Image and article related to the article “The Onrushing Wave” in the Economist Jan 18th, 2014

When PLM is discussed at management level, often the goal is to increase efficiency, which translates into doing the same with fewer people. And it is the translation that is creating worries inside the company. The PLM system is going to cut down the amount of jobs in our company.

The result: People, who fear their job is at risk, will make sure PLM will fail and become blockers. These people will be the ones defending the “good old way of working” and create a mood of complexity for the new PLM system.
I wrote some time ago a post about PLM and Blockers

At the end there is frustration at all levels in the company and PLM systems are to blame.

How to address the fear for disappearing jobs block a PLM implementation?

First of all if you implement PLM now, do not target efficiency only. There is a digital revolution ongoing, radically changing standard businesses and markets. The picture at the top says it all. If you are still not convinced, read the “old” article from the Economist or more related to PLM, I just read this article from Accenture consulting talking about Digital PLM. I liked the opening sentence from that article:

“It’s time to adopt a digital model for product lifecycle management – or get left behind.”

dataThe digital revolution forces companies to become extremely flexible and agile. Business models can rapidly change. Where perhaps your company was the market leader, a few years you can be in trouble, due to the decoupling of products and services in a different business model. There are a few places where you do not have to worry (yet). If you are in a governmental type of business (no competition – you are the only preferred supplier) the less worried you might be for the upcoming digital revolution. Other types of companies need to make a strategic plan.

Making a strategic plan

roadmapThe strategic plan starts at the board level and has, of course, elements of efficiency. However, the major strategic discussion should be: “How will we differentiate our company in the future and stay in business and profitable”. This cannot be by competing on price only. It requires you can excite your future customers and who these customers are might not be clear yet either.

Different business models can give the company a better position in the market. The current trend in competitive markets is that the value does not come from selling products. Selling services or operation capacity (OPEX instead of CAPEX) are currently upcoming new business models and they need constant anticipation to what happens in the market or at your potential customer base.

Digitalization of information and being able to work with real-time information, instead of information hidden in documents, handled by document controllers, creates the opportunity to change. For example the potential of “The Internet of Everything” is huge.

At the board level, you need the vision where the company should be in the next 5 to 10 years. It will not bubble up automatically in an organization. And when talking about PLM, it should be digital PLM.

Next communication

stevejobsIt is not easy to communicate the above if you have not lived through the whole process in your mind. Management needs to be able to explain the vision and its impact on the organization in such a way that it empowers people instead of making them afraid of change. We all know the examples of charismatic CEOs, like Steve Jobs, who could energize a company and its customers. However, it is clear that not every CEO is like Steve Jobs.
Once you are able to communicate the vision, it will be logical that the organization needs new processes and in modern digital processes create different responsibilities and need different management styles.

Disappearing jobs

When you start implementing PLM in a modern approach (digital PLM according to Accenture) there will be jobs disappearing. There is no need to be secretive about that; it is a result of the vision that should be known to everyone in the company.

Disappearing jobs are:

  • jobs where people are processing data (from one format to the other) and checking follow-up processes (from on Excel to the other). If your daily job is collecting data and filling spreadsheets with data your job is at risk. In a digital environment, the data will be real-time available and can be filtered and presented in automatic reports or dashboards.
  • Jobs where team managers have the major task to decide on priorities for the team and fight with other discipline team managers on priorities. In a digital environment, empowered employees will understand conflicting activities and they will be able to discuss and decide immediately with the relevant people. No need for an intermediate layer of people handling escalations only. It is true that this modern approach requires a different management style and people who can deal with being empowered. In general, empowered people feel more motivated that employees who are just doing what their managers tell them to do. The business change from hierarchical and siloed organizations towards networked organizations is critical and challenging – all depending on trust and the right change management.
  • The classical fire-fighters. At first glance they are considered as crucial as they solve all the issues with great energy, do not run away when work needs to be done and make it happen. From the management perspective, these people are blocking change as they flourish from the chaos and do not fix or prevent new issues coming up.

For all other people in the company, digital PLM should bring relief – see the Gartner quote below.


Digital business jobs imply spending less time in searching for information. Less work in a reactive mode as information in the right context in real-time will be available. End to end visibility of information combined with transparency will lead to higher performance and motivation. It requires changing behaviors, motivation must come from the inspiration of the management and the understanding that your company is becoming more flexible and more competitive than before. And for that reasons keeping you in business and providing you an interesting place to work.

Conclusion: Do not use PLM to improve efficiency only and ROI discussions. There is a strategic need to be ready and stay in business for the future. Modern PLM is an enabler, however, requires a vision, inspiring communication and a path for employees to be empowered.

I am curious about your opinion – will this happen to your company / industry?

NL-PLMAs a genuine Dutchman, I was able to spend time last month in the Netherlands, and I attended two interesting events: BIMOpen2015, where I was invited to speak about what BIM could learn from PLM (see Dutch review here) and the second event: Where engineering meets supply chain organized by two startup companies located in Yes!Delft an incubator place working close to the technical university of Delft (Dutch announcement here)

Two different worlds and I realized later, they potential have the same future. So let’s see what happened.

BIMopen 2015

bimopenBIMopen 2015 had the theme: From Design to Operations and the idea of the conference was to bring together construction companies (the builders) and the facility managers (the operators) and discuss the business value they see from BIM.

First I have to mention that BIM is a confusing TLA like PLM. So many interpretations of what BIM means. For me, when I talk about BIM I mean Building Information Management. In a narrower meaning, BIM is often considered as a Building Information Model – a model that contains all multidisciplinary information. The last definition does not deal with typical lifecycle operations, like change management, planning, and execution.

The BIMopen conference started with Ellen Joyce Dijkema from BDO consultants who addressed the cost of failure and the concepts of lean. Thinking. The high cost of failure is known and accepted in the construction industry, where at the end of the year profitability can be 1 % of turnover (with a margin of +/- 3 % – so being profitable is hard).

Lean thinking requires a cultural change, which according to Ellen Joyce is an enormous challenge, where according to a study done by Prof Dr. A. Cozijnsen there is only 19 % of chance this will be successful, compared to 40 % chance of success for new technology and 30 % of chance for new work processes.


It is clear changing culture is difficult and in the construction industry it might be even harder. I had the feeling a large part of the audience did not grasp the opportunity or could find a way to apply it to their own world.

My presentation about what BIM could learn from PLM was similar. Construction companies have to spend more time on upfront thinking instead of fixing it later (costly). In addition thinking about the whole lifecycle of a construction, also in operations can bring substantial revenue for the owner or operator of a construction. Where traditional manufacturing companies take the entire lifecycle into account, this is still not understood in the construction industry.

This point was illustrated by the fact that there was only one person in the audience with the primary interest to learn what BIM could contribute to his job as facility manager and half-way the conference he still was not convinced BIM had any value for him.


A significant challenge for the construction industry is that there is no end-to-end ownership of data, therefore having a single company responsible for all the relevant and needed data does not exist. Ownership of data can result in legal responsibility at the end (if you know what to ask for) and in a risk shifting business like the construction industry companies try to avoid responsibility for anything that is not directly related to the primary activities.

Some larger companies during the conference like Ballast Nedam and HFB talked about the need to have a centralized database to collect all the data related to a construction (project). They were building these systems themselves, probably because they were not aware of PLM systems or did not see through the first complexity of a PLM system, therefore deciding a standard system will not be enough.

whyworryI believe this is short-term thinking as with a custom system you can get quick results and user acceptance (it works the way the user is asking for) however custom systems have always been a blockage for the future after 10-15 years as they are developed with a mindset from that time.

If you want to know, learn more about my thoughts have a look at 2014 the year the construction industry did not discover PLM. I will write a new post at the end of the year with some positive trends. Construction companies start to realize the benefits of a centralized data-driven environment instead of shifting documents and risks.

The cloud might be an option they are looking for. Which brings me to the second event.

Engineering meets Supply Chain

This was more an interactive workshop / conference where two startups KE-Works and TradeCloud illustrated the individual value of their solution and how it could work in an integrated way. I had been in touch with KE-Works before because they are an example of the future trend, platform-thinking. Instead of having one (or two) large enterprise system(s), the future is about connecting data-centric services, where most of them can run in the cloud for scalability and performance.

KE-Works provides a real-time workflow for engineering teams based on knowledge rules. Their solution runs in the cloud but connects to systems used by their customers. One of their clients Fokker Elmo explained how they want to speed up their delivery process by investing in a knowledge library using KE-works knowledge rules (an approach the construction industry could apply too)


In general if you look at what KE-works does, it is complementary to what PLM-systems or platforms do. They add the rules for the flow of data, where PLM-systems are more static and depend on predefined processes.

tradecloudTradeCloud provides a real-time platform for the supply chain connecting purchasing and vendors through a data-driven approach instead of exchanging files and emails. TradeCloud again is another example of a collection of dedicated services, targeting, in this case, the bottom of the market. TradeCloud connects to the purchaser’s ERP and can also connect to the vendor’s system through web services.

The CADAC group, a large Dutch Autodesk solution provided also showed their web-services based solution connecting Autodesk Vault with TradeCloud to make sure the right drawings are available. The name of their solution, the “Cadac Organice Vault TradeCloud Adapter” is more complicated than the solution itself.

observationWhat I saw that afternoon was three solutions providers connected using the cloud and web services to support a part of a company’s business flow. I could imagine that adding services from other companies like OnShape (CAD in the cloud), Kimonex (BOM Management for product design in the cloud) and probably 20 more candidates can already build and deliver a simplified business flow in an organization without having a single, large enterprise system in place that connects all.

The Future

InnovDilemmaI believe this is the future and potential a breakthrough for the construction industry. As the connections between the stakeholders can vary per project, having a configurable combination of business services supported by a cloud infrastructure enables an efficient flow of data.

As a PLM expert, you might think all these startups with their solutions are not good enough for the real world of PLM. And currently they are not – I agree. However disruption always comes unnoticed. I wrote about it in 2012 (The Innovators Dilemma and PLM)


Innovation happens when you meet people, observe and associate in areas outside your day-to-day business. For me, these two events connected some of the dots for the future. What do you think? Will a business process based on connected services become the future?

Sometimes we have to study careful to see patterns have a look here what is possible according to some scientists (click on the picture for the article)



PDT2015-1In this post observations from the PDT 2015 conference which took place in the IVA Conference Center, part of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Services in Stockholm.

The conference was hosted by Eurostep supported by CIMdata, Airbus, Siemens Energy and Volvo AB.

For me, the PDT conference is interesting because there is a focus on architecture and standards flavored with complementary inspiring presentations. This year there were approximate 110 participants from 12 countries coming from different industries listening to 25 presentations spread over two days.

Some highlights

cimdataPeter Bilello from CIMdata kicked off the conference with his presentation: The Product Innovation Platform: What’s Missing.

Peter explained how the joined vision from CIMdata, Gartner and IDC related to a product innovation platform is growing.

The platform concept is bringing PLM to the enterprise level as a critical component to support innovation. The main challenge is to make the complex simple – easier said than done, but I agree this is the real problem of all the software vendors.

Peter showed an interesting graph based on a survey done by CIMdata, showing two trends.

  • The software and technology capabilities are closing more and more the gap with the vision (a dream can come true)
  • The gap between the implemented capabilities and the technical possible capabilities is growing too. Of course, there is a difference between the leaders and followers.

Peter described the three success factors determining if a platform can be successful:

  • Connection: how easy is it for others to connect and plug into the platform to participate as part of the platform. Translated to capabilities this requires the platform to support open standards to connect external data sources as you do not want to build new interfaces for every external source. Also, the platform provider should provide an integration API with a low entry level to get the gravity (next point)
  • Gravity: how well does the platform attract participants, both producers, and consumers. Besides a flexible and targeted user interfaces, there must be an infrastructure that allows companies to model the environment in such a manner that it supports experts creating the data, but also support consumers in data, who are not able to navigate through details and want a consumer-friendly environment.
  • Flow: how well does the platform support the exchange and co-creation of value. The smartphone platforms are extremely simple compared to a business platform as the dimension of lifecycle status and versioning is not there. A business platform needs to have support for versioning and status combined with relating the information in the right context. Here I would say only the classical PLM vendors have in-depth experience with that.

Having read these three bullet points and taking existing enterprise software vendors for PLM, ERP, and other “platforms” in mind, you see there is still a way to go before we have a “real” platform available.

According to Peter, companies should start with anchoring the vision for a business innovation platform in their strategic roadmap. It will be an incremental journey anyway. How clear the vision is connected to business execution in reality differentiates leaders and followers.



Next Marc Halpern from Gartner elaborated on enabling Product Innovation Platforms. Marc started to say that the platform concept is still the process of optimizing PLM.

Marc explained the functional layers making up a product innovation platform, see below


Gartner-platform layering

According to Marc, in 2017 the major design, PLM and business suite vendors will all offer product innovation platforms, where certain industries are more likely to implement product innovation platforms faster than others.

Marc stressed that moving to a business innovation platform is a long, but staged, journey. Each stage of the journey can bring significant value.

Gartner has a 5-step maturity model based on the readiness of the organization. Moving from reactive, repeatable, integrating towards collaborating and ultimately orchestrating companies become business ready for PDM first, next PLM and the Product Innovation Platform at the end. You cannot skip one of these steps according to Marc. I agree, PLM implementations in the past failed because the company was dreaming that the PLM system would solve the business readiness of the organization.

Marc ended with a case study and the conclusions were not rocket science.

The importance of change management, management understanding and commitment, and business and IT joined involvement. A known best practice, still we fail in many situations to act accordingly, due to underestimation of the effort. See also my recent blog post: The importance of change management for PLM.

peepoople logoNext session from Camilla Wirseen was a real revelation. Her presentation:  We are all Peepoople – innovation from the bottom of the pyramid.

She described how Anders Wilhemson, original a professor in architecture, focused on solving a global, big problem addressing 2.5 billion people in the world. These 2.5 billion persons, the poorest of the world, lack sanitation, which results in a high death rate for children (every 15 seconds a child dies because of contaminated water). Also the lack of safe places for sanitation lead to girls dropping out of school and women and children being at risk for rape when going to toilet places.

The solution is a bag, made of high-performance biodegradable plastics combined with chemicals, already in the bag, processing the feces to kill potential diseases and make the content available as fertilizer for the agricultural industry.

The plastic bag might not be new, but adding the circular possibilities to it, make it a unique approach to creating a business model providing collection and selling of the content again. For the poorest every cent they can earn makes a different.

peepoople statement

Currently in initial projects the Peepoo system has proven its value: over 95 % user acceptance. It is the establishment that does not want to introduce Peepoo on a larger scale. Apparently they never realized themselves the problems with sanitation.

Peepoo is scaling up and helping the bottom of our society. And the crazy fact is that it was not invented by engineers but by an architect. This is challenging everyone to see where you can contribute to a better world. Have a look at peepoople.cominnovation with an enormous impact!

volvologoNext Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks presented similar challenges: How to share product data based on external collaboration. The challenge of Volvo Cars is that it has gone through different ownerships and they require a more and more flexible infrastructure to share data. It is not about data pushing to a supplier anymore, it is about integrating partners where you have to share a particular part of your IP with the partner. And where the homegrown KPD system is working well for internal execution, it was never designed for partner sharing and collaboration. Volvo Cars implemented a Shared Technology Control application outside the firewall based on Share-A-space, where inside and outside data is mapped and connected. See their summary below. A pragmatic approach which is bringing direct benefits.


Concluding from the Volvo sessions: Apparently it ‘s hard to extend an existing system or infrastructure for secure collaboration with an external partner. The complexity of access right, different naming conventions, etc. Instead of that it is more pragmatic to have an intermediate system in the middle, like Share-A-space, that connects both worlds. The big advantage of Share-A-space is that the platform is based on the ISO 10303 (PLCS) standard and, therefore, has one of the characteristics of a real platform: openness based on standards.

awesomegroupJonas Hammerberg from the Awesome Group closed day one with an inspiring and eye-opening presentation: Make PLM – The Why and How with Gamification FUN.

Jonas started to describe the behavioral drivers new generations have based on immediate feedback for the feeling of achievement, pride and status and being in a leading environment combined with the feelings of being in a group feeling friendship, trust, and love.

Current organizations are not addressing these different behaviors, it leads to disengagement at the office / work floor as Jonas showed from a survey held in Sweden – see figure. The intrinsic motivation is missing. One of the topics that concerns me the most when seeing current PLM implementations.


The Awesome group has developed apps and plug-ins for existing software, office and PLM bring in the feelings of autonomy, mastery and purpose to the individual performing in teams. Direct feedback and stimulating team and individual performance as part of the job.

By doing so the organization also gets feedback on the behavior, activity, collaboration and knowledge sharing of individuals and how this related to their performance. An interesting concept to be implemented in situations where gamification makes sense.

clip_image002[12]Owe Lind and Magnus Lidström from Scania talked about their Remote Diagnostics approach where diagnostic readings can be received from a car through a mobile phone network either to support preventive maintenance or actual diagnostics on the road and provide support.

Interesting Owe and Magnus were not using the word IoT (Internet of Things) at all, a hype related to these capabilities. Have a look here on YouTube

clip_image002[14]There was no chance to fall asleep after lunch, where Robin Teigland from the Stockholm School of Economics took us in a whirlwind through several trends under the title: The Third Revolution – exploring new forms of value creation through doing more with less.

The decomposition of traditional business into smaller and must faster communities undermine traditional markets. Also concepts like Uber, Bitcoin becoming a serious threat. The business change as a result of connectivity and communities leading to more and more networks of skills bringing together knowledge to design a car (Local Motors), funding (Kickstarter) – and it is all about sharing knowledge instead of keeping it inside – sharing creates the momentum in the world. You can look at Robin’s presentation(s) at Slideshare here.

future quote

All very positive trends for the future, however, a big threat to the currently established companies. Robin named it the Third Revolution which is in line with what we are discussing in our PLM world, although some of us call it even the Fourth Revolution (Industry 4.0).


EignerProfessor Martin Eigner from the Technical University of Kaiserslautern brought us back to reality in his presentation: Industry 4.0 or Industrial Internet: What is the impact for PLM?

Martin stood at the base for what we call PLM and already for several years he is explaining to us that the classical definition for PLM is too narrow. More and more we are developing systems instead of products. Therefore, he prefers the abbreviation SysLM, which is more than 3 characters and therefore probably hard to accept by the industry.


System development and, therefore, multidisciplinary development of systems introduces a new complexity. Traditional change management for Mechanical CAD (ECO/ECR) is entirely different from how software change management is handled (baselines / branches related to features). The way systems are designed, require a different methodology where systems engineering is an integral part of the development process, see Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE).

Next Martin discussed 4 potential IT-architectures where, based on the “products” and business needs, a different balance of PLM, ALM or ERP activities is required.

Martin’s final point was about the need for standards support these architectures, bringing together OSLC, PCLS, etc.
Standards are necessary for fast and affordable integrations and data exchange.

imageMy presentation: The Perfect Storm or a fatal Tsunami was partly summarizing topics from the conference and, in addition, touching on two topics.

The first topic is related to big data and analytics.  Many are trying to get a grip on big data with analytics. However, the real benefit of big data comes when you are able to apply algorithms to it. Gartner just made an interesting statement related to big data (below) and Marc Halpern added to this quote that there is an intrinsic need for data standards in order to apply algorithms.

Gartner algorithms

When algorithms can be used, classical processes like ECO, ECR or managers might become obsolete and even a jobs like an accountant is at risk. This as predicted in article in the Economist in February 2014 – the onrushing Wave

The second topic, where I believe we are still hesitating too long at management level, is making decisions, to anticipate the upcoming digital wave and all of its side effects. We see a huge wave coming. If we do not mobilize the people, this wave might be a tsunami for those still at the seaside

Conclusion: PDT2015 was an inspiring, well-balanced conference with excellent opportunity to network with all people attending. For those interested in the details of the PLM future and standards an ideal opportunity to get up to date. And next the challenge: Make it happen at your company!

.. if you reach this point, my compliments for your persistency to read it all. Too long for a blog post and even here I had to strip


In my series describing the best practices related to a (PLM) data model, I described the general principles, the need for products and parts, the relation between CAD documents and the EBOM, the topic of classification and now the sensitive relation between EBOM and MBOM.

First some statements to set the scene:

  • The EBOM represents the engineering (design) view of a product, structured in a way that it represents the multidisciplinary view of the functional definition of the product. The EBOM combined with its related specification documents, models, drawings, annotations should give a 100 % clear definition of the product.
  • The MBOM represents the manufacturing view of a product, structured in a way that represents the way the product is manufactured. This structure is most of the time not the same as the EBOM, due to the manufacturing process and purchasing of parts.


A (very) simplified picture illustrating the difference between an EBOM and a MBOM. If the Car was a diesel there would be also embedded software in both BOMs (currently hidden)

For many years, the ERP systems have claimed ownership of the MBOM for two reasons

  1. Historically the MBOM was the starting point for production. Where the engineering department often worked with a set of tools, the ERP system was the system where data was connected and used to have a manufacturing plan and real-time execution
  2. To accommodate a more advanced integration with PDM systems, ERP vendors began to offer an EBOM capability also in their system as PDM systems often worked around the EBOM.

These two approaches made it hard to implement “real” PLM where (BOM) data is flowing through an organization instead of stored in a single system.

By claiming ownership of the BOM by ERP, some problems came up:

  • A disconnect between the iterative engineering domain and the execution driven ERP domain. The EBOM is under continuous change (unless you have a simple or the ultimate product) and these changes are all related to upstream information, specifications, requirements, engineering changes and design changes. An ERP system is not intended for handling iterative processes, therefore forcing the user to work in a complex environment or trying to fix the issue through heavy customization on the ERP side.
  • Global manufacturing and outsourced manufacturing introduced a new challenge for ERP-centric implementations. This would require all manufacturing sites also the outsourced manufacturers the same capabilities to transfer an EBOM into a local MBOM. And how do you capitalize the IP from your products when information is handled in a dispersed environment?

The solution to this problem is to extend your PDM implementation towards a “real” PLM implementation providing the support for EBOM, MBOM, and potential plant specific MBOM. All in a single system / user-experience designed to manage change and to allow all users to work in a global collaborative way around the product. MBOM information then will then be pushed when needed to the (local) ERP system, managing the execution.

Note 1: Pushing the MBOM to ERP does not mean a one-time big bang. When manufacturing parts are defined and sourced, there will already be a part definition in the ERP system too, as logistical information must come from ERP. The final push to ERP is, therefore, more a release to ERP combined with execution information (when / related to which order).

In this scenario, the MBOM will be already in ERP containing engineering data complemented with manufacturing data. Therefore from the PLM side we talk more about sharing BOM information instead of owning. Certain disciplines have the responsibility for particular properties of the BOM, but no single ownership.

Note 2: The whole concept of EBOM and MBOM makes only sense if you have to deliver repetitive products. For a one-off product, more a project, the engineering process will have the manufacturing already in mind. No need for a transition between EBOM and MBOM, it would only slow down the delivery.

Now let´s look at some EBOM-MBOM specifics

EBOM phantom assemblies

PhantomWhen extracting an EBOM directly from a 3D CAD structure, there might be subassemblies in the EBOM due to a logical grouping of certain items. You do not want to see these phantom assemblies in the MBOM as they only complicate the structuring of the MBOM or lead to phantom activities. In an EBOM-MBOM transition these phantom assemblies should disappear and the underlying end items should be linked to the higher level.

EBOM materials

In the EBOM, there might be materials like a rubber tube with a certain length, a strip with a certain length, etc. These materials cannot be purchased in these exact dimensions. Part of the EBOM to MBOM transition is to translate these EBOM items (specifying the exact material) into purchasable MBOM items combined with a fitting operation.

EBOM end-items (make)

For make end-items, there are usually approved manufacturers defined and it is desirable to have multiple manufacturers (certified through the AML) for make end-items, depending on cost, capacity and where the product needs to be manufactured. Therefore, a make end-item in the EBOM will not appear in a resolved MBOM.

EBOM end-items (buy)

For buy end-items, there is usually a combination of approved manufacturers (AML) combined with approved vendors (AVL). The approved manufacturers are defined by engineering, based on part specifications. Approved vendors are defined by manufacturing combined with purchasing based on the approved manufacturers and logistical or commercial conditions

Are EBOM items and MBOM items different?

MBOM-MOBMThere is a debate if EBOM items should/could appear in an MBOM or that EBOM items are only in the EBOM and connected to resolved items in the MBOM. Based on the previous descriptions of the various EBOM items, you can conclude that a resolved MBOM does not contain EBOM items anymore in case of multiple sourcing. Only when you have a single manufacturer for an EBOM item, the EBOM item could appear in the MBOM. Perhaps this is current in your company, but will this stay the same in the future?

It is up to your business process and type of product which direction you choose. Coming back to one-off products, here is does not make sense to have multiple manufacturers. In that case, you will see that the EBOM item behaves at the same time as an MBOM item.

What about part numbering?

clip_image011Luckily I reached the 1000 words so let´s be short on this debate. In case you want an automated flow of information between PLM and ERP, it is important that shared data is connected through a unique identifier.

Automation does no need intelligent numbering. Therefore giving parts in the PLM system and the ERP system a unique, meaningless number you ensure guaranteed digital connectivity.

If you want to have additional attributes on the PLM or ERP side that describe the part with a number relevant for human identification on the engineering side or later at the manufacturing side (labeling), this all can be solved.

An interesting result of this approach is that a revision of a part is no longer visible on the ERP side (unless you insist). Each version of the MBOM parts is pointing to a unique version of an MBOM part in ERP, providing an error free sharing of data.


Life can be simple if you generalize and if there was no past, no legacy and no ownership of data thinking. The transition of EBOM to MBOM is the crucial point where the real PLM vision is applied. If there is no data sharing on MBOM level, there are two silos, the characteristic of the old linear past.

(See also: From a linear world to a circular and fast)

What do you think? Is more complexity needed?



I will be soon discussing these topics at the PDT2015 in Stockholm on October 13-14. Will you be there ?

And for Dutch/Belgium readers – October 8th in Bunnik:


Op 8 oktober ben ik op het BIM Open 2015 Congres in Bunnik waar ik de overeenkomsten tussen PLM en BIM zal bespreken en wat de constructie industrie kan leren van PLM

linkedinThis is a post I published on LinkedIn on July 28th related to a discussion around Excel and PLM usage and usability.
Reposted for my blog subscribers.


This post is written in the context of two posts that recently caught my attention. One post from Lionel Grealou – comparing PLM and Excel collaboration and reaction on this post and its comments by Oleg Shilovitsky – PLM Need for speed.

Both posts discuss the difference between Excel (easy to use / easy to deploy ) and a PLM system (complex to use / complicated deployment). And when you read both posts you would believe that it is mainly deployment and usability that are blocking PLM systems to be used instead of Excel.

Then I realized this cannot be the case. If usability and deployment were blocking issues for an enterprise system, how would it be possible that the most infamous system for usability, SAP, it one of the top-selling enterprise applications. Probably SAP is the best-selling enterprise application. In addition, I have never heard about any company mentioning SAP is easy to deploy. So what is the difference?

I assume if Excel had existed in its current state in the early days of MRP, people might be tempted to use Excel for some ERP functions. However they would soon realize that Excel is error prone and when you buy the wrong materials or when make errors in your resource scheduling, soon you would try to solve it in a more secure way. Using an ERP system.

ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first.

Why is this approach not accepted for PLM?
Why do we talk about usability?

First of all, the roots for PLM come from the engineering department (PDM) and, therefore, their primary data management system was not considered an enterprise system. And when you implement a system for a department, discussions will be at the user level. So user acceptance became necessary for PDM and PLM.

But this is not the main reason. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right. Although this believe existed in the nineties by an ERP country manager that I met that time. He told me

“Engineers are resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them.”

An absurd statement I hope you agree. However, the thoughts behind this statement are correct. How do you make sure product development is done in the most efficient manner?

If you look at large enterprises in the aerospace or automotive industry, they implemented PLM, which for sure was not user-friendly. Why did they implement PLM? As they did not want to fix the errors, an Excel-like implementation would bring.

Using Excel has a lot of hidden costs. How to make sure you work with the right version as multiple copies exist? How do you know if the Excel does not contain any type indicating wrong parts? You will learn this only once it is too late. How do you understand the related information to the Excel (CAD files, specifications, etc., etc.)? All lead to a lot of extra manual work depending on the accuracy and discipline of every employee in the company. Large enterprises do not want to be dependent on individual skills.

Large enterprise have shown that it is not about usability in the first place if you wish to control the data. Like for ERP systems, they are aware of the need for PLM with reduced usability above being (fl)Exel with all its related inconvenience.

I believe when there is a discussion about PLM or Excel, we have not reached the needed conceptual level to implement PLM. PLM is about sharing data and breaking down silos. Sharing allows better and faster collaboration, maintaining quality, and this is what companies want to achieve. Therefore the title: How do you measure collaboration. This is the process you wish to optimize, and I suspect that when you would compare user-friendly collaboration with Excel with less user-friendly PLM, you might discover PLM is more efficient.

Therefore stop comparing Excel and PLM. It is all about enabling collaboration and changing people to work together (the biggest challenge – more than usability).

Conclusion: Once we have agreed on that concept, PLM value is about collaboration, there is always to hope to enhance usability. Even SAP is working on that – it is an enterprise software issue.

classificationIn my previous post describing the various facets of the EBOM, I mentioned several times classification as an important topic related to the PLM data model. Classification is crucial to support people to reuse information and, in addition, there are business processes that are only relevant for a particular class of information, so it is not only related to search/reuse support.

In 2008, I wrote a post about classification, you can read it here. Meanwhile, the world has moved on, and I believe more modern classification methods exist.

Why classification ?

searchFirst of all classification is used to structure information and to support retrieval of the information at a later moment, either for reuse or for reference later in the product lifecycle. Related to reuse, companies can save significant money when parts are reused. It is not only the design time or sourcing time that is reduced. Additional benefits are lower risks for errors (fewer discoveries), reduced process and approval time (human overhead), reduced stock (if applicable), and more volume discount (if applicable) and reduced End-Of-Life handling.

An interesting discussion about reuse started by Joe Barkai can also be found on LinkedIn here, including interesting comments

Classification can also be used to control access to certain information (mainly document classification), or classification can be used to make sure certain processes are followed, e.g. export control, hazardous materials, budget approvals, etc. Although I will speak mainly about part classification in this post, classification can be used for any type of information in the PLM data model.

Classification standards

din4000Depending on the industry you are working in, there are various classification standards for parts. When I worked in the German-speaking countries (the DACH-länder) the most discussed classification at that time was DIN4000 (Sachmerkmal-liste), a must have standard for many of the small and medium sized manufacturing companies. The DIN 4000 standard had a predefined part hierarchy and did not describe the necessary properties per class. I haven’t met a similar standard in other countries at that time.

Another very generic classification I have seen are the UNSPC standard, again a hierarchical classification supporting everything in the universe but no definition of attributes.

15926Other classification standards like ISO13399, RosettaNET, ISO15926 and IFC exist to support collaboration and/or the supply chain. When you want to exchange data with other disciplines or partners. The advantage of a standard definition (with attributes) is that you can exchange data with less human processing (saving labor costs and time – the benefit of a digital enterprise).

I will not go deeper into the various standards here as I am not the expert for all the standards. Every industry has its own classification standards, a hierarchical standard, and if more advanced the hierarchy is also supported by attributes related to each class. But let´s go into the data model part.

Classification and data model

clip_image002The first lesson I learned when implementing PLM was that you should not build your classification hard-coded into the PLM, data model. When working with SmarTeam is was very easy to define part classes and attributes to inherit. Some customers had more than 300 classes represented in their data model just for parts. You can imagine that it looks nice in a demo. However when it comes to reality, a hard-coded classification becomes a pain in the model. (left image, one of the bad examples from the past)

1 – First of all, classification should be dynamic, easy to extend.

2 – The second problem however with a hard-coded classification was that once a part is defined for the first time the information object has a fixed class. Later changes need a lot of work (relinking of information / approval processes for the new information).

3 – Finally, the third point against a hard-coded classification is that it is likely that parts will be classified according to different classifications at the same time. The image bellow shows such a multiple classification.


So the best approach is to have a generic part definition in your data model and perhaps a few subtypes. Companies tend to differentiate still between hardware (mechanical / electrical) parts and software parts.

Next a part should be assigned at least to one class, and the assignment to this class would bring more attributes to the part. Most of the PLM systems that support classification have the ability to navigate through a class hierarchy and find similar parts.

When parts are relevant for ERP they might belong to a manufacturing parts class, which add particular attributes required for a smooth PLM – ERP link. Manufacturing part types can be used as templates for ERP to be completed.

This concept is also shared by Ed Lopategui as commented to my earlier post about EBOM Part types. Ed states:

Think part of the challenge moving forward is we’ve always handled these as parts under different methodologies, which requires specific data structures for each, etc. The next gen take on all this needs to be more malleable perhaps. So there are just parts. Be they service or make/buy or some combination – say a long lead functional standard part and they would acquire the properties, synchronizations, and behaviors accordingly. People have trouble picking the right bucket, and sometimes the buckets change. Let the infrastructure do the work. That would help the burden of multiple transitions, where CAD BOM to EBOM to MBOM to SBOM eventually ends up in a chain of confusion.

I fully agree with his statement and consider this as the future trend of modern PLM: Shared data that will be enriched by different usage through the lifecycle.

Why don’t we classify all data in PLM?

There are two challenges for classification in general.

  • The first one is that the value of classification only becomes visible in the long-term, and I have seen several young companies that were only focusing on engineering. No metadata in the file properties, no part-centric data management structure and several years later they face the lack of visibility what has been done in the past. Only if one of the engineers remembers a similar situation, there is a chance of reuse.
  • The second challenge is that through a merger or acquisition suddenly the company has to manage two classifications. If the data model was clean (no hard-coded subclasses) there is hope to merge the information together. Otherwise, it might become a painful activity to discover similarities.


Modern search based applications

There are ways to improve classification and reuse by using search-based application which can index archives and try to find similarity in properties / attributes. Again if the engineers never filled the properties in the CAD model, there is little to nothing to recover as I experienced in a customer situation. My PLM US peer, Dick Bourke, wrote several articles about search-based applications and classification for, which are interesting to read if you want to learn more: Useful Search Applications for Finding Engineering Data

So much to discuss on this topic, however I reached my 1000 words again Sad smile


Classification brings benefits for reuse and discovery of information although benefits are long-term. Think long-term too when you define classifications. Keep the data model simple and add attributes groups to parts based on functional classifications. This enables a data-driven PLM implementation where the power is in the attributes not longer in the part number. In the future, search-based applications will offer a quick start to classify and structure data.


imageSomeone notified me that not everyone subscribed to my blog necessary will read my posts on LinkedIn. Therefore I will repost the upcoming weeks some of my more business oriented posts from LinkedIn here too. This post was from July 3rd and an introduction to all the methodology post I am currently publishing.


The importance of a (PLM) data model

thinkWhat makes it so hard to implement PLM in a correct manner and why is this often a mission impossible? I have been asking myself this question the past ten years again and again. For sure a lot has to do with the culture and legacy every organization has. Imagine if a company could start from scratch with PLM. How would they implement PLM nowadays?

My conclusion for both situations is that it all leads to a correct (PLM) data model, allowing companies to store their data in an object-oriented manner. In this way reflecting the behavior the information objects have and the way they mature through their information lifecycle. If you making compromises here, it has an effect on your implementation, the way processes are supported out-of-the-box by a PLM system or how information can be shared with other enterprise systems, in particular, ERP. PLM is written between parenthesis as I believe in the future we do not talk PLM or ERP separate anymore – we will talk business.

Let me illustrate this academic statement.

A mid-market example

imageWhen I worked with SmarTeam in the nineties, the system was designed more as a PDM system than a PLM system. The principal objects were Projects, Documents, and Items. The Documents had a sub-grouping in Office documents and CAD documents. And the system had a single lifecycle which was very basic and designed for documents. Thanks to the flexibility of the system you could quickly implement a satisfactory environment for the engineering department. Problems (and customizations) came when you wanted to connect the data to the other departments in the company.

The sales and marketing department defines and sells products. Products were not part of the initial data model, so people misused the Project object for that. To connect to manufacturing a BOM (Bill of Material) was needed. As the connected 3D CAD system generated a structure while saving the assemblies, people start to consider this structure as the EBOM. This might work if your projects are mechanical only.

However, a Document is not the same as a Part. A Document has a complete different behavior as a Part. Documents have continuous iterations, with a check-in/checkout mechanism, where the Part definition remains unchanged and gets meanwhile a higher maturity.

The correct approach is to have the EBOM Part structure, where Part connect to the Documents. And yes, Documents can also have a structure, but it is not a BOM. SmarTeam implemented this around 2004. Meanwhile, a lot of companies had implemented their custom solution for EBOM by customization not matching this approach. This created a first level of legacy.

When SmarTeam implemented Part behavior, it became possible to create a multidisciplinary EBOM, and the next logical step was, of course, to connect the data to the ERP system. At that time, most implementations have been pushing the EBOM to the ERP system and let it live there further. ERP was the enterprise tool, SmarTeam the engineering tool. The information became disconnected in an IT-manner. Applying changes and defining a manufacturing BOM was done manually in the ERP system and could be done by (experienced) people that do not make mistakes.

Next challenge comes when you want to automate the connection to ERP. In that case, it became apparent that the EBOM and MBOM should reside in the same system. (See old and still actual post with comments here: Where is the MBOM) In one system to manage changes and to be able to implement these changes quickly without too much human intervention. And as the EBOM is usually created in the PLM system, the (commercial/emotional) PLM-ERP battle started. “Who owns the part definition”, “Who owns the MBOM definition” became the topic of many PLM implementations. The real questions should be: “Who is responsible for which attributes of the Part ?” and “Who is responsible for which part of the MBOM definition ?” as data should be shared not owned.

The SmarTeam evolution shows how a changing scope and an incomplete/incorrect data model leads to costly rework when aligning to the mainstream. And this is happening with many implementation and other PLM systems. In particular when the path is to grow from PDM to PLM. An important question remains what is going to be mainstream in the future. More on that in my conclusion.

A complex enterprise example

flexibleIn the recent years, I have been involved in several PLM discussions with large enterprises. These enterprises suffer from their legacy. Often the original data management was not defined in an object-oriented manner, and the implementation has been expanding with connected and disconnected systems like a big spaghetti bowl.

The main message most of the time is:

“Don’t touch the systems it as it works for us”.

The underlying message is;

“We would love to change to a modern approach, but we understand it will be a painful exercise and how will it impact profitability and execution of our company”

The challenge these companies have is that it extremely hard to imagine the potential to-be situation and how it is affected by the legacy. In a project that I participated several years ago the company was migrating from a mainframe database towards a standard object-oriented (PLM) data model. The biggest pain was in mapping data towards the object-oriented data model. As the original mainframe database had all kind of tables with flags and mixed Part & Document data, it was almost impossible to make a 100 % conversion. The other challenge was that knowledge of the old system had vaporized. The result at the end was a customized PLM data model, closer to current reality, still containing legacy “tricks” to assure compatibility.

All these enterprises at a particular time have to go through such a painful exercise. When is the best moment? When business is booming, nobody wants to slow-down. When business is in a lower gear, costs and investments are minimized to keep the old engine running efficiently. I believe the latter would be the best moment to invest in making the transition if you believe your business will still exist in 10 years from now.

Back to the data model.

Businesses should have today a high-level object-oriented data model, describing the main information objects and their behavior in your organization. The term Master Data Management is related to this. How many companies have the time and skills to implement a future-oriented data model? And the data model must stay flexible for the future.

knowledgeCompare it to your brain, which also stores information by its behavior and by learning the brain understands what it logically related. The internal data model gets enriched while we learn.

Once you have a business data model, you are able to implement processes on top of it. Processes can change over time, therefore, avoid hard-coding specific processes in your enterprise systems. Like the brain, we can change our behavior (applying new processes) still it will be based on the data model stored inside our brain.


A lot of enterprise PLM implementations are in a challenging situation due to legacy or incomplete understanding and availability of an enterprise data model. Therefore cross-department implementations and connecting others systems are considered as a battle between systems and their proprietary capabilities.


The future will be based on business platforms and realizing this take years – imagine openness and usage of data standards. An interesting conference to attend in the near future for this purpose is the PDT2015 conference in Stockholm.

Meanwhile I also learned that a  one-day Master Data Management workshop will be held before the PDT2015 conference starts on the 12th of October. A good opportunity to deep-dive for three days !



In my earlier posts, I described generic PLM data model and practices related to Products, BOMs en recently EBOM and (CAD) Documents. This time I want to elaborate a little bit more on the various EBOM characteristics.


The EBOM is the place where engineering teams collaborate and define the product. A released EBOM is supposed to give the full engineering specification how a product should behave including material quality and tolerances. This makes it different from the MBOM, which contains the specification of how this product should be manufactured based on exact components and materials.

Depending on the type of product there are several EBOM best practices which I will discuss here (briefly) in alphabetical order:

EBOM & Buy Part

PDM_ERP_AML_AVLUsually, an EBOM consists of Make and Buy parts –an attribute on the EBOM part indicates the preferred approach. Make parts are typically sourced towards qualified suppliers, where Buy parts can be more generic and based on qualified vendors. Engineering specifies who are the approved Manufacturers for the part (AML) and purchasing decides who are the approved Vendors for this part (AVL). In general Buy parts do not need an engineering efforts every time the part is used in a product.

EBOM & CAD related

My previous post already discussed some of the points related to EBOM and CAD Documents. Here I want to extend a little more addressing the close relation between MCAD parts and EBOM parts. In particular in the Engineering To Order industry, there is, most of the time, no standard product to relate to. In that case, Mechanical CAD can be the driver for the EBOM definition and usually EBOM Make parts are designed uniquely. The challenge is to understand similar parts that might exist and reuse them. Classification (and old post here) and geometric search capabilities support the modern engineer. I will come back to classification in a later post

EBOM – Configuration Item

cmiiIn case a product is designed for mass production throughout a longer lifetime, it becomes necessary to manage the product configuration over time. How is the product is defined today and avoid the need to have for each product variant a complete EBOM to manage. The EBOM can be structured with Options and Variants. In that case, having Configuration Items in the EBOM is crucial. The Configuration Item is the top part that is versioned and controlled. Parts below the configuration item, mostly standard parts do not impact the version of the Configuration Item as long as the Form-Fit-Function from the Configuration Item does not change. Configuration Management is a topic on its own and some people believe PLM systems were invented to support Configuration Management.

EBOM – Company Standard Part

Standard Parts are often designed parts that should be used across various products or product lines. The advantage of company standard parts is that it reduces costs throughout the whole product lifecycle. Less design time, less manufacturing setup time and material sourcing effort and potential lower material cost thanks to higher volumes. Any EBOM part could become at a certain moment a Company Standard part and it is recommended to use a classification related to these parts. Otherwise they will not be found again. As mentioned before I will come back to classification.

EBOM – Functional group

Sometimes during the design of a product, several parts are logically grouped together from the design point of view, either because they are modular or because they always appear as a group of parts.

The EBOM, in that case, can contain phantom parts, which do not represent an end item. These phantom parts assist the company in understanding changing one of the individual parts in this functional group.

EBOM – Long Lead

In typical Engineering to Order or Build To Order deliveries there are components on the critical path of the product delivery. Components with a long lead time should be identified and ordered as early as possible during the delivery process. Often the EBOM is not complete or mature enough to pass through all the information to ERP. Therefore Long Lead items require a fast track towards ERP and a special status in the EBOM reflecting its ordering status. Long Lead items are the example where a company can benefit from a precise interaction between PLM and ERP with various status handshakes and approvals during the delivery process

EBOM – Make parts

Make Parts in an EBOM are usually specified by their related model and drawings. Therefore Make Parts usually have revisions but be aware that they do not follow the same versioning of the related model or drawing. A Make Part is in an In Work status as long as the EBOM is not released. Once the model is approved, the EBOM part can be approved or released. Often companies do not want to release the data as long as manufacturing is not completed. This to make sure that the first revision comes out at the first delivery of the product.

EBOM – Materials

In many mechanical assemblies, the designer specifies materials with a particular length. For example a rubber strip, tubing / piping. When extracting the information from the 3D CAD assembly, this material instance will get a unique identifier. Here it is important that the Material Part has an attribute that describes the material specification. In the ideal data model, this is a reference to a Materials library. Next when manufacturing engineering is defining the MBOM, they can decide on material quantities to purchase for the EBOM Material.

EBOM – Part Number

QRThis could be a post on its own. Do we need intelligent part numbers or can we use random generated unique numbers? I have a black and white opinion about that. If you want to achieve a digital enterprise you should aim for random generated unique numbers. This because in a digital enterprise data is connected without human transfer. The PLM and ERP link is unambiguous. Part recognition at the shop floor can be done with labels and scanning at the workstation. There is no need for a person to remember or transfer information from one system or location by understanding the part number. The uniquely generated number make sure every person will have a look at the digital metadata online available. Therefore immediately seeing a potential status change or upcoming engineering change. Supporting the intelligent numbering approach allows people to work disconnected again, therefore not guaranteeing that an error-free activity takes place. People make mistakes, machines usually not.

EBOM – Service Parts

It is important to identify already in the EBOM which parts need to be serviced in operation and engineering should relate the service information already to the EBOM part. This could be the same single part with a different packaging or it could be a service kit plus instructions linked to the part. In a PLM environment, it is important that this activity is done upfront by engineering to avoid later retrieval of the data and work again on service information. A sensitive point here is that engineers currently in the classical approach are not measured on the benefits they deliver downstream when the products are in the field. Too many companies work here in silos.

EBOM – Standard Parts

3dFinally, as I reach already the 1000 words, a short statement about EBOM standard parts. These standard parts, based on international or commercial standards do not need a revision and often they have a specification sheet, not necessary a 3D model for visualization. Classification is crucial for Standard Part and here I will write a separate post about dealing with Standard Parts, both mechanical and electrical.

Concluding: this post we can see that the EBOM is having many facets and based on the type of EBOM part different behavior is expected. It made me realize PLM is not that simple as I thought. In general when defining an EBOM data model you would try to minimize the specific classes for the EBOM part. Where possible, solve it with attributes (Make/Buy – Long Lead – Service – etc.). Use classification to store specific attributes per part type related to the part. Classification will be my next topic as it appears

Feel free to jump on any of the EBOM characteristics for an extended discussion

note: images borrowed from the internet contain links to the original location where I found them. The context there is not always relevant for this post.

In my series of blog posts related to the (PLM) data model, I talked about Product, BOMs and Parts. This time I want to focus on the EBOM and (CAD) Documents relation. This topic became relevant with the introduction of 3D CAD.

Before companies were using 3D CAD systems, there was no discussion about EBOM or MBOM (to my knowledge). Engineering was producing drawings for manufacturing and not every company was using the mono-system (for each individual part a specifying drawing). Drawings were mainly made to assist production and making a drawing for an individual part was a waste of engineering time. Parametric drawings were used to specify similar parts. But now we are in the world of 3D!

imageWith the introduction of 3D CAD systems for the mainstream in the nineties (SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Inventor) there came a need for PDM systems managing the individual files from a CAD assembly. The PDM system was necessary to manage all the file versions. Companies that were designing simple products sometimes remained working file-based, introducing the complexity of how to name a file and how to deal with revisions. Ten years ago I was investigating data management for the lower tiers of the automotive supply chain. At that time still 60 % of the suppliers were using CATIA were working file-based. Data management was considered as an extra complexity still file version control was a big pain.

This has changed for several reasons:

  • More and more OEMs were pushing for more quality control of the design data (read PDM)
  • Products became more modular, which means assemblies can be used as subassemblies in other products, pushing the need for where used control
  • Products are becoming more complex and managing only mechanical CAD files is not enough anymore – Electronics & Software – mechatronics – became part of the product

Most PDM systems at that time (I worked with SmarTeam) were saving the 3D CAD structure as a quantity-based document structure, resembling a lot a structure called the EBOM.

CAD DOC structure


This is one of the most common mistakes made in PLM implementations.

The CAD structure does not represent the EBOM !!!

Implementers started to build all kind of customizations to create automatically from the CAD structure a Part structure, the EBOM. Usually these customizations ended up as a mission impossible, in particular when customers started to ask for bidirectional synchronization. They expected that when a Part is removed in the EBOM, it would be deleted in the CAD assembly too.

And then there was the issue that companies believed the CAD Part ID should be equal to the Part ID. This might be possible for a particular type of design parts, but does not function anymore with flexible parts, such as a tube or a spring. When this Part is modeled in a different position, it created a different CAD Document, breaking the one-to-one relation.

Finally another common mistake that I have seen in many PDM implementations is the addition of glue, paint and other manufacturing type of parts to the CAD model, to be able to generate a BOM directly from the CAD.

imageFrom the data model perspective it is more important to understand that Parts and CAD documents are different type of objects. In particular if you want to build a PLM implementation where data is shared across all disciplines. For a PDM implementation I care less about the data model as the implementation is often not targeting enterprise continuity of data but only engineering needs.

A CAD Document (Assembly / Part / Drawing / …) behaves like a Document. It can be checked-in and checked out any time a change is made inside the file. A check-in operation would create a new version of the CAD Document (in case you want to trace the history of changes).

Meanwhile the Part specified by the CAD Document does not change in version when the CAD Document is changed. Parts usually do not have versions; they remain in the same revision as long as the specifying CAD Document matures.

Moving from PDM to PLM

For a PLM implementation it is important to think “Part-driven” which means from an initial EBOM, representing the engineering specification of the Product, maturing the EBOM with more and more design specification data. Design specification data can be mechanical assemblies and parts, but also electrical parts. The EBOM from a PCB might come from the Electrical Design Application as in the mechanical model you will not create every component in 3D.

And once the Electrical components are part of the EBOM, also the part definition of embedded software can be added to the BOM. For example if software is needed uploaded in flash memory chips. By adding electrical and software components to the EBOM, the company gets a full overview of the design maturity of ALL disciplines involved.

The diagram below shows how an EBOM and its related Documents could look like:


This data model contains a lot of details:

  • As discussed in my previous post – for the outside world (the customer) there is a product defined without revision
  • Related to the Product there is an EBOM (Part assembly) simplified as a housing (a mechanical assembly), a connector (a mechanical art) and a PCB (a mechanical representation). All these parts behave like Mechanical Parts; they have a revision and status.
  • The PCB has a second representation based on an electrical schema, which has only (for simplification) two electrical parts, a resistor and a memory chip. As you can see these components are standard purchasable parts, they do not have a revision as they are not designed.
  • The Electrical Part Flash Memory has a relation to a Software Part which is defined by Object Code (a zip-file?) which of course is specified by a software specification (not in the diagram). The software object code has a version, as most of the time software is version managed, as it does not follow the classical rules of mechanical design.

Again I reached my 1000 words, a sign to stop explaining this topic. For sure there are a lot of details to explain to this data model part too.

Most important:

  • A CAD structure is not an EBOM (it can be used to generate a part of the EBOM)
  • CAD documents and EBOM parts have a different behavior. CAD documents have versions, Parts do not have versions (most of the time
  • The EBOM is the place where all disciplines synchronize their data, providing during the development phase a single view of the design status.

Let me know if this was to abstract and feel free to ask questions. Important for this series of blog post is to provide a methodology baseline for a real PLM data model.

I am looking forward to your questions or remarks to spark up the discussion.


As described in my latest LinkedIn post if you want to install PLM successful there are two important points to address from the implementation point of view:

  • An explicit data model not based on system or tools capabilities, but on the type of business the company is performing. There is a difference in an engineering to order company, a built to order company or a configure to order company.
  • In PLM (and Business) it is all about enabling an efficient data flow through the organization. There is no ownership of data. It is about responsibilities for particular content per lifecycle stage combined with sharing

Historically PLM implementations started with capturing the CAD data and related EBOM as this is what the CAD-related PLM vendors were pushing for and this was often for the engineering department the biggest pain. The disadvantage of this approach is that it strengthens the silo-thinking process. The PLM system becomes an engineering tool instead of an enterprise system.

I believe if you really want to be able to implement PLM successful in a company, start from a common product/part information backbone. This requires the right business objects and, therefore, the right data modeling. The methodology described below is valid for build to order and configure to order companies, less applicable for engineering to order.


In a build to order company there are the following primary information objects:

  • A Product ( representing the customer view of what is sold to the outside world)
  • An EBOM ( representing a composition of Parts specifying the Product at a particular time)
  • An MBOM (representing the manufacturing composition of the Product at a given time)

And, of course, there are for all the information objects related Documents. Various types and when you can work more advanced, the specification document, can be the source for individually extracted requirements (not in this post)

Let´s follow an End to End scenario from a typical Build to Order company process.

Quoting phase

A potential customer sends an RFP for a product they need. The customer RFP contains information about how the product should behave (Specification / Requirements) and how it should be delivered (packaging). A basic data model for this RFP would be:


Note the following details:

  • All information objects have a meaningless number. The number is only there to support unique identification and later integration with other systems. The meaning should come from the other attribute data on the object and its relations. (A blog post on its own)
  • The Product can have instead of the meaningless number the number provided by the customer. However, if this number is not unique to the company, it might be just another attribute of the product
  • In general Products do not have revisions. In time, there might be other BOMs related to the product. Not in this post, products might have versions and variants. And products might be part of a product family. In this case, I used a classification to define a classification code for the product, allowing the company to discover similar products from different customers done. This to promote reuse of solutions and reuse of lessons learned.
  • The customer object represents the customer entity and by implementing it as a separate object, you will be able to see all information related to this customer quickly. This could be Products (ordered / in RFQ / etc.) but also other relevant information (Documents, Parts, …)
  • The initial conceptual BOM for the customer consists of two sub-BOMs. As the customer wants the products to be delivered in a 6-pack, a standard 6-pack EBOM is used. Note: the Status is Released and a new conceptual EBOM is defined as a placeholder for the BOM definition of the Product to design/deliver.
  • And for all the Parts in the conceptual EBOM there can be relations towards one or more documents. Usually, there is one specifying document (the CAD model) and multiple derived documents (Drawings, Illustrations, …)
  • Parts can have a revision in case the company wants to trace the evolution of a Part. Usually when Form-Fit-Function remains the same, we speak about a revision. Otherwise, the change will be a new part number. As more and more the managed information is no longer existing on the part number, companies might want to use a new part number at any change, storing in an attribute what its predecessor was.
  • Documents have versions and revisions. While people work on a document, every check-in / check-out moment can create a new version of the file(s), providing tractability between versions. Most of the time at the end there will be a first released version, which is related to the part specified.
  • Do not try to have the same ID and Revision for Parts and Documents. In the good old days of 2D drawings this worked, in the world of 3D CAD this is not sustainable. It leads to complexity for the user. Preferably the Part and the specifying Document should have different IDs and a different revision mechanism.

And the iterations go on:

Now let´s look at the final stage of the RFQ process. The customer has requested to deliver the same product also in single (luxury) packaging as this product will be used for service. Although it is exactly the same physical product to produce, the product ID should be different. If the customer wants unambiguous communication, they should also use a different product ID when ordering the product for service or for manufacturing. The data model for this situation will look as follows (assuming the definitions are done)


Note the following details:

  • The Part in the middle (with the red shadow) – PT000123 represents the same part for both, the product ordered for manufacturing, as well as the product ordered for service, making use of a single definition for both situations
  • The Part in the middle has now a large set of related documentation. Not only CAD data but also test information (how to test the product), compliance information and more.
  • The Part in the middle on its own also has a deeper EBOM structure which we will explore in an upcoming post.

I reached my 1000 words and do not want to write a book. So I will conclude this post. For experienced PLM implementers probably known information. For people entering the domain of PLM, either as a new student or coming from a more CAD/PDM background an interesting topic to follow. In the next post, I will continue towards the MBOM and ERP.

Let me know if this post is useful for you – and of course – enhancements or clarifications are always welcomed. Note: some of the functionality might not be possible in every PLM system depending on its origin and core data model


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