The PDM/PLM Divide

PLMAbyssA great void continues to expand in the application of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and even progressively simpler Product Data Management (PDM) technology solutions. A chasm exists between the large enterprises successfully engineering complex information infrastructure into manufacturing juggernauts, and the small design firms merely surviving with the digital equivalent of brute force. It’s literally becoming an abyss, a bottomless pit, baby; two-and-a-half miles straight down. When it comes to PDM or PLM, two flavors of solutions have dominated for an age: the big complex monstrosity, or the anti-solution, which usually means cobbling all things together with whatever came with Microsoft Office. The next step in PDM/PLM technology evolution must strive to fill that void, and find a meaningful compromise between the inequity of large and small, balancing robustness with agility.

On one side of the divide we have the PDM/PLM systems we know today. Many companies have been successful with these technologies, others not so much. These are solutions tailored by specialists, often dedicated teams of business analysts, engineers, solution architects, developers and a consultant or five. Together they leverage top-down process re-engineering, map customized data models, design complex technical infrastructure, and orchestrate the solution into a carefully calibrated symphony of elaborate enterprise systems. From the outside, it might seem about as awesome and mysterious as a bio-luminescent spaceship the size Chicago sitting on the bottom of the ocean. But it comes with a price. Cycle times are long. Implementation is arduous. Ownership costs are high. The most impressive implementations cost tens if not hundreds of millions. Exceptions are few. It might seem like madness, but at scale the benefits can be many times that. But that’s the thing, you need scale.

Which brings us to the other side of the great divide, where everything in the paragraph above seems distant, impossibly complex, and ultimately unaffordable. What’s the alternative? Any solution you can possibly imagine, as long as it can be crammed into Microsoft Excel. Like a bunch of grease monkeys just banging pipes together; one big bludgeoning tool to whack everything into submission. In comparison to a well-oiled industrial PLM machine, the low-tech alternative seems very much like barbarism. But hey, at least it’s practical and accessible. Well, hell, son. You better get a line down to us. We’re in moderately poor shape down here.

Up until now, the choice has been simple. There are two doors. The door to your right leads to the PLM source and manufacturing nirvana. The door to your left leads back to Excel, and continued information barbarism. Take Bill of Material (BOM) management as the well-beaten example horse. BOMs either end up in a complex multi-BOM configuration strung across disparate systems and data models, or they’re just dumb spreadsheets on a shared drive disconnected from their parent CAD files, which also happen to be on a shared drive. What’s in-between? Nothing.

In the past, we’ve talked about rightsizing, and how it has gone wrong. Existing PDM/PLM vendors, fully cognizant of the great divide, assumed rightsizing was the solution. By selling lightweight pre-configured version of their existing software architectures, the technology would be more accessible. But those solutions, for the most part, were neither efficient nor flexible.   They were in many ways the worst of both worlds.

The new wave of PDM/PLM technology must take a different path. Oleg Shilovitsky paints a clear picture in his blog Future CAD file management trajectories:

“One of the biggest challenges these days is how to leverage cloud system advantages on top of massive amount of CAD files. Every engineering organization is struggling to find an efficient solution to manage engineering data accumulated on desktops and network drives. Security, cost and scale – these are three most important elements every manufacturing company will be assessing to find an appropriate CAD file management solution.”

A tremendous opportunity exists to fill the great divide once and for all. Cloud technology is no doubt the catalyst to the turning of the tide. New solutions must compete with the accessibility and ubiquity of Excel but play nice in what’s to become a rather large universe of similarly constructed technologies. Together, they will form a scalable platform for tomorrow’s data management – from the ground up.

  • Ha, Ha, Ha, The cloud will solve it all!!!! I wonder how long you “PLM” experts will be allowed to BS the industry. You are lucky management is so inept. Excel can be operated by anyone, that is why it is used. I use it myself maintaining projects and assemblies with a company that has about 20 products.

    As for Boeing sized manufacturing firms Pre-CAD, the Document Control system was run buy the lowly admin person working in a proven manual standard document management system. It is quite amazing to me that computerizing this simple process could be so be difficult. Oh, that’s right it was put in the hands of the “PHD” helped by the genius IT fellow. What could go wrong??? LOL

    Like I have said many times you have to get back to basics.

    I was beating the drum for direct editing for almost two decades, only today are the CAD vendors starting to implement it a part of the design process in their dated Pro/e paradigm program. A few products, like SW Mechanical Conceptual, are being created since it can not effectively be incorporated in their current flag ship products.

    I will guarantee that the PLM industry will finally discover that engineering needs a standard deliverable. Only then will we have a system that can be standardized. Of course, a few of the CAD vendors may disappear.


  • How can a lowly drafter have these opinions?

    I sold CADKEY to virtually all of the Boeing suppliers. CADKEY could read and modify all of the Catia parts coming out of Boeing at a tenth of the cost and overhead. It was fine, Boeing was delivering drawings and the solid model. Then one day I get a call from more than a few of my clients, asking me to help them with data coming out of Boeing. They were sending out PMI data. No more drawings. Many had Catia 5 systems, but many didn’t know how to handle this information. Many just ignored it. Even those without Catia 5 could read the native solid model.

    It was a joke, very little notice or training was delivered by Boeing. There were software requirements being established without explanation. Soon 3rd party validation and compare software packages were being delivered to ease the process. Adobe releases a package to view the PMI because the Catia viewing software was so complex and expensive. There was no way to deliver changes quick and effectively, thereby having to scrap many of the expensive parts.

    Boeing didn’t really understand the process either (and still don’t). This caused chaos for both, Boeing and supplier. Today, the suppliers are still having to jump through many hoops to communicate with Boeing. Currently this system has added many band-aids trying to make it work. The first tier suppliers have to have all of the necessary software and someone to maintain it. Only the larger suppliers have the resources for this. They toss much of the work to the 2nd tier suppliers that basically have no clue how to handle the data.

    So today you have a very nonstandard deliverable going out to the suppliers or even used in house.

    What happens? Boeing has reduced the amount of direct qualified suppliers available. The smaller companies have to work for the larger suppliers or not take Boeing work at all.

    After spending years creating standard documents that could easily be duplicated by virtually any supplier, today we see much less duplicable documentation being delivered to those that have to comply with this obscure and complex expensive process.

    It was instantly obvious to me that this system would fail. From a proven universal standard to a very specific convoluted process.

    I think it all has to do with Ivory Towers!!!!


    Redefining 2D/3D

  • Ross Bernheim

    Been there, done that, got the mug and tee shirt. Excel is not a database and is not a replacement for PLM. It lacks many necessary features to serve as the database for a manufacturing firm.

    PLM is expensive and usually comes with excess complexity.

    I would like to see a PLM system that is not overly complex with features geared to large multi-site corporations.

    The customization will still need to be done for each company, but it will be easier without all the added complex features.

    The proper comparison between excel and other cobbled together systems and PLM is the costs to the company of each. Purchase price is not a good measure as it doesn’t capture the real costs of each.

    Instead consider the man-hour costs of each when implemented. The time spent hunting for data, assuring that it is correct and up to date. What are the costs when there is some data that is not up to date. Document management, data needed for certifications, data needed to assure the correct part is purchased. It all adds up

    PLM saves money, the true savings come as your company grows and scales up. But as important is that it forces you to structure and standardize procedures and how the company operates. This is difficult to do. Getting buy-in from everyone is hard. Explaining the advantages without overselling PLM is step one. Step two is to beat the recalcitrant ones over the head to get them on-board. Done properly even the recalcitrant ones will see the value of PLM.

  • Pingback: The Day the Strength of PDM Failed | E(E)()

  • Pingback: Your PLM Logic is Useless: Because I’m Excel | E(E)()