For much of the past decade, manufacturing leaders have sought to adopt more digitally oriented processes and build towards an Industry 4.0 vision for their company. While the technology to make this possible has become more widely available, they have typically faced roadblocks with regard to connecting the technologies and integrating across business functions.
The reasons why businesses need a connected approach have scarcely been so apparent. Amid the sudden lockdown in March, leaders abruptly found out just how well prepared (or not) their companies were to continue with their operations, based on how easily staff could access enterprise systems and collaborate in an unfamiliar environment of home working and skeleton staffing.
In this new environment, agility must be a foundation of enterprise systems. This shift doesn’t typically manifest itself in one or two business functions – it requires a holistic approach that brings people, processes and technologies together. Product lifecycle management (PLM) presents an opportunity to underpin this holistic approach, unified by an end-to-end digital thread.
What is PLM?
PLM relates to how organisations introduce new products to market, manage product data across a lifecycle, collaborate with suppliers, respond to market trends and constraints, plan for manufacture, and much more. In short, it’s how people and processes interact within a product development process, supported by technology.
At the foundation of a PLM system is an evolving digital representation of a physical product that will ultimately be brought to market. A managed product structure underpins the digital representation, and acts as a construct to associate all artefacts and assets that typically constitute a design, and ultimately describes the end product. Throughout this lifecycle, the impact of change can continually be assessed and executed, ensuring all stakeholders are incorporated into the product development process.
A PLM system typically exists within an enterprise landscape that includes other technology investments, such as ERP, MES and CRM systems, and can connect into these data sources across the product’s journey. As different production processes evolve and mature at different paces, a PLM system allows you to take account of maturity management by understanding where business objects are in their own and the overarching lifecycle.
The Connected Enterprise®
The power of these systems converges on the idea of Industry 4.0. Manufacturers have been talking about it for years and have typically been taking steps to enable technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR)/digital twins across their production environments.
With PLM, we can design and source a digital thread that runs across the product’s lifecycle and allows a multitude of different data sources to integrate. But more importantly, PLM data that traditionally would only have been the domain of the engineering department can now be made available to stakeholders across functional boundaries. This creates a means of maximising the value organisations derive from an entire set of technology investments. These are all powerful information sources in their own right, but when integrated, that’s where organisations can really begin to explore the potential to innovate.
Now, with restrictions around COVID-19, there’s a more pressing need to have accessible and connected systems in place to manage the flow of data across a lifecycle and enterprise. Organisations that don’t have PLM, and are still reliant on spreadsheets and disconnected toolsets for their engineering activities, will likely have struggled this year to rapidly reorganise to enable continued operations. These organisations will no doubt take account of the challenges presented by COVID-19 and start to reassess the value of an enterprise approach to PLM.
Powering your PLM
If your organisation is considering an investment in PLM, here are three key things to consider to help shape an approach.
1. PLM is about business change, not just technology
Technology is clearly a big part of enabling change, but cultural change, people change, and organisational boundary change are just as important. To be effective, PLM cannot be siloed within the engineering department – it needs to be an organisation-wide endeavour. As stated, PLM is really about people and process, underpinned by technology – the business need and value has to be front and centre, which should result in more than just a technology solution.
Naturally, C-level technology leaders will have an important role in the transition towards a more fluid and agile methodology that transcends functions and disciplines. After all, the objectives of a PLM-approach – to save money, de-risk investments, open new revenue streams and increase profitability and margin – align well with their own goals. Getting broad reach and buy-in, therefore, really needs C-level sponsorship to emphasise that this is a business initiative – not simply an engineering endeavour.
2. PLM can support your Industry 4.0 objectives
What the various components of an Industry 4.0-ready environment have in common is data. This data, however, doesn’t reside in any single location, team or function. Multiple functions in an organisation can be unified by a coherent digital thread – from the design engineers prototyping designs in CAD, the manufacturing engineers leveraging model-based definitions embedded in the design, through to the sales and marketing teams exposing digital twins derived from digital representations when meeting with their prospects and customers. An enterprise PLM system can manage this coherent digital thread, together with all the associated product development assets and activities, while providing continued access to product development information for all stakeholders and participants, in a secure collaborative environment.
The best companies today ensure product design is bounded by manufacturability – it’s pointless developing an elaborate design, only to find that the product itself cannot be manufactured for profit, or at all. Early manufacturing planning activities can be enabled within PLM to ensure the rich dataset managed within the system is available downstream, and is fully aligned with the evolving design on the one side, but also with the manufacturing capabilities of an organisation’s plants and supply chain on the other – all within the framework of enterprise change management.
3. Digital transformation is never ‘done’
According to Forrester, 21% of executives think their digital transformation is completed. This mentality can be dangerous, as innovation needs to be a continual part of your product strategy. A PLM approach can help reinforce the positive feedback loops that allow you to prototype and test new products based on data-led decision-making as part of an integrated digital thread.
Digital transformation initiatives can and do stutter – but there are some steps to consider to ensure success, particularly where PLM is at the heart of a digital transformation strategy. Have an ambitious vision, but a realistic implementation plan, as there are typical stages to move through when implementing PLM. Each stage requires careful design and implementation, and must not be rushed.
And of course, training and adoption cannot be overlooked. PLM, as part of a digital transformation initiative, is nearly always a new way of working and can continue to be as more capability is deployed. Without the people, process and technology alone do not constitute a sound approach to PLM.
Supporting Your Transformation
PLM is immensely useful in the manufacturing domain, yet isn’t being fully utilised today. That’s why we’re so excited to work with Rockwell Automation to help organisations bring engineering and manufacturing together, and to better share information across functional boundaries.
PTC and Rockwell’s expertise are a natural fit for companies entering the Industry 4.0 domain. Together, we are helping manufacturers to design, build, maintain and improve their production environments in a way that captures the value of these innovative technologies.
The strength of our partnership lies in the joint learnings and experiences, which we deploy to help you define a strong end-to-end solution for an ever-more connected enterprise world.
If you want to find out more about PLM, digital threads and how to make your digital transformation a success, visit the Management Perspectives Hub, which is packed full of information and resources for executive industrial decision-makers.
Published November 18, 2020