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observationThe last two weeks I spent around two events for the automotive industry. First the SAE event in Chicago and this week the COE Automotive in Detroit to give a lecture around the future possibilities of a supply chain in a web 2.0 (PLM 2.0) world. For many of the lower tiers suppliers in the automotive supply chain this seems to be something far from their daily business. I guess one of the issues here is, that these companies are used to solve their problems per department, without having a corporate vision or strategy where the company should be in five years from now.

And here I see many challenges (in Europe we would call them possible problems). As the smaller mid-market companies try to solve their problems per department, you will find all around the world bright engineering managers who conclude that their company needs PLM. As they understand all the engineering challenges, they understand that in order to really understand what their department is doing, they should work in a different way than file based.

This is what companies working file-based think

When working file based companies rely on the following main contributors for getting information (in order of importance)

  • we do not need these expensive solutions for PLM etc …
  • the most important is the experienced engineer who knows what has been done in the past and where to possible find it
  • the company directory structure which allows everyone to find and store data related to a customer, project or product
  • the file name of the designs and documents which ‘exactly’ describes what’s inside the file

You just need to follow this order and you will always find the right information (or be close to it).


..and these are the issues they do not tell you.

  • I guess we really do not know what to do with PLM as we never studied it, what it would be for our company
  • we cannot bypass our experienced engineers – although at a certain moment they will retire, currently they would feel very insecure if we tried to collect their explicit knowledge and make it available for all. They would feel their jobs are less secure
  • there are some issues with this directory structure. Sometime someone deletes or overwrites a file that we needed, and of course we are not sure if all the data we need is really there. We always need to double check with the people to be sure – and sometimes it hurts, but we are used to it
  • or people are creative that only they understand what is in their own files and even from the file name, which can be long, we do not fully understand where it fits, what is the status and where is it also used.

Seeing these two opposite messages, we need to understand what are the challenges for these companies in the near future.

Challenges for these companies

The current workforce is aging all around the world – i recently read that although many believe China is the next promising country for the future, due the the one-child-per-family strategy in the past, they also will face in the near future (10-20 years) the same problems Europe and the US will have.

A huge part of the population will retire and especially in Europe and the US with this retirement a lot of real knowledge will disappear. The new generation will come with different skills, a different background and attitude to engineering. And due to the difference in attitude there is little or no communication between these generations.

So if you are an (aging) manager in a mid-market company in an automotive supply chain, you have two options to react:

  • you become fatalistic and believe that the new world is bad and you cling as long as possible to the old habits you are familiar with


  • or you understand every few decades a change in the way of working is required, which means moving away for the traditional knowledgeable people with their files to an internal, knowledge sharing environment where everyone has access to understand what exists and in which status it is.

So only one conclusion

 Survival for the future requires a change in the way these companies are working. It reminds me of the boiling frog story. We do not see the world is changing around us, till it is too late. I guess human beings should be more clever than frogs and they are able to collect information from outside their ‘pan’. 

Working with ENOVIA SmarTeam solutions, in particular the Design Express solution, I learned that this solution is an excellent entry point to move away from file based work towards data management.

Still not convinced ? Challenge me by adding a comment (public exposure)  or sent me a private email for a one-to-one discussion

As there are many engineering managers who believe that they understood the issue and started to implement an implement a PLM solution in their department, I will address in my next post they challenges they face with this bottom-up approach to convince the company PLM is unavoidable

Below just a goodie to enjoy



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