what is the remaining part? To come into a digital future, PLM needs to figure out the way to develop digital assets. As much as we want to say, existing systems (CAD, PDM, PLM) provide digital assets, it is not true. Existing CAD and PLM technologies are producing documents such as CAD files, PDF documents and also managing local databases for the data. The data produced by CAD and PLM systems are digitally incompatible and cannot be used outside of these silos. Even more, the fundamental business model of all PLM vendors is data locking and up-selling applications on top of data silos.
Last years of development demonstrated great concepts that can be used in the future of digital manufacturing – system approach, digital twin, digital thread and other technologies. By calling old PLM database digital thread, we won’t ensure digital future for PLM. What PLM needs to do to book a space in the digital future? Here are three things that in my view can help PLM to find a seat in the digital train.
1- Digital Assets
Turn incompatible CAD and PLM data into digital assets that can be available using modern technologies used in the digital universe. It includes identity, discovery, and transport mechanisms. The technology is available. Modern real SaaS PLM platforms can do it today and this is just a beginning.
2- Identity and Security
PLM industry will have to develop identity and security mechanisms for data. It must solve the problem of data transparency and availability. These mechanisms are a combination of technology, insurance, and governance that can allow digital asset consumption by companies – OEMs, contractors, suppliers, and customers. Maybe it is part of future standards… who knows?
3- Business Model for Digital Future
To find business models that will allow us to switch from data locking to data monetization. It will be a tricky thing. Think about a business model that will profit from data, openness, and data reuse. Think about it more as a utility. The more you consume, the more profit it will give you. Learn from all utility companies in the world how to monetize traffic and consumption. Make a profit of connection and discovery.
What is my conclusion?
The digital future is not guaranteed. I doubt the next decade of PLM will be the same as the last decade. We are at the brinks of the change. The changes will come from all sides, but the main driver will be the digital transformation of manufacturing companies. To develop future products, manufacturing companies will be looking for a new tool and this is the opportunity for the PLM industry to transform. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.