I am still digesting all the content of the latest PLM Roadmap / PDT Fall 2020 conference and the new reality that starts to appear due to COVID-19. There is one common theme:

The importance of a resilient and digital supply chain.

Most PLM implementations focus on aligning disciplines internally; the supply chain’s involvement has always been the next step. Perhaps now it is time to make it the first step? Let’s analyze.

No Time to Market improvement due to disconnected supply chains?

During the virtual fireplace chat at the PLM Roadmap/PDT conference, just as a small bonus. You can read the full story here – the quote:

Marc mentioned a survey Gartner has done with companies in fast-moving industries related to the benefits of PLM. Companies reported improvements in accuracy of product data and product development. They did not see so much a reduced time to market or reduced product development costs. After analysis, Gartner believes the real issue is related to collaboration processes and supply chain practices. Here lead times did not change, nor the number of changes.

Of course, he spoke about fast-moving industries where the interaction was done in a disconnected manner. Gartner believes that the cloud would, for sure, start creating these benefits of a reduced time to market and cost of change when the supply chain is connected.

Therefore I want to point again to an old McKinsey article named The case for Digital Reinvention, published in February 2017. Here the authors looked at the various areas of investment in digital technologies and their ROI.  See the image on the left for the areas investigated and the percentage of companies that invested in these areas at that time.

In the article, you will see the ROI analysis for these areas. For example, the marketing and distribution investments did not necessarily have a positive ROI when disconnected from other improvement areas. Digital supply chains were mentioned as the area with the potential highest ROI. However, another important message in the article for all these areas is: You need to have a complete digitization strategy. This is a point I fail to see in many companies. Often an area gets all the attention, however as it remains disconnected from the rest, the real efficiencies are not there. The McKinsey article ends with the conclusion that the digital winners at that time are the ones with bold strategies win:

we found a mismatch between today’s digital investments and the dimensions in which digitization is most significantly affecting revenue and profit growth. We also confirmed that winners invest more and more broadly and boldly than other companies do

The “connected” supply chain

Image: A&D Action Group – Global Collaboration

Of course, the traditional industries that invented PLM have invested in a kind of connected supply chain. However, is it really a connected supply chain? Aerospace and Defense companies had their supplier portals.

A supplier had to download their information or upload their designs combined with additional metadata.

These portals were completely bespoke and required on both sides “backbreaking” manual work to create, deliver, and validate the required exchange packages. The OEMs were driving the exchange process. More or less, by this custom approach, they made it difficult for suppliers to have their own PLM-environment. The downside of this approach was that the supplier had separate environments for each OEM.

In 2006 I worked with SmarTeam on the concept of the “Supply Chain Express,” an offering that allowed a supplier to have their own environment using SmarTeam as a PDM/PLM-system the Supply Chain Express package to create an intelligent import and export package. The content was all based on files and configurable metadata based on the OEM-Supplier relation.

Some other PLM-vendors or implementers have built similar exchange solutions to connect the world of the OEM and the supplier.

The main characteristic was that it is file-based with custom metadata, often in an XML-format or otherwise using Excel as the metadata carrier.

In my terminology of Coordinated – Connected, this would be Coordinated and “old school.”


The “better connected” supply chain

As I mentioned in my previous post about the PLM Roadmap/PDT Fall conference,  Katheryn Bell (Pratt & Whitney Canada) presented the progress of the A&D Global Collaboration workgroup. As part of the activities, they classified the collaboration between the OEM and the supplier in 3 levels, as you can see from the image:

This post mainly focuses on the L1 collaboration as this is probably the most used scenario.

In the Aerospace and Automotive industry, the OEM and suppliers’ data exchange has improved twofold by using Technical Data Packages where the content is supported by Model-Based Definition.

The first advantages of Model-Based Definition are mainly related to a consistent information package where the model is leading. The manufacturing views are explicitly defined on the 3D Model. Therefore there is a reduced chance of error for a misconnect between the “drawings” and the 3D Model.

The Model-Based definition still does not solve working with the latest (approved) version of the information. This still remains a “human-based” process in this case, and Kathryn Bell confirmed this was the biggest problem to solve.

The second advantage of using one of the interoperability standards for Model-Based Definition is the disconnect between application-specific data on the OEM side and the supplier side.

A significant advantage of Model-Based Definition is that there are a few interoperability standards, i.e., ISO 10303 – STEP, ISO14306 – JT, and  ISO32000/14739 (PRC for 3D PDF). In the end, the ideal would be that these standards merge into one standard, completely vendor-independent with a clearly defined scope of its purpose.

The benefit of these standards is also they increase the longevity of product data as the information is stored in an application-independent format. As long as the standard does not change (fast), storing data even internally in these neutral formats can save upgrade or maintenance costs.

However, I think you all know the joke below.


The connected supply chain

The ultimate goal in the long term will be the connected supply chain. Information shared between an OEM, and a supplier does not require human-based interfaces to ensure everyone works with the correct data.

The easiest way, and this is what some of the larger OEMs have done, is to consider suppliers as part of your PLM-infrastructure and give them access to all relevant data in the context of the system, the product, or the part they are responsible for. For the OEM, the challenge will be to connect suppliers – to motivate and train them to work in this environment.

For the supplier, the challenge is their IP-management. If they work for 100 percent in the OEM-environment, everything is exposed. If they want to work in their own environment, there is probably double work and a disconnect.

Of course, everything depends on the complexity of your interaction with the supplier.

With its Fusion Cloud Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Oracle was one of the first to shift the attention to the connected supply chain.

If you search for PLM on the Oracle website, you will find it under Fusion Supply Chain and Manufacturing. It is a logical step as traditional ERP-vendors have never provided a full, rich portfolio for product design. CAD-integrations do not get a focus, and the future path to Model-Bases approaches (MBSE / MBD /MBE) is not visible at all.

Almost similar to what the Siemens-SAP alliance is showing. SAP more or less confirms that you should not rely on SAP PLM for more advanced PLM-scenarios but on Siemens’s offering.

For less complex but fast-moving products, for example, in the apparel industry, you see the promise of connecting all suppliers in one environment is time to market and traceability. This industry does not suffer from products with a long lifecycle with upgrades and services.

So far, the best collaboration platform in the cloud I have seen in Shareaspace from Eurostep. Its foundation based on the PLCS standard allows an OEM and Supplier to connect through their “shared space” – you can look at their supply chain offering here.

Slide: PDT Europe 2016 RENAULT PLM Challenges

In the various PDT-conferences, we have seen how even two OEMs could work in a joined environment (Renault-Nissan-Daimler) or how  BAE Systems used the ShareAspace environment to collaborate and consolidate all the data coming from the various system suppliers into one standards-based environment.

In 2021, I plan to write a series of blog posts related to possible add-on services for PLM. Supplier collaboration platforms, Configuration Management, End-to-end configurators, Product Information Management, are some of the themes I am currently exploring.


COVID-19 has illustrated the volatility of supply chains. Changing suppliers, working with suppliers in the traditional ways, still hinder reducing time to market. However, the promise of a real connected supply chain is enormous. As Boeing demonstrated in my previous post and explained in this post, standards are needed to become future proof.

Will 2021 have more focus on the connected supply chain?