Manufacturing has come a long way in the past few decades. What used to be a process that took place solely in large factories and required a large production workspace and specialized workforce is now more likely to take place in distributed locations connected together. Contract manufacturing, suppliers, specialized service providers – these are all examples of how manufacturing processes are becoming distributed in time and space. This means that companies need to find new and innovative ways to connect with manufacturers and create networks that allow for the sharing of resources, ideas, and best practices. By forming these types of partnerships, businesses can not only improve their own operations but also help spur economic growth within their community, region, or industry.
The development of cloud technologies, connected service, and new manufacturing technologies such as additive technologies open the doors for innovation to have online services that can be used by a variety of players in manufacturing – OEMs, suppliers, equipment manufacturers as well as new players providing online services. Here are just three examples of such services (Note, that the number of companies and examples is really big, so my choice of examples is rather random than scientific and I’m not focusing on competitiveness and market share of these solutions).
Siemens Additive Manufacturing Network
The first example is coming from CAD/PLM vendors. Siemens’s industry presence and existing 3D technologies are a foundation. You can see the partnership as part of the network. Siemens presents a collaborative manufacturing platform – AM Network. It is an online order-to-delivery collaboration platform for the industrial additive manufacturing community. We connect the AM ecosystem, simplify the collaboration process, and streamline the AM production process. Siemens’ AM Network digitalizes and consistently improves your processes and ultimately accelerates the value of using Additive Manufacturing.
Siemens AM Network connects enterprises, suppliers, and partners, helps them collaborate and makes online orders. I’d expect similar solutions to come from other CAD/PLM vendors. While 3D is a strong foundation, the ability to connect to different machines as well as to provide a specialized production service most probably will be completely dependent on the partners.
GE Additive now brings together all additive manufacturing build-prep tools into one powerful software platform called Amp. Check for more GE Amp Software. According to the website, GE is leveraging its experience in additive metal manufacturing and building a software platform to deliver this service. Here is an interesting passage from the website:
When we couldn’t find an easy-to-use software solution that met our needs, we created it. Developed exclusively for GE Additive machines, Amp integrates the tools engineers need to manage, process, and manufacture metal additive parts in one integrated platform—built on GE’s expertise and experience.
There is a strong advantage of GE to provide software fully integrated with GE machines and technologies capable to control the manufacturing process.
My last example is Xometry, which is an online on-demand manufacturing marketplace. The company was founded in 2013. It provides you an “uber-like” service that connects companies looking for manufacturing services to providers of manufacturing technologies (machines) available for a different types of productions. Xometry developed and acquired multiple services for different manufacturing technologies – CNC, 3D Printing, Sheet metal cutting and forming, Injection molding, and others.
The advantage of Xometry, in my view, is a wide range of services connected together including capabilities for instant price quotation and the ability to connect to multiple manufacturers and service providers.
How Does Future PLM Fit and Manufacturing Networks?
The discovery of the service providers made me think about what trajectory PLM software will be taking with regards to new manufacturing services that are coming from a variety of providers. As you can see from my examples above – PLM vendors, equipment manufacturers,s and absolutely new online services are coming to help establish new manufacturing services.
The most interesting element that I can see here is related to the information flow and data, which is surrounding these services. After all, there following three parameters are always play a key role in the business of manufacturing – cost, time, and quality. Asking these questions will lead you to the answer of how to provide a service that will be reliable, save money and provide the cost needed to manufacture parts and products. The amount of data to control these processes is gigantic and the decision process for manufacturing companies and service providers is not simple.
PLM vendors’ strategic focus on how to provide a seamless information flow and data handover combined together with the ability to develop new data analytics and intelligence around the manufacturing process, collaboration, ordering, and communication will be key competitive factors. Legacy PLM software was mostly around controlling files, managing their versions, and supporting change management processes. The last one was the top possible achievement legacy PLM software was capable of. The new online SaaS PLM platforms built on top of modern data management, cloud, and collaboration technologies can open new horizons for PLM vendors and develop a network-based collaborative software to connect manufacturers and their contractors and suppliers.
What is my conclusion?
The manufacturing industry is moving forward towards new services and capabilities. It creates a new opportunity for PLM vendors to redefine the old fashion PLM paradigm and provide online network-based collaborative platforms to integrate new manufacturing services, connect manufacturers, service providers, contractors, and suppliers together. The key element of such a platform is a data intelligence that can use the data about products, services, and operations to build manufacturing platforms to build products faster, cheaper, and with predicted quality. The opportunity to redefine manufacturing is here to grab. Although PLM vendors have a large history of PLM software development and an established foundation of customers, it is not clear that they will be able to switch the gears to develop new platforms. Newcomers in this field will attempt to take the lead and provide new platforms and technologies. The key element of success is the data and intelligence of future manufacturing network services. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.