Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

PLM Strategies--Pinning Down PLM

31 Dec, 2004 By: Arnie Williams

What's PLM? Depends on who you ask

Welcome to the launch of Cadalyst's venture into the world of PLM—product lifecycle management. Each month, we'll explore the technology behind an acronym that over the past couple of years has proven its staying power above contenders such as EDM (electronic data management), PDM (product data management), PPM (product process management), PLC (product lifecycle computing) and others.

Some months we'll look at specific PLM software, such as PTC's Windchill (next month), Dassault Systèmes' ENOVIA, UGS Teamcenter, Agile and SAP. Other months, we'll explore the kind of government regulations that are driving PLM adoption and consider tips from consultants on successful implementation of a PLM strategy. This month, we'll focus on what PLM is and why it has shown up on the radar screen for many companies.

In This Article
In This Article

Palpable Perspectives on PLM

PLM is a broad topic. Chances are if you step outside in an area where manufacturing software developers congregate and throw a rock, it'll land on someone who has a finger in the PLM pie. I haven't thrown any rocks, but I spoke to a few company representatives for this month's column just to prove my point, including Daratech CEO Charles Foundyller; Proficiency president and CEO Trent Brown; Jeff Drust, vice-president of business development and marketing for Lattice3D; and Todd Black, CoCreate Software's marketing communications manager.

On its Web site announcing Summit 2005, Daratech defines PLM this way: "In its simplest form, PLM is an integrated IT environment that allows manufacturers to create, manage, store and share product data throughout the concept, design, build and life stages of the product value chain." Daratech should know what it's talking about. As one of the CAD/CAM/CAE industry's most prominent market research and analysis firms, the company draws a veritable who's who of industry figures to its annual summits from both the developer and the user sides of manufacturing worldwide. Attendees include CEOs and other top officers of the big-name automotive and aerospace firms as well as the heads of software development companies that span the mid- to high-end CAD/CAM/CAE and general manufacturing markets.

Over several days, company officers present their strategies for the coming year and field some pointed questions from Foundyller himself. It was in this high-level atmosphere a few years ago that the Daratech-favored term of Product Process Computing gave way to PLM—a term endorsed that year by both Dassault Systèmes and UGS and a term that has stuck in the market ever since.

If you consider that Summit 2005's keynotes are being delivered by Tony Affuso, president and CEO of UGS and by Bernard Charlès, president and CEO of Dassault Systèmes, you might think that PLM pertains only to users such as automotive and aerospace giants with their multiyear product cycles. You could be forgiven for such a notion, says Foundyller, but you'd be wrong.

Some manufacturers he's spoken with whose products have short lifecycles, such as consumer electronics, are skeptical of the value of PLM. "That's a mistake," he says. "When you are designing a product, you should already have its disposal in mind or how you plan to recycle it." According to Foundyller, the heart of PLM is simply that—to consider the product's entire lifecycle at every step of the process and to plan for it. Whether that's small-scale manufacturing with short lifecycles and modest IT needs or large-scale BOM-driven manufacturing with heavyweight, high-cost IT and multiyear lifecycles, it comes down to the same concept: an interoperable system that allows important data exchange throughout a product's entire life.

Jeff Drust, vice-president of business development for Lattice3D, concurs with Foundyller's view. Drust defines PLM as "taking data and utilizing it throughout the lifecycle process to minimize costs and maximize productivity." Lattice3D, based on technology launched in Japan four years ago and now a year old in the United States, uses XVL (extensible virtual world description language), an XML-based, neutral format, to compress, convert and integrate 3D data.

Drust offers several examples of how data can be used downstream of design to a company's benefit. Point-cloud data from a scanned door panel can be imported into Lattice3D, for example, and used as a comparison from as-built to as-designed for question-and-answer purposes. Data models can be compressed for e-mailing to downstream consumers or posting on Web sites as animated assembly guides. File sizes are kept small by saving the animation instructions so that graphics are generated on the fly rather than saved frame by frame.

Though the notion of using original design data downstream makes conceptual sense, the number of companies that undergo mergers and acquisitions and inherit a mix of CAD software can render the idea a practical challenge. Add to that the mix of contractors and subcontractors that OEMs deal with, and again, you're met with interoperability challenges at the notion of mining design data throughout a product's lifecycle. Helping overcome this challenge to PLM is where Proficiency with its Collaboration Gateway comes in, notes new CEO Trent Brown. The company uses technology it calls Universal Product Representation as a CAD-neutral representation of design intelligence. That allows users of CATIA, I-deas, Pro/ENGINEER and Unigraphics to have their design data converted to a format that can then be used in parametric form throughout early product development stages.

"We're allowing 24/7 design to occur for companies around the world today," says Brown. "Until now, we've focused primarily on the front-end of product development, but we're now intent on allowing companies to leverage this valuable engineering information throughout the enterprise and in back-end processes going forward. Ultimately," he says, "companies need to exchange data and collaborate in a parametric format to create great products. We've got the tool to allow that to occur in real time."

While Proficiency targets high-end clients, CoCreate Software looks at the PLM market as a broad-scale area that needs interoperability at every level. Its product can be leveraged for small companies, midsize manufacturers and the high end, says CoCreate's marketing communications manager Todd Black.

"The acronym [PLM] is catching on," he says. "but when you look at how companies purchase applications—they look for what can be provided to them rather than saying 'we need to address a PLM strategy because everyone else is'.'" Black notes that a large, heavyweight, IT-intensive PLM product is difficult to scale down for mid- to smaller-size companies. But if you build an application with a small company in mind, as CoCreate has done, and then build up to larger enterprises, it becomes much more affordable for companies to come on board.

PLM's Forward Momentum

Only a year or so ago, Autodesk's Manufacturing Solutions division was using the term Desktop PLM to describe its Inventor Series products and its new Product Stream technology, Desktop PLM. In a recent interview, vice-president Buzz Kross said they've backed away from that term because it wasn't catching on with users. Instead, the Autodesk strategy this year is to focus on solving PLM-related problems where they occur closest to home—within the engineering groups.

But that's more of a marketing-language adjustment than a shift in focus. You can look for CAD companies in general to pay more and more attention to PLM in the future. One reason is that the CAD software market is mature and there's not as much to be gained by each release of a CAD product as in the early days of the technology. PLM is a new market that represents the kind of high-gain development opportunities the CAD market offered 20 years ago. But the other reason is that today's technology allows more intelligence to be embedded in design data, and it just makes sense to leverage that intelligence downstream throughout the product development process and overall product lifecycle.

The demystification of PLM and an exploration of its real-life applications is what this column will be all about in the coming months. I hope you stay tuned and also share your feedback. Next month we'll look at PTC's Windchill.

Arnie Williams, former editor-in-chief of Cadence magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail him at

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