The (R)evolution Of PLM, Part 2: Tearing Down System And Process Silos

John McNiff

In Part 1 of this series, we explored why manufacturers must embrace “live” PLM. In Part 2, we examine the new dimensions of a product-centric enterprise. In Part 3, we’ll look at the role of digital twins.

People love their electronic gadgets. Or do they? From the transistor radio to the iPod to the Fitbit, there has never been a shortage of highly successful gadgets. Yet gadgets may be disappearing. As smartphones become more versatile and functionality moves to the cloud, the lifecycle of tech products is growing shorter.

And it’s not just gadgets. Carmakers used to operate on five- or even ten-year design cycles. Today it can be half that time. Mazda, for instance, introduced its CX-5 SUV for the 2013 model year, updated it for 2016 — and just released a completely new generation for 2017.

As design cycles shrink across industries, product lifecycle management (PLM) will have to adapt. The traditional linear process, which begins with engineering and proceeds in a stepwise fashion through manufacturing and service, is no longer adequate. To keep pace with the speed of change, manufacturers will have to manage ongoing feedback loops that simultaneously involve every “step” in the process.

To achieve that imperative, they’ll need to consolidate all systems and processes in a digital product innovation platform.

Data across the lifecycle

Several drivers are affecting design cycles. Even products with long cycles, like jet engines, now include shorter cycles for embedded electronics and software. Highly configurable products, or products designed for mass customization, can involve multiple design cycles for multiple components. And products designed with a platform approach, as more and more products are, must accommodate both individualization and frequent, rapid upgrades.

All these factors mean that manufacturers need a clear view of relevant data across the product lifecycle. That’s true for engineering, production, and maintenance. But it’s equally true for business processes like sales and finance. The added complexity of product individualization affects not only design but every related process. It changes how you anticipate customer demand and how you measure profitability.

PLM solution vendors have been trying to address this emerging issue. So they emphasize how they can integrate with ERP, CRM, sales and service, and other systems.

But mere integration will no longer be enough. That’s because there will no longer be time to pass data from one system to another, from one process to another. Data capture and analysis, and visibility across processes, will need to occur in real time. And for that you need a common platform for product innovation.

Product innovation, digital-platform style

A digital product innovation platform takes the concept of integrated PLM a level deeper. It leverages the real-time data harmonization and analytics capabilities of in-memory computing. It enables you to leverage a common architecture to manage both transactional records and unstructured Big Data — all in a live environment, embedded with prediction, simulation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

With a common platform, you no longer have to aggregate data from non-PLM systems like maintenance or finance. Instead, you have immediate visibility into that data. You no longer have to send triggers from one system to another. Instead, those systems can already be synchronized.

That means you can provide instant feedback loops to design and engineering. So engineering can understand everything from customer sentiment analysis to in-the-field product usage and performance. As a result, you can quickly change design. Just as important, you can rapidly adjust business processes throughout the product lifecycle. That helps you adapt your entire business to fluctuations in customer demand, supply availability, competitive landscape, and more.

The potential advantages are both tangible and intangible. The most obvious advantage is faster speed to market. Some industries — food and beverage, for instance — can shorten design cycles from years to months or even weeks.

Another clear advantage is better traceability for lower costs. Let’s say your product design is affected by new regulations in a particular geography. If you have full visibility of your assets in the field, you can upgrade only the equipment in the relevant jurisdiction.

But there are many intangible advantages, as well. Better access to data, and a greater ability to combine and analyze that data, can enable you to innovate new products you might not otherwise have conceived. Likewise, synchronization of enterprise-wide processes can allow you to pursue new business opportunities and models — like shifting from merely selling products to offering services enabled by your products.

As product lifecycles shrink, you don’t want your profit margins to shrink along with them. Be prepared for the disruption. A digital product innovation platform can help you respond to changing market dynamics. It can also give you the tools to reshape the market to your own advantage.

Learn more about the extended supply chain and how it can affect your organization.

John McNiff

About John McNiff

John McNiff is the Vice President of Solution Management for the R&D/Engineering line-of-business business unit at SAP. John has held a number of sales and business development roles at SAP, focused on the manufacturing and engineering topics.