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Roundtable: Product lifecycle management – Addressing key challenges with PLM


For this issue’s roundtable we assemble three experts in Product lifecycle management (PLM) to discuss the importance of this well-established technology in the digital transformation of manufacturing. PLM is the integration of all aspects of a product, taking it from conception through the product life cycle to the end of life and disposal of the product and components.

PLM merges the all-encompassing vision that an organisation has for managing the data, people, software, manufacturing, marketing, and overall plans for the product. CTS spoke to Alastair Hayfield, senior research director at Interact Analysis, Alan Prior, director, technical sales, SIMULIA, EuroNorth, Dassault Systemes and Mark Taber, VP marketing & GTM marketing, ALM & PLM programmes at PTC.

PLM was born in the motor industry 35 years ago to increasing complexity and engineering challenges of developing new products. Is it as relevant today as it was all those years ago?

Mark Taber (MT): Manufacturers have never needed instant collaboration, closed-loop quality, and real-time information sharing more than it does today.  From connecting disparate systems and a remote workforce, to ensuring quality is built into every product and shared across the enterprise, PLM is elevating how product development gets done.

Digital Twins – As products, processes and factories get more connected, physical products and asset behaviours can be made more intelligent based on digital product recommendations. Similarly, digital products become more accurate based on real-time data. PLM will play a huge role in orchestrating the convergence of the digital and physical worlds.

Analytics driven innovation and decision support – PLM will evolve from a system that purely controls data about product development to leverage the data and information from multiple sources (Cloud, IIoT, etc.) and systems to provide valuable insights and recommendations to drive innovation across the enterprise.

Alan Prior (AP): PLM is just as relevant today. Initially, it focused on product development, from design to assembly and making a product. Now, lifecycles also need to consider the wider business objectives. This includes the requirements we want the product to meet, as well as supply chain partners, manufacturing, logistics and distribution processes. In our definition of PLM today, we would also include marketing, after-market, and maintenance, and even end of life.

Alastair Hayfield (AH): More so. It is an integral part of every manufacturing enterprise – small or large, old, or new. And, arguably, its value has increased over time as it allows more to be done – it improves efficiency, safety, due diligence, and operational insight. I do not think it is too much of a stretch to suggest that PLM is as critical to a manufacturing enterprise as supply chain stability. Many manufacturers could not operate without PLM.

What part does PLM play in the modern connected, digital enterprise?

AH: Increasingly, PLM applications/solutions are being seen at the heart of the connected, digital enterprise. MindSphere from Siemens Digital or 3DExperience from Dassault are positioned as being ecosystems where businesses run and operate all their critical processes, such as ideation, design, development, manufacturing, logistics and end of life. The idea is that users ‘live’ within their chosen platform and find all the tools they need to complete their tasks.

AP: Most product development processes are widely distributed across many functions, organisations, countries, and markets. Nowadays, you cannot manage those processes efficiently without a digitally connected environment: the set of technologies that help manage the many communications and interactions needed to orchestrate that complex development process. PLM today exists within that virtually connected enterprise and is key in helping to manage those processes for distributed teams – something we need now more than ever.

How can PLM interact and support other digital tools that boost collaboration, simulation, and virtualisation?

AP: The core value of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is to boost and support digital tools, including collaboration, simulation, and virtualisation, by connecting everything together. Our philosophy is to bring together physics simulation, visualisation, manufacturing planning and project management into a single collaborative business environment, to reduce the inefficiencies of multiple data transfers and interfaces.

PLM now is much more about the framework that includes all those additional tools. Managing the product lifecycle, but also providing a business platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and capturing experience.

AH: Simulation, collaboration and virtualisation are at the core of most major PLM platforms. And there have been multiple acquisitions and partnerships in the PLM space that have led to improvements in this area. PTC are strong in augmented reality, while Dassault and Siemens have been amongst the strongest for simulation. There are also multiple start-ups looking at design simulation and generative design.

MT: PTC is developing a practical approach to the digital thread, and an impactful one that will break through the data walls that hinder product enterprises.  We’ve identified the top use cases where users need to make decisions on data that spans departments, like an engineer needing field sensor input to tune a design, or a factory technician needing engineering-sourced geometry for configuration-specific visual instruction.

Underlying these use cases is a practical subset of domain systems and data fields to answer the needed product questions.  We are building a nimble programme around this – the new technology is mainly around contextualising the data linking.  Naturally, it leverages PTC’s existing technology for sourcing content (ThingWorx Flow calling Windchill and 3rd Party API’s), synthesising it (ThingWorx Analytics), and engaging it with end users (ThingWorx for screen, Vuforia for AR).

PTC’s Vuforia Spatial Toolbox platform, just released in April, enables teams to improve the operation of complex manufacturing environments and make IoT-enabled machines easier and more intuitive to control with on-the-fly programming.

Simulation and analysis is often conducted in a vacuum outside of other traditional product development process, or late in the development cycle and lack traceability.

PTC’s Windchill process and data management flexibility can be utilised to integrate simulation driven activities into the product development process and product definition giving downstream users access to product designs’ related simulation and analysis results. PTC’s Creo Ansys delivers a tight integration between Creo and Windchill using the existing CAD integration. This allows Creo designer/analyst the ability to manage their simulation models and results directly in Windchill for seamless out of the box traceability and integration into the overall product definition.

With the advent of cloud-based content, platforms, IIoT and SaaS, how has PLM had to evolve and how does it fit in the crowded software landscape for manufacturers?

MT: PLM customers are shifting to cloud-based software, services, and platform to reduce administrative burden, more easily stay up to date with software versions, increase collaboration across internal and external dispersed teams across the globe, and safeguard IP and security. End users who have shifted to this model are primarily benefiting from new capabilities sooner and better co-ordination with different stakeholders. Administrators can focus less on routine system maintenance and instead focus on more value-added business administration. The shift to cloud is pervasive across all company sizes large and small. Smaller companies do not have the administration in-house to manage enterprise PLM while larger companies are looking to free up administration time to focus on other value-added business projects with their shrinking IT workforce.

AP: In this space we have moved on from a monolithic single installation of a PLM system. Deployment options, such as the cloud, and operating models like SaaS mean that we need to be more flexible to address different business contexts.

We are starting to see many more start-ups adopt the cloud and SaaS options because their business models are more agile and receptive to these technologies; whereas traditional OEMs have long-standing legacy processes in place, which makes this transition a lot more time intensive.  Being able to work in a distributed, virtual environment helps speed up innovation. For example, Lightyear uses our cloud functionality to design and manufacture key components of solar electric vehicles. This allows them to innovate faster, to access its data anywhere through the cloud, and to continue to work on projects that drive the future of clean mobility during the Covid-19 pandemic. In time, we will see traditional OEMs take up more of those cloud and SaaS options, particularly as more flexible choices become available and it becomes easier to adopt. PLM is becoming more holistic and is focusing more on solution development, so it has a natural fit in the overall software market.

How has modern PLM evolved over recent years to encompass closed-loop lifecycle management?

AP: It is exceedingly rare these days for a product to be a one-off and to exist in isolation. We no longer design a product, bring it to market and then that is it. Product development now requires continual feedback from after-market data and consumer insight, which is fed back into the requirements and innovations that will power the next solutions. For example, data analytics is becoming much more important in the design process, as it can help to inform future product development decisions. In the case of vehicle design, data can be collected from existing vehicles – the journeys they make, speed, duration, how the car is being driven – and that data can help designers, engineers and manufacturers to make informed decisions about the characteristics of their future products.

AH: It is getting there, but this is probably one of the more challenging aspects for PLM. The Digital Twin is a big part of it. As is understanding customer design requirements and giving customers the tools to develop closed-loop lifecycle management systems. The packaging market in general is a good example of where closed-loop lifecycle management has been adopted for various problems such as getting rid of single use plastics.

Moving forwards will PLM still be as relevant?

AH: It depends from whose perspective you mean. On the one hand, PLM has the potential to embed itself yet further in organisations as more companies deploy it and make better use of the tools it provides. However, it also contains within it the kernel of disruption – PLM vendors are now developing tools that can simulate and ‘automatically’ design complete products from user defined parameters. At some point, will the PLM vendors turn these tools upon themselves and design (or replace) PLM for something even better?

AP: Even more so. The economic and social changes we face today will require us to develop innovative solutions to address key challenges in product manufacturing, infrastructure, and healthcare. A lifecycle management approach will be the foundation for companies to innovate, develop, produce, and distribute their solutions. PLM is moving away from being about products and more about solutions, and this will continue to evolve, merging with requirements management, marketing, and after-care.

MT: The nature of PLM has changed from being viewed on an engineering tool to vault and version CAD data to true product lifecycle management for the extended enterprise.  PLM has become the foundation for digital transformation/digital thread initiatives at companies of all sizes.  The existing application infrastructure comprised of integration via Microsoft Office and/or home-grown applications no longer works with the new levels of complexity.  There were three drivers pre Covid-19. The first was that customers have changed. Governments and customers have placed high operational requirements on the way that companies manage data.  Customers are also demanding more customised solutions to match their needs expanding the number of variants.

Secondly, the value chain has changed. Companies are looking to outsource large portions of their production and/or form joint ventures driving an increased opportunity to build supplier partnerships.  Risk of supply chain disruptions are driving the need for more standardised components to enable efficiency and scale. Finally, products have changed. They have gone from simple electric/mechanical machines to software driven, connected devices.

Looking at the current COVID-19 situation, how has PLM helped?

AP: The initial reaction to Covid-19 was to try to make products quickly. Whether this be ventilators or PPE, companies sought ways to provide anything necessary to help during the pandemic. A well-implemented PLM approach allows an organisation to streamline its decision-making, using past knowledge and know-how, together with a means to manage innovation and quickly evaluate multiple options to design, manufacture and supply the product. We found that companies were using several capabilities hosted on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to do exactly that.

PLM has helped during times of crisis because businesses have to deliver products in record time and in a distributed way, but still have to get the product right. Harnessing the power of a digitally connected and virtual product development process has proven to be key in streamlining efficiencies with companies like Indian start-up Inali, who developed a smart ventilator in just eight days.

We are not in the same product development environment we were before. Going forward, smart PLM will become an ever-more important asset for businesses who design, manufacture, and deliver any type of product.

MT: With disruptions caused by Covid-19, PLM based collaboration (expert and non-expert users) is viewed as essential for secure global 24/7 remote work. There are numerous examples of PLM supporting our customers during Covid-19. VCST Industrial Products, an automotive supplier, is accelerating PLM plans to take advantage of downtime. Another customer, GreyOrange, is maintaining design collaboration for product release during the pandemic. Yet another, Fresenius, is using Windchill to transition to remote work.  COVID-19 is exposing additional paper-based processes and the team is accelerating moving those into Windchill. Finally, Ortho Diagnostics, a PTC cloud customer, is accelerating user adoption plans to help aid growth in remote work.

AH: At the most practical level, it has enabled disparate organisations to come together and solve problems related to Covid-19. These include problems such as ventilator production, PPE production and virology. Dassault Systeme’s OPEN COVID-19 and participation in the StopCovid project in France are great examples of PLM tools being used day-to-day to help end the pandemic.

More broadly, the collaboration functionality that PLM offers has enabled many organisations’ design and production environments to stay at least partly functional, with employees being able to work remotely.

PLM also provides powerful tools to track supply chains and design processes. The visibility and analytics that it can give when supply chains are disrupted have probably allowed organisations to mitigate the worst of what they have been exposed to. It is hard to imagine this being possible 10 or 20 years ago.

 Meet the panellists

 Alastair Hayfield, senior research director at Interact Analysis

Hayfield has over ten years’ experience leading research activities in scaled, high-growth industrial and technology markets. Most recently, Hayfield led IHS Markit’s automotive technology and mobility practice, where he oversaw research activities for a team of 20 focusing on two automotive megatrends: vehicle autonomy and the emergence of mobility as a service.

Prior to IHS Markit, he led IMS Research’s video surveillance and video analytics team. In this role his remit included intelligent video analytics, a key automation technology. Now at Interact Analysis, he is responsible for a variety of topics including commercial and agricultural drones. Hayfield holds an MSci in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Durham.

Alan Prior, director, technical sales, SIMULIA, EuroNorth, Dassault Systèmes

Alan Prior leads the technical sales organisation, supporting the Business Transformation sales team in EuroNorth. Prior worked in the UK defence industry before moving into the analysis software business in 1990. He spent 5 years managing technical support teams, and ten years as UK General Manager of the Abaqus company, which was acquired by Dassault Systemes in 2005 to form the SIMULIA brand. In a 35-year career Prior has held several senior positions in technical support, technical sales and major account management and led the worldwide centre of excellence for SIMULIA. Prior obtained a BSc in Mechanical Engineering, followed by a PhD in Impact Dynamics. He is a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Mark Taber, VP marketing & GTM marketing, ALM & PLM programs at PTC

Taber is the vice president of marketing and go to marketing at PTC, responsible for leading worldwide PLM marketing. After graduation he worked in the areas of enterprise application development, integration, and security.  Prior to PTC, he was the CEO of Active Endpoints, a business process management firm acquired by Informatica. Since joining PTC four years ago as a marketing and go to market leader in application lifecycle management, he joined the PLM segment to share customer stories of digital transformation and the value realized in engineering and across the extended enterprise.  Working with customers throughout world, Taber has over 30 years of sales and marketing experience helping bring novel technologies to enterprises across manufacturing, telecommunications, finance, and the public sector.  In addition to PLM, his areas of expertise include embedded software, enterprise architecture, cybersecurity, and business process management.

Read more on PLM – PTC adds PLM to portfolio on Microsoft Azure

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