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On March 22 this year, I wrote Time to Think (and act differently) in de middle of a changing world. We were entering a lockdown in the Netherlands due to the COVID-19 virus. As it was such a disruptive change, it was an opportunity to adapt their current ways of working.

The reason for that post was my experience when discussing PLM-initiatives with companies. Often they have no time to sit down, discuss and plan their PLM targets as needed. Crucial people are too busy, leading to an implementation of a system that, in the best case, creates (some) benefits.

The well-known cartoon says it all. We are often too busy doing business as usual, making us feel comfortable. Only when it is too late, people are forced to act.  As the second COVID-19 wave seems to start in the Netherlands, I want to look back on what has happened so far in my eco-system.

Virtual Conferences

As people could not travel anymore, traditional PLM-conferences could not be organized anymore. What was going to be the new future for conferences? TECHNIA, apparently clairvoyant, organized their virtual PLM Innovation Forum as one of the first, end of April.

A more sustainable type of PLM-conference was already a part of their plans, given the carbon footprint a traditional conference induces.  The virtual conference showed that being prepared for a virtual conference pays off during a pandemic with over 1000 participants.

Being first does not always mean being the best,  as we have to learn. While preparing my session for the conference, I felt the same excitement as for a traditional conference. You can read about my initial experience here: The weekend after the PLM Innovation Forum.

Some weeks later, having attended some other virtual conferences, I realized that some points should be addressed/solved:

  • Video conferencing is a must – without seeing people talking, it becomes a podcast.
  • Do not plan long conference days. It is hard to sit behind a screen for a full day. A condensed program makes it easier to attend.
  • Virtual conferences mean that they can be attended live from almost all around the globe. Therefore, finding the right timeslots is crucial for the audience – combined with the previous point – shorter programs.
  • Playing prerecorded sessions without a Q&A session should be avoided. It does not add value.
  • A conference is about networking and discussion – I have not seen a solution for this yet. Fifty percent of the conference value for me comes from face-to-face discussions and coffee meetings. A virtual conference needs to have private chat opportunities between attendees.

In the last quarter of this year, I will present at several merely local conferences, sometimes a mix between “live” with a limited number of attendees, if it will be allowed.

And then there is the upcoming PLM Road Map & PDT Fall 2020 (virtual) conference on 17-18-19 November.

This conference has always been my favorite conference thanks to its continued focus on sharing experiences, most of the time, based on industry standards. We discuss topics and learn from each other. See my previous posts: The weekend after 2019 Day 1, 2019 Day 2, 2018 Day 1, 2018 Day2, 2017 Day 1, 2017 Day 2, etc.

The theme Digital Thread—the PLM Professionals’ Path to Delivering Innovation, Efficiency, and Quality has nothing to do with marketing. You can have a look at the full schedule here. Although there is a lot of buzz around Digital Thread, presenters discuss the reality and their plans

Later in this post, see the paragraph Digital Thread is not a BOM, I will elaborate on this theme.

Getting tired?

I discovered I am getting tired as I am missing face-to-face interaction with people. Working from home, having video calls, is probably a very sustainable way of working.  However, non-planned social interaction, meeting each other at the coffee machine, or during the breaks at a conference or workshop, is also crucial for informal interaction.

Apparently, several others in my eco-system are struggling too. I noticed a tsunami of webinars and blog posts where many of them were an attempt to be noticed. Probably the same reason: traditionally businesses have stalled. And it is all about Digital Transformation and SaaS at this moment. Meaningless if there is no interaction.

In this context, I liked Jan Bosch’s statement in his article: Does data-driven decision-making make you boring? An article not directly addressing the PLM-market; however, there is a lot of overlap related to people’s reluctance to imagine a different future.

My favorite quote:

 I still meet people that continue to express beliefs about the world, their industry, their customers or their own performance that simply aren’t true. Although some, like Steve Jobs, were known for their “reality distortion field,” for virtually all of us, just wishing for something to be true doesn’t make it so. As William Edwards Deming famously said: in God we trust; all others must bring data.

I fully concur with this statement and always get suspicious when someone claims the truth.

Still, there are some diamonds.

I enjoyed all episodes from Minerva PLM TV – Jennifer Moore started these series in the early COVID19-days (coincidence?). She was able to have a collection of interviews with known and less-known people in the PLM-domain. As most of them were vendor-independent, these episodes are a great resource to get educated.

The last episode with Angela Ippisch illustrates how often PLM in companies depends on a few enthusiastic persons, who have the energy to educate themselves. Angela mentions there is a lot of information on the internet; the challenge is to separate the useful information from marketing.

I have been publishing the past five months a series of posts under the joint theme learning from the past to understand the future. In these posts, I explained the evolution from PDM to PLM, resulting in the current item-centric approach with an EBOM, MBOM, and SBOM.

On purpose, one post per every two weeks – to avoid information overflow. Looking back, it took more posts than expected, and they are an illustration of the many different angles there are in the PLM domain – not a single truth.

Digital Thread is not a BOM

I want to address this point because I realized that in the whole blogging world there appear to be two worlds when discussing PLM terminology. Oleg Shilovitsky, CEO@OpenBOM, claims that Digital Thread and Digital Twin topics are just fancy marketing terms. I was even more surprised to read his post: 3 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Using The Word “Model” In PLM. Read the comments and discussion in these posts (if LinkedIn allows you to navigate)

Oleg’s posts have for me most of the time, always something to discuss. I would be happier if other people with different backgrounds would participate in these discussions too – A “Like” is not a discussion. The risk in a virtual world is that it becomes a person-to-person debate, and we have seen the damage such debates can do for an entire community.

In the discussion we had related to Digital Thread and BOM, I realized that when we talk about traditional products, the BOM and the Digital Thread might be the same. This is how we historically released products to the market. Once produced, there were no more changes. In these situations, you could state a PLM-backbone based on BOM-structures/views, the EBOM, MBOM, and SBOM provide a Digital Thread.

The different interpretation comes when talking about products that contain software defining its behavior. Like a computer, the operating system can be updated on the fly; meanwhile, the mechanical system remains the same. To specify and certify the behavior of the computer, we cannot rely on the BOM anymore.

Having software in the BOM and revise the BOM every time there is a software change is a mission impossible. A mistake suggested ten years ago when we started to realize the different release cycles of hardware and software. Still, it is all about the traceability of all information related to a product along its whole lifecycle.

In a connected environment, we need to manage relationships between the BOM and relations to other artifacts. Managing these relations in a connected environment is what I would call the Digital Thread – a layer above PLM. While writing this post, I saw Matthias Ahrens’ post stating the same (click on the image to see the post)

When we discuss managing all the relations, we touch the domain of Configuration Management.  Martijn Dullaart/Martin Haket’s picture shares the same mindset – here, CM is the overlapping layer.

However, in their diagram, it is not a system picture; the different systems do not need to be connected. Configuration Management is the discipline that maintains the correct definition of every product – CM maintains the Thread. When it becomes connected, it is a Digital Thread.

As I have reached my 1500 words, I will not zoom in on the PLM and Model discussion – build your opinion yourself. We have to realize that the word Model always requires a context. Perhaps many of us coming from the traditional PDM/PLM world (managing CAD data) think about CAD models. As I studied physics before even touching CAD, I grew up with a different connotation

Lars Taxén’s comment in this discussion perhaps says it all (click on the image to read it). If you want to learn and discuss more about the Digital Thread and Models, register for the PLM Roadmap & PDT2020 event as many of the sessions are in this context (and not about 3D CAD).

Conclusion

I noticed I am getting tired of all the information streams crying for my attention and look forward to real social discussions, not broadcasted. Time to think differently requires such discussion, and feel free to contact me if you want to reflect on your thoughts. My next action will be a new series named Painting the future to stay motivated. (As we understand the past).

I believe we are almost at the end of learning from the past. We have seen how, from an initial serial CAD-driven approach with PDM, we evolved to PLM-managed structures, the EBOM and the MBOM. Or to illustrate this statement, look at the image below, where I use a Tech-Clarity image from Jim Brown.

The image on the right describes perfectly the complementary roles of PLM and ERP. The image on the left shows the typical PDM-approach. PDM feeding ERP in a linear process. The image on the right, I believe it is from 2004, shows the best practice before digital transformation. PLM is supporting product innovation in an iterative approach, pushing released information to ERP for execution.

As I think in images, I like the concept of a circle for PLM and an arrow for ERP. I am always using those two images in discussions with my customers when we want to understand if a particular activity should be in the PLM or ERP-domain.

Ten years ago, the PLM-domain was conceptually further extended by introducing support for products in operations and service. Similar to the EBOM (engineering) and the MBOM (manufacturing), the SBOM (service) was introduced to support product information for products in operation. In theory a full connected cicle.

Asset Lifecycle Management

At the same time, I was promoting PLM-practices for owners/operators to enhance Asset Lifecycle Management. My first post from June 2010 was called: PLM for Asset Lifecycle Management and Asset Development introduces this approach.

Conceptually the SBOM and Asset Lifecycle Management have a lot in common. There is a design product, in this case, an asset (plant, machine) running in the field, and we need to make sure operators have the latest information about the asset. And in case of asset changes, which can be a maintenance operation, a repair or complete overall, we need to be sure the changes are based on the correct information from the as-built environment. This requires full configuration management.

Asset changes can be based on extensive projects that need to be treated like new product development projects, with a staged approach that can take weeks, months, sometimes years. These activities are typical activities performed in PLM-systems, not in MRO-systems that are designed to manage the actual operation. Again here we see the complementary roles of PLM (iterative) and MRO (execution).

Since 2008, I have worked a lot in this environment, mainly in the nuclear and process industry. If you want to learn more about this aspect of PLM, I recommend looking at the PLMpartner website, where Bjørn Fidjeland, in cooperation with SharePLM, published a course on Plant Information Management. We worked together in several projects and Bjørn has done a great effort to describe the logical model to be used instead of a function-feature story.

Ten years ago, we were not calling this concept the “Digital Twin,” as the aim was to provide end-to-end support of asset information from engineering, procurement, and construction towards operation in a coordinated manner. The breaking point in the relation between the EPCs and Owner/Operators is the data-handover – how much of your IP can/do you expose and what is needed. Nowadays, we would call striving for end-to-end data continuity the Digital Thread.

Hot from the press in this context, CIMdata just published a commentary Managing the Digital Thread in Global Value Chains describing Eurostep’s ShareAspace capabilities and experiences in managing an end-to-end information flow (Digital Thread) in a heterogeneous environment based on exchange standards like ISO 10303-239 PLCS.  Their solution is based on what I consider a more modern approach for managing digital continuity compared to the traditional approach I described before. Compare the two images in this paragraph. The first image represents the old/current way with a disconnected handover, the second represents ShareAspace connected approach based on a real digital thread.

The Service BOM

As discussed with Asset Lifecycle Management, there is a disconnect between the engineering disciplines and operations in the field, looking from the point of view of an Asset owner/operator.

Now when we look from the perspective of a manufacturing company that produces assets to be serviced, we can identify a different dataflow and a new structure, the Service BOM (SBOM).

The SBOM provides information on how a product needs to be serviced. What are the parts that require service, and what are the service kits that are possible for that product? For that reason, service engineering should be done in parallel to product engineering. When designing a product, the engineer needs to identify which the wearing parts (always require service in time) and which parts might be serviceable.

There are different ways to look at the SBOM. Conceptually, the SBOM could be created in close relation with the EBOM. At the moment you define your product, you also should specify how the product will be services. See the image below

From this example, it is clear that part standardization and modularization have a considerable benefit for services downstream. What if you have only one serviceable part that applies to many products? The number of parts to have in stock will be strongly reduced instead of having many similar parts that only fit in a single product?

Depending on the type of product, the SBOM can be generic, serving many products in the field. In that case, the company has to deal with catalogs, to be defined in PLM. Or the SBOM can be aligned with the As-Built of a capital product in the field. In that case, the concepts of Asset Lifecycle Management apply. Click on the image to see a clear picture.

The SBOM on its own,  in such an environment, will have links to specific documents, service instructions, operating manuals.

If your PLM-system allows it, extending the EBOM and MBOM with an SBOM is not a complex effort. What is crucial to understand is that the SBOM has its own lifecycle, which can even last longer than the active product sold. So sometimes, manufacturing specifications, related to service parts need to be maintained too, creating a link between the SBOM and potential MBOM(s).

ECM = Enterprise Change Management

When I discussed ECM in my previous post in the context of Engineering Change Management, I got the feedback that nowadays, everyone talks about Enterprise Change Management. Engineering Change Management is old school.

In the past, and even in a 2014 benchmark, a customer had two change management systems. One in PLM and one in ERP, and companies were looking into connecting these two processes. Like the BOM-interaction between PLM and ERP, this is technology-wise, never a real problem.

The real problem in such situations was to come to a logical flow of events. Many times the company insisted that every change should start from the ERP-system as we like to standardize. This means that even an engineering change had to be registered first in the ERP-system

Luckily the reach of PLM has grown. PLM is no longer the engineering tool (IT-system thinking). PLM has become the information backbone for product information all along the product lifecycle. Having the MBOM and SBOM available through a PLM-infrastructure allows organizations to streamline their processes.

Aras – digital thread through connected structures

And in this modern environment, enterprise change management might take place mostly in a PLM-infrastructure. The PLM-infrastructure providing a digital thread, as the Aras picture above illustrates, provides the full traceability to support configuration management.

However, we still have to remember that configuration management and engineering change management, first of all, are based on methodology and processes. Next, the combination of tools to be used will vary.

I like to conclude this topic with a quote from Lee Perrin’s comment on my previous blog post

I would add that aerospace companies implemented CM, to avoid fatal consequences to their companies, but also to their flying customers.

PLM provides the framework within which to carry out Configuration Management. CM can indeed be carried out without PLM, as was done in the old paper-based days. As you have stated, PLM makes the whole CM process much more efficient. I think more transparent too.

Conclusion

After nine posts around the theme Learning from the past to understand the future, I walked through the history of CAD, PDM and PLM in a fast mode, pointing to practices and friction points. In the blogging space, it is hard to find this information as most blog posts are coming from software vendors explaining why their tool is needed. Hopefully, these series have helped many of you to understand a broader context. Now I want to focus on the future again in my upcoming blog posts.

Still, feel free to contact me and discuss methodology topics.

Picture by Christi Wijnen – a good friend and photographer in the Netherlands

In the previous seven posts, learning from the past to understand the future, we have seen the evolution from manual 2D drawing handling. Next, the emerge of ERP and CAD followed by data management systems (PDM/PLM) and methodology (EBOM/MBOM) to create an infrastructure for product data from concept towards manufacturing.

Before discussing the extension to the SBOM-concept, I first want to discuss Engineering Change Management and Configuration Management.

ECM and CM – are they the same?

Often when you talk with people in my PLM bubble, the terms Change Management and Configuration Management are mixed or not well understood.

When talking about Change Management, we should clearly distinguish between OCM (Organizational Change Management) and ECM (Engineering Change Management). In this post, I will focus on Engineering Change Management (ECM).

When talking about Configuration Management also here we find two interpretations of it.

The first one is a methodology describing technically how, in your PLM/CAD-environment, you can build the most efficient way connected data structures, representing all product variations. This technology varies per PLM/CAD-vendor, and therefore I will not discuss it here. The other interpretation of Configuration Management is described on Wiki as follows:

Configuration management (CM) is a systems engineering process for establishing and maintaining consistency of a product’s performance, functional, and physical attributes with its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its life.

This is also the area where I will focus on this time.

And as-if great minds think alike and are synchronized, I was happy to see Martijn Dullaart’s recent blog post, referring to a poll and follow-up article on CM.

Here Martijn precisely touches the topic I address in this post. I recommend you to read his post: Configuration Management done right = Product-Centric first and then follow with the rest of this article.

Engineering Change Management

Initially, engineering change management was a departmental activity performed by engineering to manage the changes in a product’s definition. Other stakeholders are often consulted when preparing a change, which can be minor (affecting, for example, only engineering) or major (affecting engineering and manufacturing).

The way engineering change management has been implemented varies a lot. Over time companies all around the world have defined their change methodology, and there is a lot of commonality between these approaches. However, terminology as revision, version, major change, minor change all might vary.

I described the generic approach for engineering change processes in my blog post: ECR / ECO for Dummies from 2010.

The fact that companies have defined their own engineering change processes is not an issue when it works and is done manually. The real challenge came with PDM/PLM-systems that need to provide support for engineering change management.

Do you leave the methodology 100 % open, or do you provide business logic?

I have seen implementations where an engineer with a right-click could release an assembly without any constraints. Related drawings might not exist, parts in the assembly are not released, and more. To obtain a reliable engineering change management process, the company had to customize the PLM-system to its desired behavior.

An exercise excellent for a system integrator as there was always a discussion with end-users that do not want to be restricted in case of an emergency  (“we will complete the definition later” / “too many clicks” / “do I have to approve 100 parts ?”). In many cases, the system integrator kept on customizing the system to adapt to all wishes. Often the engineering change methodology on paper was not complete or contained contradictions when trying to digitize the processes.

For that reason, the PLM-vendors that aim to provide Out-Of-The-Box solutions have been trying to predefine certain behaviors in their system. For example, you cannot release a part, when its specifications (drawings/documents) are not released. Or, you cannot update a released assembly without creating a new revision.

These rules speed-up the implementation; however, they require more OCM (Organizational Change Management) as probably naming and methodology has to change within the company. This is the continuous battle in PLM-implementations. In particular where the company has a strong legacy or lack of business understanding, when implementing PLM.

There is an excellent webcast in this context on Minerva PLM TV – How to Increase IT Project Success with Organizational Change Management.

Click on the image or link to watch this recording.

Configuration Management

When we talk about configuration management, we have to think about managing the consistency of product data along the whole product lifecycle, as we have seen from the Wiki-definition before.

Wiki – the configuration Activity Model

Configuration management existed long before we had IT-systems. Therefore, configuration management is more a collection of activities (see diagram above) to ensure the consistency of information is correct for any given product. Consistent during design, where requirements match product capabilities. Consistent with manufacturing, where the manufacturing process is based on the correct engineering specifications. And consistent with operations, meaning that we have the full definition of product in the field, the As-Built, in correct relation to its engineering and manufacturing definition.

Source: Configuration management in aerospace industry

This consistency is crucial for products where the cost of an error can have a massive impact on the manufacturer. The first industries that invested heavily in configuration management were the Aerospace and Defense industries. Configuration management is needed in these industries as the products are usually complex, and failure can have a fatal impact on the company. Combined with many regulatory constraints, managing the configuration of a product and the impact of changes is a discipline on its own.

Other industries have also introduced configuration management nowadays. The nuclear power industry and the pharmaceutical industry use configuration management as part of their regulatory compliance. The automotive industry requires configuration management partly for compliance, mainly driven by quality targets. An accident or a recall can be costly for a car manufacturer. Other manufacturing companies all have their own configuration management strategies, mainly depending on their own risk assessment. Configuration management is a pro-active discipline – it costs money – time, people and potential tools to implement it. In my experience, many of these companies try to do “some” configuration management, always hoping that a real disaster will not happen (or can happen). Proper configuration management allows you to perform reliable impact analysis for any change (image above)

What happens in the field?

When introducing PLM in mid-market companies, often, the dream was that with the new PLM-system configuration, management would be there too.

Management believes the tools will fix the issue.

Partly because configuration management deals with a structured approach on how to manage changes, there was always confusion with engineering change management. Modern PLM-systems all have an impact analysis capability. However, most of the time, this impact analysis only reaches the content that is in the PLM-system. Configuration Management goes further.

If you think that configuration management is crucial for your company, start educating yourselves first before implementing anything in a tool. There are several places where you can learn all about configuration management.

  • Probably the best-known organization is IpX (Institute for Process Excellence), teaching the CM2 methodology. Have a look here: CM2 certification and courses
  • Closely related to IpX, Martijn Dullaart shares his thoughts coming from the field as Lead Architect for Enterprise Configuration Management at ASML (one of the Dutch crown jewels) in his blog: MDUX
  • CMstat, a configuration and data management solution provider, provides educational posts from their perspective. Have a look at their posts, for example, PLM or PDM or CM
  • If you want to have a quick overview of Configuration Management in general, targeted for the mid-market, have a look at this (outdated) course: Training for Small and Medium Enterprises on CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT. Good for self-study to get an understanding of the domain.

 

To summarize

In regulated industries, Configuration Management and PLM are a must to ensure compliance and quality. Configuration management and (engineering) change management are, first of all, required methodologies that guarantee the quality of your products. The more complex your products are, the higher the need for change and configuration management.

PLM-systems require embedded engineering change management – part of the PDM domain. Performing Engineering Change Management in a system is something many users do not like, as it feels like overhead. Too much administration or too many mouse clicks.

So far, there is no golden egg that performs engineering change management automatically. Perhaps in a data-driven environment, algorithms can speed-up change management processes. Still, there is a need for human decisions.

Similar to configuration management. If you have a PLM-system that connects all the data from concept, design, and manufacturing in a single environment, it does not mean you are performing configuration management. You need to have processes in place, and depending on your product and industry, the importance will vary.

Conclusion

In the first seven posts, we discussed the design and engineering practices, from CAD to EBOM, ending with the MBOM. Engineering Change Management and, in particular, Configuration Management are methodologies to ensure the consistency of data along the product lifecycle. These methodologies are connected and need to be fit for the future – more on this when we move to modern model-based approaches.

Closing note:

While finishing this blog post today I read Jan Bosch’s post: Why you should not align. Jan touches the same topic that I try to describe in my series Learning from the Past ….., as my intention is to make us aware that by holding on to practices from the past we are blocking our future. Highly recommended to read his post – a quote:

The problem is, of course, that every time you resist change, you get a bit behind. You accumulate some business, process and technical debt. You become a little less “fitting” to the environment in which you’re operating

In my last post, My four picks from PLMIF,  I ended with the remark that the discussion related to the Multiview BOM concept was not complete. The session presented by James Roche focused on the Aerospace & defense domain and touched the surface. There is a lot of confusion related to best practices associated with BOM-handling. Sometimes created to promote unique vendor capabilities or to hide system complexity.

Besides, we need to consider the past as, in particular, for PLM, the burden of legacy processes and data is significant. Some practices even come from the previous, paper-based century, later mixed with behavior from 3D CAD-systems.

Therefore, to understand the future, I will take you through the past to understand why certain practices were established. Next, in a few upcoming posts, I want to explain the evolution of BOM-practices. How each new technology step introduced new capabilities that enabled companies to improve their product delivery process.

I will describe the drawing approach (for PLM – the past), the item-centric approach (for PLM – the current), and the model-driven approach(for PLM – the future). How big this sequence will become is not clear at this stage.

Whenever I come close to 1200 – 1500 words, I will stop and conclude. Based on my To-do list and your remarks, I will continue in a follow-up post.  The target will be to have a vendor-neutral collection of information to help you identify your business and the next possible steps.

Working with drawings

MRP/ERP – the first IT-system

For this approach, I go back fifty years in time, when companies were starting to work with their first significant IT-system, the MRP-system. MRP stands for Material Requirements Planning. This system became the heart of the company, scheduling the production. The extension to ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) quickly after, made it possible to schedule other resources and, essential for the management, to report financials. Now execution could be monitored by generating all kinds of reports.

Still, the MRP/ERP-system was wholly disconnected from the engineering world as the image shows below. Let us have a look at how this worked at that time.

The concept

Products have never been designed from scratch by jumping to drawings. In the concept phase, a product was analyzed, mainly on its mechanical behavior. Was there anything else at that time? Many companies thank their existence from a launching product which someone, most of the time, the founder of the company, invented in a workshop. The company than improved and enriched this product by starting from the core product, creating enhancements in various areas of applicability.

These new ideas were shared through sketches and prototypes.

The design

The detail design of a product is delivered by a technical documentation set, often a package of manufacturing drawings containing a list of parts on the drawing, assembly with instructions. Balloon numbers are used to indicate parts in an assembly or section view.  In addition, there are the related fabrication drawings. The challenge for this approach is that all definitions must be there uniquely and complete to avoid ambiguity, which could lead to manufacturing errors.

The parts list contains make-parts, supplier parts, and standard parts. The make-parts are specified again by manufacturing drawings, identified by a number that uniquely identifies the correct drawing version. A habit here: Part number = Drawing Number (+ revision)

As the part is identified by a drawing the part most of the time got an “intelligent” part number and a revision. Intelligent to support easy recognition and revisions as at the end we do not want to generate a new part number when there is an evolution of the part. Read more about this in What the FFF is happening and “Intelligent” part numbers?

The standardized parts can be either company standard parts or external standard parts. There is a difference between them.

A company standard part could be a certain bracket, a frame. Anything that the company decided to standardize on for its own products Company standard parts are treated like make parts; they have an identifier related to their manufacturing drawings.  Again, here the habit: Part Number = Drawing Number (+ revision)

The supplier part is coming from a supplier that manufactures this part based on the supplier or market specifications. You can specify this part by using the supplier’s catalog number or refer to the standard.

For example, the part that has been specified under a certain ISO/ANSI/DIN-standard. For example, a stainless-steel bolt M8 x 1,25 x 20, meaning a metric bolt with a head diameter of 8 mm, a speed of 1,25 mm, and a length of 20 mm. You specify the standard part according to the standard. Purchasing will decide where to buy this part

Manufacturing Preparation

This is the most inefficient stage when working in a traditional drawing approach. At this stage, the information provided in drawings needs to be entered into the MRP/ERP-system to start production. This is the place where information is thrown over the wall as some might say.

This means a person needs to create process steps in the ERP-system based on the drawing information. For each manufacturing step, there needs to be a reference to the right drawing. Most ERP-systems have a placeholder where you can type the drawing number(s). Later, when companies were using CAD, there could be a reference to a file.

The part number in the ERP-system might be the same as the drawing number; however, the ERP-system requires unique numbers. In the beginning, ERP-systems were the number-generator for new parts. The unique number was often 6 to 7 digits in size, because it fits in our human short-term memory.

The parts list on the drawings had to be entered in the ERP-system too. A manual operation that often required additional research from the manufacturing engineer. As the designer might have specified the SS Bolt M8 x 1,25 x 20 as such, manufacturing preparation has to search in the ERP-system for the company’s part number.

Suppliers have to be sourced for outside manufactured make-parts. In case you do not want to depend on a single supplier, you have to send drawings and specifications to the supplier before the product is released. The supplier will receive a drawing number with revision and status warning.

If everything worked well the first time, there would be no iterations between engineering and manufacturing preparation. However, this is a utopia: prototype changes, potential manufacturing issues will require changes in the drawings. These changes require updates in the drawings, which will lead to new versions. How do you keep consistency between all identifiers?

Manufacturing

During manufacturing, orders are processed based on information from the ERP-system. The shop floor gets the drawing provided to the link in ERP. Sometimes there are issues during manufacturing. In coordination with engineering, some adaptations will be made to the manufacturing process. e.g., a changed fit or tolerance. Instead of going back to engineering to provide a new documentation set, the relevant drawings are redlined. Engineering will update these drawings whenever they touch them in the future (yeah, yeah).

Configuration Management

But will they update them? Perhaps already a new version existed due to the product’s evolution. Everything needs to be coordinated manually. Smaller companies heavily rely on people knowing things and talking together.

Larger companies cannot work in the same manner; therefore, they introduce procedures to guarantee that the information flow is consistent and accurate. Here the practices from configuration management come in.

There are many flavors of configuration management. Formal CM was first used in the 1950s to control the technical documentation for complex space and weapons systems. (Source ESA CM initiative for SME’s – © 2000) We will see it come back in future posts dealing with more complex products and the usage of computer systems.

Last year I wrote a few times about PLM and configuration management (PLM and CM – a happy marriage?) not relevant at this moment as there is no PLM yet.

Where is the BOM

As you might have noticed, there was no mentioning of a BOM so far. At this stage, there is only one Bill of Materials managed in the ERP-system. The source from the BOM comes from the various parts lists on the drawings, completed with manual additions.

Nobody talks in this stage about an EBOM or MBOM as there is only one BOM, a kind of hybrid BOM, where manufacturing steps were driving the way parts are grouped. Because the information was processed step by step, why would you like to have a multilevel BOM or a BOM tree?
Note: The image on the left was one of my first images in 2008 when I started my blog.

Summary

Working with drawings introduced “intelligent” part numbers as the documents have to be identified by manual interpretations. The intelligence of the part number was there to prevent people from making mistakes as the number already was a kind of functional identifier. Combined with a revision and versioning in the number, nothing could go wrong if handled consistently.

The disadvantage was that new employees had to master a numbering system. Next, the risk for all employees that a released drawing will not change its status. Only manual actions (retract/replace) will avoid making mistakes. And then, there are the disconnected redline drawings.

The “drawing number equals part number”  relation created a constraint that will be hard to maintain in the future.  Therefore you should worry if you still work according the above principles.

Conclusion

I reached the 1500 words – a long story – probably far from complete. I encourage readers to provide enhancements that might be relevant in the comments. This post might look like a post for dummies. However, to understand what is applicable to the future, we first need to understand why certain practices have been defined in the past.
I am looking forward to your comments and enhancements to make this a relevant stream of public information for all.

One week ago, Yoann Maingon wrote an innocent post with the question: Has FFF killed?  The question was raised related to a 2014 problem at GM, where a changed part was causing fatal accidents.

The discussion started by Yoann and here my short extract. Assuming this problem was a configuration management issue and Yoann somehow indicated that the problem might be related to the fact that ERP-systems do not carry a revision on the part number – leading to an unnoticed change.  Therefore, he assumes there is a disconnect between the PLM-side (where we have parts with multiple lifecycle states and revisions) and ERP (where we have an industrial lifecycle – prototype/production).

He posted his thoughts, and then LinkedIn exploded (currently 116 comments), which means it is a topic that is of significant concern in our community. Next, if you read the comments, there are different viewpoints:

  • What does FFF really imply?
  • What about revisions of parts?
  • What are the best practices?

Let’s investigate these viewpoints with some comments

What does FFF really imply?

When we talk about FFF in engineering, we mean Form, Fit and Function – the three primary characteristics to describe a part  (source Wikipedia)

  • Form refers to such characteristics as external dimensions, weight, size, and visual appearance of a part or assembly. This is the element of FFF that is most affected by an engineer’s aesthetic choices, including enclosure, chassis, and control panel, that become the outward “face” of the product.
  • Fit refers to the ability of the part or feature to connect to, mate with, or join to another feature or part within an assembly. The “fit” allows the part to meet the required assembly tolerances to be useful.
  • Function is a criterion that is met when the part performs its stated purpose effectively and reliably. In an electronics product, for example, a function can depend on the solid-state components used, the software or firmware, and quite often on the features of the electronics enclosure selected.

One of the comments in Yoann’s post referred to Safe/Unsafe as a potential functional characteristic. I think this addition is not needed. Safety should be a requirement for the part, not a characteristic.

FFF was and still is an approach for engineers to decide if a new, improved version of the part would get a revision or needs a new part number.

I think before we dive deeper into the other viewpoints, it is crucial to define the part number a little more.

In a correct PLM data model, there are two types of part numbers. First, the internal part number that your company uses inside its engineering Bill of Materials to identify a part. This part number can be a meaningless part only to provide uniqueness inside the company.

In 2015 I wrote several posts related to best practices and data modeling for PLM. The most relevant posts to this discussion are here:

The part number can specify a part that needs to be manufactured according to specification, or it can be a part that needs to be purchased from an available supplier/manufacturer. The manufacturer part number is, most of the time, a meaningful number (6 – 7 characters) as these parts need to be ordered by your company. The manufacturer part number is the SKU for the manufacturer. As you can imagine in the manufacturer’s catalog, there isn’t a revision mentioned. In graphics, see the image below:

Your company might sell Product MP-323121 (note: the ID is meaningful to help the customer to order the product).

Internally there is a related EBOM that specifies the product. The EBOM top part is O122 (note: here, we can use a meaningless identifier as all is digitally connected).

For the manufacturing of O122, we need to resolve the EBOM according to its specifications. Therefore, for Part O124, the company needs to decide to purchase from their approved manufacturers either part ABC-21231 or XYZ-88818 (note: again, a meaningful ID as these companies are not digitally connected).

Now coming back to the FFF-discussion. For the orange parts, with a meaningful ID, no revision exists. However, if Assembly O122 is 100% FFF compatible, the Product ID MP-323121 will not change. It allows your company to optimize the EBOM and/or MBOM, meanwhile keeping 100% compatibility to the outside world. (note: the same principle applies to the two manufacturers for Part O124.)

In case Top Assembly O122 has new or changed parts – what should happen there?

At that moment, the definition has changed. The definitions, most of the time described in documents/drawings/models, are related information to the BOM. Therefore the Top Assembly O122 should get a new identifier. There is no need to name it a revision, it is a new data set in the PLM-system, again with a meaningless identifier as we are connected digitally,

What about revisions of parts?

Of course, the management of changes existed long before PLM-systems were introduced.

The specifications of a part were defined in drawings. The drawing contained all the information, not only the geometry definitions, but also specifications on how to manufacture the part.

For complex products, a considerable set of consistently related drawings would be released to manufacturing.  A release process with physical signatures on it.

At the same time, there was no discussion: the drawing represents the part. And as there was no digital connection, part numbers/drawing numbers were meaningful, often with the format of the drawing as part of the identifier.

In case changes were needed, for example, fixing a dimension or tolerance as discovered during manufacturing, the drawing had to be revised to remain consistent. First, in the original drawing, the issue or change was marked in red (redlining). Then engineering had to create a new version of the drawing.

Depending on the impact of change (here comes also the FFF-principle), people decided if a new part number was needed (FFF-change) or that the change only required an update of the drawing(s), meaning a revision.  If the difference was small (for example, adding a missing annotation), it could be called a minor change, all to be reflected in the drawing number, which equals the part number in this approach. So, when we talk about revisions of parts, we are talking about a document change.

A lousy practice from that approach is also that often manufacturing just redlines a drawing and keeps the redlined drawing as their source. It is too time-consuming or difficult to update the source drawing(s) through a change process. Engineering is not aware of this change, and when a later change comes through from engineering, these “fixes” might be missed as there is no traceability.

Generic example of a PLM data model and its relationsWhen PLM-systems were introduced, of course, companies did not want to disrupt their existing ways of working. Therefore, they were asking the PLM-editors to enable revisions on parts and so the PLM-editors did (or do).

Decoupling of parts and documents in a PLM data model

However, if you want to use the PLM-system in the best manner, you need to “decouple” the concept:  part number equals drawing number, combined with the possibility to start using meaningless identifiers, as relations between parts and drawings are managed in the PLM-system through relational links.

Relevant post related to the PLM data model are:

What are the best practices?

As some people mentioned in their comments to Yoann’s post, why do we have to answer this question as all is already well understood and described in best practices? I agree with that statement: Best Practices exist – so how to obtain them?

First, there is the whole framework of Configuration Management, which existed long before PLM-systems were introduced. If you follow their methodology, you can be (almost) guaranteed your information is consistent and correct. Configuration Management is crucial in areas where the impact of an error is enormous, like the GM-example Yoann referred to. Also, companies in the Aerospace and Defense industry are the ones that have strict configuration management in place.

Configuration management does not come for free. It requires an investment in skills, potentially a change in ways of working, and requires an overhead. Manufacturing companies that are creating less “risky” products often focus more on optimizing (= reducing) the cost of their internal processes instead of investing in proper methodologies to manage consistency.

If you want to learn more about CM, investigate the Institute of Process Excellence (IPX), the founders of the CM2 framework for Enterprise Configuration Management, and much more. Note: Their knowledge does not come for free, which I can understand. However, it also creates a barrier for the company’s further investment in CM as this kind of strategic investments are hard to sell at the management level by individuals in a company.

In the context of CM, I advise you to follow Martijn Dullaart, who is quite active in our social community. His latest blog post related to this thread is: It’s about Interchangeability and Traceability

With the introduction of PLM-system, these companies and the PLM-editors created the opportunity to implement configuration management in their system.

The data inside the system would be the “single version of the truth.” Unfortunately, this was most of the time, just a sales strategy, falsely giving the impression that information is under control now. Last year I wrote several posts related to the relation between PLM and CM, starting from PLM and Configuration Management – a happy marriage?

If you are interested in another resource for information related to these topics, have a look at the website from Jörg Eisenträger who also collected his best practices for PLM and CM for sharing (thanks Paul van der Ree for the link)

Don’t expect best practices from your PLM-vendors as their role is to sell software. It is the continuous discussion between:

  • A PLM-system that forces companies to work according to embedded methodology (hard to sell/implement but idealistically correct)

And

  • A flexible PLM-system that allows you to build and configure anything (easy to sell/challenging to implement correctly, depending on “wise” decisions)

The Future

Even though most companies are working drawing-centric, with or without a linked PLM-backbone for BOM-management, the next upcoming challenge is to evolve to model-based practices. The current CM-practices still talk about documents, although documents are already electronic datasets in that context. The future, however, in a model-based enterprise evolves related to connected models, 3D Models, but also simulation and software models, with different lifecycles and pace of change. For the model-based enterprise, we need to develop digital best practices that guarantee the same level of quality, however, executed and/or supported by (AI) Artificial Intelligence. AI is needed as human beings cannot physically analyze and understand all the impact of a change in such an environment.

Conclusion

The FFF-discussion illustrates that building a consistent framework within PLM is not an easy goal to achieve. My blog buddy Oleg Shilovitsky would claim that we consultants create the complexity. PLM-editors will never solve this complexity, it is up to your company’s mission to invest in knowledge to understand why and how to reduce the complexity. With this post and the related links and discussions, I hope more clarity will help you to make “wise” decisions.

This time a post that has been on the table already for a long time – the importance of having established processes, in particular with implementing PLM.  By nature, most people hate processes as it might give the idea that their personal creativity is limited, where large organizations love processes as for them this is the way to guarantee a confident performance.  So let’s have a more in-depth look.

Where processes shine

In a transactional world, processes can be implemented like algorithms, assuming the data to be processed has the right quality. That is why MRP (Material Requirement Planning) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) don’t have the mindset of personal creativity. It is about optimized execution driven by financial and quality goals.

When I started my career in the early days of data management, before it was called PDM/PLM, I learned that there is a need for communication-related to product data. Terms are revisions, and versions started to pop-up combined with change processes. Some companies began to talk about configuration management.

Companies were not thinking PLM along the whole lifecycle. It was more PDM for engineering and ERP for manufacturing. Where PDM was ultimate a document-control environment, ERP was the execution engine relying on documented content, but not necessarily connected. Unfortunate this is still the case at many companies, and it has to do with the mindset. Traditionally a company’s performance has been measured based on financial reporting coming from the ERP system. Engineering was an unmanageable cost in the eyes of the manufacturing company’s management and ERP-software vendors.

In de middle of the nineties (previous century now ! ), I had a meeting with an ERP-country manager to discuss a potential partnership. The challenge was that he had no clue about the value and complementary need for PLM. Even after discussing with him the differences between iterative product development (with revisioning) and linear execution (on the released product), his statement was:

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

Meanwhile, I can say this company has changed its strategy, giving PLM a space in their portfolio combined with excellent slides about what could be possible.

To conclude, for linear execution the meaning of processes is more or less close to algorithms and when there is no algorithm, the individual steps in place are predictable with their own KPIs.

Process certification

As I mentioned in the introduction, processes were established to guarantee a predictable outcome, in particular when it comes to quality. For that reason, in the previous century when globalization started companies were somehow forced to get ISO 900x certified. The idea behind these certifications was that a company had processes in place to guarantee an expected outcome and for when they failed, they would have procedures in place to fix these gaps. The reason companies were doing this because no social internet could name and shame bad companies. Having ISO 900x certification would be the guarantee to deliver quality.  In the same perspective, we could see, configuration management, a system of best practices to guarantee that product information was always correct.

Certification was and is heaven for specialized external auditors and consultants.  To get certification you needed to invest in people and time to describe your processes, and once these processes were defined, there were regular external audits to ensure the quality system has been followed.  The beauty of this system – the described procedures were more or less “best intentions” not enforced. When the auditor would come the company had to play some theater that processes were followed., the auditor would find some improvements for next year and the management was happy certification was passed.

This has changed early this century. In particular, mid-market companies were no longer motivated to keep up this charade. The quality process manual remained as a source of inspiration, but external audits were no longer needed. Companies were globally connected and reviewed, so reputation could be sourced easily.

The result: there are documented quality procedures, and there is a reality. The more disconnected employees became in a company due to mergers or growth, the more individual best-practices became the way to deliver the right product and quality, combined with accepted errors and fixes downstream or later. The hidden cost of poor quality is still a secret within many companies.  Talking with employees they all have examples where their company lost a lot of money due to quality mistakes. Yet in less regulated industries, there is no standard approach, like CAPA (Corrective And Preventive Actions), APQP or 8D to solve it.

Configuration Management and Change Management processes

When it comes to managing the exact definition of a product, either an already manufactured product or products that are currently made, there is a need for Configuration Management.  Before there were PLM systems configuration management was done through procedures defining configurations based on references to documents with revisions and versions. In the aerospace industry, separate systems for configuration management were developed, to ensure the exact configuration of an aircraft could be retrieved at any time. Less regulated industries used a more document-based procedural approach as strict as possible. You can read about the history of configuration management and PLM in an earlier blog post: PLM and Configuration Management – a happy marriage?

With the introduction of PDM and PLM-systems, more and more companies wanted to implement their configuration management and in particular their change management inside the system, as the changes are always related to product information that can reside in a PLM-system. The change of part can be proposed (ECR), analyzed and approved, leading to and implementation of the change (ECO) which is based on changed specifications, designs (3D Models / Drawings) and more. You can read the basics here: The Issue and ECR/ECO for Dummies (Reprise)

The Challenge (= Problem) of Digital Processes

More and more companies are implementing change processes fully in PLM, and this is the point that creates the most friction for a PLM implementation. The beauty of digital change processes is that they can be full-proof. No change gets unnoticed as everyone is forced to follow the predefined procedures, either a type of fast track in case of lightweight (= low risk) changes or the full change process when the product is already in a mature state.

Like the ISO-900x processes, the PLM-implementer is often playing the role of the consultancy firm that needs to recommend the company how to implement configuration management and change processes. The challenge here is that the company most of the time does not have a standard view for their change processes and for sure the standard change management inside PLM s not identical to their processes.

Here the battle starts….

Management believes that digital change processes, preferable out-of-the-box, a crucial to implement, where users feel their job becomes more an administrative job than a creative job. Users that create information don’t want to be bothered with the decisions for numbering and revisioning.

They expect the system to do that easily for them – which does not happen as old procedures, responsibilities, and methodologies do not align with the system. Users are not measured or challenged for data quality, they are measured on the work they deliver that is needed now. Let’s first get the work done before we make sure all is consisted defined in the PLM-system.

Digital Transformation allows companies to redefine the responsibilities for users related to the data they produce. It is no longer a 3D Model or a drawing, but a complete data set with properties/attributes that can be shared and used for analysis and automation.

Conclusion

Implementing digital processes for PLM is the most painful, but required step for a successful implementation. As long as data and processes are not consistent, we can keep on dreaming about automation in PLM. Therefore, digital transformation inside PLM should focus on new methods and responsibilities to create a foundation for the future. Without an agreement on the digital processes there will be a growing inefficiency for the future.

 

Image: waitbutwhy.com

Two weeks ago I wrote about the simplification discussion around PLM – Why PLM never will be simple.  There I focused on the fact that even sharing information in a consistent, future proof way of working, is already challenging, despite easy to use communication tools like email or social communities.

I mentioned that sharing PLM data is even more challenging due to their potential revision, version, status, and context.  This brings us to the topic of configuration management, needed to manage the consistency of information, a challenge with the increasingly sophisticated products or systems. Simple tools will never fix this complexity.

To manage the consistency of a product,  configuration management (CM) is required. Two weeks ago I read the following interesting post from CMstat: A Brief History of Configuration Management Software.

An excellent introduction if you want to know more about the roots of CM, be it that the post at the end starts to flush out all the disadvantages and reasons why you should not think about CM using PLM systems.

The following part amused me:

 The Reality of Enterprise PLM

It is no secret that PLM solutions were often sold based in good part on their promise to provide full-lifecycle change control and systems-level configuration management across all functions of the enterprise for the OEM as well as their supply and service chain partners. The appeal of this sales stick was financial; the cost and liability to the corporation from product failures or disasters due to a lack of effective change control was already a chief concern of the executive suite. The sales carrot was the imaginary ROI projected once full-lifecycle, system-level configuration control was in effect for the OEM and supply chain.

Less widely known is that for many PLM deployments, millions of budget dollars and months of calendar time were exhausted before reaching the point in the deployment road map where CM could be implemented. It was not uncommon that before the CM stage gate was reached in the schedule, customer requirements, budget allocations, management priorities, or executive sponsors would change. Or if not these disruptions within the customer’s organization, then the PLM solution provider, their software products or system integrators had been changed, acquired, merged, replaced, or obsoleted. Worse yet for users who just had a job to do was when solutions were “reimagined” halfway through a deployment with the promise (or threat) of “transforming” their workflow processes.

Many project managers were silently thankful for all this as it avoided anyone being blamed for enterprise PLM deployment failures that were over budget, over schedule, overweight, and woefully underwhelming. Regrettably, users once again had to settle for basic change control instead of comprehensive configuration management.

I believe the CMstat-writer is generalizing too much and preaches for their parish. Although my focus lies on PLM, I also learned the importance of CM and for that reason I will share a view on CM from the PLM side:

Configuration Management is not a target for every company

The origins of Configuration Management come from the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industries. These industries have high quality, reliability and traceability constraints. In simple words, you need to prove your product works correctly specified in all described circumstances and keep this consistent along the lifecycle of the product.

Moreover, imagine you delivered the perfect product, next implementing changes require a full understanding of the impact of the change. What is the impact of the change on the behavior or performance? In A&D is the question is it still safe and reliable?

Somehow PLM and CM are enemies. The main reason why PLM-systems are used is Time to Market — bringing a product as fast as possible to the market with acceptable quality. Being first is sometimes more important than high quality. CM is considered as a process that slows down Time to Market as managing consistency, and continuous validating takes time and effort.

Configuration Management in Aviation is crucial as everyone understands that you cannot afford to discover a severe problem during a flight. All the required verification and validation efforts make CM a costly process along the product lifecycle. Airplane parts are 2 – 3 times more expensive than potential the same parts used in other industries. The main reason: airplane parts are tested and validated for all expected conditions along their lifecycle.  Other industries do not spend so much time on validation. They validate only where issues can hurt the company, either for liability or for costs.

Time to Market even impacts the aviation industry  as we can see from the commercial aircraft battle(s) between Boeing and Airbus. Who delivers the best airplane (size/performance) at the right moment in the global economy? The Airbus 380 seemed to miss its targets in the future – too big – not flexible enough. The Boeing 737 MAX appears to target a market sweet spot (fuel economy) however the recent tragic accidents with this plane seemed to be caused by Time to Market pressure to certify the aircraft too early. Or is the complexity of a modern airplane unmanageable?

CM based on PLM-systems

Most companies had their configuration management practices long before they started to implement PLM. These practices were most of the time documented in procedures, leading to all kind of coding systems for these documents. Drawing numbers (the specification of a part/product), Specifications, Parts Lists, all had a meaningful identifier combined with a version/revision and status. For example, the Philips 12NC coding system is famous in the Netherlands and is still used among spin-offs of Philips and their supplier as it offers a consistent framework to manage configurations.

Storing these documents into a PDM/PLM-system to provide centralized access was not a big problem; however, companies also expected the PLM-system to support automation and functionality to support their configuration management procedures.

A challenge for many implementers for several reasons:

  • PLM-systems do not offer a standard way of working – if they would do so, they could only serve a small niche market – so it needs to be “configured/customized.”
  • Company configuration management rules sometimes cannot be mapped to the provided PLM data-model and their internal business logic. This has led to costly customizations where, in the best case, implementer and company agreed somewhere in the middle. Worst case as the writer from the CM blog is mentioning it becomes an expensive, painful project
  • Companies do not have a consistent configuration management framework as Time to Market is leading – we will fix CM later is the idea, and they let their PLM –implementer configure the PLM-system as good a possible. Still, at the management level, the value of CM is not recognized.
    (see also: PLM-CM-ALM – not sexy ?)

In companies that I worked with, those who were interested in a standardized configuration management approach were trained in CMII. CMII (or CM2) is a framework supported by most PLM-systems, sometimes even as a pre-configured template to speed-up the implementation. Still, as PLM-systems serve multiple industries, I would not expect any generic PLM-vendor to offer Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) CM-capabilities – there are too many legacy approaches. You can find a good and more in-depth article related to CMII here: Towards Integrated Configuration Change Management (CMII) from Lionel Grealou.

 

What’s next?

Current configuration management practices are very much based on the concepts of managing document. However, products are more and more described in a data-driven, model-based approach. You can find all the reasons why we are moving to a model-based approach in my last year’s blog post. Important to realize is that current CM practices in PLM were designed with mechanical products and lifecycles as a base. With the combination of hardware and software, integrated and with different lifecycles, CM has to be reconsidered with a new holistic concept. The Institute of Process Excellence provides CM2 training but is also active in developing concepts for the digital enterprise.

Martijn Dullaart, Lead Architect Configuration Management @ ASML & Chair @ IPE/CM2 Global Congress has published several posts related to CM and a Model-Based approach – you find them here related to his LinkedIn profile. As you can read from his articles organizations are trying to find a new consistent approach.

Perhaps CM as a service to a Product Innovation Platform, as the CMstat blog post suggests? (quote from the post below)

In Part 2 of this CMsights series on the future of CM software we will examine the emerging strategy of “Platform PLM” where functional services like CM are delivered via an open, federated architecture comprised of rapidly-deployable industry-configured applications.

I am looking forward to Part2 of CMsights . An approach that makes sense to me as system boundaries will disappear in a digital enterprise. It will be more critical in the future to create consistent data flows in the right context and based on data with the right quality.

Conclusion

Simple tools and complexity need to be addressed in the right order. Aligning people and processes efficiently to support a profitable enterprise remains the primary challenge for every enterprise. Complex products, more dependent on software than hardware, are requiring new ways of working to stay competitive. Digitization can help to implement these new ways of working. Experienced PLM/CM experts know the document-driven past. Now it is time for a new generation of PLM and CM experts to start from a digital concept and build consistent and workable frameworks. Then the simple tools can follow.

 

The digital thread according to GE

In my earlier posts, I have explored the incompatibility between current PLM practices and future needs for digital PLM.  Digital PLM is one of the terms I am using for future concepts. Actually, in a digital enterprise, system borders become vague, it is more about connected platforms and digital services. Current PLM practices can be considered as Coordinated where the future for PLM is aiming at Connected information. See also Coordinated or Connected.

Moving from current PLM practices towards modern ways of working is a transformation for several reasons.

  • First, because the scope of current PLM implementation is most of the time focusing on engineering. Digital PLM aims to offer product information services along the product lifecycle.
  • Second, because the information in current PLM implementations is mainly stored in documents – drawings still being the leading In advanced PLM implementations BOM-structures, the EBOM and MBOM are information structures, again relying on related specification documents, either CAD- or Office files.

So let’s review the transformation challenges related to moving from current PLM to Digital PLM

Current PLM – document management

The first PLM implementations were most of the time advanced cPDM implementations, targeting sharing CAD models and drawings. Deployments started with the engineering department with the aim to centralize product design information. Integrations with mechanical CAD systems had the major priority including engineering change processes. Multidisciplinary collaboration enabled by introducing the concept of the Engineering Bill of Materials (EBOM).  Every discipline, mechanical, electrical and sometimes (embedded) software teams, linked their information to the EBOM. The product release process was driven by the EBOM. If the EBOM is released, the product is fully specified and can be manufactured.

Although people complain implementing PLM is complex, this type of implementation is relatively simple. The only added mental effort you are demanding from the PLM user is to work in a structured way and have a more controlled (rigid) way of working compared to a directory structure approach. For many people, this controlled way of working is already considered as a limitation of their freedom. However, companies are not profitable because their employees are all artists working in full freedom. They become successful if they can deliver in some efficient way products with consistent quality. In a competitive, global market there is no room anymore for inefficient ways of working as labor costs are adding to the price.

The way people work in this cPDM environment is coordinated, meaning based on business processes the various stakeholders agree to offer complete sets of information (read: documents) to contribute to the full product definition. If all contributions are consistent depends on the time and effort people spent to verify and validate its consistency. Often this is not done thoroughly and errors are only discovered during manufacturing or later in the field. Costly but accepted as it has always been the case.

Next Step PLM – coordinated document management / item-centric

When the awareness exists that data needs to flow through an organization is a consistent manner, the next step of PLM implementations come into the picture. Here I would state we are really talking about PLM as the target is to share product data outside the engineering department.

The first logical extension for PLM is moving information from an EBOM view (engineering) towards a Manufacturing Bill of Materials (MBOM) view. The MBOM is aiming to represent the manufacturing definition of the product and becomes a placeholder to link with the ERP system and suppliers directly. Having an integrated EBOM / MBOM process with your ERP system is already a big step forward as it creates an efficient way of working to connect engineering and manufacturing.

As all the information is now related to the EBOM and MBOM, this approach is often called the item-centric approach. The Item (or Part) is the information carrier linked to its specification documents.

 

Managing the right version of the information in relation to a specific version of the product is called configuration management. And the better you have your configuration management processes in place, the more efficient and with high confidence you can deliver and support your products.  Configuration Management is again a typical example where we are talking about a coordinated approach to managing products and documents.

Implementing this type of PLM requires already more complex as it needs different disciplines to agree on a collective process across various (enterprise) systems. ERP integrations are technically not complicated, it is the agreement on a leading process that makes it difficult as the holistic view is often failing.

Next, next step PLM – the Digital Thread

Continuing reading might give you the impression that the next step in PLM evolution is the digital thread. And this can be the case depending on your definition of the digital thread. Oleg Shilovitsky recently published an article: Digital Thread – A new catchy phrase to replace PLM? related to his observations from  ConX18 illustrate that there are many viewpoints to this concept. And of course, some vendors promote their perfect fit based on their unique definition. In general, I would classify the idea of Digital Thread in two approaches:

The Digital Thread – coordinated

In the Digital Thread – coordinated approach we are not revolutionizing the way of working in an enterprise. In the coordinated approach, the PLM environment is connected with another overlay, combining data from various disciplines into an environment where the dependencies are traceable. This can be the Aras overlay approach (here explained by Oleg Shilovitsky), the PTC Navigate approach or others, using a new extra layer to connect the various discipline data and create traceability in a more or less non-intrusive way. Similar concepts, but less intrusive can be done through Business Intelligence applications, although they are more read-only than a system approach.

The Digital Thread – connected

In the Digital Thread – connected approach the idea is that information is stored in an extreme granular way and shared among disciplines. Instead of the coordinated way, where every discipline can have their own data sources, here the target is to be data-driven (neutral/standard formats). I described this approach in the various aspects of the model-based enterprise. The challenge of a connected enterprise is the standardized data definition to make it available for all stakeholders.

Working in a connected enterprise is extremely difficult, in particular for people educated in the old-fashioned ways of working. If you have learned to work with shared documents, like Google Docs or Office documents in sharing mode, you will understand the mental change you have to go through. Continuous sharing the information instead of waiting until you feel your part is complete.

In the software domain, companies are used to work this way and to integrate data in a continuous stream. We have to learn to apply these practices also to a complete product lifecycle, where the product consists of hardware and software.

Still, the connect way if working is the vision where digital enterprises should aim for as it dramatically reduces the overhead of information conversion, overhead, and ambiguity. How we will implement in the context of PLM / Product Innovation is a learning process, where we should not be blocked by our echo chamber as Jan Bosch states it in his latest post: Don’t Get Stuck In Your Company’s Echo Chamber

Jan Bosch is coming from the software world, promoting the Software-Centric Systems conference SC2 as a conference to open up your mind. I recommend you to take part in upcoming PLM related events: CIMdata’s PLM roadmap Europe combined with PDT Europe on 24/25th October in Stuttgart, or if you are living in the US there is the upcoming PI PLMx CHICAGO 2018 on Nov 5/6th.

Conclusion

Learning and understanding are crucial and takes time. A digital transformation has many aspects to learn – keep in mind the difference between coordinated (relatively easy) and connected (extraordinarily challenging but promising). Unfortunate there is no populist way to become digital.

Note:
If you want to continue learning, please read this post – The True Impact of Industry 4.0 Revealed  -and its internal links to reference information from Martijn Dullaart – so relevant.

 

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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.

PLM_profI believe that PLM with its roots in automotive, aerospace and discrete manufacturing is accepted, as a vital technology / business strategy to make a company more competitive and guarantee its future. Writing this sentence feels like marketing, trying to generalize a lot of information in one sentence.

Some questions you might raise:

  • Is PLM a technology or business strategy?
  • Are companies actually implementing PLM or is it extended PDM?
  • Does PLM suit every company?

My opinion:

  • PLM is a combination of technology (you need the right IT-infrastructure / software to start from) and the implementation is a business approach (it should be a business transformation). PLM vendors will tell you that it is their software that makes it happen; implementers have their preferred software and methodology to differentiate themselves. It is not a single simple solution. Interesting enough Stephen Porter wrote about this topic this week in the Zero Wait-State blog:  Applying the Goldilocks Principle to PLM – finding balance. Crucial for me is that PLM is about sharing data (not only/just documents) with status and context. Sharing data is the only way to (information) silos in a company and provide to each person a more adequate understanding.
  • Most companies that claim to have implemented PLM have implemented just extended PDM, which means on top of the CAD software add other engineering data and processes. This was also mentioned by Prof Eigner in his speech during PLM Innovation early this year in Munich. PLM is still considered by the management as an engineering tool, and at the other side they have ERP. Again sharing all product IP with all its iterations and maturity (PLM) and pushing execution to ERP is still a unique approach for more traditional companies. See also a nice discussion from my blog buddy Oleg: BOM: Apple of Discord between PLM and ERP?
  • Not every business needs the full PLM capabilities that are available. Larger companies might focus more on standardized processes across the enterprise; smaller companies might focus more on sharing the data. There is to my opinion no system that suits all. One point they are all dreaming of: usability and as in small companies PLM decisions are more bottom-up the voice of the user is stronger here. Therefore I might stick to my old post PLM for the mid-market: mission impossible ?

However, the title of this blog post is: PLM for all industries. Therefore, I will not go deeper on the points above. Topics for the future perhaps.

PLM for all industries ?

This time I will share with you some observations and experiences based on interactions with companies that not necessary think about PLM. I have been working with these companies the past five years. Some with some success, some still in an awareness phase. I strongly believe these companies described below would benefit a lot from PLM technology and practices.

Apparel

imageIn July, I wrote about my observations during the Product Innovation Apparel event in London. I am not a fashion expert and here I discovered that, in a sense, PLM in Apparel is much closer to the modern vision of PLM than classic PLM. They depend on data sharing in a global model, disciplines and suppliers driven by their crazy short time to market and the vast amount of interactions in a short time; otherwise they would not be competitive anymore and disappear.

This figure represented modern PLM

PLM in Apparel is still in the early stages. The classic PLM vendors try to support Apparel with their traditional systems and are often too complicated or not user-friendly enough. The niche PLM vendors in Apparel have a more lightweight entry level, simple and easy, sometimes cloud-based. They miss the long-term experience of building all the required technology, scalability and security, in their products, assuring future upgradability. For sure this market will evolve, and we will see consolidation

Owner / Operators nuclear

nuclearFor s nuclear plants it is essential to have configuration management in place, which in short would mean that the plant operates (as-built) is the same as specified by its specifications (as-designed). In fact this is hardly the case. A lot of legacy data in paper or legacy document archives do not provide the actual state. They are stored and duplicated disconnected from each other. In parallel the MRO system (SAP PM / Maximo are major systems) runs in an isolated environment only dealing with actual data (that might be validated).

In the past 5 years I have been working and talking with owners/operators from nuclear plants to discuss and improve support for their configuration management. frog

The main obstacles encountered are:

  • The boiling frog syndrome –it is not that bad
    (and even if it is bad we won´t tell you)
  • An IT-department that believes configuration management is about document management – they set the standards for the tools (Documentum / SharePoint – no business focus)
  • An aging generation, very knowledgeable in their current work, but averse for new ways of information management and highly demanding to keep the status quo till they retire
  • And the “If it works, do not touch it” – approach somehow related to the boiling frog syndrome.

Meanwhile business values for a change using a PLM infrastructure have been identified. With a PLM environment completing the operational environment, an owner/operator can introduce coordinated changes to the plant, reduce downtime and improve quality of information for the future. One week less down-time could provide a benefit of million Euros.

No_roiHowever with the current, lowering electricity costs in Europe, the profits for owner/operators are under pressure and they are not motivated to invest at this time in a long term project. First satisfy the shareholders Sad smile

 

 

Owner / Operators other process oriented plants

almIn the nuclear industry safety is priority one and required by the authorities. Therefore, there is a high pressure for data quality and configuration management. For other industries the principles remain the same. Here, depending on the plant lifetime, criticality of downtime and risk for catastrophes, the interest for a PLM based plant information management platform varies. The main obstacles here are similar to the nuclear ones:frog

  • Even a bigger boiling frog as we have SAP PM – so what else do we need
  • IT standardizes on a document management solution
  • The aging workforce and higher labor costs are not identified yet as threats for the future looking towards competing against cheaper and modern plants in the upcoming markets – the boiling frog again.

The benefits for a PLM based infrastructure are less direct visible, still ROI estimates predict that after two years a break-even can be reached. Too long for share holder driven companies L although in 10 years time the plant might need to close due to inefficiencies.

 

EPC companies

epcEPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) and EPCIC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Installation and Commissioning) companies exist in many industries: nuclear new build, oil & gas, Chemical, Civil construction, Building Construction.

They all work commissioned for owner / operators and internally they are looking for ways to improve their business performance. To increase their margin they need to work more efficient, faster and often global, to make use of the best (cheaper) resources around the world. A way to improve quality and margin is through more reuse and modularization. This is a mind-shift as most EPC companies have a single project / single customer per project in mind, as every owner/operator also pushes their own standards and formats.

knowledgeIn addition, when you start to work on reuse and knowledge capturing, you need to have a way to control and capture your IP. And EPCs want to protect their IP and not expose too much to their customers to maintain a dependency on their solution.

The last paragraph should sound familiar to the challenges automotive and aerospace supply chains had to face 15 years ago and were the reasons why PLM was introduced. Why do EPC companies not jump on PLM?

  • They have their home-grown systems – hard to replace as everyone likes their own babies (even when they reach adolescence or retirement symptoms)
  • Integrated process thinking needs to be developed instead of departmental thinking
  • As they are project-centric, an innovation strategy can only be budgeted inside a huge project, where they can write-off the investment to their customer project. However this makes them less competitive in their bid – so let´s not do it
  • Lack of data and exchange standards. Where in the automotive and aerospace industry CATIA was the driving 3D standard, such a standard and 3D is not available yet for other industries. ISO 15926 for the process industry is reasonable mature, BIM for the construction industry is still in many countries in its discovery phase.
  • Extreme lose supplier relations compared to automotive and aerospace, which combined with the lack of data exchanges standards contributes to low investments in information infrastructure.

Conclusion

In the past 5 years I have been focusing on explaining the significance of PLM infrastructure and concepts to the industries mentioned before. The value lies on sharing data, instead of working in silos. If needed do not call it PLM, call it online collaboration, controlled Excel on the cloud.
Modern web technologies and infrastructure make this all achievable; however it is a business change to start sharing. Beside Excel the boiling frog syndrome dominates everywhere.

  • What do you think?
  • Do you have examples of companies that took advantage of modern PLM capabilities to change their business?

I am looking forward to learn more.

Below some links that are relevant for this post as a reference:

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