CIMdata Survey Says Industrial Users Struggle to Fully Implement PLM24 Mar, 2018 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin
By limiting themselves to product data management (PDM), many companies are missing out on the spectrum of product lifecycle management (PLM) uses and benefits, the consulting firm reports.
CIMdata, a product lifecycle management (PLM) consulting and research firm, recently completed research into the status of the PLM economy. To take the pulse of the PLM user community — and in turn, help that community better understand how to maximize the value their investment in PLM — CIMdata conducted an online survey, reaching out to about 10,000 PLM users globally. CIMdata President Peter Bilello declined to specify the number who completed the survey, but reported that the participants accurately represented the PLM community as a whole. “The response rate was much higher than we usually get,” he said. ”It’s a pretty good cross section."
That sample included large portions of respondents from aerospace and defense (26%) and automotive (19%) industries; mechanical machinery, heavy equipment, high tech, and transportation also made strong showings. Regarding their position in the supply chain, 68% are original equipment manufacturers (OEMs); 21% are Tier 1 suppliers; and 8% are Tier 2. The vast majority identified themselves as industrial, with the remaining 12% comprising software vendors, system integrators, and others. And in terms of their familiarity with the technology, 65% of respondents have more than 10 years of PLM experience; 19% have 5–10 years; and the remainder have 1–5 years.
The survey found that regardless of their particular industry, these companies have something in common: They are not getting maximum value out of their PLM implementations, which have the potential to inform applications ranging from early in a product’s lifecycle (design ideation) to late (maintenance requirements and field service). Instead, they are struggling to progress beyond “traditional” product data management (PDM) topics such as engineering data management, engineering change and change management, configuration management, and workflow management. The survey also indicated that the pursuit of newer topics, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, is still more than five years away for most of the respondents.
Although data management is indeed the core of PLM, that’s just the beginning of what’s possible. “Outside that core, there are so many things you should be doing with it,” Bilello stressed, such as simulation, analysis, and forecasting. “There’s people that are interested [in PLM], there’s people that have implemented it, and there’s people that think they’ve implemented it,” Bilello commented. “Some companies are pushing the limits … the vast majority are still sitting in the middle.”
But to really maximize return and enable sophisticated applications of product data — such as digital twins — “sitting in the middle” isn’t good enough. Instead, companies need to implement end-to-end PLM strategies that coordinate product data throughout a company. “Product information is the core of every business … it’s not an engineering thing, it’s a business thing,” Bilello pointed out. “If that information is disconnected … you’re going to have problems.”
What Stands in the Way
Expanding PLM solutions to encompass a fuller spectrum of business processes is easier said than done. A primary obstacle is cultural, Bilello explained. According to what CIMdata has observed, PLM is still primarily seen as having value because of its engineering function, and not much else. “For a lot of management, they think it’s an engineering issue, not a lifecycle issue … there’s a limited understanding of the end-to-end view of things.”
It’s a perspective that starts with how MBAs are taught in school, Bilello believes: “We’re educating management to think a certain way … that’s a big part of it.” Change on this front began in the 1980s, with the advent of the chief technology officer (CTO) role in many companies, Bilello said. And now, he expects millennials will influence the situation as they move into management roles, because their understanding of data is different than their predecessors — they have an expectation of accessible, free-flowing data.
Does resistance to spending present a roadblock to building out PLM solutions? Bilello doesn’t think so: “If you really understood [the importance of it], cost would not be an obstacle,” he said. Some companies facing budget pressures opt to implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system first, but that’s a mistake, Bilello believes, because ERP gets fed by PLM — it’s putting the cart before the horse.
Recognition of the importance of broader PLM may arise in isolated pockets of an organization, but then those employees can’t effectively communicate it up the chain, he observed. And according to Bilello, there is sometimes confusion surrounding the “overlapping processes and functions” of enterprise systems including PLM, ERP, and manufacturing execution systems (MES).
Mapping Out a Clear Path for PLM
To successfully press forward with PLM, companies must be open to change, and must clearly communicate where they’re going, and why. “Individuals don’t like change unless they understand why,” Bilello commented.
He recommends that companies start by building a solid foundation of knowledge: What is PLM, and what does it means to them? What value can they get out of it, and how might it enable new business models? And they must understand where they’re starting from: How are they handling things currently? “They all manage their lifecycle in one way or another,” Bilello pointed out. Many companies want to enable digital twins of their products, but that’s impossible if they don’t start by understanding what they’ve built, he explained.
Ultimately, it’s essential to work through the process in a way that’s digestible, measurable, and reasonable, Bilello stressed. Companies must recognize going in that the process will take time — but in CIMdata’s view, it’s unquestionably worth it.