My favorite quote from Peter Schroer of Aras from ACE 2019 is, “There is no Excel Add-in for HoloLens.” What Peter is referring to, of course, is Microsoft’s ubiquitous spreadsheet and their maturing entry into the world of MR (Mixed Reality). As a PLM platform company, it is natural that the head of Aras would point this out, because PLM is how you connect Excel to MR. Allow me to explain.
When you ask a group of engineers to tell you the single-most widely used tool in product development, you can bet that Excel will be at the top of the list. You can manage lists of requirements, perform calculations, develop analytical models, structure bills of materials, and more, all inside of a tool that almost everyone owns. And now you can even collaborate on an Excel file in real-time.
When you ask a group of executives about the kinds of capabilities that they want around their products and product development for the future, you can also wager that Mixed Reality (or Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality) will come up. Enabling employees, partners, and customers to collaborate across the digital and physical worlds, while separated by large distances, makes perfect sense.
You can’t connect these two things though. MR devices need to be fed with robust geometric and behavioral models to achieve the desired value. Excel provides a loose patchwork of limited supporting information, at best. PLM is what is missing in the middle because it can provide a singular reference for all models of a given physical product. Not only that, but it can manage the configuration of that model (perhaps a Virtual Twin, or even a Digital Twin) over time. Let that point sink in for a minute, that the model being displayed in a
HoloLens is constantly changing and evolving during product development. Parts, sub assemblies, etc. are coming into and dropping out of the overall product daily with engineering changes, effectivities, and more. What good is a robust digital mock up if it represents an inaccurate or outdated collection of the constituent parts?
Peter Schroer’s observation is actually cleverly disguised advice. If you want the value of HoloLens, you have to start investing in PLM capabilities to get there. Move your requirements, calculations, models, and product structures to a PLM platform. Get all of those things connected. Establish robust model-based configuration management practices. Drive your business with this digital product backbone. And then you’ll have something to plug your HoloLens into.