Engineering can design a new product, but finance may have to figure out if it will be profitable, and marketing may have to determine how to price it and if it will sell. Are the materials selected for the new product correct and cost-effective? Is there enough material available to produce the quantities projected? What about spare parts? Is it manufacturable?
Getting the right response to these questions has become an increasingly sophisticated process for companies under pressure to deliver new, more innovative quality products to market—and do it faster.
“Lifecycle management has become a very popular subject within the electronics market,” says Dave Topp, vice president of standards and technology of IPC-Association Connecting Electronics Industries, which has several thousand company members. “Today,” notes Topp, “designers and manufacturers need to design from cradle to grave.”
Even environmental issues are now being more seriously addressed in PLM programs. As companies develop their products virtually, PLM can help identify components and materials and track parts and materials that might be environmentally hazardous. It’s also possible in some programs to produce a discrete environmental impact study—in simulation.
PLM has been around since at least 1985 when American Motors Corp. was given credit for developing a series of programs for speeding up its product development process to be more competitive. Its use has spread widely since across virtually every industry.
“Our research reveals end users are increasingly looking at PLM as a standard enterprise platform,” AMR Research noted in a 2007 study. “They’re asking how PLM can be used to manage their product portfolios, capture customers’ needs, and integrate non-engineering staff into the product design process, a domain historically dominated by engineers.”
Increasingly, PLM vendors have responded to the needs of their customers by focusing more on improving communications and collaboration across the enterprise.
“People have a fundamental need for a platform that creates an opportunity to collaborate and exchange information in order to reach intelligent decisions and then to understand the impact of their decisions on other stakeholders,” says Joe Barkai, practice director, product lifecycle strategies, IDC Manufacturing Insights, a unit of the IDC market research group.
The role of a better decision support system to allow people to “see” each other, either literally or virtually, is gaining traction, much of it in the form of more sophisticated and broadly featured PLM programs.
With the growing importance of innovation, optimization, and globalization leading priorities in most industries, Barkai says IDC has seen increased interest from product lifecycle executives in visualization and collaboration tools to streamline the influx of complex information.
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PLM pretty much started as individual marketplaces, like CAD software and simulation software. It became a product (or market) by integrating different technologies that started to work together to provide a higher level of value in developing and bringing other products to market. One of its key selling points is that it allows people with different skill sets to get directly involved in the product development process.
Product Development Apps
“PLM is becoming more and more the suite of applications that encompass the product development process,” says Bill Carrelli, vice president of strategic marketing for Siemens PLM Software. “Because of that, there are many different applications and many different kinds of users that touch that information. And they all look at it in different ways.”
As the market research firm Reportlinker puts it in a recently published report on software development in the product lifecycle, “software designers have had to adopt the same ‘system of systems’ design disciplines that their mechanical and electrical engineering counterparts have long practiced. In turn, product companies are facing the need to improve their management of application lifecycles.”
As PLM has become the intersection for software development, engineering, marketing, and manufacturing, Reportlinker says a new battleground has been created between PLM, application lifecycle management (ALM, essentially combining business management and software engineering through a variety of architecture, coding, and tracking tools), and enterprise resource planning (ERP, an integrated computer-based system for managing both internal and external resources to facilitate the flow of a company’s business information) vendors—all vying to manage everyone’s product lifecycle.
And then there’s validation lifecycle management (VLM) software. Bayer HealthCare AG, for one, recently implemented VLM from ValGenesis Inc. to track validation inventory, streamline its validation processes, ensure compliance, and improve its overall efficiency, replacing a paper-based system Bayer had been using for some time.
For Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of Nuremberg, Germany-based Siemens Industry Automation Division, which recently announced its High-Definition PLM (HD-PLM) technology framework, the quality and speed of thousands of critical decisions made throughout the product lifecycle by different individuals from different disciplines have become increasingly based on a vast and constantly expanding universe of distributed digital data stored in a wide variety of formats and originating from multiple disparate sources. Complicating this challenge is that many product-related decisions rely on multiple areas of expertise that may be distributed across the globe.
“It’s a new technology framework,” says Siemens’ Carrelli. “Think of it as an architectural structure for delivering a large portfolio of software applications. To do a job in a synchronized way that can support the needs of many different people that interact with the product development process.”
HD-PLM will recognize users by their specific skill set and automatically put those individuals in the right context for the tasks being performed. The system will then proactively assist users in accomplishing tasks by informing them of issues to be addressed and look for pertinent information to consider and individuals to collaborate with based on the activity to be performed.
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“All of the pertinent information necessary to this process will be instantly delivered to the right people regardless of location via a wide variety of supported devices, including smart phones and tablet computers,” says Carrelli.
Upcoming releases of NX software by Siemens for digital product development (for CAD, CAE, and CAM), Teamcenter software for digital lifecycle management, and Tecnomatrix software for digital manufacturing are also part of Siemens’ package for developing a cohesive and intuitive decision support environment through the product lifecycle. Carrelli says Siemens has been building software around best practices of vertical industries.
“We have learned a lot over the years,” he says.
One example is Siemens’ work with Chrysler Group LLC, which produces Chrysler, Jeep, Ram Truck, and Mopar vehicles and products. The Chrysler Group began using Teamcenter software corporate-wide in 2008 and recently added NX software to its product lifecycle development mix.
Joe Gibbs Racing, one of NASCAR’s top racing teams, is using Siemens’ D-Cubed software to integrate specialty applications. The Gibbs team plans to deploy D-Cubed 3D DCM (Dimensional Constraint Manager) in any in-house software application that requires a 3D geometric DCM solution. The 3D DCM is already integrated in NX software. (The D-Cubed 2D DCM version has been integrated into Vero Software Plc’s VISI suite of applications to produce new dies and press tools.)
Other Major Players
Siemens isn’t the only PLM game in town. Oracle’s AutoVue 20.0, introduced in April, is designed for viewing, reviewing, and collaborating on asset and engineering documents and information across the global enterprise.
Oracle’s newest version of AutoVue introduces a new architecture that scales with an organization’s evolving requirements and to more efficiently serve the document visualization and collaboration needs of enterprise and desktop users.
Oracle acquired Agile Software Corp., a leading PLM software provider, in 2007. At that time, Agile said it had more than 1250 PLM customers and over 10,000 visualization customers globally that included implementations in a wide range of ERP and CAD systems.
AutoVue 20.0’s new built-in offline mode enables field workers or business travelers to capture updates while working offline and then incorporate them into enterprise systems once they are back online. A new 3D Walkthrough feature supports facilities and maintenance operations. Key users of AutoVue include engineering and construction firms, utilities, oil and gas, and manufacturing.
Dassault Sysemes (DS) released its PLM 2.0 platform in June as part of its Lifelike Experience product lifecycle strategy, claiming 874 new features with advances in collaborative innovation enhancements.
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The new V6R2011 is aimed mainly at mid-market users with features that target 11 vertical industries, including automotive-focused Modelica libraries, aerospace and defense, and even fashion. One of its features, 3DVIA Composer, extends V6 series technical publishing capabilities. In addition to addressing commercial users, DS says a new V6 Academia is tailored for use by universities and research facilities.
Bangalore, India-based Infosys Technologies, best known for defining, designing, and delivering IT-enabled (information technology) business solutions, continues to expand its PLM customer base, recently adding an oilfield service company and an agribusiness organization. Infosys also says it plans to develop and maintain a new content management product for a global Internet services company.
In May, Infosys signed a product license and services agreement with SimplexGrinnell, a Tyco company, to implement the Infosys Supply Chain Visibility $ Collaboration Suite as part of its enterprise-wide sourcing business intelligence and spend analysis initiative. SmplexGrinnell will deploy the suite’s Sourcing & Procurement module as the first phase of the agreement. Other modules will be deployed in subsequent phases.
The Infosys Supply Chain Visibility & Collaboration Suite is built on top of a core platform employing Microsoft technologies, including SharePoint Server and Office Communications Server, leveraging performance management, analytics, collaboration, and other management solutions.
SAP America Inc., a major provider of business software, meanwhile, has acquired Sybase Inc. in a move aimed at accelerating SAP’s opportunities across mobile platforms and expanding both companies’ ability to manage and analyze business information and processes on virtually any device.
“Mobile devices are becoming the preferred interaction point with business applications, whether the user is a factory supervisor, a retail manager, or an entrepreneur in a developing nation,” says Jim Hagemann Snabe, co-CEO of SAP. “The combination of SAP and Sybase will give users the option of running their operations from leading mobile devices.”
Sybase expects SAP’s memory technology to provide opportunities for dramatic performance improvements to its analytic processing capabilities. Sybase will also be able to bring its event processing and analytics expertise, which was built in the financial sector, to customers in other industries, markets, and product categories in which SAP has a presence.
Sybase will operate as a standalone unit under the name “Sybase, an SAP Company.” Sybase’s management team will continue to run the business.
Even small companies are adopting PLM in their processes, often using slightly less sophisticated programs than larger organizations. Siemens, for example, offers smaller companies a “PLM power” package in a slightly different format.
“The software is not quite as rich in terms of breadth of capability,” notes Carelli. For one thing, he says, “It doesn’t require IT infrastructure support.” And it’s priced for smaller companies.
The Next Big Thing?
What’s the next big thing in PLM? One ongoing effort is to bring together more detailed manufacturing processes, along with factory requirements and resources to better determine where to manufacture a new product and what resources or equipment will be needed to shorten development-to-distribution time. Another possibility is using PLM to facilitate the development of standards.