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At this moment there are two approaches to implement PLM. The most common practice is item-centric and model-centric will be potentially the best practice for the future. Perhaps your company still using a method from the previous century called drawing-centric. In that case, you should read this post with even more attention as there are opportunities to improve.


The characteristics of item-centric

In an item-centric approach, the leading information carrier is an item also known as a part. The term part is sometimes confusing in an organization as it is associated with a 3D CAD part. In SAP terminology the item is called Material, which is sometimes confusing for engineering as they consider Material the raw material. Item-centric is an approach where items are managed and handled through the whole lifecycle. In theory, an item can be a conceptual item (for early estimates), a design item (describing the engineering intent), a manufacturing item (defining how an item is consumed) and potentially a service item.

The picture below illustrates the various stages of an item-centric approach. Don’t focus on the structure, it’s an impression.

It is clear these three structures are different and can contain different item types. To read more about the details for an EBOM/MBOM approach read these post on my blog:

Back to item-centric. This approach means that the item is the leading authority of the product /part. The id and revision describe the unique object in the database, and the status of the item tells you in the current lifecycle stage for the item. In some cases, where your company makes configurable products also the relation between two items can define effectivity characteristics, like data effectivity, serial number effectivity and more. From an item structure, you can find its related information in context. The item points to the correct CAD model, the assembly or related manufacturing drawings, the specifications. In case of an engineering item, it might point towards approved manufacturers or approved manufacturing items.

Releasing an item or a BOM means the related information in context needs to validated and frozen too. In case your company works with drawings for manufacturing, these drawings need to be created, correct and released, which sometimes can be an issue due to some last-minute changes that can happen. The above figure just gives an impression of the potential data related to an item. It is important to mention that reports, which are also considered documents, do not need an approval as they are more a snapshot of the characteristics at that moment of generation.

The advantages of an item-centric approach are:

  • End-to-end traceability of information
  • Can be implemented in an evolutionary approach after PDM-ERP without organizational changes
  • It enables companies to support sharing of information
  • Sharing of information forces companies to think about data governance
    (not sure if a company wants to invest on that topic)

The main disadvantages of an item-centric approach are:

  • Related information on the item is not in context and therefore requires its own management and governance to ensure consistency
  • Related information is contained in documents, where availability and access is not always guaranteed

Still, the item-centric approach brings big benefits to a company that was working in a classical drawing-driven PDM-ERP approach. An additional remark needs to be made that not every company will benefit from an item-centric approach as typically Engineering-to-Order companies might find this method creating too much overhead.

The characteristics of Model-Centric

A model-centric approach is considered the future approach for modern enterprises as it brings efficiency, speed, multidisciplinary collaboration and support for incremental innovation in an agile way. When talking about a model-centric approach, I do not mean a 3D CAD model-centric approach. Yes, in case the product is mature, there will be a 3D Model serving as a base for the physical realization of the product.

However, in the beginning, the model can be still a functional or logical model. In particular, for complex products, model-based systems engineering might be the base for defining the solution. Actually, when we talk about products that interact with the outside world through software, we tend to call them systems. This explains that model-based systems engineering is getting more and more a recommended approach to make sure the product works as expected, fulfills all the needs for the product and creates a foundation for incremental innovation without starting from scratch.

Where the model-based architecture provides a framework for all stakeholders, the 3D CAD model will be the base for a digital thread towards manufacturing. Linking parameters from the logical and functional model towards the physical model a connection is created without the need to create documents or input-files for other disciplines. Adding 3D Annotations to the 3D CAD model and manufacturing process steps related to the model provides a direct connection to the manufacturing process.

The primary challenge of this future approach is to have all these data elements (requirements, functions, components, 3D design instances, manufacturing processes & resources to be connected in a federated environment (the product innovation platform). Connecting, versioning and baselining are crucial for a model-centric approach. This is what initiatives like Industry 4.0 are now exploring through demonstrators, prototypes to get a coherent collection of managed data.

Once we are able to control this collection of managed data concepts of digital twin or even virtual twin can be exploited linking data to a single instance in the field.

Also, the model can serve as the foundation for introduction incremental innovation, bringing in new features.  As the model-based architecture provides direct visibility for change impact (there are no documents to study), it will be extremely lean and cost-efficient to innovate on an existing product.

Advantages of model-centric

  • End-to-end traceability of all data related to a product
  • Extremely efficient in data-handling – no overhead on data-conversions
  • Providing high-quality understanding of the product with reduced effort compared to drawing-centric or item-centric approaches
  • It is scalable to include external stakeholders directly (suppliers/customers) leading to potential different, more beneficial business models
  • Foundation for Artificial Intelligence at any lifecycle step.

Disadvantages of model-centric

  • It requires a fundamentally different way of working compared to past. Legacy departments, legacy people, and legacy data do not fit directly into the model-centric approach. A business transformation is required, not evolution.
  • It is all about sharing data, which requires an architecture that is built to share information across Not through a service bus but as a (federated) platform of information.
    A platform requires a strong data governance, both from the dictionary as well as authorizations which discipline is leading/following.
  • There is no qualified industrial solution from any vendor yet at this time. There is advanced technology, there are demos, but to my knowledge, there is no 100% model-centric enterprise yet. We are all learning. Trying to distinguish reality from the hype.



The item-centric approach is the current best practice for most PLM implementations. However, it has the disadvantage that it is not designed for a data-driven approach, the foundation of a digital enterprise. The model-centric approach is new. Some facets already exist. However, for the total solution companies, vendors, consultants, and implementers are all learning step-by-step how it all connects. The future of model-centric is promising and crucial for survival.

Do you want to learn where we are now related to a model-centric approach?
Come to PDT2017 in Gothenburg on 18-19th October and find out more from the experts and your peers.

changeRecently, I have written about classical PLM (document-driven and sequential) and modern PLM (data-driven and iterative) as part of the upcoming digital transformation that companies will have to go through to be fit for the future. Some strategic consultancy companies, like Accenture, talk about Digital PLM when referring to a PLM environment supporting the digital enterprise.


From classical PLM to Digital PLM?

The challenge for all companies is to transform their businesses to become customer-centric and find a transformation path from the old legacy PLM environment towards the new digital environment. Companies want to do this in an evolutionary mode. However my current observations are that the pace of an evolutionary approach is too slow related to what happens in their market. This time the change is happening faster than before.

A Big Bang approach towards the new environment seems to be a big risk. History has taught us that this is very painful and costly. To be avoided too. So what remains is a kind of bimodal approach, which I introduced in my recent blog posts (Best Practices or Next Practices). Although one of my respected readers and commenters Ed Lopategui mentioned in his comment (here) bimodal is another word for coexistence. He is not optimistic about this approach either

So, what remains is disruption?

And disruption is a popular word and my blog buddy Oleg Shilovitsky recently dived into that topic again with his post: How to displace CAD and PLM industry incumbents. An interesting post about disruption and disruption patterns. My attention was caught by the words: digital infrastructure.
I quote:

How it might happen? Here is one potential answer – digital infrastructure. Existing software is limited to CAD files stored on a desktop and collaboration technologies developed 15-20 years using relational database and client-server architecture.

Digital Infrastructure

imageAs I mentioned the words, Digital Infrastructure triggered me to write this post. At this moment,  I see companies marketing their Digital Transformation story in a slick way, supported by all the modern buzz words like; customer-centric, virtual twin and data-driven. You would imagine as a PLM geek that they have already made the jump from the old document-driven PLM towards modern digital PLM. So what does a modern digital PLM environment look like ?

The reality, however, behind this slick marketing curtain, is that there are still the old legacy processes, where engineers are producing drawings as output for manufacturing. Because drawings are still legal and controlled information carriers. There is no digital infrastructure behind the scenes. So, what would you expect behind the scenes?

Model-Based Definition as part of the digital infrastructure

Crucial to be ready for a digital infrastructure is to transform your company´s product development process from a file-based process where drawings are leading towards a model-based enterprise. The model needs to be the leading authority (single source of truth) for PMI (Product Manufacturing Information) and potentially for all upfront engineering activities. In this case, we call it Model-Based Systems Engineering sometimes called RFLP (Requirements-Functional-Logical-Product), where even the product can be analyzed and simulated directly based on the model.

A file-based process is not part of a digital infrastructure or model-based enterprise architecture. File-based processes force the company to have multiple instances and representations of the same data in different formats, creating an overhead of work to keep up quality and correctness of data, that is not 100 % secure. A digital infrastructure works with connected data in context.

econimistTherefore, if your company is still relying on drawings and you want to be ready for the future, a first step towards a digital infrastructure would be fixing your current processes to become model-based. Some good introductions can be found here at – search for MBD and you will find:

Moving to Mode-Based is already a challenging transformation inside your company before touching the challenge of moving towards a full digital enterprise, through evolution, disruption or bimodal approach – let the leading companies show the way.


Companies should consider and investigate how to use a Model-Based Engineering approach as a first step to becoming lean and fit for a digital future. The challenge will be different depending on the type of industry and product.
I am curious to learn from my readers where they are on the path to a digital enterprise.

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.

2050This is for the moment the last post about the difference between files and a data-oriented approach. This time I will focus on the need for open exchange standards and the relation to proprietary systems. In my first post, I explained that a data-centric approach can bring many business benefits and is pointing to background information for those who want to learn more in detail. In my second post, I gave the example of dealing with specifications.

It demonstrated that the real value for a data-centric approach comes at the moment there are changes of the information over time. For a specification that is right the first time and never changes there is less value to win with a data-centric approach. Moreover, aren’t we still dreaming that we do everything right the first time.

The specification example was based on dealing with text documents (sometimes called 1D information). The same benefits are valid for diagrams, schematics (2D information) and CAD models (3D information)

1D,2D,3D …..

1DThe challenge for a data-oriented approach is that information needs to be stored in data elements in a database, independent of an individual file format. For text, this might be easy to comprehend. Text elements are relative simple to understand. Still the OpenDocument standard for Office documents is in the background based on a lot of technical know-how and experience to make it widely acceptable. For 2D and 3D information this is less obvious as this is for the domain of the CAD vendors.

CAD vendors have various reasons not to store their information in a neutral format.

  • First of all, and most important for their business, a neutral format would reduce the dependency on their products. Other vendors could work with these formats too, therefore reducing the potential market capture. You could say that in a certain manner the Autodesk 2D format for DXF (and even DWG) have become a neutral format for 2D data as many other vendors have applications that read and write back information in the DXF-data format. So far DXF is stored in a file but you could store DXF data also inside a database and make it available as elements.
  • This brings us to the second reason why using neutral data formats are not that evident for CAD vendors. It reduces their flexibility to change the format and optimize it for maximal performance. Commercially the significant, immediate disadvantage of working in neutral formats is that it has not been designed for particular needs in an individual application and therefore any “intelligent” manipulations on the data are hard to achieve..

3dThe same reasoning can be applied to 3D data, where different neutral formats exist (IGES, STEP, …. ). It is very difficult to identify a common 3D standard without losing many benefits that an individual 3D CAD format brings currently. For example, CATIA is handling 3D CAD data in a complete different way as Creo does, and again handled different compared to NX, SolidWorks, Solid Edge and Inventor. Even some of them might use the same CAD kernel.

However, it is not only about the geometry anymore; the shapes represent virtual objects that have metadata describing the objects. In addition other related information exists, not necessarily coming from the design world, like tasks (planning), parts (physical), suppliers, resources and more

PLM, ERP, systems and single source of truth

This brings us in the world of data management, in my world mainly PLM systems and ERP systems. An ERP system is already a data-centric application, the BOM is already available as metadata as well as all the scheduling and interaction with resources, suppliers and financial transactions. Still ERP systems store a lot of related documents and drawings, containing content that does not match their data model.

PLM systems have gradually becoming more and more data centric as the origin was around engineering data, mostly stored in files. In a data-centric approach, there is the challenge to exchange data between a PLM system and an ERP system. Usually there is a need to share information between two systems, mainly the items. Different definitions of an item on the PLM and ERP side make it hard to exchange information from one system to the other. It is for that reason why there are many discussions around PLM and ERP integration and the BOM.


In the modern data-centric approach however we should think less and less in systems and more and more in business processes performed on actual data elements. This requires a company-wide, actually an enterprise-wide or industry-wide data definition of all information that is relevant for the business processes. This leads into Master Data Management, the new required skill for enterprise solution architects

black holeThe data-centric approach creates the impression that you can achieve a single source of the truth as all objects are stored uniquely in a database. SAP solves the problem by stating everything fits in their single database. To my opinion this is more a black hole approach: Everything gets inside, but even light cannot escape. Usability and reuse of information that was stored with the intention not to be found is the big challenge here.

Other PLM and ERP vendors have different approaches. Either they choose for a service bus architecture where applications in the background link and synchronize common data elements from each application. Therefore, there is some redundancy, however everything is connected. More and more PLM vendors focus on building a platform of connected data elements, where on top applications will run, like the 3DExperience platform from Dassault Systèmes.

androidAs users we are more and more used to platforms as Google, Apple provide these platforms already in the cloud for common use on our smartphones. The large amount of apps run on shared data elements (contacts, locations …) and store additional proprietary data.

Platforms, Networks and standards

And here we enter an interesting area of discussion. I think it is a given that a single database concept is a utopia. Therefore, it will be all about how systems and platforms communicate with each other to provide in the end the right information to the user. The systems and platforms need to be data-centric as we learned from the discussion around the document (file centric) or data-centric approach.

In this domain, there are several companies already active for years. Datamation from Dr. Kais Al-Timimi in the UK is such a company. Kais is a veteran in the PLM and data modeling industry, and they provide a platform for data-centric collaboration. This quote from one of his presentations, illustrates we share the same vision:

“……. the root cause of all interoperability and data challenges is the need to transform data between systems using different, and often incompatible, data models.

It is fundamentally different from the current Application Centric Approach, in that data is SHARED, and therefore, ‘NOT OWNED’ by the applications that create it.

This means in a Data Centric Approach data can deliver MORE VALUE, as it is readily sharable and reusable by multiple applications. In addition, it removes the overhead of having to build and maintain non-value-added processes, e.g. to move data between applications.”

Another company in the same domain is Eurostep, who are also focusing on business collaboration between in various industries. Eurostep has been working with various industry standards, like AP203/214, PLCS and AP233. Eurostep has developed their Share-A-space platform to enable a data-centric collaboration.

ISO-BIMThis type of data collaboration is crucial for all industries. Where the aerospace and automotive industry are probably the most mature on this topic, the process industry and construction industry are currently also focusing on discovering data standards and collaboration models (ISO 15926 / BIM). It will be probably the innovators in these industries that clear the path for others. For sure it will not come from the software vendors as I discussed before.


If you reach this line, it means the topic has been interesting in depth for you. In the past three post starting from the future trend, an example and the data modeling background, I have tried to describe what is happening in a simplified manner.

If you really want to dive into the PLM for the future, I recommend you visit the upcoming PDT 2014 conference in Paris on October 14 and 15. Here experts from different industries will present and discuss the future PLM platform and its benefits. I hope to meet you there.



Some more to read:

dontmissLast week I started my final preparation for the PLM Innovation Congress 2012 on February 22nd and 23rd in Munich, where I will speak about Making the Case for PLM. Looking forward for two intensive days of knowledge sharing and discussion

The question came to my mind that when you make the case for PLM, you also must be clear about what you mean by PLM. And here I started to struggle a little. I have my perception of PLM, but I am also aware everyone has a different perception about the meaning of PLM.

cmpicI wrote about it last year, triggered by a question in the CMPIC group (configuration management) on LinkedIn. The question was Aren’t CM and PLM the same thing ? There was a firm belief from some of the members that PLM was the IT-platform to implement CM.

PLM_PDM_CAD_networkA few days ago Inge Craninckx posted a question in the PDM PLM CAD network group about the definition of PLM based on a statement from the PLMIG. In short:

“PDM is the IT platform for PLM.”Or, expressed from the opposite viewpoint: “PLM is the business context in which PDM is implemented

The response from Rick Franzosa caught my attention and I extracted the following text:

The reality is that most PLM systems are doing PDM, managing product data via BOM management, vaulting and workflow. In that regard, PDM [read BOM management, vaulting and workflow], IS the IT platform for the, in some ways, unfulfilled promise of PLM.

I fully agree with Rick’s statement and coming back to my introduction about making the case for PLM, we need to differentiate how we implement PLM. Also we have to take into our minds that no vendor, so also not a PLM vendor, will undersell their product. They are all promising J

Two different types of PLM implementation

Originally PLM has started in 1999 by extending the reach of Product Data outside the engineering department. However besides just adding extra functionality to extend the coverage of the lifecycle, PLM also created the opportunity to do things different. And here I believe you can follow two different definitions and directions for PLM.

Let’s start with the non-disruptive approach, which I call the extended PDM approach

Extended PDM

expressWhen I worked 6 years ago with SmarTeam on the Express approach, the target was to provide an OOTB (Out of the Box) generic scenario for mid-market companies. Main messages were around quick implementation and extending the CAD data management with BOM and Workflow. Several vendors at that time have promoted their quick start packages for the mid-market, all avoiding one word: change.

I was a great believer of this approach, but the first benchmark project that I governed demonstrated that if you want to do it right, you need to change the way people work, and this takes time (It took 2+ years). For the details: See A PLM success story with ROI from 2009


Cloud based solutions have become now the packaging for this OOTB approach enriched, with the ease of deployment – no IT investment needed (and everyone avoids the word change again).

If you do not want to change too much in your company, the easiest way to make PDM available for the enterprise is to extend this environment with an enterprise PLM layer for BOM management, manufacturing definition, program management, compliancy and more.

Ten years ago, big global enterprises started to implement this approach, using local PDM systems for mainly engineering data management and a PLM system for the enterprise. See picture below:


This approach is now adapted by the Autodesk PLM solution and also ARAS is marketing themselves in the same direction. You have a CAD data management environment and without changing much on that area, you connect the other disciplines and lifecycle stages of the product lifecycle by implementing an additional enterprise layer.

The advantage from this approach is you get a shared and connected data repository of your product data and you are able to extend this with common best practices, BOM management (all the variants EBOM/MBOM/SBOM, …) but also connect the market opportunities and the customer (Portfolio management, Systems engineering)

myplmThe big three, Dassault Systemes, Siemens PLM and PTC, provide the above functionality as a complete set of functionalities – either as a single platform or as a portfolio of products (check the difference between marketing and reality).

Oracle and SAP also fight for the enterprise layer from the ERP side, by providing their enterprise PLM functionality as an extension of their ERP functionality. Also here in two different ways: as a single platform or as a portfolio of products. As their nature is on efficient execution, I would position these vendors as the one that drive for efficiency in a company, assuming all activities somehow can be scheduled and predicted

My statement is that extended PDM leads to more efficiency, more quality (as you standardize on your processes) and for many companies this approach is a relative easy way to get into PLM (extended PDM). If your company exists because of bringing new products quickly to the market, I would start from the PDM/PLM side with my implementation.

The other PLM – innovative PLM


Most PLM vendors associate the word PLM in their marketing language with Innovation. In the previous paragraph I avoided on purpose the word Innovation. How do PLM vendors believe they contribute to Innovation?

This is something you do not hear so much about. Yes, in marketing terms it works, but in reality? Only few companies have implemented PLM in a different way, most of the time because they do not carry years of history, numbering systems, standard procedures to consider or to change. They can implement PLM in a different way, as they are open to change.

If you want to be innovative, you need to implement PLM in a more disruptive manner, as you need to change the way your organization is triggered – see the diagram below:


The whole organization works around the market, the customer. Understanding the customer and the market needs at every moment in the organization is key for making a change. For me, an indicator of innovative PLM is the way concept development is connected with the after sales market and the customers. Is there a structured, powerful connection in your company between these people? If not, you do the extended PLM, not the innovative PLM.

Innovative PLM requires a change in business as I described in my series around PLM 2.0. Personally I am a big believer that this type of PLM is the lifesaver for companies, but I also realize it is the hardest to implement as you need people that have the vision and power to change the company. And as I described in my PLM 2.0 series, the longer the company exist, the harder to make a fundamental change.


There are two main directions possible for PLM. The first and oldest approach, which is an extension of PDM and the second approach which is a new customer centric approach, driving innovation. Your choice to make the case for one or the other, based on your business strategy.

Looking forward to an interesting discussion and see you in Munich where I will make the case


observation Two weeks ago I received through the PLM group on LinkedIn, the following question from Nathalie: “Do you know any specific examples of what some companies have done to get their users ready, excited or more committed to the new PLM system?”

When digging in my mind and planning to give a quick answer, I realized it was an interesting question with a contradiction embedded: users and excitement for a new PLM system.

This week I was attending the SmarTeam User Group meeting in the Netherlands, where an excellent presentation was given by Simon and Hessel from a Dutch company called  Meyn (Poultry processing) about their PLM implementation. They shared their excitement !

Combined with an interesting discussion on Oleg’s blog with Frank, I believe I have the ingredients to answer the above question more complete.

PLM is not exiting for users

myplm I think this is fact number one. When you go to tradeshows or PLM exhibitions, you see usually only 3D CAD demos, nobody tries to demonstrate PLM functions and features in detail. As a side step, I believe the best PLM system should be almost invisible for the user. Users want to work in their own environment with applications like CAD, Excel (BOM handling apps), Office, FEA tools, Simulation tools and more.

ERP has a more clear value proposal, if you want to define and schedule your manufacturing and manage the financial transactions, everyone has accepted that you need ERP. User acceptance is not relevant, users have to work with the provided interface as otherwise production or accounting will fail, there is no alternative.

In contrary, the clear value and definition of PLM are not clear to user. For that reason these users do not get excited when confronted with PLM. They have been surviving without implementing PLM, so they believe there is an alternative.


But we know there are PLM benefits?

My previous post – PLM in the mid-market a mission impossible? – lead to a discussion with Oleg and Frank coming with anew and interesting view point. Frank mentioned that in the German area, many mid-market companies do PLM without purchasing an enterprise PLM system from the known vendors.

coopThe discussion focused on granularity, as all of us believed that a set-by-step approach towards PLM best practices, driven by people who understand the company very well, is the key to success. For this approach you need people inside the customer’s organization who can formulate the vision assisted by consultants working very dedicated in that industry. It requires a different type of consultant as those active in the big enterprise projects.

Instead of implementing PLM as a standard process, in this approach the customer drives and leads the activities where they see benefits in their overall business process. To achieve this, the company must have has a clear vision, where they want to be in the next 5 – 10 years.

Next implementations steps should fit in this strategy and prioritized based on different parameters and these steps are not always with a focus on PLM.

And here lies the key for successful PLM implementations.

my_way The implementation might be based on an academic approach around a core PLM data model and best practices. Mid-market offerings are around an OOTB (Out-Of-The-Box) quick implementation –  the PLM system/implementer leads.

Something the management of likes to hear; quick and with little customization, which would translate in lower costs of implementation and disruption of the organization. But then, the end-users start to complain. There is too much change their standard way of working and they do not see the advantages – keying in more data in a system does not help them.

No_roi The introduction of PLM brings more complexity and as the new system has to prove itself, there is not big enthusiasm from the average user. The management can push, like in the ERP situation, but in general also the management is anxious to learn if this OOTB-approach brings the benefits and when it fails they ask the vendor where the estimated ROI can be found.

Concluding you will be lucky if users get excited form the OOTB approach.

sel_a In the second and granular approach, the company defines their strategy and vision, not necessary a 100 % PLM vision. This strategy need to be clear and shared with the employees in the company, especially for those who are affected by changes.

Next together with implementation partners, who bring in the know-how and possible software tools, a part of the company’s process is addressed and improved. It can be in any area, changing the CAD engine, automate BOM handling, connect sales to engineering or connect after sales/service to engineering.

Many of these areas of interest have different solutions, some are extensions of the CAD environment, some of them are extensions of the ERP environment and some of them are extensions of the IT-platform used in the company.

This approach is not sold by the PLM vendors, as they want to introduce their system as the IT-platform, wrap around the CAD and even capture the definition of the MBOM and initiation of the Item master.

A step-by-step approach based on different granular components, every time in the direction of the company’s strategy, plus all the time feed-back to the end-users on the positive impact of the change, is for me the key to success. In my previous post I was looking for a global provider for these required components.
With the step by step approach with granular solutions, we get users involved and excited.


And this brings me the to the presentation from Meyn

meyn The first time I got involved with Meyn was in October 2004. At that time they had chosen to move from their BaaN-2D CAD infrastructure to a new environment with BaaN – 3D CAD (CATIA). Simon presented their target strategy and vision: moving away from being an Engineering To Order company to become primarily a Configure To Order company.

ENOVIA SmarTeam was chosen to manage the 3D CAD and to connect the information to BaaN. Initially Meyn started in the classical PLM approach, but already after a few months, the understanding was there, they need have step-by-step approach, focused on results for the new CATIA users, without communicating around a complete PLM focused project.

So they followed a stepped approach, they called them waves.

Moving from Engineering to Order to Configure to Order is not software implementation. It requires rationalization of your products; convert them into modular, configurable parts. For this you need to be an engineering expert, not a software expert.

But when it comes to implementation of this concept in the software, you need both experts. And through this collaboration, a methodology for skeleton design was established which was driven by Meyn. And the reason the users were excited was, that they were doing real engineering, the benefits were significant visible.

roi Customer project related engineering time (typical ETO), which was in the beginning their core activity, became around 30 % of the time. More time could be spent on developing new machines in a modular way. With almost the same amount of engineers the turn-over of the company had more than doubled. A win-win environment which makes also the end-users excited.

Still the backend with ERP at Meyn remained almost the same similar to the time they were working in the 2D environment. And the most interesting conclusion at the end of the presentation was, they are still using the same slide with the vision and they can explain why each step was taken and justify it by measurable benefits.

And this brings me to the answer of the question

“Do you know any specific examples of what some companies have done to get their users ready, excited or more committed to the new PLM system”?

  • The management needs to have a clear vision where they want to be as a company in the future. This is not an IT-vision, but a business vision which explain why changes are needed. This vision should be clear to the employees. Communicate!
  • Where possible provide metrics!
  • Do not talk about a PLM system; it can be also in other tools. Talk about improvement steps in the business processes contributing to the vision. The PLM system is the information backbone, not the front-end. Management and implementers should talk business functionality not IT functions and features. Do not talk in applications!
  • Build step by step user scenarios with focus on methodology and user understanding. Implementations with a function-feature focus are hard to accept by the users. Talk business!
  • The management should present their vision again and again, supported by metrics what has been accomplished and what has been learned for the future – repeat!


There are thousands of mid-market companies that have a vision to improve their business. The PLM system should never be the topic of discussion with the end users; it is the change in working methods that is important, supported by various systems -CAD/ERP/CRM – and almost invisible …….. PLM

The company Meyn is an example of this approach. Simon and Hessel are working for Meyn as engineers improving their company’s business. Unfortunate it is not their business to explain all around the world, how PLM supports business change in a mid-market company. I was glad to attend their session last week.

observation In my previous post, BOM for Dummies related to Configure To Order, I promised to come back on the special relation between the items in the BOM and the CAD data. I noticed from several posts in PLM and PDM groups that also the importance of CAD data is perceived in a different manner, depending on the background of the people or the systems they are experienced with.

So I would like to start with some general statements based on these observations.

planning People who are talking about the importance of CAD data and product structures are usually coming from a background in PDM. In an environment where products are designed, the focus is around data creation, mostly CAD data. The language around parts in the BOM is mostly targeting design parts. So in a PDM environment CAD data is an important topic – therefore PDM people and companies will talk about CAD data and vaults as the center of information.


When you are working in a PLM environment, you need a way to communicate around a product, through its whole lifecycle, not only the design phase but also supporting manufacturing phases, the possible changes of an existing product through engineering changes, the traceability of as-built data and more. In a PLM environment, people have the physical part (often called the ERP part) in mind, when they talk about a part number.

As PLM covers product information across various departments and disciplines, the information carrier for product information cannot be the CAD data. The BOM, usually the mBOM, is the main structure used to represent and produce the product. Most parts in the mBOM have a relation to a CAD document (in many companies still the 2D drawing). Therefore PLM people and companies understanding PLM will talk about items and products and their lifecycle as their center of information.

CAD data in relation to Engineering to Order

The above generalizations have to be combined with the different main business processes. In a strict Engineering To Order environment, where you design and build a solution only once for a specific customer, there is no big benefit of going through an eBOM and mBOM transition.

During the design process the engineer already has manufacturing in mind, which will be reflected in the CAD structure they build – sometime hybrid representing both engineering and manufacturing items. In such an environment CAD data is leading to build a BOM structure.

And in cases where engineering is done in one single 3D CAD system, the company might use the PDM system from this vendor to manage their Bill of Materials. The advantage of this approach is that PDM is smoothly integrated with the design environment. However it restricts in a certain matter the future as we will see in further reading.

pointNot everyone needs the Engineering to Order process !

Moving to an integrated, multi-disciplinary engineering process or changing the main process from Engineering To Order to Built To Order / Configure To Order will cause major challenges in the company.

I have seen in the recent past, several companies that would like to change their way of working from a CAD centric Engineering To Order process towards a more Built to Order or Configure To Order process. The bottle neck of making this switch was every time that engineering people think in CAD structures and all knowledge is embedded in the CAD data. They now want to configure their products in the CAD system.

For Configure to Order you have to look at a different way to your CAD data:

Questions to ask yourself as a company are:

  • When I configure my products around a CAD structure, what should I do with data from other disciplines (Electrical/Tooling/Supplier data) ?
  • When I upgrade my 3D CAD system to a new version, do I need to convert all old CAD data to the newest versions in order to keep my configurations alive?
  • When configuring a new customer solution, do I need to build my whole product in CAD in order to assure it is complete?
  • In Configure to Order the engineering BOM and manufacturing BOM are different. Does this mean that when I go through a new customer order, all CAD data need to be handled, going through eBOM and mBOM transition again?

For me it is obvious that only in an Engineering to Order environment the CAD data are leading for order fulfillment. In all other typical processes, BTO (Built to Order), CTO (Configure to Order) and MTS (Make to Stock),  product configuration and definition is done around items and the CAD data is important associated data for the product definition and manufacturing

In the case of order fulfillment in a Configure to Order process, the CAD structure is not touched as configuration of the product is available based on items. Each item in the mBOM has it relations to CAD data or other specifying information.

In the case of Built To Order, a huge part of the product is already configured, like in Configure To Order. Only new interfaces or functionality will go through a CAD design process. This new design might be released through a process with an eBOM to mBOM transition. In cases where the impact or the amount of data created in engineering is not huge, it is even possible to configure the changes immediately in an mBOM environment.

old_process A second point, which is also under a lot of discussion in the field ( PLM interest groups), is that PDM is easily to introduce as a departmental solution. The engineering BOM is forwarded to manufacturing and there further (disconnected) processed.  The step from PDM to PLM is always a business change.

When PDM vendors talk about ERP integration, they often mean the technical solution of connecting the two systems, not integrating the processes around the BOM (eBOM/mBOM transition) 0r an integrated engineering change (ECR/ECO). See how easy it is according to some PDM vendors:

PLM requires an adaptation of all departments to work different and together around a single product definition. Especially in a mid-market company, this is a big issue, as all product knowledge is stored in the CAD data and the knowledge how to produce the product is stored in the mBOM on the ERP side. These environments are often disconnected.
Conclusion: In the context of PDM the importance of CAD data is clear and for companies following a strict Engineering To Order process the main source of product knowledge. Companies following the Built To Order / Configure To Order process should configure their products around items to keep flexibility towards the future.

Companies with the intention to move to Built To Order or Configure To Order should not invest too much in CAD data configuration as it creates a roadblock for the future.

In my next post I will address the question that comes up from many directions, addressed by Jim Brown and others, as discussed  in one of his recent posts around a PLM standard definition and more ….

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