Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Longer Lifecycles in Service-Oriented Empires (PLM Strategies Column)

28 Feb, 2007 By: Kenneth Wong

PLM trends in maintenance and Design for X.

It's time for PLM's annual checkup. I invited Joe Barkai, program director for product lifecycle strategies at Manufacturing Insights, to give his prognosis of the product lifecycle. Though lacking grace in certain areas, PLM is happily tumbling along its postpubescent growth path, he said. Along the way, the kid is learning to play (nicely, we hope) with members of the ERP (enterprise resource planning) family. It has also acquired some new skills. PLM might even give you a hand the next time you need to fix your refrigerator.

 In this article
In this article

Service-Oriented Empires

General Electric is a household name. Its recognizable logo—an ornate circle with the interlocking cursive GE—appears everywhere from light bulbs and refrigerators to ovens and engines. Barkai directs our attention to another branch of GE's business where its logo may not appear literally. "GE aircraft doesn't build engines," he said. "It builds service platforms. It's part of its declared strategy."

GE lists five key growth initiatives in its online literature. Services rank second, buttressed by technical leadership (first) and customer focus (third). "Services have grown from the traditional activities of parts replacement, overhauling and reconditioning machines to a larger and broader vision," according to the company. "Our new vision includes investing in our business and technology to improve the performance on our installed base and the way we actually service it." Under its Growth Agenda section, the company states that "Services represent about 30% of GE's industrial revenues and have the potential to grow at 10% for the rest of the decade. Services are a powerful engine because GE knows or owns the technology it maintains and it makes the customer more profitable."

PLM Trends to Watch
PLM Trends to Watch

GE is not alone in this strategy. Manufacturers seem to have identified three postsale revenue branches. Like any profitable entity, the trio has been duly legitimized with its own acronym—MRO for maintenance, repair and overhaul. Where manufacturers go, PLM vendors will follow. Some are already there.

Expanded, Extended Lifecycle

"[Vendors] are expanding the definition of product life-cycle," Barkai said. "It's no longer restricted to design, engineering and manufacturing. It now includes after-sales support and maintenance." One example is PTC's acquisition of Arbortext, a technology for publishing dynamic content such as user guides and maintenance manuals. With this capability, PTC is extending "its reach into additional product lifecycle phases such as installa-tion, maintenance and service," Barkai wrote ("Theory and Practice," Manufacturing Insights, July 18, 2005).

In 2005, UGS was pitching Teamcenter for MRO, a suite targeted at aerospace and defense organizations. It's described as a set of solutions for "in-service management, maintenance planning, maintenance execution and material management on top of Teamcenter's open PLM foundation . . . "

In the past, engineering was the driving force behind PLM. But now that's changing, Barkai said. The emphasis has shifted to manufacturing, specifically to digital manufacturing. For evidence, Barkai cited UGS's purchase of Tecnomatix, a family of software for monitoring, controlling and coordinating shop-floor production activities. "When UGS acquired Tecnomatix, it also acquired lots of transitional technologies for migrating from engineering to manufacturing," he observed.

Purposeful Design

Generally, products meant for the real world are designed so they can be produced using existing machineries and materials, so design for manufacture is a given. But new practices and concerns—such as lean manufacturing, globalization and environmental regulations—have given birth to a slew of purposeful design methodologies known as DFX, or Design for X. Design for X means design for assembly, design for easy maintenance, design for low cost, design for compliance and (perhaps the most fascinating) design for disassembly, to name a few.

Commenting about Oracle PLM, Barkai remarked that "a complete PLM environment should support DFX practices that include design for manufacturability and design for serviceability, and allow designers to test the design against the goals and constrains of all product lifecycle phases" ("Theory and Practice," Manufacturing Insights, September 26, 2005).

Out of the Feature War

Barkai said that, in his experience, most PLM tools perform the basic tasks with comparable efficiency. They also suffer from similar shortcomings, so the vendors' "Anything you can do, I can do better" shouting match is a pointless exercise.

"As manufacturers partner with more suppliers, they start to buy more black boxes," said Barkai. "By that, I mean they don't necessarily know how a part is built. They provide the specs, they rely on their partner to give them a quality product and—in most cases—they get back a quality product. They know how it works, but when it fails, they won't know why it fails, because they don't know how it's manufactured." And that's something features and algorithms won't address.

If vendors want to play the one-upmanship game, Barkai suggests a new benchmark: "Understand the new workflows and design practices, recognize how they're influenced by global trends, then implement capabilities that support them into the tools—that's the way to outdo your competition."

The Visibility Paradox

"Traditional manufacturing revolved around tasks," Barkai said, "engi-neering tasks, manufacturing tasks, maintenance tasks, then subtasks within these tasks. So what we have is an IT infrastructure that connects all of these disparate tasks."

Unfortunately, the workflow breeds narrow focuses that are incompatible with product lifecycle goals. To make his point, Barkai explained how an engineer might think. "I'm only concerned with my constraints—cost, weight, size—the specs of the part I've been hired to design," he said. "If I'm having difficulty producing the part within those parameters, I'll try to compensate for it with something else." And that something—though harmless as far as an engineer is concerned—can have severe unforeseen consequences downstream. "It may limit access to the part during servicing, it may require a special equipment to diagnose the part during failures," Barkai continued his role playing, "but I don't care, because it's not my problem."

The expectation is that in the new lifecycle-centric paradigm, engineers have enough visibility into the aftermarket activities, such as servicing and maintenance, to make informed decisions about the compromises they're making. On the other hand, however, the fragmented nature of global supply chain demands that only certain partners have access to certain designs based on their objectives. "If I am a supplier to Boeing, I need to be able to access the BOM [bill of materials], but only for the parts that I'm involved in developing," Barkai explained. "It also has to be sensitive to the phase of the lifecycle. If I'm in early design, maybe I don't see as much." So how does a PLM system balance the need to restrict visibility versus the need to provide downstream visibility for everyone? It's a paradox—one that technology alone may not be able to solve.

Enterprise Connects to Lifecycle

Barkai singled out a group of PLM vendors that could be overlooked: "They come from the ERP [enterprise resource planning] side," he said. "Their PLM view revolves around the enterprise BOM or centralized BOM." Even though they don't have a CAD background, they do bring critical value to the table, Barkai contended. "Very often, the global manufacturing network is a dynamic network," he pointed out, "so the need to create a virtual enterprise, keep a synchronized BOM and make sure everyone is complying with the design rules propagated throughout the network is a great challenge. You'll see ERP companies playing a bigger role—you'll see companies like Oracle and SAP offering more BOM management capabilities."

The Great Divide

In March 2006, Dassault snatched MatrixOne for $408 million, prompting a flurry of excitement in the analyst community. Market watcher CIMdata hailed, "PLM Con-solidation Accelerates." AMR Research deemed the event a precursor to "The Golden Rule of Three," predicting that the market would end up being dominated by three behemoths: Dassault, PTC, and UGS. "PLM Consolidation Close to an End," it declared.

But not so fast, according to Monica Schnitger, senior vice-president of market analysis at Daratech. "The PLM market thrives because of the continuous introduction of new technologies, often invented in startups," she said. "We will continue to see rollups that enable providers to sell innovative products to existing customers and to reach new customers."

Barkai foresees the market splitting into two factions: on one side of the battlefield, a handful of industry titans marshaling a comprehensive portfolio to conquer the entire lifecycle; on the opposite side of the field, smaller armies armed with their own specialized solutions to tackle certain areas of the lifecycle such as modeling, data management, compliance and translation. He hopes to see the titans adopt an open environment—such as service-oriented architecture—to let consumers plug in best-of-breed solutions to their enterprise backbones.

But what about the vendors that are neither here nor there—the ones that possess neither a comprehensive PLM suite nor a specialized product that's a cut above the rest? "They'll have to figure out what they want to do," Barkai pronounced.

Kenneth Wong is a former editor of Cadence magazine. As a freelance writer, he explores innovative usage of technology and its implications. E-mail him at Kennethwongsf at

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!