PLM 2.0: Reinventing Product Design

In the next evolution of product lifecycle management solutions, the customer is the designer


By Oleg Shilovitsky

In the manufacturing industry, we've never been known for our turn of phrase, catchy slogans or social movements, so it may strike some people as odd that I've become such a passionate advocate of what's now known as "PLM 2.0." Like some sort of movie sequel, many "non-techies" have shunned terms like "Web 2.0" and "Office 2.0" because software upgrades don't represent real life; this is the same reason these people wouldn't line up to see films with alternate titles for the same terms — "The Return of the Office" and "Web Strikes Back."

At this point you may have forgotten my initial premise — PLM 2.0 — and are busy daydreaming about what a giant spider web would look like if it took over a city or how your office cubicle would look wearing a three-piece suit. What if I told you that your daydream was illustrating my exact point? What if I could tell you — and show you — that product lifecycle management (PLM) is more than what you've been taught? PLM isn't just about streamlining the supply chain, keeping information organized, or maintaining central repositories of data. PLM isn't a mathematical process or a formal set of algorithms, nor is it a lesson to be taught or a skill to learn. It's simply an idea.

Where Humanity and Technology Meet

PLM itself is broadly defined as the efforts and processes involved in managing a product from inception to end-of-life, encompassing design, manufacturing and supply chain management along the way. Though many people have defined PLM 2.0 differently in the past year or so, it can be best understood as PLM with an emphasis on the collaboration between humans and technology, while channeling the potential of 3D tools and concepts to enable users to create a lifelike, interactive experience. This is achieved by applying the concepts of advanced physics to 3D models to make them move and function as they would in reality.

What's truly remarkable about PLM 2.0 is that it will prove to be truly revolutionary for engineers, designers and really any type of user. Unlike other particularly intricate technical processes, like finite element analysis or mechatronics, the ideal audience for PLM 2.0 solutions isn't limited to those directly involved in product modeling. Because PLM 2.0 is inherently similar to Web 2.0, it encompasses an element of social networking that renders it accessible to most people with a foundation in computer science or architecture, even students.

The technology can link people of all kinds together in an interconnected world, by allowing users to develop products collaboratively and by giving them the power to merge their ideas on design, engineering and manufacturing — no matter where they are located in the world. People in China, Australia and Germany can all work together on the same design and seamlessly exchange information with everyone in their supply chain, including partners, outsourcers and compliance experts.

Implications for the Future

The magic of PLM 2.0 also extends to the consumer world. Any regular, non-technical consumer with access to the Internet can view a variety of 3D simulations and images on a company's Web site and then provide feedback and insights to the company. For example, say Company XYZ manufactures umbrellas and is coming out with a new line of specially shaped umbrellas made of an experimental fabric. With access to 3D models of the umbrella, along with simulations of how it performs under different weather conditions, consumers can interact with the design, changing the quantity of rain falling or the miles per hour of wind gusts. They can see how the sun would reflect off the umbrella and whether or not it would affect their view of the street. They could change the concentration of materials used in the umbrella to make it lighter and easier to hold, then watch a simulated video of extreme conditions and determine which of the two elements — comfort or strength — is more important to them.

Just imagine the difference that level of user feedback could make in designing cutting-edge products.

How often have you seen admirable companies release questionable products that fail to gain market traction because there's something about them that doesn't quite appeal to the average consumer? By allowing consumers to interact with your products in the design phase and make recommendations, they become part of the development team — a marketplace of ideas that can be used to your advantage. Unlike surveys or questionnaires, 3D is visually appealing and engaging. People don't need to be enticed to provide their opinions on design; they'll do so willingly and enthusiastically. PLM 2.0 can enable a lifelike experience for them — and more importantly, an incredible level of detailed product insight for you.

Another beneficiary of "social PLM" is small businesses, which face significant challenges in product development and supply chain management because of limitations in personnel and restrictions of scale and budget. The recession has especially exacerbated the disparity between small and large manufacturers in terms of expenditures on software solutions. With SMBs often lacking the funds to purchase expensive product data management solutions or to hire additional designers and engineers, product development can devolve into an overwhelming, disorganized and inefficient process. PLM 2.0 will allow them a more affordable and convenient solution: the ability to access cutting-edge tools online and collaborate with experts virtually.

Breaking down Barriers

Nonetheless, not all vendors will embrace PLM 2.0 and its implications for an on-demand software subscription model. Manufacturing is not a boutique industry; even a small manufacturer or supplier deals with hundreds of thousands of deliverables produced at regular intervals. Part of the reason that PLM has been able to grow so rapidly is that vendors have offered large-scale solutions capable of addressing any foreseeable customer need. A software -as -a -service (SaaS) model removes that requirement. With PLM 2.0, customers would ideally be able to subscribe to and use only the specific elements of a solution that they wanted.

PLM is at a crossroads in its evolution. The two proverbial forks in the road are value and cost. While once set aside as an unnecessary luxury, most players in the manufacturing industry have come to realize the value and return on investment that PLM provides. Conversely, they've also realized the expense. There's no doubt that PLM solutions can be financially costly, but given the breadth of functionality they provide and the propensity for ROI, the cost is completely mitigated. Unfortunately, not all companies view it as a long-term investment. This creates a barrier on the PLM road to success. In the current economic situation, cost is the major driver of adoption. Vendors who are able to lower the cost of their PLM solutions in some way, while retaining value and quality, will dominate the new era of product development.

Despite how scary this may seem to advocates of traditional manufacturing principles for product development, there's no turning back now. Customers have expressed their desire to have real-time collaboration capabilities at their disposal 24 hours a day for an affordable price. Vendors who sit back and ignore this momentum are bound to be left behind. The recession has taught us that robust industries are never immune to changes in consumer demand — and despite our best intentions, we cannot sustain a market by the quality of established products and practices alone.

Embracing PLM 2.0 means having faith in the intrinsic value of human interaction and manipulation of stimuli. Creating a lifelike 3D simulation experience in which products move, function and evolve exactly as they would in reality; enabling every individual on the supply chain (and beyond) to provide input and interact with the product in its formation; and leveraging PLM's ability to seamlessly automate processes throughout the product lifecycle — this is the definition of PLM 2.0. ¦

Customers have expressed their desire to have real-time collaboration capabilities at their disposal 24 hours a day for an affordable price. Vendors who sit back and ignore this momentum are bound to be left behind.

About the Author: Dr. Oleg Shilovitsky is the chief technical officer at Dassault Systèmes ENOVIA SmarTeam, where he oversees product planning, design and innovation. His blog, Daily PLM Think Tank, can be found at www.plmtwine.com

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