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PLE Software Helps Engineering Teams Reduce Product Development Complexity

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media
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Charles Krueger
CEO
BigLever Software (Austin, TX)
www.biglever.com

Manufacturing Engineering: Your company just released onePLE, a new version of its product line engineering [PLE] software. What’s new in this version?

Charles Krueger: With onePLE, BigLever is bringing to market a holistic [PLE] solution. It combines our services offering with the Gears technological framework and integrates with other partner solutions, which includes lots of engineering tools across the full lifecycle. 

The key piece that we are elevating with onePLE is our services offering enabling large enterprises to adopt PLE. As we started helping organizations just work on a single product line, we could keep a very technical focus. Now, as organizations are adopting PLE as an enterprise-wide strategy, it requires more organizational and cultural change—rather than just focusing technologically and on a single product line. What we’re doing now is focusing on supporting the true business-level value of PLE. That encompasses supporting executives and addressing what is truly required across the broad enterprise for the successful adoption of PLE.

ME: Describe what PLE is, and what it offers manufacturing product developers.

Krueger: PLE helps organizations that create families of similar products. The challenge that we address is the diversity and variation that must be supported across the entire product family. Engineering teams may spend as much as two-thirds of their time and energy just managing the diversity that exists within the engineering artifacts needed to support a set of products, which come with a spectrum of variations within their features and functions.

When managing these product variations, and their many artifacts, at the detailed asset level—at a parts level, a bill of materials level, a software source code and components level, and an individual requirements level—you could have thousands, even up to a million points of variation across these engineering assets. Dealing with this level of complexity, and the fact that these assets interact with each other, is very time-consuming. As we get into more sophisticated, intelligent products with more advanced software-based capabilities, it becomes difficult for organizations to deal with this complexity using traditional engineering approaches.

What we offer in our feature-based PLE solution is the ability to abstract—to use a simpler way of describing, managing, and automating the management of this low-level variation. This simplification, through abstraction and automation, can triple productivity, and reduce engineering overhead and product defects by a factor of 10. These engineering improvements provide such a significant leap forward in capability that it impacts an organization’s business far beyond the engineering level.

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Simulation of Product Line Management (PLE) environment for an automotive manufacturer.

ME: One of the new developments in onePLE is creation of a new PLE Factory; please tell us about that feature.

Krueger: The ‘PLE Factory’ is a metaphor we use to help organizations understand what PLE is all about. Imagine the idea of creating a family of similar products. With conventional approaches this is done by having multiple teams, with each team focused on one or a small number of products, so you end up with a lot of parallel activity in silos of development. Even though there are a lot of common activities that go into creating a product family, the organization of teams and the engineering activity is focused on individual product groups.

With PLE, we want to now engineer our products, and all the assets that make up the product family, from a much more centralized approach. People will come out of their silos and work in a larger, more holistic approach to engineering, inside what we call a feature-based PLE factory.

We have to train people to use this new PLE capability so that everyone knows exactly what his/her job is. All the assets—such as requirements, designs, architectures, source code, bills of materials, test cases, and user documents—need to be engineered into an asset superset that will support all of the products that will come out of the PLE Factory. As new products need to be produced, changes or defect fixes made, engineers can now use the PLE Factory to efficiently produce these new products based on their features.

The proven engineering gains and business impact from this feature-based PLE Factory approach are so significant that companies are willing to deal with the organizational change required to achieve the true competitive advantage that PLE enables.

ME: How critical is speeding up the nuts-and-bolts process of product development? What issues are most difficult for product development teams?

Krueger: From a business point of view, this has become a key piece of competitive advantage. As products become more sophisticated and intelligent, and as the product line grows, the complexity and overhead of what engineers do each day with conventional approaches is really overwhelming engineering teams. They are always struggling to keep up, with much less time to innovate.

This is putting a damper on overall business innovation, and companies’ ability to get products to market faster, and to produce better, higher-quality products than their competitors. We see over and over again that when organizations adopt a feature-based PLE approach and execute it well, they gain a significant competitive advantage, where they take control of leadership in their industry sector.

ME: How does PLE help manufacturers in the automotive and transportation industry?

Krueger: These industry segments represent the most advanced examples of the complexity challenges that are addressed by PLE. For example, the amount of diversity that needs to be supported across an automotive manufacturer’s portfolio is extremely large. These are safety-critical products, so defect rates have to be kept very low. As engineers become overwhelmed by this complexity, they are more likely to make errors, so the need for quality management is especially critical.

The rate of change in the automotive industry is very rapid as well. Every year, there’s a refresh to the various models in the manufacturer’s line, so product offerings are constantly moving at least at a one-year cadence, and sometimes every six months or less.

There’s also an extreme amount of competitiveness in these segments, so the margins are really quite small. Any unnecessary overhead that comes from the engineering process, anything that slows time-to-market, can impact profit margins. So the product line problem is most severe in these segments—and the opportunity for gaining competitive advantage from PLE approaches are the highest that we see.

ME: What can PLE do for developers in the aerospace and defense world, which has used PLE in the past?

Krueger: The survival of A&D contractors—the winners and losers—is largely determined by who can present the best strategy for winning proposals or retaining their incumbency on existing contracts. We see the enormous competitive advantage that contractors can achieve using feature-based PLE. These organizations are able to deliver new members of a product family with a dramatic reduction in time and cost, known in the A&D world as cost avoidance.

We’ve seen several examples where PLE has enabled tens of millions of dollars in cost avoidance per year on large DoD programs. These numbers are sufficient to help contractors win proposals, or retain their incumbency by ensuring that their government customers are happy. In many cases, this is the determining factor for whether or not certain divisions of that contractor’s organization will survive, and retain the many jobs that are at stake.

Acquisitions

ERP software developer Epicor Software Corp. (Austin, TX) has acquired privately-held docSTAR (Schenectady, NY), a developer of document management software, in a move said to further Epicor’s cloud-first strategy.

Financial terms of the deal, which closed Jan. 3, were not disclosed.

The acquisition brings docSTAR’s collaborative cloud-based enterprise content management and automated accounts payable solutions to the Epicor ERP solutions portfolio. Founded in 1996, docSTAR has more than 20 years of experience delivering its cloud-based or on-premises solutions that enable organizations to increase productivity, reduce cost and transaction cycle times through business process automation. The company has about 2000 customers in North America.

New Releases

Spectrum CNC Technologies (Anaheim, CA) announced the release of SmartTouch, an intelligent interface offering machine operators easy touch-screen access to Multi-DNC files. This interface also serves as a feedback loop for job-status information; operators can report part counts, downtime, and much more. SmartTouch supports both Spectrum’s Multi-DNC and Multi-MDC Machine Monitoring applications on the shop floor.

Based on a rugged shop-tested touchscreen, the SmartTouch can be configured to support individual job status feedback from operators as well as electronic parts counts. All shop-floor DNC files and functions as well as customized monitoring feedback are accessed through SmartTouch. Multi-DNC software, providing machine communications and control, is coupled with state-of-the-art hardware, networks, CNC machines and robots, and it supports CNC communications for uploading, downloading and dripfeeding. It also manages CNC programs, offsets, and parameters, and it can automatically capture probe data.

Partnerships

CAM developer SmartCAMcnc (Springfield, OR) announced a new licensing agreement for the SmartCAM software suite for CNC programming to integrate simulation technology from software component builder ModuleWorks GmbH (Aachen, Germany). ModuleWorks’ simulation module will add new verification components in the SmartCAM v2017 CAM software, adding ModuleWorks’ stock removal, error detection, toolpath analysis and backplotting technology into SmartCAM, replacing its current verification tools.

Software Updated is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak

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