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

 

The characteristics of item-centric

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

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

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

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

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

The advantages of an item-centric approach are:

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

The main disadvantages of an item-centric approach are:

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

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

The characteristics of Model-Centric

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantages of model-centric

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

Disadvantages of model-centric

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

 

Conclusions

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

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

July and August are the months that privileged people go on holiday. Depending on where you live and work it can be a long weekend or a long month. I plan to give my PLM twisted brain a break for two weeks. I am not sure if it will happen as Greek beaches always have inspired for philosophers. What do you think about “PLM on the beach”?

There are two topics that keep me intrigued at this moment, and I hope to experience more about them the rest of the year.

Moving to Model-Based processes

I believe we all get immune for the term “Digital Transformation” (11.400.000 hits on Google today). I have talked about digital transformation in the context many times too. Change is happening. The classic ways of working were based on documents, a container of information, captured on paper (very classical) or captured in a file (still current).

As every stakeholder in a company (marketing, engineering, manufacturing, supplier, services, customers, and management) required a different set of information, many pieces of information all referring to the same product, have been parsed and modified into other documents.  It is costly and expensive to get a complete view of what is happening in the business. Meanwhile, all these information transformations (with Excel as the king) are creating an overhead for information management, both on IT-level and even more for non-value added resources who are manipulating information for the next silo/discipline.

What we have learned from innovative companies is that a data-driven approach, where more granular information is stored uniquely as data objects instead of document containers bring huge benefits. Information objects can be shared where relevant along the product lifecycle and without the overhead of people creating and converting documents, the stakeholders become empowered as they can retrieve all information objects they desire (if allowed). We call this the digital thread.

The way to provide a digital thread for manufacturing companies is to change the way they organize the product development and delivery processes. A model-based approach is required. I wrote about in a post: Digital PLM requires a Model-Based Enterprise a year ago. The term “Model-Based” also has many variations (67.800.00 hits on Google today). Some might consider the 3D MCAD Model at the center of information both for engineering and manufacturing.A good overview in the video below

Others might think about a behavior/simulation model of the product for simulating and delivering a digital twin often referred in the context of model-based design (MBD).

And ultimately a model-based approach integrated with systems engineering into Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) allowing all stakeholders to collaborate in a data-driven manner around complex products based.

You can learn a lot about that during the upcoming PDT Europe conference on 18-19th October in Gothenburg. Concepts and experiences will be shared, and my contribution to the conference will be all about the challenges and lessons learned from the transformation process companies are embarking on becoming model-based.

PLM and ALM

A second topic that becomes more and more relevant for companies is how to combine the domains of product development and application software empowering these products. The challenge here is that we have no mature concepts yet for both domains. It reminds me of the early PDM implementations where companies implemented their PDM system for MCAD software and documents. All the electrical stuff was done disconnected in separate systems and somewhere in the product lifecycle information from MCAD and ECAD was merged in the bill of materials and documents. Mainly manually with a decent overhead for people consolidating the data.  Modern PLM systems have found best practices to manage a combination of mechanical and electronic components through an EBOM even connecting embedded software as an item in the BOM.

Now more and more the behavior and experience of products are driven by software. Sensors and connectivity of data are driving new capabilities and business models to the market. Customers are getting better connected, however also the companies delivering these solutions can act much faster now based on trends or issues experienced from the field.

The challenge, however, is that the data coming from the systems and the software defining the behavior of the products most of the time is managed in a separate environment, the ALM environment. In the ALM environment delivery of new solutions can be extremely fast and agile, creating a disconnect between the traditional product delivery processes and the software delivery processes.

Companies are learning now how to manage the dependencies between these two domains, as consistency of requirements and features of the products is required. Due to the fast pace of software changes, it is almost impossible to connect everything to the PLM product definition. PLM Vendors are working on concepts to connect PLM and ALM through different approaches. Other companies might believe that their software process is crucial and that the mechanical product becomes a commodity. Could you build a product innovation platform starting from the software platform which some of the old industry giants believe?

PLM combined with ALM concepts are the ones to follow, and I am looking forward to meeting the first company that has implemented a consistent flow between the world of hardware and software. So far there are many slide solutions, the reality and legacy at this moment are still inhibitors for the next step.

Conclusion

There is still a lot to discover and execute in the domain of PLM. Moving to a data-driven enterprise with all stakeholders connected is the challenging journey. Can we build robust concepts taking accuracy, security, and speed into account? I believe so, in particular when dreaming at the beach.

 

Bye for now

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