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The State of PLM


Is it Good Enough?

The latest trends in PLM are so focused on new internet technology that some of the core aims of PLM are beginning to be overlooked.

It also seems that PLM Teams may be finding it harder to convince colleagues to spend time and effort on PLM, as it becomes "yesterday's subject".

There is a precedent for business themes becoming obsolete: TQM inspired improvements in manufacturing throughout the 1980s, but has become overtaken by 'Lean' and 'Six Sigma', despite being more powerful and comprehensive than either of its replacements.

There is a risk, in the longer term, that PLM may go the same way.  A more immediate problem is that attention on PLM as an effective business improvement mechanism may be diffused.  Why should the Board struggle with this old-fashioned theory when there are new high-tech buzzwords that are much easier to understand?

The Consequences


A Platform for Debate

There needs to be a platform to debate this, and the PLMIG ran a discussion process during Q4 2016 with the aim of providing it.


The answer to this question is important for future investment in PLM by user companies.

It is already difficult to get justification for new PLM projects, when the Board wonders about the need.

Once a discipline becomes viewed as "obsolete", (as happened to BPR and TQM, for example), then it never recovers.


The first step was to carry out an informal email survey of PLM practitioners, asking 4 questions:-

  • Do you agree with the premise?
  • Is PLM going in the right direction, or has it lost its way?
  • Are you satisfied with the way that PLM is developing for your implementation? and,
  • What, if anything, should be done?


The Schism

The response, from Europe and the USA, showed a 50:50 split between two diametrically opposing views.

Half the respondents felt that PLM is the platform on which new digital improvements should be constructed - but for the other half, PLM is now just a component part of a more important Digital Revolution.

All of the initial responses came from users.  The responses were very well argued, and quotes are paraphrased below to inform the debate.

The Consequences


User Views - PLM is the Platform

One view is that PLM is still the primary platform around which the newer business improvement initiatives should be aligned.


"Our company is currently spending money on PLM.  PLM is a defined strategic development goal until 2025. Topics like systems engineering, global production, standardization, process harmonization are contained in PLM, and also for our acquisitions.  Therefore PLM is quite vital to us for the coming years."

"Industry 4.0 and IoT are general approaches adressing several company issues: (business model; development, service or production strategy, technology).  For sure they can have impact on the product itself or the related business, production or service model.  But for my understanding they will work in the product context only with an established PLM.  Without PLM, the additional informations can not be set in context with the relevant product data.  As a result, I do not think that PLM is dead or dying.  In contrast its importance will increase."

"I do not think that PLM is becoming obsolete.  PLM is still the underlying process infrastructure that higher level product constructs must leverage – for example Model Based Systems Engineering.  I believe IoT is one level higher construct if done well to MBSE."

"PLM must be the infrastructure and also create the architecture for building the newer initiatives.  I am not so sure the industry completely sees it this way yet so it is unclear from that perspective if PLM is going in the right direction."

"There should be more focus from PLM consultancies (and PLM suppliers that help to implement) on value realization.  Without this, the flash of the new shiny object gets all the attention.  If consultancies can estimate and measure value and use value realization as a differenciating point, the consultancies that can create the most value will thrive and the PLM industry will be much stronger for it."

The Consequences


User Views - Digital Transformation is the Future

The alternative view is that PLM now becomes one of the many elements that are part of the new Digital Future.


"In my opinion, PLM shouldn’t be isolated from the digital transformation in Manufacturing. The concept of an integrated environment utilising silo’ed processes such as PLM and ERP are to be blunt, obsolete. Organisations need to embrace the fact that whether it is PLM or ERP it is about having a seamless stream of data that will enable the wheels of industry to turn."

"The digital transformation of Manufacturing in general is about removing silos from Product Development, Manufacturing, Purchase, Sales and Finance. PD needs to embrace IT as their products will contain an awful lot of IT through IOT and iIOT.  Factories can no longer be disconnected from the enterprise, as they have to be as agile as the customer demand is."

"PLM is not dead, but it needs to be transformed to become part of the digital transformation and how it will enable product development to become agile and develop better quality products at a velocity that industry hasn’t seen before, otherwise the darling that is IoT will overshadow this."

"I’d have to say that PLM has peaked.  It has largely been superseded by a broader concept (if that’s possible) of the Digital Thread (DT).  PLM tools in this world look more like transactional systems and, being built on relational database technology, are not well suited to what is essentially a big data problem."

"There has been a sea-change in the architecture and tools of enterprise systems.  The modern microservice architecture enables unheard speed in delivery of custom applications. So if a company wants to go this way, they can run circles around PLM modeling methods."

"It is a given that the data store or usage of data should drive the type of data store – the RDBMS is not a given anymore.  This is beginning to limit PLM to be a product design and a manufacturing planning system only. And product design is no longer seen as a growth area – it is the Industrial Internet"

The Consequences


PLM Fundamentals

The way to cross-check whether we are in a hype cycle with Industrie 4.0 and the Internet of Things is to go back to PLM fundamental principles.

PLM still means Product Lifecycle Management - the business activity of managing a company's products all the way across their lifecycles, from the very first idea for a product all the way through until it is retired and disposed of, in the most effective way.

Without the Product, there is no PLM.  Without Management, there is no point to PLM.

PLM has grown from 'islands of automation', and there has been a continual drive over the years to make connections between these islands and to integrate them properly.  It may therefore seem that a logical goal is to connect everything.  But merely "connecting everything" is not PLM.  Even "connecting everything with devices that talk to each other" is not PLM.

Everyone who works in PLM knows what sets the discipline apart.

PLM is not just big data - it has structure, in terms both of the underlying thought processes and the product data that is being managed.  PLM is not just islands of automation linked smartly - it is about giving human beings the freedom to carry out skilled work using their intelligence, freed from the chores of data management.

The new world of Industrie 4.0 and IoT must meet these requirements if it is to work for PLM.

The Consequences


Risk to PLM - Internet of Things

On the face of it, the Internet of Things should not be a risk to PLM.  It is a natural extension of the ever-increasing computing power and interconnectivity that is moving the entire IT industry forward.  The IoT should therefore enhance PLM capability, and - broadly speaking - this is already happening.

The main problem with the IoT and PLM is that the cart is being put before the horse.  PLM covers the whole product lifecycle, from cradle to grave.  The Internet of Things, in general, connects the product back to the producer or the customer once it has left the factory.

Therefore, in the PLM context, the IoT lies within the enterprise-wide scope of PLM, and not vice versa.

Obviously, in the wider world, the IoT has a life of its own.  Even now, IoT is probably a bigger industry world-wide, but most of the capability it provides has nothing to do with PLM at all.  The ability to switch on your central heating via your mobile phone while you are at the cinema, or to receive constant updates on the delivery of the parcel you ordered, are modern conveniences that primarily affect the Customer Experience.

The risk, therefore, is that the irresistible surge towards IoT drowns out considered PLM thinking.  For those who work in the PLM world, the PLM Fundamentals position the two disciplines correctly with respect to each other.

The Consequences


Risk to PLM - Industrie 4.0

There is a significant difference between Industrie 4.0 and IoT, and this difference makes Industrie 4.0 much more of a long-term threat to the future of PLM.

The key difference is that Industrie 4.0 aims for a 'Factory of the Future' which operates on the basis that cyber-physical systems within the factory don't just communicate: they will make decentralised decisions.

If this is successful, then no PLM system in the world today will work properly.

PLM systems can handle the extremely complex challenge of global product configuration throughout the lifecycle.  ERP systems leverage PLM to ensure that the right components and sub-assemblies are in the right place at the right time on the factory floor.

But in the Industrie 4.0 world, a sub-assembly will be a cyber-physical system that knows how it should be configured, which factory machines should operate on it, and what other components it should be attached to.  If an attempt is made to join the sub-assembly with an incorrect component, or the correct component that is at the wrong revision, it will abort the operation.  It may even redirect itself to a different part of the factory where the correct mating part is to be found; request that it be attached to the nearest appropriate jig; and call for a human operator to carry out the operation.

If this does happen, then pity the poor Manufacturing Engineer who has to sort the problem out.  Parts are in the wrong place, and there is an orphaned mating component that has been rejected by the intelligent sub-assembly.  Neither the PLM nor the ERP system has any idea why the sub-assembly took the action that it did.  Did PLM hold the incorrect configuration, or was the error in the way that the configuration and decision options were programmed into the cyber-physical sub-assembly?

This scenario is obviously some way off, but PLM Managers need to plan for the next 5 and 10 years.  The risk is that the effects of Industrie 4.0 will not be considered until the new technology is starting to arrive.

The Consequences


Planning Implications

This potential divergence between PLM fundamentals and the new 'Digital Wave' creates a serious problem for PLM planning and strategy.  How is a company supposed to know which way to go forward with PLM?

It has always been difficult for the PLM Team to establish far-sighted PLM projects when the rest of the business is looking elsewhere. If you think it is difficult to get Board approval for PLM projects now, think how hard it will be in 5 years' time if all that is left are eye-candy 'Digital Transformation' projects, justifiable only because "everyone else is doing this".

With this in mind, two further questions arise:-

  • Do PLM Managers have enough facts and metrics to put forward an accurate 5-year programme?
  • Does PLM have enough traction, by itself or within the Digital Revolution, to justify the projects that the business actually needs?


The Way Forward

The discussion period crystallised the issues involved to the point where a workshop could be devised to resolve the subject.  If the two lines of debate outlined above can be worked through using existing PLM Vision and Maturity knowledge, it will be possible to generate a single PLM-IoT paradigm that everyone can work within.

You can add your views to the discussion via .

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