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After all my writing about The road to model-based and connected PLM, a topic that interests me significantly is the positive contribution real PLM can have to sustainability.

To clarify this statement, I have to explain two things:

  • First, for me, real PLM is a strategy that concerns the whole product lifecycle from conception, creation, usage, and decommissioning.

Real PLM to articulate the misconception that PLM is considered as an engineering infrastructure of even system. We discussed this topic related to this post (7 easy tips nobody told you about PLM adoption) from my SharePLM peers.

  • Second, sustainability should not be equated with climate change, which gets most of the extreme attention.

However, the discussion related to climate change and carbon gas emissions drew most of the attention. Also, recently it seemed that the COP26 conference was only about reducing carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, reducing carbon gas emissions has become a political and economic discussion in many countries. As I am not a climate expert, I will follow the conclusions of the latest IIPC report.

However, I am happy to participate in science-based discussions, not in conversations about failing statistics (lies, damned lies and statistics) or the mixture of facts & opinions.

The topic of sustainability is more extensive than climate change. It is about understanding that we live on a limited planet that cannot support the unlimited usage and destruction of its natural resources.

Enough about human beings and emotions, back to the methodology

Why PLM and Sustainability

In the section PLM and Sustainability of the PLM Global Green Alliance website,  we explain the potential of this relation:

The goals and challenges of Product Lifecycle Management and Sustainability share much in common and should be considered synergistic. Where in theory, PLM is the strategy to manage a product along its whole lifecycle, sustainability is concerned not only with the product’s lifecycle but should also address sustainability of the users, industries, economies, environment and the entire planet in which the products operate.

If you read further, you will bump on the term System Thinking. Again there might be confusion here between Systems Thinking and Systems Engineering. Let’s look at the differences

Systems Engineering

For Systems Engineering, I use the traditional V-shape to describe the process. Starting from the Needs on the left side, we have a systematic approach to come to a solution definition at the bottom. Then going upwards on the right side, we validate step by step that the solution will answer the needs.

The famous Boeing “diamond” diagram shows the same approach, complementing the V-shape with a virtual mirrored V-shape. In this way providing insights in all directions between a virtual world and a physical world. This understanding is essential when you want to implement a virtual twin of one of the processes/solutions.

Still, systems engineering starts from the needs of a group of stakeholders. So it works to the best technical and beneficial solution, most of the time only measured by money.

System Thinking

The image below from the Ellen McArthur Foundation is an example of system thinking. But, as you can see, it is not only about delivering a product.

Systems Thinking is a more holistic approach to bringing products to the market. It is about how we deliver a product to the market and what happens during its whole life cycle. The drivers for system thinking, therefore, are not only focusing on product performance at the most economical price, but we also take into account the impact on resource extraction in the world, the environmental impact during its active life (more and more regulated) and ultimately also how to minimize the waste to the eco-system. This means more recycling or reuse.

If you want to read more about systems thinking more professionally, read this blog post from the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) related to Systems Thinking: A beginning conversation.

Product as a Service (PaaS)

To ensure more responsibility for the product lifecycle, one of the European Green Deal aspects is promoting Product as a Service. There is already a trend towards products as a service, and I mentioned Ken Webster’s presentation at the PLM Roadmap & PDT Fall 2021 conference: In the future, you will own nothing, and you will be happy.

Because if we can switch to such an economy, the manufacturer will have complete control over the product’s lifecycle and its environmental impact. The manufacturer will be motivated to deliver product upgrades, create repairable products instead of dumping old or broken stuff because this is cheap for selling. PaaS brings opportunities for manufacturers, like greater customer loyalty, but also pushes manufacturers to stay away from so-called “greenwashing”. They become fully responsible for the entire lifecycle.

A different type of growth

The concept of Product as a Service is not something that typical manufacturing companies endorse. Instead, it requires them to restructure their business and restructure their product.

Delivering a Product as a Service requires a fast feedback loop between the products in the field and R&D deciding on improving or adding new features.

In traditional manufacturing companies, the service department is far from engineering due to historical reasons. However, with the digitization of our product information and connected products, we should be able to connect all stakeholders related to our products, even our customers.

A few years ago, I was working with a company that wanted to increase their service revenue by providing maintenance as a service on their products on-site. The challenge they had was that the total installation delivered at the customer site was done through projects. There was some standard equipment in their solution; however, ultimately, the project organization delivered the final result, and product information was scattered all around the company.

There was some resistance when I proposed creating an enterprise product information backbone (a PLM infrastructure) with aligned processes.  It would force people to work upfront in a coordinated manner. Now with the digitization of operations, this is no longer a point of discussion.

In this context, I will participate on December 7th in an open panel discussion Creating a Digital Enterprise: What are the Challenges and Where to Start? As part of the PI DX spotlight series. I invite you to join this event if you are interested in hearing various digital enterprise viewpoints.

Doing both?

As companies cannot change overnight, the challenge is to define a transformation path. The push for transformation for sure will come from governments and investors in the following decades. Therefore doing nothing is not a wise strategy.

Early this year, the Boston Consultancy Group published this interesting article: The Next Generation of Climate Innovation, showing different pathways for companies.

A trend that they highlighted was the fact that Shareholder Returns over the past ten years are negative for the traditional Oil & Gas and Construction industries (-18 till -6 %). However, the big tech and first generation of green industries provide high shareholders returns (+30 %), and the latest green champions are moving in that direction. In this way, promoting investors will push companies to become greener.

The article talks about the known threat of disrupters coming from outside. Still, it also talks about the decisions companies can make to remain relevant. Either you try to reduce the damage, or you have to innovate. (Click on the image below on the left).

As described before, innovating your business is probably the most challenging part. In particular, if you have many years of history in your industry. Processes and people are engraved in an almost optimal manner (for now).

An example of reducing the damage could be, for example, what is happening in the steel industry. As making steel requires a lot of (cheap) energy, this industry is powered by burning coal. Therefore, an innovation to reduce the environmental impact would be to redesign the process with green energy as described in this Swedish example: The first fossil-free production of steel.

On December 9th, I will discuss both strategies with Henrik Hulgaard from Configit. We will discuss how Product Lifecycle Management and Configuration Lifecycle Management can play a role in the future. Feel free to subscribe to this session and share your questions. Click on the image to see the details.

Note:  you might remember Henrik from my earlier post this year in January: PLM and Product Configuration Management (CLM)

Conclusion

Sustainability is a topic that will be more and more relevant for all of us, locally and globally. Real PLM, covering the whole product lifecycle, preferably data-driven, allows companies to transform their current business to future sustainable business. Systems Thinking is the overarching methodology we have to learn – let’s discuss

When I started this series in July, I expected to talk mostly about new ways of working, enabled through a data-driven and model-based approach. However, when analyzing what is needed for such a future (part 3), it became apparent that many of these new ways of working are dependent on technology.

From coordinated to connected sounds like a business change;

however, it all depends on technology. And here I have to thank Marc Halpern (Gartner’s Research VP, Engineering and Design Technologies)  again, who came with this brilliant scheme below:

So now it is time to address the last point from my starting post:

Configuration Management requires a new approach. The current methodology is very much based on hardware products with labor-intensive change management. However, the world of software products has different configuration management and change procedures. Therefore, we need to merge them into a single framework. Unfortunately, this cannot be the BOM framework due to the dynamics in software changes.

Configuration management at this moment

PLM and CM are often considered overlapping. My March 2019 post: PLM and Configuration Management – a happy marriage? shares some thoughts related to this point

Does having PLM or PDM installed mean you have implemented CM? There is this confusion because revision management is considered the same as configuration management. Read my March 2020 post: What the FFF is happening? Based on a vivid discussion launched by  Yoann Maingon, CEO and founder of Ganister, an example of a modern, graph database-based, flexible PLM solution.

To hear it from a CM-side,  I discussed it with Martijn Dullaart in my February 2021 post: PLM and Configuration Management. We also zoomed in on CM2 in this post as a methodology.

Martijn is the Lead Architect for Enterprise Configuration Management at ASML (Our Dutch national pride) and chairperson of the Industry 4.0 committee of the Integrated Process Excellence (IPX) Congress.

As mentioned before in a previous post (part 6), he will be speaking at the PLM Roadmap & PDT Fall conference starting this upcoming week.

In this post, I want to talk about the CM future. For understanding the current situation, you can find a broad explanation here on Wikipedia. Have a look at CM in the context of the product lifecycle, ensuring that the product As-Specified and As-Designed information matches the As-Built and As-Operated product information.

A mismatch or inconsistency between these artifacts can lead to costly errors, particularly in later lifecycle stages. CM originated from the Aerospace and Defense industry for that reason. However, companies in other industries might have implemented CM practices too. Either due to regulations or thanks to the understanding that configuration mistakes can cause significant damage to the company.

Historically configuration management addresses the needs of “slow-moving” products. For example, the design of an airplane could take years before manufacturing started. Tracking changes and ensuring consistency of all referenced datasets was often a manual process.

On purpose, I wrote “referenced datasets,” as the information was not connected in a single environment most of the time. The identifier of a dataset ( an item or a document) was the primary information carrier used for mentally connecting other artifacts to keep consistency.

The Institute of Process Excellence (IPX) has been one of the significant contributors to configuration management methodology. They have been providing (and still offer) CM2 training and certification.

As mentioned before, PLM vendors or implementers suggest that a PLM system could fully support Configuration Management. However, CM is more than change management, release management and revision management.

As the diagram from Martijn Dullaart shows, PLM is one facet of configuration management.

Of course, there are also (a few) separate CM tools focusing on the configuration management process. CMstat’s EPOCH CM tool is an example of such software. In addition, on their website, you can find excellent articles explaining the history and their future thoughts related to CM.

The future will undoubtedly be a connected, model-based, software-driven environment. Naturally, therefore, configuration management processes will have to change. (Impressive buzz word sentence, still I hope you get the message).

From coordinated to connected has a severe impact on CM. Let’s have a look at the issues.

Configuration Management – the future

The transition to a data-driven and model-based infrastructure has raised the following questions:

  • How to deal with the granularity of data – each dataset needs to be validated. For example, a document (a collection of datasets) needs to be validated in the document-based approach. How to do this efficiently?
  • The behavior of a product (or system) will more and more dependent on software. Product CM practices have been designed for the hardware domain; now, we need a mix of hardware and software CM practices.
  • Due to the increased complexity of products (or systems) and the rapid changes due to software versions, how do we guarantee the As-Operated product is still matching the As-Designed / As-Certified definitions.

I don’t have answers to these questions. I only share observations and trends I see in my actual world.

Granularity of data

The concept of datasets has been discussed in my post (part 6). Now it is about how to manage the right sets of connected data.

The image on the left, borrowed from Erik Herzog’s presentation at the PDM Roadmap & PDT Fall conference in 2020, is a good illustration of the challenge.

At that time, Erik suggested that OSLC could be the enabler of a digital CM backbone for an enterprise. Therefore, it was a pleasure to see Erik providing an update at the yearly OSLC Fest conference this week.

You can find the agenda and Erik’s presentation here on day 2.

OSLC as a framework seems to be a good candidate for supporting modern CM scenarios. It allows a company to build full traceability between all relevant artifacts (if digital available). I can see the beauty of the technical infrastructure.

Still, it is about people and processes first. Therefore, I am curious to learn from my readers who believe and experiment with such a federated infrastructure.

More software

Traditional working companies might believe that software should be treated as part of the Bill of Materials. In this theory, you treat software code as a part, with a part number and revision. In this way, you might believe configuration management practices do not have to change. However, there are some fundamental differences in why we should decouple hardware and software.

First, for the same hardware solution, there might be a whole collection of valid software codes. Just like your computer. How many valid software codes, even from the same application, can you run on this hardware? Managing a computer system and its software through a Bill of Materials is unimaginable.

A computer, of course, is designed for running all kinds of software versions. However, modern products in the field, like cars, machines, electrical devices, all will have a similar type of software-driven flexibility.

For that reason, I believe that companies that deliver software-driven products should design a mechanism to check if the combination of hardware and software is valid. For a computer system, a software mismatch might not be costly or painful; for an industrial system, it might be crucial to ensure invalid combinations can exist. Click on the image to learn more.

Solutions like Configit or pure::variants might lead to a solution. In Feb 2021, I discussed in PLM and Configuration Lifecycle Management with Henrik Hulgaard, the CTO from Configit, the unique features of their solution.

I hope to have a similar post shortly with Pure Systems to understand their added value to configuration management.

Software change management is entirely different from hardware change management. The challenge is to have two different change management approaches under one consistent umbrella without creating needless overhead.

Increased complexity – the digital twin?

With the increased complexity of products and many potential variants of a solution, how can you validate a configuration? Perhaps we should investigate the digital twin concept, with a twin for each instance we want to validate.

Having a complete virtual representation of a product, including the possibility to validate the software behavior on the virtual product, would allow you to run (automated) validation tests to certify and later understand a product in the field.

No need for inspection on-site or test and fix upgrades in the physical world. Needed for space systems for sure, but why not for every system in the long term. When we are able to define and maintain a virtual twin of our physical product (on-demand), we can validate.

I learned about this concept at the 2020 Digital Twin conference in the Netherlands. Bart Theelen from Canon Production Printing explained that they could feed their simulation models with actual customer data to simulate and analyze the physical situation. In some cases, it is even impossible to observe the physical behavior. By tuning the virtual environment, you might understand what happens in the physical world.

An eye-opener and an advocate for the model-based approach. Therefore, I am looking forward to the upcoming PLM Roadmap & PDT Fall conference. Hopefully, Martijn Dullaart will share his thoughts on combining CM and working in a model-based environment. See you there?

Conclusion

Finally, we have reached in this series the methodology part, particularly the one related to configuration management and traceability in a very granular, digital environment.  

After the PLM Roadmap & PDT fall conference, I plan to follow up with three thought leaders on this topic: Martijn Dullaart (ASML), Maxime Gravel (Moog) and Lisa Fenwick (CMstat).  What would you ask them?

In my previous post, I discovered that my header for this series is confusing. Although a future implementation of system lifecycle management (SLM/PLM) will rely on models, the most foundational change needed is a technical one to create a data-driven infrastructure for connected ways of working.

My previous article discussed the concept of the dataset, which led to interesting discussions on LinkedIn and in my personal interactions. Also, this time Matthias Ahrens (HELLA) shared again a relevant but very academic article in this context – how to harmonize company information.

For those who want to dive deeper into the concept of connected datasets, read this article: The euBusinessGraph ontology: A lightweight ontology for harmonizing basic company information.

The article illustrates that the topic is relevant for all larger enterprises (and it is not an easy topic).

This time I want to share my thoughts about the two statements from my introductory post, i.e.:

A model-based approach with connected datasets seems to be the way forward. Managing data in documents will become inefficient as they cannot contribute to any digital accelerator, like applying algorithms. Artificial Intelligence relies on direct access to qualified data.

A model-based approach with connected datasets

We discussed connected datasets in the previous post; now, let’s explore why models and datasets are related. In the traditional CAD-centric PLM domain, most people will associate the word model with a CAD model, to be more precise, the 3D CAD Model. However, there are many other types of models used related to product development, delivery and operations.

A model can be a:

Physical Model

  • A smaller-scale object for the first analysis, e.g., a city or building model, an airplane model

Conceptual Model

  • A conceptual model describes the entities and their relations, e.g., a Process Flow Diagram (PFD)
  • A mathematical model describes a system concept using a mathematical language, e.g., weather or climate models. Modelica and MATLAB would fall in this category
  • A CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) or 3D CAD model is probably the most associated model in the mind of traditional PLM practitioners
  • Functional and Logical Models describing the services and components of a system are crucial in an MBSE

Operational Model

  • A model providing performance analysis based on (real-time) data coming from selected data sources. It could be an operational business model, an asset performance model; even my Garmin’s training performance model is such an operating model.

The list of all models above is not extensive nor academically defined. Moreover, some model term definitions might overlap, e.g., where would we classify software models or manufacturing models?

All models are a best-so-far approach to describing reality. Based on more accurate data from observations or measurements, the model comes closer to what happens in reality.

A model and its data

Never blame the model when there is a difference between what the model predicts and the observed reality. It is still a model.  That’s why we need feedback loops from the actual physical world to the virtual world to fine-tune the model.

Part of what we call Artificial Intelligence is nothing more than applying algorithms to a model. The more accurate data available, the more “intelligent” the artificial intelligence solution will be.

By using data analysis complementary to the model, the model may get better and better through self-learning. Like our human brain, it starts with understanding the world (our model) and collecting experiences (improving our model).

There are two points I would like to highlight for this paragraph:

  • A model is never 100 % the same as reality – so don’t worry about deviations. There will always be a difference between virtual predicted and physical measured – most of the time because reality has much more influencing parameters.
  • The more qualified data we use in the model, the closer to reality – so focus on accurate (and the right) data for your model. Although, as most of the time, it is impossible to fully model a system, focus on the most significant data sources.

The ultimate goal: THE DIGITAL TWIN

The discussion related to data-driven and the usage of models might feel abstract and complex (and that’s the case). However the term “digital twin” is well known and even used in board rooms.

The great benefits of a digital twin for business operations and for sustainability are promoted by many software vendors and consultancy firms.

My statement and reason for this series of blog posts: Digital Twins do not run on documents, you need to have a data-driven, model-based infrastructure to efficiently benefit from digital twin concepts.

Unfortunate a reliable and sustainable implementation of a digital twin requires more than software – it is a learning journey to connect the right data to the right model.
A puzzle every company has to solve as there is no 100 percent blueprint at this time.

Are Low Code platforms the answer?

I mentioned the importance of accurate data. Companies have different systems or even platforms managing enterprise data. The digital dream is that by combining datasets from different systems and platforms, we can provide to any user the needed information in real-time. My statement from my introductory post was:

I don’t believe in Low-Code platforms that provide ad-hoc solutions on demand. The ultimate result after several years might be again a new type of spaghetti. On the other hand, standardized interfaces and protocols will probably deliver higher, long-term benefits. Remember: Low code: A promising trend or a Pandora’s Box?

Let’s look into some of the low-code platform messages mentioned by Low-Code advocates:

You will have an increasingly hard time finding developers to keep up with global app development demands (reason #1 for PEGA)

This statement reminded me of the early days of SmarTeam implementations. With a Data model Wizard, a Form Designer, and a Visual Basic COM API, you could create any kind of data management application with SmarTeam. By using its built-in behaviors for document lifecycle management, item lifecycle management, and CAD integrations combined with easy customizations.

The sky was the limit to satisfy end users.  No need for an experienced partner or to be a skilled programmer (this was 2003+). SmarTeam was a low-code platform the marketing department would say now.

A lot of my activities between 2003 and 2010 were related fixing the problems related to flexibility,  making sense (again) of customizations.  I wrote about this in a 2015 post: The importance of a (PLM) data model sharing the experiences of “fixing” issues created to flexibility.

Think first

The challenge is that an enthusiastic team creates a (low code) solution rapidly. Immediate success is celebrated by the people involved. However, the future impact of this solution is often forgotten – we did the job,  right?

Documentation and a broader visibility are often lacking when implementing such a solution.

For example, suppose your product data is going to be consumed by another app. In that case, you need to make sure that the information you consume is accurate. On the other hand, perhaps the information was valid when you created the app.

However, if your friendly co-worker has moved on to another job and someone with different data standards becomes responsible for the data you consume, the reliability might fail. So how do you guarantee its quality?

Easy tools have often led to spaghetti, starting from Clipper (the old days), Visual Basic (the less old days) to highly customizable systems (like Aras is promoting) and future low-code platforms (and Aras is there again).

However, the strength of being highly flexible is also the weaknesses if not managed and understood correctly. In particular, in a digital enterprise architecture, you need skilled people who guarantee a reliable anchorage of the solution.

The HBR article When Low-Code/No-Code Development Works — and When It Doesn’t mentions the same point:

There are great benefits from LC/NC software development, but management challenges as well. Broad use of these tools institutionalizes the “shadow IT phenomenon, which has bedeviled IT organizations for decades — and could make the problem much worse if not appropriately governed. Citizen developers tend to create applications that don’t work or scale well, and then they try to turn them over to IT. Or the person may leave the company, and no one knows how to change or support the system they developed.

The fundamental difference: from coordinated to connected

For the moment, I remain skeptical about the low-code hype, because I have seen this kind of hype before. The most crucial point companies need to understand is that the coordinated world and the connected world are incompatible.

Using new tools based on old processes and existing data is not a digital transformation. Instead, a focus on value streams and their needed (connected) data should lead to the design of a modern digital enterprise, not the optimization and connectivity between organizational siloes.
Before buying a tool (a medicine) to reduce the current pains, imagine your future ways of working, discover what is possible with your existing infrastructure and identify the gaps.

Next, you need to analyze if these gaps are so significant that it requires a technology change. Probably it does, as historically, systems were not designed to share data horizontally in an organization.

In this context, have a look at Lionel Grealou’s s article for Engineering.com:
Data Readiness in the new age of digital collaboration.

Conclusion

We discussed the crucial relation between models and data. Models have only value if they acquire the right and accurate data (exercise 1).

Next, even the simplest development platforms, like low-code platforms, require brains and a long-term strategy (exercise 2) – nothing is simple at this moment in transformational times.  

The next and final post in this series will focus on configuration management – a new approach is needed. I don’t have the answers, but I will share some thoughts

A recommended event and an exciting agenda and a good place to validate and share your thoughts.

I will be there and look forward to meeting you at this conference (unfortunate still virtually)

This week I attended the SCAF conference in Jonkoping. SCAF is an abbreviation of the Swedish CATIA User Group. First of all, I was happy to be there as it was a “physical” conference, having the opportunity to discuss topics with the attendees outside the presentation time slot.

It is crucial for me as I have no technical message. Instead, I am trying to make sense of the future through dialogues. What is sure is that the future will be based on new digital concepts, completely different from the traditional approach that we currently practice.

My presentation, which you can find here on SlideShare, was again zooming in on the difference between a coordinated approach (current) and a connected approach (the future).

The presentation explains the concepts of datasets, which I discussed in my previous blog post. Now, I focussed on how this concept can be discovered in the Dassault Systemes 3DExperience platform, combined with the must-go path for all companies to more systems thinking and sustainable products.

It was interesting to learn that the concept of connected datasets like the spider’s web in the image reflected the future concept for many of the attendees.

One of the demos during the conference illustrated that it is no longer about managing the product lifecycle through structures (EBOM/MBOM/SBOM).

Still, it is based on a collection of connected datasets – the path in the spider’s web.

It was interesting to talk with the present companies about their roadmap. How to become a digital enterprise is strongly influenced by their legacy culture and ways of working. Where to start to be connected is the main challenge for all.

A final positive remark.  The SCAF had renamed itself to SCAF (3DX), showing that even CATIA practices no longer can be considered as a niche – the future of business is to be connected.

Now back to the thread that I am following on the series The road to model-based. Perhaps I should change the title to “The road to connected datasets, using models”. The statement for this week to discuss is:

Data-driven means that you need to have an enterprise architecture, data governance and a master data management (MDM) approach. So far, the traditional PLM vendors have not been active in the MDM domain as they believe their proprietary data model is leading. Read also this interesting McKinsey article: How enterprise architects need to evolve to survive in a digital world

Reliable data

If you have been following my story related to PLM transition: From a connected to a coordinated infrastructure might have seen the image below:

The challenge of a connected enterprise is that you want to connect different datasets, defined in various platforms, to support any type of context. We called this a digital thread or perhaps even better framed a digital web.

This is new for most organizations because each discipline has been working most of the time in its own silo. They are producing readable information in neutral files – pdf drawings/documents. In cases where a discipline needs to deliver datasets, like in a PDM-ERP integration, we see IT-energy levels rising as integrations are an IT thing, right?

Too much focus on IT

In particular, SAP has always played the IT card (and is still playing it through their Siemens partnership). Historically, SAP claimed that all parts/items should be in their system. Thus, there was no need for a PDM interface, neglecting that the interface moment was now shifted to the designer in CAD. And by using the name Material for what is considered a Part in the engineering world, they illustrated their lack of understanding of the actual engineering world.

There is more to “blame” to SAP when it comes to the PLM domain, or you can state PLM vendors did not yet understand what enterprise data means. Historically ERP systems were the first enterprise systems introduced in a company; they have been leading in a transactional  “digital” world. The world of product development never has been a transactional process.

SAP introduced the Master Data Management for their customers to manage data in heterogeneous environments. As you can imagine, the focus of SAP MDM was more on the transactional side of the product (also PIM) than on the engineering characteristics of a product.

I have no problem that each vendor wants to see their solution as the center of the world. This is expected behavior. However, when it comes to a single system approach, there is a considerable danger of vendor lock-in, a lack of freedom to optimize your business.

In a modern digital enterprise (to be), the business processes and value streams should be driving the requirements for which systems to use. I was tempted to write “not the IT capabilities”; however, that would be a mistake. We need systems or platforms that are open and able to connect to other systems or platforms. The technology should be there, and more and more, we realize the future is based on connectivity between cloud solutions.

In one of my first posts (part 2), I referred to five potential platforms for a connected enterprise.  Each platform will have its own data model based on its legacy design, allowing it to service its core users in an optimized environment.

When it comes to interactions between two or more platforms, for example, between PLM and ERP, between PLM and IoT, but also between IoT and ERP or IoT and CRM, these interactions should first be based on identified business processes and value streams.

The need for Master Data Management

Defining horizontal business processes and value streams independent of the existing IT systems is the biggest challenge in many enterprises. Historically, we have been thinking around a coordinated way of working, meaning people shifting pieces of information between systems – either as files or through interfaces.

In the digital enterprise, the flow should be leading based on the stakeholders involved. Once people agree on the ideal flow, the implementation process can start.

Which systems are involved, and where do we need a connection between the two systems. Is the relationship bidirectional, or is it a push?

The interfaces need to be data-driven in a digital enterprise; we do not want human interference here, slowing down or modifying the flow. This is the moment Master Data Management and Data Governance comes in.

When exchanging data, we need to trust the data in its context, and we should be able to use the data in another context. But, unfortunately, trust is hard to gain.

I can share an example of trust when implementing a PDM system linked to a Microsoft-friendly ERP system. Both systems we able to have Excel as an interface medium – the Excel columns took care of the data mapping between these two systems.

In the first year, engineers produced the Excel with BOM information and manufacturing engineering imported the Excel into their ERP system. After a year, the manufacturing engineers proposed to automatically upload the Excel as they discovered the exchange process did not need their attention anymore – they learned to trust the data.

How often have you seen similar cases in your company where we insist on a readable exchange format?

When you trust the process(es), you can trust the data. In a digital enterprise, you must assume that specific datasets are used or consumed in different systems. Therefore a single data mapping as in the Excel example won’t be sufficient

Master Data Management and standards?

Some traditional standards, like the ISO 15926 or ISO 10303, have been designed to exchange process and engineering data – they are domain-specific. Therefore, they could simplify your master data management approach if your digitalization efforts are in that domain.

To connect other types of data, it is hard to find a global standard that also encompasses different kinds of data or consumers. Think about the GS1 standard, which has more of a focus on the consumer-side of data management.  When PLM meets PIM, this standard and Master Data Management will be relevant.

Therefore I want to point to these two articles in this context:

How enterprise architects need to evolve to survive in a digital world focusing on the transition of a coordinated enterprise towards a connected enterprise from the IT point of view.  And a recent LinkedIn post, Web Ontology Language as a common standard language for Engineering Networks? by Matthias Ahrens exploring the concepts I have been discussing in this post.

To me, it seems that standards are helpful when working in a coordinated environment. However, in a connected environment, we have to rely on master data management and data governance processes, potentially based on a clever IT infrastructure using graph databases to be able to connect anything meaningful and possibly artificial intelligence to provide quality monitoring.

Conclusion

Standards have great value in exchange processes, which happen in a coordinated business environment. To benefit from a connected business environment, we need an open and flexible IT infrastructure supported by algorithms (AI) to guarantee quality. Before installing the IT infrastructure, we should first have defined the value streams it should support.

What are your experiences with this transition?

In my last post in this series, The road to model-based and connected PLM, I mentioned that perhaps it is time to talk about SLM instead of PLM when discussing popular TLA’s for our domain of expertise. There were not so many encouraging statements for SLM so far.

SLM could mean for me, Solution Lifecycle Management, considering that the company’s offering more and more is a mix of products and services. Or SLM could mean System Lifecycle Management, in that case pushing the idea that more and more products are interacting with the outside world and therefore could be considered systems. Products are (almost) dead.

In addition, I mentioned that the typical product lifecycle and related configuration management concepts need to change as in the SLM domain. There is hardware and software with different lifecycles and change processes.

It is a topic I want to explore further. I am curious to learn more from Martijn Dullaart, who will be lecturing at the  PLM Road map and PDT 2021 fall conference in November. I hope my expectations are not too high, knowing it is a topic of interest for Martijn. Feel free to join this discussion

In this post, it is time to follow up on my third statement related to what data-driven implies:

Data-driven means that we need to manage data in a much more granular manner. We have to look different at data ownership. It becomes more about data accountability per role as the data can be used and consumed throughout the product lifecycle

On this topic, I have a list of points to consider; let’s go through them.

The dataset

In this post, I will often use the term dataset (you are also allowed to write the data set I understood).

A dataset means a predefined number of attributes and values that belong logically to each other. Datasets should be defined based on the purpose and, if possible, designated for a single goal. In this way, they can be stored in a database.

Combined with other datasets, a combination can result in relevant business information. Note a dataset is not only transactional data; a dataset could also describe geometry.

Identify the dataset

In the document-based world, a lot of information could be stored in a single file. In a data-driven world, we should define a dataset that contains a specific piece of information, logically belonging together. If we are more precise, a part would have various related datasets that make up the definition of a part. These definitions could be:

  • Core identification attributes like ID, Name, Type and Status
  • The Type could define a set of linked information. For example, a valve would have different characteristics as a resistor. Through classification, we can link data sets to the core definition of a part.
  • The part can have engineering-specific data (CAD and metadata), manufacturing-specific data, supplier-specific data, and service-specific data. Each of these datasets needs to be defined as a unique element in a data-driven environment
  • CAD is a particular case as most current CAD systems don’t treat geometry as a single dataset. In a file-based world, many other datasets are stored in the file (e.g., engineering or manufacturing details). In a data-driven environment, we want to have the CAD definition to be treated like a dataset. Dassault Systèmes with their CATIA V6 and 3DEXPERIENCE platform or PTC with OnShape are examples of this approach.Having CAD as separate datasets makes sharing and collaboration so much easier, as we can see from these solutions. The concept for CAD stored in a database is not new, and this approach has been used in various disciplines. Mechanical CAD was always a challenge.

Thanks to Moore’s Law (approximate every 2 years, processor power doubled – click on the image for the details) and higher network connection speed, it starts to make sense to have mechanical CAD also stored in a database instead of a file

An important point to consider is a kind of standardization of datasets. In theory, there should be a kind of minimum agreed collection of datasets. Industry standards provide these collections in their dictionary. Whenever you optimize your data model for a connected enterprise, make sure you look first into the standards that apply to your industry.

They might not be perfect or complete, but inventing your own new standard is a guarantee for legacy issues in the future. This remark is also valid for the software vendors in this domain. A proprietary data model might give you a competitive advantage.

Still, in the long term, there is always the need to connect with outside stakeholders.

 

Identify the RACI

To ensure a dataset is complete and well maintained, the concept of RACI could be used. RACI is the abbreviation for Responsible Accountable Consulted and Informed and a simplification of the RASCI Model, see also a responsibility assignment matrix.

In a data-driven environment, there is no data ownership anymore like you have for documents. The main reason that data ownership can no longer be used is that datasets can be consumed by anyone in the ecosystem. No longer only your department or the manufacturing or service department.

Data sets in a data-driven environment bring value when connected with other datasets in applications or dashboards.

A dataset describing the specification attributes of a part could be used in a spare part app and a service app. Of course, the dataset will be used in a different context – still, we need to ensure we can trust the data.

Therefore, per identified dataset, there should be governed by a kind of RACI concept. The RACI concept is a way to break the siloes in an organization.

Identify Inside / outside

There is a lot of fear that a connected, data-driven environment will expose Intellectual Property (IP). It came up in recent discussions. If you like storytelling and technology, read my old SmarTeam colleague Alex Bruskin’s post: The Bilbo Baggins Threat to PLM Assets. Alex has written some “poetry” with a deep technical message behind it.

It is true that if your data set is too big, you have the challenge of exposing IP when connecting this dataset with others. Therefore, when building a data model, you should make it possible to have datasets pure for internal usage and datasets for sharing.

When you use the concept of RACI, the difference should be defined by the I(informed) – is it PLM-data or PIM-data for example?

Tracking relations

Suppose we follow up on the concept of datasets. In that case, it becomes clear that relations between the datasets are as crucial as the dataset. In traditional PLM applications, these relations are often predefined as part of the core data model/

For example, the EBOM parts have relationships between themselves and specification data – see image.

The MBOM parts have links with the supplier data or the manufacturing process.

The prepared relations in a PLM system allow people to implement the system relatively quickly to map their approaches to this taxonomy.

However, traditional PLM systems are based on a document-based (or file-based) taxonomy combined with related metadata. In a model-based and connected environment, we have to get rid of the document-based type of data.

Therefore, the datasets will be more granular, and there is a need to manage exponential more relations between datasets.

This is why you see the graph database coming up as a needed infrastructure for modern connected applications. If you haven’t heard of a graph database yet, you are probably far from technology hypes. To understand the principles of a graph database you can read this article from neo4j:  Graph Databases for Beginners: Why graph technology is the future

As you can see from the 2020 Gartner Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence this technology is at the top of the hype and conceptually the way to manage a connected enterprise. The discussion in this post also demonstrates that besides technology there is a lot of additional conceptual thinking needed before it can be implemented.

Although software vendors might handle the relations and datasets within their platform, the ultimate challenge will be sharing datasets with other platforms to get a connected ecosystem.

For example, the digital web picture shown above and introduced by Marc Halpern at the 2018 PDT conference shows this concept. Recently CIMdata discussed this topic in a similar manner: The Digital Thread is Really a Web, with the Engineering Bill of Materials at Its Center
(Note I am not sure if CIMdata has published a recording of this webinar – if so I will update the link)

Anyway, these are signs that we started to find the right visuals to imagine new concepts. The traditional digital thread pictures, like the one below, are, for me, impressions of the past as they are too rigid and focusing on some particular value streams.

From a distance, it looks like a connected enterprise should work like our brain. We story information on different abstraction levels. We keep incredibly many relations between information elements. As the brain is a biological organ, connections degrade or get lost. Or the opposite other relationships become so strong that we cannot change them anymore. (“I know I am always right”)

Interestingly, the brain does not use the “single source of truth”-concept – there can be various “truths” inside a brain. This makes us human beings with all the good and the harmful effects of that.

As long as we realize there is no single source of truth.

In business and our technological world, we need sometimes the undisputed truth. Blockchain could be the basis for securing the right connections between datasets to guarantee the result is valid. I am curious if blockchain can scale to complex connected situations, although Moore’s Law might ultimately help us here too(if still valid).

The topic is not new – in 2014 I wrote a post with the title: PLM is doomed unless ….   Where I introduced the topic of owning and sharing in the context of the human brain.  In the post, I refer to the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins how tries to analyze what is human-based intelligence and how could we apply it to our technology concepts. Still a fascinating book worth reading if you have the time and opportunity.

 

Conclusion

A data-driven approach requires a more granular definition of information, leading to the concepts of datasets and managing relations between datasets. This is a fundamental difference compared to the past, where we were operating systems with information. Now we are heading towards connected platforms that provide a filtered set of real-time data to act upon.

I am curious to learn more about how people have solved the connected challenges and in what kind of granularity. Let us know!

 

 

After a short summer break with almost no mentioning of the word PLM, it is time to continue this series of posts exploring the future of “connected” PLM. For those who also started with a cleaned-up memory, here is a short recap:

In part 1, I rush through more than 60 years of product development, starting from vellum drawings ending with the current PLM best practice for product development, the item-centric approach.

In part 2, I painted a high-level picture of the future, introducing the concept of digital platforms, which, if connected wisely, could support the digital enterprise in all its aspects. The five platforms I identified are the ERP and CRM platform (the oldest domains).

Next, the MES and PIP platform(modern domains to support manufacturing and product innovation in more detail) and the IoT platform (needed to support connected products and customers).

In part 3, I explained what is data-driven and how data-driven is closely connected to a model-based approach. Here we abandon documents (electronic files) as active information carriers. Documents will remain, however, as reports, baselines, or information containers. In this post, I ended up with seven topics related to data-driven, which I will discuss in upcoming posts.

Hopefully, by describing these topics – and for sure, there are more related topics – we will better understand the connected future and make decisions to enable the future instead of freezing the past.

 

Topic 1 for this post:

Data-driven does not imply, there needs to be a single environment, a single database that contains all information. As I mentioned in my previous post, it will be about managing connected datasets federated. It is not anymore about owned the data; it is about access to reliable data.

 

Platform or a collection of systems?

One of the first (marketing) hurdles to take is understanding what a data platform is and what is a collection of systems that work together, sold as a platform.

CIMdata published in 2017 an excellent whitepaper positioning the PIP (Product Innovation Platform):  Product Innovation Platforms: Definition, Their Role in the Enterprise, and Their Long-Term Viability. CIMdata’s definition is extensive and covers the full scope of product innovation. Of course, you can find a platform that starts from a more focused process.

For example, look at OpenBOM (focus on BOM collaboration), OnShape (focus on CAD collaboration) or even Microsoft 365 (historical, document-based collaboration).

The idea behind a platform is that it provides basic capabilities connected to all stakeholders, inside and outside your company. In addition, to avoid that these capabilities are limited, a platform should be open and able to connect with other data sources that might be either local or central available.

From these characteristics, it is clear that the underlying infrastructure of a platform must be based on a multitenant SaaS infrastructure, still allowing local data to be connected and shielded for performance or IP reasons.

The picture below describes the business benefits of a Product Innovation Platform as imagined by Accenture in 2014

Link to CIMdata’s 2014 commentary of Digital PLM HERE

Sometimes vendors sell their suite of systems as a platform. This is a marketing trick because when you want to add functionality to your PLM infrastructure, you need to install a new system and create or use interfaces with the existing systems, not really a scalable environment.

In addition, sometimes, the collaboration between systems in such a marketing platform is managed through proprietary exchange (file) formats.

A practice we have seen in the construction industry before cloud connectivity became available. However, a so-called end-to-end solution working on PowerPoint implemented in real life requires a lot of human intervention.

 

Not a single environment

There has always been the debate:

“Do I use best-in-class tools, supporting the end-user of the software, or do I provide an end-to-end infrastructure with more generic tools on top of that, focusing on ease of collaboration?”

In the system approach, the focus was most of the time on the best-in-class tools where PLM-systems provide the data governance. A typical example is the item-centric approach. It reflects the current working culture, people working in their optimized siloes, exchanging information between disciplines through (neutral) files.

The platform approach makes it possible to deliver the optimized user interface for the end-user through a dedicated app. Assuming the data needed for such an app is accessible from the current platform or through other systems and platforms.

It might be tempting as a platform provider to add all imaginable data elements to their platform infrastructure as much as possible. The challenge with this approach is whether all data should be stored in a central data environment (preferably cloud) or federated.  And what about filtering IP?

In my post PLM and Supply Chain Collaboration, I described the concept of having an intermediate hub (ShareAspace) between enterprises to facilitate real-time data sharing, however carefully filtered which data is shared in the hub.

It may be clear that storing everything in one big platform is not the future. As I described in part 2, in the end, a company might implement a maximum of five connected platforms (CRM, ERP, PIP, IoT and MES). Each of the individual platforms could contain a core data model relevant for this part of the business. This does not imply there might be no other platforms in the future. Platforms focusing on supply chain collaboration, like ShareAspace or OpenBOM, will have a value proposition too.  In the end, the long-term future is all about realizing a digital tread of information within the organization.

Will we ever reach a perfectly connected enterprise or society? Probably not. Not because of technology but because of politics and human behavior. The connected enterprise might be the most efficient architecture, but will it be social, supporting all humanity. Predicting the future is impossible, as Yuval Harari described in his book:  21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Worth reading, still a collection of ideas.

 

Proprietary data model or standards?

So far, when you are a software vendor developing a system, there is no restriction in how you internally manage your data. In the domain of PLM, this meant that every vendor has its own proprietary data model and behavior.

I have learned from my 25+ years of experience with systems that the original design of a product combined with the vendor’s culture defines the future roadmap. So even if a PLM vendor would rewrite all their software to become data-driven, the ways of working, the assumptions will be based on past experiences.

This makes it hard to come to unified data models and methodology valid for our PLM domain. However, large enterprises like Airbus and Boeing and the major Automotive suppliers have always pushed for standards as they will benefit the most from standardization.

The recent PDT conferences were an example of this, mainly the 2020 Fall conference. Several Aerospace & Defense PLM Action groups reported their progress.

You can read my impression of this event in The weekend after PLM Roadmap / PDT 2020 – part 1 and The next weekend after PLM Roadmap PDT 2020 – part 2.

It would be interesting to see a Product Innovation Platform built upon a data model as much as possible aligned to existing standards. Probably it won’t happen as you do not make money from being open and complying with standards as a software vendor. Still, companies should push their software vendors to support standards as this is the only way to get larger connected eco-systems.

I do not believe in the toolkit approach where every company can build its own data model based on its current needs. I have seen this flexibility with SmarTeam in the early days. However, it became an upgrade risk when new, overlapping capabilities were introduced, not matching the past.

In addition, a flexible toolkit still requires a robust data model design done by experienced people who have learned from their mistakes.

The benefit of using standards is that they contain the learnings from many people involved.

 

Conclusion

I did not like writing this post so much, as my primary PLM focus lies on people and methodology. Still, understanding future technologies is an important point to consider. Therefore, this time a not-so-exciting post. There is enough to read on the internet related to PLM technology; see some of the recent articles below. Enjoy

 

Matthias Ahrens shared:  Integrated Product Lifecycle Management (Google translated from German)

Oleg Shilovitsky wrote numerous articles related to technology –
in this context:
3 Challenges of Unified Platforms and System Locking and
SaaS PLM Acceleration Trends

My previous post introducing the concept of connected platforms created some positive feedback and some interesting questions. For example, the question from Maxime Gravel:

Thank you, Jos, for the great blog. Where do you see Change Management tool fit in this new Platform ecosystem?

is one of the questions I try to understand too. You can see my short comment in the comments here. However, while discussing with other experts in the CM-domain, we should paint the path forward. Because if we cannot solve this type of question, the value of connected platforms will be disputable.

It is essential to realize that a digital transformation in the PLM domain is challenging. No company or vendor has the perfect blueprint available to provide an end-to-end answer for a connected enterprise. In addition, I assume it will take 10 – 20 years till we will be familiar with the concepts.

It takes a generation to move from drawings to 3D CAD. It will take another generation to move from a document-driven, linear process to data-driven, real-time collaboration in an iterative manner.  Perhaps we can move faster, as the Automotive, Aerospace & Defense, and Industrial Equipment industries are not the most innovative industries at this time. Other industries or startups might lead us faster into the future.

Although I prefer discussing methodology, I believe before moving into that area, I need to clarify some more technical points before moving forward. My apologies for writing it in such a simple manner. This information should be accessible for the majority of readers.

What means data-driven?

I often mention a data-driven environment, but what do I mean precisely by that. For me, a data-driven environment means that all information is stored in a dataset that contains a single aspect of information in a standardized manner, so it becomes accessible by outside tools.

A document is not a dataset, as often it includes a collection of datasets. Most of the time, the information it is exposed to is not standardized in such a manner a tool can read and interpret the exact content. We will see that a dataset needs an identifier, a classification, and a status.

An identifier to be able to create a connection between other datasets – traceability or, in modern words, a digital thread.
A classification as the classification identifier will determine the type of information the dataset contains and potential a set of mandatory attributes

A status to understand if the dataset is stable or still in work.

Examples of a data-driven approach – the item

The most common dataset in the PLM world is probably the item (or part) in a Bill of Material. The identifier is the item number (ID + revision if revisions are used). Next, the classification will tell you the type of part it is.

Part classification can be a topic on its own, and every industry has its taxonomy.

Finally, the status is used to identify if the dataset is shareable in the context of other information (released, in work, obsolete), allowing tools to expose only relevant information.

In a data-driven manner, a part can occur in several Bill of Materials – an example of a single definition consumed in other places.

When the part information changes, the accountable person has to analyze the relations to the part, which is easy in a data-driven environment. It is normal to find this functionality in a PDM or ERP system.

When the part would change in a document-driven environment, the effort is much higher.

First, all documents need to be identified where this part occurs. Then the impact of change needs to be managed in document versions, which will lead to other related changes if you want to keep the information correct.

Examples of a data-driven approach – the requirement

Another example illustrating the benefits of a data-driven approach is implementing requirements management, where requirements become individual datasets.  Often a product specification can contain hundreds of requirements, addressing the needs of different stakeholders.

In addition, several combinations of requirements need to be handled by other disciplines, mechanical, electrical, software, quality and legal, for example.

As requirements need to be analyzed and ranked, a specification document would never be frozen. Trade-off analysis might lead to dropping or changing a single requirement. It is almost impossible to manage this all in a document, although many companies use Excel. The disadvantages of Excel are known, in particular in a dynamic environment.

The advantage of managing requirements as datasets is that they can be grouped. So, for example, they can be pushed to a supplier (as a specification).

Or requirements could be linked to test criteria and test cases, without the need to manage documents and make sure you work with them last updated document.

As you will see, also requirements need to have an Identifier (to manage digital relations), a classification (to allow grouping) and a status (in work / released /dropped)

Data-driven and Models – the 3D CAD model

3D PDF Model

When I launched my series related to the model-based approach in 2018, the first comments I got came from people who believed that model-based equals the usage of 3D CAD models – see Model-based – the confusion. 3D Models are indeed an essential part of a model-based infrastructure, as the 3D model provides an unambiguous definition of the physical product. Just look at how most vendors depict the aspects of a virtual product using 3D (wireframe) models.

Although we use a 3D representation at each product lifecycle stage, most companies do not have a digital continuity for the 3D representation. Design models are often too heavy for visualization and field services support. The connection between engineering and manufacturing is usually based on drawings instead of annotated models.

I wrote about modern PLM and Model-Based Definition, supported by Jennifer Herron from Action Engineering – read the post PLM and Model-Based Definition here.

If your company wants to master a data-driven approach, this is one of the most accessible learning areas. You will discover that connecting engineering and manufacturing requires new technology, new ways of working and much more coordination between stakeholders.

Implementing Model-Based Definition is not an easy process. However, it is probably one of the best steps to get your digital transformation moving. The benefits of connected information between engineering and manufacturing have been discussed in the blog post PLM and Model-Based Definition

Essential to realize all these exciting capabilities linked to Industry 4.0 require a data-driven, model-based connection between engineering and manufacturing.

If this is not the case, the projected game-changers will not occur as they become too costly.

Data-driven and mathematical models

To manage complexity, we have learned that we have to describe the behavior in models to make logical decisions. This can be done in an abstract model, purely based on mathematical equations and relations. For example, suppose you look at climate models, weather models or COVID infections models.

In that case, we see they all lead to discussions from so-called experts that believe a model should be 100 % correct and any exception shows the model is wrong.

It is not that the model is wrong; the expectations are false.

For less complex systems and products, we also use models in the engineering domain. For example, logical models and behavior models are all descriptive models that allow people to analyze the behavior of a product.

For example, how software code impacts the product’s behavior. Usually, we speak about systems when software is involved, as the software will interact with the outside world.

There can be many models related to a product, and if you want to get an impression, look at this page from the SEBoK wiki: Types of Models. The current challenge is to keep the relations between these models by sharing parameters.

The sharable parameters then again should be datasets in a data-driven environment. Using standardized diagrams, like SysML or UML,  enables the used objects in the diagram to become datasets.

I will not dive further into the modeling details as I want to remain at a high level.

Essential to realize digital models should connect to a data-driven infrastructure by sharing relevant datasets.

What does data-driven imply?

 

I want to conclude this time with some statements to elaborate on further in upcoming posts and discussions

  1. Data-driven does not imply there needs to be a single environment, a single database that contains all information. Like I mentioned in my previous post, it will be about managing connected datasets in a federated manner. It is not anymore about owned the data; it is about access to reliable data.
  2. Data-driven does not mean we do not need any documents anymore. Read electronic files for documents. Likely, document sets will still be the interface to non-connected entities, suppliers, and regulatory bodies. These document sets can be considered a configuration baseline.
  3. Data-driven means that we need to manage data in a much more granular manner. We have to look different at data ownership. It becomes more data accountability per role as the data can be used and consumed throughout the product lifecycle.
  4. Data-driven means that you need to have an enterprise architecture, data governance and a master data management (MDM) approach. So far, the traditional PLM vendors have not been active in the MDM domain as they believe their proprietary data model is leading. Read also this interesting McKinsey article: How enterprise architects need to evolve to survive in a digital world
  5. A model-based approach with connected datasets seems to be the way forward. Managing data in documents will become inefficient as they cannot contribute to any digital accelerator, like applying algorithms. Artificial Intelligence relies on direct access to qualified data.
  6. I don’t believe in Low-Code platforms that provide ad-hoc solutions on demand. The ultimate result after several years might be again a new type of spaghetti. On the other hand, standardized interfaces and protocols will probably deliver higher, long-term benefits. Remember: Low code: A promising trend or a Pandora’s Box?
  7. Configuration Management requires a new approach. The current methodology is very much based on hardware products with labor-intensive change management. However, the world of software products has different configuration management and change procedure. Therefore, we need to merge them in a single framework. Unfortunately, this cannot be the BOM framework due to the dynamics in software changes. An interesting starting point for discussion can be found here: Configuration management of industrial products in PDM/PLM

 

Conclusion

Again, a long post, slowly moving into the future with many questions and points to discuss. Each of the seven points above could be a topic for another blog post, a further discussion and debate.

After my summer holiday break in August, I will follow up. I hope you will join me in this journey by commenting and contributing with your experiences and knowledge.

 

 

 

 

So far, I have been discussing PLM experiences and best practices that have changed due to introducing electronic drawings and affordable 3D CAD systems for the mainstream. From vellum to PDM to item-centric PLM to manage product designs and manufacturing specifications.

Although the technology has improved, the overall processes haven’t changed so much. As a result, disciplines could continue to work in their own comfort zone, most of the time hidden and disconnected from the outside world.

Now, thanks to digitalization, we can connect and format information in real-time. Now we can provide every stakeholder in the company’s business to have almost real-time visibility on what is happening (if allowed). We have seen the benefits of platformization, where the benefits come from real-time connectivity within an ecosystem.

Apple, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb are the non-manufacturing related examples. Companies are trying to replicate these models for other businesses, connecting the concept owner (OEM ?), with design and manufacturing (services), with suppliers and customers. All connected through information, managed in data elements instead of documents – I call it connected PLM

Vendors have already shared their PowerPoints, movies, and demos from how the future would be in the ideal world using their software. The reality, however, is that implementing such solutions requires new business models, a new type of organization and probably new skills.

The last point is vital, as in schools and organizations, we tend to teach what we know from the past as this gives some (fake) feeling of security.

The reality is that most of us will have to go through a learning path, where skills from the past might become obsolete; however, knowledge of the past might be fundamental.

In the upcoming posts, I will share with you what I see, what I deduct from that and what I think would be the next step to learn.

I firmly believe connected PLM requires the usage of various models. Not only the 3D CAD model, as there are so many other models needed to describe and analyze the behavior of a product.

I hope that some of my readers can help us all further on the path of connected PLM (with a model-based approach). This series of posts will be based on the max size per post (avg 1500 words) and the ideas and contributes coming from you and me.

What is platformization?

In our day-to-day life, we are more and more used to direct interaction between resellers and services providers on one side and consumers on the other side. We have a question, and within 24 hours, there is an answer. We want to purchase something, and potentially the next day the goods are delivered. These are examples of a society where all stakeholders are connected in a data-driven manner.

We don’t have to create documents or specialized forms. An app or a digital interface allows us to connect. To enable this type of connectivity, there is a need for an underlying platform that connects all stakeholders. Amazon and Salesforce are examples for commercial activities, Facebook for social activities and, in theory, LinkedIn for professional job activities.

The platform is responsible for direct communication between all stakeholders.

The same applies to businesses. Depending on the products or services they deliver, they could benefit from one or more platforms. The image below shows five potential platforms that I identified in my customer engagements. Of course, they have a PLM focus (in the middle), and the grouping can be made differently.

Five potential business platforms

The 5 potential platforms

The ERP platform
is mainly dedicated to the company’s execution processes – Human Resources, Purchasing, Finance, Production scheduling, and potentially many more services. As platforms try to connect as much as possible all stakeholders. The ERP platform might contain CRM capabilities, which might be sufficient for several companies. However, when the CRM activities become more advanced, it would be better to connect the ERP platform to a CRM platform. The same logic is valid for a Product Innovation Platform and an ERP platform.  Examples of ERP platforms are SAP and Oracle (and they will claim they are more than ERP)

Note: Historically, most companies started with an ERP system, which is not the same as an ERP platform.  A platform is scalable; you can add more apps without having to install a new system. In a platform, all stored data is connected and has a shared data model.

The CRM platform

a platform that is mainly focusing on customer-related activities, and as you can see from the diagram, there is an overlap with capabilities from the other platforms. So again, depending on your core business and products, you might use these capabilities or connect to other platforms. Examples of CRM platforms are Salesforce and Pega, providing a platform to further extend capabilities related to core CRM.

The MES platform
In the past, we had PDM and ERP and what happened in detail on the shop floor was a black box for these systems. MES platforms have become more and more important as companies need to trace and guide individual production orders in a data-driven manner. Manufacturing Execution Systems (and platforms) have their own data model. However, they require input from other platforms and will provide specific information to other platforms.

For example, if we want to know the serial number of a product and the exact production details of this product (used parts, quality status), we would use an MES platform. Examples of MES platforms (none PLM/ERP related vendors) are Parsec and Critical Manufacturing

The IoT platform

these platforms are new and are used to monitor and manage connected products. For example, if you want to trace the individual behavior of a product of a process, you need an IoT platform. The IoT platform provides the product user with performance insights and alerts.

However, it also provides the product manufacturer with the same insights for all their products. This allows the manufacturer to offer predictive maintenance or optimization services based on the experience of a large number of similar products.  Examples of IoT platforms (none PLM/ERP-related vendors) are Hitachi and Microsoft.

The Product Innovation Platform (PIP)

All the above platforms would not have a reason to exist if there was not an environment where products were invented, developed, and managed. The Product Innovation Platform PIP – as described by CIMdata  -is the place where Intellectual Property (IP) is created, where companies decide on their portfolio and more.

The PIP contains the traditional PLM domain. It is also a logical place to manage product quality and technical portfolio decisions, like what kind of product platforms and modules a company will develop. Like all previous platforms, the PIP cannot exist without other platforms and requires connectivity with the other platforms is applicable.

Look below at the CIMdata definition of a Product Innovation Platform.

You will see that most of the historical PLM vendors aiming to be a PIP (with their different flavors): Aras, Dassault Systèmes, PTC and Siemens.

Of course, several vendors sell more than one platform or even create the impression that everything is connected as a single platform. Usually, this is not the case, as each platform has its specific data model and combining them in a single platform would hurt the overall performance.

Therefore, the interaction between these platforms will be based on standardized interfaces or ad-hoc connections.

Standard interfaces or ad-hoc connections?

Suppose your role and information needs can be satisfied within a single platform. In that case, most likely, the platform will provide you with the right environment to see and manipulate the information.

However, it might be different if your role requires access to information from other platforms. For example, it could be as simple as an engineer analyzing a product change who needs to know the actual stock of materials to decide how and when to implement a change.

This would be a PIP/ERP platform collaboration scenario.

Or even more complex, it might be a product manager wanting to know how individual products behave in the field to decide on enhancements and new features. This could be a PIP, CRM, IoT and MES collaboration scenario if traceability of serial numbers is needed.

The company might decide to build a custom app or dashboard for this role to support such a role. Combining in real-time data from the relevant platforms, using standard interfaces (preferred) or using API’s, web services, REST services, microservices (for specialists) and currently in fashion Low-Code development platforms, which allow users to combine data services from different platforms without being an expert in coding.

Without going too much in technology, the topics in this paragraph require an enterprise architecture and vision. It is opportunistic to think that your existing environment will evolve smoothly into a digital highway for the future by “fixing” demands per user. Your infrastructure is much more likely to end up congested as spaghetti.

In that context, I read last week an interesting post Low code: A promising trend or Pandora’s box. Have a look and decide for yourself

I am less focused on technology, more on methodology. Therefore, I want to come back to the theme of my series: The road to model-based and connected PLM. For sure, in the ideal world, the platforms I mentioned, or other platforms that run across these five platforms, are cloud-based and open to connect to other data sources. So, this is the infrastructure discussion.

In my upcoming blog post, I will explain why platforms require a model-based approach and, therefore, cause a challenge, particularly in the PLM domain.

It took us more than fifty years to get rid of vellum drawings. It took us more than twenty years to introduce 3D CAD for design and engineering. Still primarily relying on drawings. It will take us for sure one generation to switch from document-based engineering to model-based engineering.

Conclusion

In this post, I tried to paint a picture of the ideal future based on connected platforms. Such an environment is needed if we want to be highly efficient in designing, delivering, and maintaining future complex products based on hardware and software. Concepts like Digital Twin and Industry 4.0 require a model-based foundation.

In addition, we will need Digital Twins to reach our future sustainability goals efficiently. So, there is work to do.

Your opinion, Your contribution?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In March 2018, I started a series of blog posts related to model-based approaches. The first post was:  Model-Based – an introduction.  The reactions to these series of posts can be summarized in two bullets:

  • Readers believed that the term model-based was focusing on the 3D CAD model. A logical association as PLM is often associated with 3D CAD-model data management (actually PDM), and in many companies, the 3D CAD model is (yet) not a major information carrier/
  • Readers were telling me that a model-based approach is too far from their day-to-day life. I have to agree here. I was active in some advanced projects where the product’s behavior depends on a combination of hardware and software. However, most companies still work in a document-driven, siloed discipline manner merging all deliverables in a BOM.

More than 3 years later, I feel that model-based approaches have become more and more visible for companies. One of the primary reasons is that companies start to collaborate in the cloud and realize the differences between a coordinated and a connected manner.

Initiatives as Industry 4.0 or concepts like the Digital Twin demand a model-based approach. This post is a follow-up to my recent post, The Future of PLM.

History has shown that it is difficult for companies to change engineering concepts. So let’s first look back at how concepts slowly changed.

The age of paper drawings

In the sixties of the previous century, the drawing board was the primary “tool” to specify a mechanical product. The drawing on its own was often a masterpiece drawn on special paper, with perspectives, details, cross-sections.

All these details were needed to transfer the part or assembly information to manufacturing. The drawing set should contain all information as there were no computers.

Making a prototype was, depending on the complexity of the product, the interpretation of the drawings and manufacturability of a product, not always that easy.  After a first release, further modifications to the product definition were often marked on the manufacturing drawings using a red pencil. Terms like blueprint and redlining come from the age of paper drawings.

There are still people talking nostalgically about these days as creating and interpreting drawings was an important skill. However, the inefficiencies with this approach were significant.

  • First, updating drawings because there was redlining in manufacturing was often not done – too much work.
  • Second, drawing reuse was almost impossible; you had to start from scratch.
  • Third, and most importantly, you needed to be very skilled in interpreting a drawing set. In particular, when dealing with suppliers that might not have the same skillset and the knowledge of which drawing version was actual.

However, paper was and still is the cheapest neutral format to distribute designs. The last time I saw companies still working with paper drawings was at the end of the previous century.

Curious to learn if they are now extinct?

The age of electronic drawings (CAD)

With the introduction of AutoCAD and personal computers around 1982, more companies started to look into drafting with the computer. There was already the IBM drafting system in 1965, but it was Autodesk that pushed the 2D drafting business with their slogan:

“80 percent of the functionality for 20 percent of the price (Autodesk 1982)”

A little later, I started to work for an Autodesk distributor/reseller. People would come to the showroom to see how a computer drawing could be plotted in the finest quality at the end. But, of course, the original draftsman did not like the computer as the screen was too small.

However, the enormous value came from making changes, the easy way of sharing drawings and the ease of reuse. The picture on the left is me in 1989, demonstrating AutoCAD with a custom-defined tablet and PS/2 computer.

The introduction of electronic drawings was not a disruption, more optimization of the previous ways of working.

The exchange with suppliers and manufacturing could still be based on plotted drawings – the most neutral format. And thanks to the filename, there was better control of versions between all stakeholders.

Aren’t we all happy?

The introduction of mainstream 3D CAD

In 1995,  3D CAD became available for the mid-market, thanks to SolidWorks, Solid Edge and a little later Inventor. Before that working with 3D CAD was only possible for companies that could afford expensive graphic stations, provided by IBM, Silicon Graphics, DEC and SUN. Where are they nowadays? The PC is an example of disruptive innovation, purely based on technology. See Clayton Christensen’s famous book: The Innovator’s Dilemma.

The introduction of 3D CAD on PCs in the mid-market did not lead directly to new ways of working. Designing a product in 3D was much more efficient if you mastered the skills. 3D brought a better understanding of the product dimensions and shape, reducing the number of interpretation errors.

Still, (electronic) drawings were the contractual deliverable when interacting with suppliers and manufacturing.  As students were more and more trained with the 3D CAD tools, the traditional art of the draftsman disappeared.

3D CAD introduced some new topics to solve.

  • First of all, a 3D CAD Assembly in the system was a collection of separate files, subassemblies, parts, and drawings that relate to each other with a specific version. So how to ensure the final assembly drawings were based on the correct part revisions? Companies were solving this by either using intelligent filenames (with revisions) or by using a PDM system where the database of the PDM system managed all the relations and their status.
  • The second point was that the 3D CAD assembly also introduced a new feature, the product structure, or the “Bill of Materials”. This logical structure of the assembly up resembled a lot of the Bill of Material of the product. You could even browse deeper levels, which was not the case in the traditional Bill of Material on a drawing.

Note: The concept of EBOM and MBOM was not known in most companies. People were talking about the BOM as a one-level definition of parts or subassemblies in the assembly. See my Where is the MBOM? Post from July 2008 when this topic was still under discussion.

  • The third point that would have a more significant impact later is that parts and assemblies could be reused in other products. This introduced the complexity of configuration management. For example, a 3D CAD part or assembly file could contain several configurations where only one configuration would be valid for the given product. Managing this in the 3D CAD system lead to higher productivity of the designer, however downstream when it came to data management with PDM systems, it became a nightmare.

I experienced these issues a lot when discussing with companies and implementers, mainly the implementation of SmarTeam combined with SolidWorks and Inventor. Where to manage the configuration constraints? In the PDM system or inside the 3D CAD system.

These environments were not friends (image above), and even if they came from the same vendor, it felt like discussing with tribes.

The third point also covered another topic. So far, CAD had been the first step for the detailed design of a product. However, companies now had an existing Bill of Material in the system thanks to the PDM systems. It could be a Bill of Material of a sub-assembly that is used in many other products.

Configuring a product no longer started from CAD; it started from a Product or Bill of Material structure. Sales and Engineers identified the changes needed on the BoM, keeping as much as possible released information untouched. This led to a new best practice.

The item-centric approach

Around 2005, five years after introducing the term Product Lifecycle Management, slowly, a new approach became the standard. Product Lifecycle Management was initially introduced to connect engineering and manufacturing, driven by the automotive and aerospace industry.

It was with PLM that concepts as EBOM and MBOM became visible.

In particular, the EBOM was closely linked to engineering practices, i.e., modularity and reuse. The EBOM and its related information represented the product as it was specified. It is essential to realize that the parts in the EBOM could be generic specified purchase parts to be resolved when producing the product or that the EBOM contained Make-parts specified by drawings.

At that time, the EBOM was often used as the foundation for the ERP system – see image above. The BOM was restructured and organized according to the manufacturing process specifying materials and resources needed in the ERP system. Therefore, although it was an item-like structure, this BOM (the MBOM) always had a close relation to the Bill of Process.

For companies with a single manufacturing site, the notion of EBOM and MBOM was not that big, as the ERP system would be the source of the MBOM. However, the complexity came when companies have several manufacturing sites. That was when a generic MBOM in the PLM system made more sense to centralize all product information in a single system.

The EBOM-MBOM approach has become more and more a standard practice since 2010. As a result, even small and medium-sized enterprises realized a need to manage the EBOM and the MBOM.

There were two disadvantages introduced with this EBOM-MBOM approach.

  • First, the EBOM and the MBOM as information structures require a lot of administrative maintenance if information needs to be always correct (and that is the CM target).  Some try to simplify this by keeping the EBOM part the same as the MBOM part, meaning the EBOM specification already targets a single supplier or manufacturer.
  • The second disadvantage of making every item in the BOM behave like a part creates inefficiencies in modern environments. Products are a mix of hardware(parts) and software(models/behavior). This BOM-centric view does not provide the proper infrastructure for a data-driven approach as part specifications are still done in drawings. We need 3D annotated models related to all kinds of other behavior and physical models to specify a product that contains hard-and software.

A new paradigm is needed to manage this mix efficiently, the enabling foundation for Industry 4.0 and efficient Digital Twins; there is a need for a model-based approach based on connected data elements.

More next week.

Conclusion

The age of paper drawings 1960 – now dead
The age of electronic drawings 1982 – potentially dead in 2030
The mainstream 3D CAD 1995 – to be evolving through MBD and MBSE to the future – not dead shortly
Item-centric approach 2005 – to be evolving to a connected model-based approach – not dead shortly

Last summer, I wrote a series of blog posts grouped by the theme “Learning from the past to understand the future”. These posts took you through the early days of drawings and numbering practices towards what we currently consider the best practice: PLM BOM-centric backbone for product lifecycle information.

You can find an overview and links to these posts on the page Learning from the past.

If you have read these posts, or if you have gone yourself through this journey, you will realize that all steps were more or less done evolutionarily. There were no disruptions. Affordable 3D CAD systems, new internet paradigms (interactive internet),  global connectivity and mobile devices all introduced new capabilities for the mainstream. As described in these posts, the new capabilities sometimes created friction with old practices. Probably the most popular topics are the whole Form-Fit-Function interpretation and the discussion related to meaningful part numbers.

What is changing?

In the last five to ten years, a lot of new technology has come into our lives. The majority of these technologies are related to dealing with data. Digital transformation in the PLM domain means moving from a file-based/document-centric approach to a data-driven approach.

A Bill of Material on the drawing has become an Excel-like table in a PLM system. However, an Excel file is still used to represent a Bill of Material in companies that have not implemented PLM.

Another example, the specification document has become a collection of individual requirements in a system. Each requirement is a data object with its own status and content. The specification becomes a report combining all valid requirement objects.

Related to CAD, the 2D drawing is no longer the deliverable as a document; the 3D CAD model with its annotated views becomes the information carrier for engineering and manufacturing.

And most important of all, traditional PLM methodologies have been based on a mechanical design and release process. Meanwhile, modern products are systems where the majority of capabilities are defined by software. Software has an entirely different configuration and lifecycle approach conflicting with a mechanical approach, which is too rigid for software.

The last two aspects, from 2D drawings to 3D Models and Mechanical products towards Systems (hardware and software), require new data management methods.  In this environment, we need to learn to manage simulation models, behavior models, physics models and 3D models as connected as possible.

I wrote about these changes three years ago:  Model-Based – an introduction, which led to a lot of misunderstanding (too advanced – too hypothetical).

I plan to revisit these topics in the upcoming months again to see what has changed over the past three years.

What will I discuss in the upcoming weeks?

My first focus is on participating and contributing to the upcoming PLM Roadmap  & PDS spring 2021 conference. Here speakers will discuss the need for reshaping the PLM Value Equation due to new emerging technologies. A topic that contributes perfectly to the future of PLM series.

My contribution will focus on the fact that technology alone cannot disrupt the PLM domain. We also have to deal with legacy data and legacy ways of working.

Next, I will discuss with Jennifer Herron from Action Engineering the progress made in Model-Based Definition, which fits best practices for today – a better connection between engineering and manufacturing. We will also discuss why Model-Based Definition is a significant building block required for realizing the concepts of a digital enterprise, Industry 4.0 and digital twins.

Another post will focus on the difference between the digital thread and the digital thread. Yes, it looks like I am writing twice the same words. However, you will see based on its interpretation, one definition is hanging on the past, the other is targeting the future. Again here, the differentiation is crucial if the need for a maintainable Digital Twin is required.

Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) in all its aspects needs to be discussed too. MBSE is crucial for defining complex products. Model-Based Systems Engineering is seen as a discipline to design products. Understanding data management related to MBSE will be the foundation for understanding data management in a Model-Based Enterprise. For example, how to deal with configuration management in the future?

 

Writing Learning from the past was an easy job as explaining with hindsight is so much easier if you have lived it through. I am curious and excited about the outcome of “The Future of PLM”. Writing about the future means you have digested the information coming to you, knowing that nobody has a clear blueprint for the future of PLM.

There are people and organizations are working on this topic more academically, for example read this post from Lionel Grealou related to the Place of PLM in the Digital Future. The challenge is that an academic future might be disrupted by unpredictable events, like COVID, or disruptive technologies combined with an opportunity to succeed. Therefore I believe, it will be a learning journey for all of us where we need to learn to give technology a business purpose. Business first – then technology.

 

No Conclusion

Normally I close my post with a conclusion. At this moment. there is no conclusion as the journey has just started. I look forward to debating and learning with practitioners in the field. Work together on methodology and concepts that work in a digital enterprise. Join me on this journey. I will start sharing my thoughts in the upcoming months

 

 

 

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