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Open-Systems Approach to PLM Gives Digital Transformation Advantages

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing Engineering: What are some key trends today in PLM software?

Marc Lind
Senior Vice President
Aras Corp.

Marc Lind: Manufacturers face the ongoing challenges of managing exponential product complexity, staying competitive, and avoiding disruption. For many of them that leads to the notion of digital transformation, but they are not always sure how to get started. For Aras, that’s the backdrop for how we think about developing an open PLM platform to meet manufacturers’ long-term goals.

More specifically, we see manufacturers looking for openness, flexibility, scale, and upgradability. Openness means an open data model, use of open standards, open APIs for connectivity to disparate systems, and open data sharing for interoperability. Flexibility is the ability to change processes, screens, and rules as their business changes and works in an agile way. Scale means the ability to include all disciplines and functions worldwide in their product processes, including the extended enterprise.

Manufacturers require IT applications that can be continuously updated, even when customized, as they grow in order to stay current and enable new technology insertion.

All of this points to the need for what CIMdata and Gartner termed a product innovation platform—a product development solution that “assures the company’s flow of new products because the tools, staff, and information are working in sync throughout the lifecycle.” As it relates to digital transformation, a product innovation platform enables that foundation for innovation, eliminating legacy lock-in and disconnected processes.

ME: How does the Aras Innovator solution differ from many of the major developers’ CAD-centric PLM platforms?

Lind: There are three fundamental differences between the Aras PLM Platform [Aras Innovator] and other CAD-based PDM systems. First, the Aras platform is architected in a way that applications, services, vaults, and user interface operate independently from each other. That way services, processes, and applications can be added, changed, extended and upgraded without any data loss or feature regression. In fact, we guarantee upgradability of any and all customizations that a customer makes to their solution.

Second, the Aras platform is open—open architecture, open data model, and open source applications available for download at no charge. The open APIs are capable of connecting to any other business system in the enterprise. Companies are able to extend PLM functionality across the lifecycle by connecting disparate systems to enable capabilities such as the digital thread. Aras features configuration management and traceability across the full lifecycle. Additionally, the platform is a single code base, and not the result of generations of cobbled-together acquisitions. This simplifies management for IT and guarantees future compatibility.

Lastly, whereas legacy vendors are focused on CAD, Aras is CAD-agnostic and connects to the various CAD tools—MCAD, ECAD, ALM—to enable all disciplines. Today’s products are systems-of-systems that require electronics and software, not just mechanical design.

ME: What advantages can users get from an Aras PDM that’s available both on the cloud and in on-premise versions?

Lind: We provide manufacturers with greater control and flexibility to determine the right deployment approach, so we support full cloud, on-premise, and hybrid. Unlike monolithic legacy PDM systems, Aras inherently virtualizes and partitions well in the data center to take advantage of elastic scalability. We understand that for global enterprises the cloud should not be an all-or-nothing proposition. There are certain processes where a cloud deployment of PLM makes perfect sense, like joint ventures or supply chain collaboration.

That’s why Aras is certified on Azure and available in the Azure Marketplace. With Aras, it’s the same platform and applications, same flexibility and ability to integrate, and same subscription with upgrades including customizations no matter where you run.

ME: What are some of the new technical features in Aras’ latest solutions?

Lind: Two of the newest technical additions to Aras have been around extending lifecycle traceability and managing product complexity. Most recently, we have acquired MRO [maintenance, repair and overhaul] functionality and delivered enhanced variant configurator capabilities.

Visualizing robotic assembly processes with Aras’ CAD-agnostic PLM software. Image courtesy of Aras Corp.

First, our community has identified MRO as a solution for both realizing the benefit of the digital thread and digital twin. Complex assets—aircraft, vehicles, vessels, weapon systems, industrial equipment—have long lifetimes and their configurations continually change in the field over that time.

Down the road when a problem is discovered, it’s been difficult and sometimes impossible to trace a “thread” of information linking the problem to the design intent to identify the root cause. Our digital thread vision is to have a real-time view from the requirement through the design all the way to the recent operations and repairs. By incorporating an MRO application onto the platform, we are helping the Aras community to realize the digital thread vision.

MRO is equally important in achieving the digital twin configuration—the most compelling driver being real-time, continuous simulation of the product twin based on known operating parameters. To do so, you need to know the actual configuration at a point in time, i.e., digital twin configuration. Without PLM connected to MRO, you can’t get there.

The second interesting technology release was variant configuration as a service. We’ve taken a fundamentally different approach by making variants a service in the platform as opposed to hard-coded system functionality. As the amount of software and electronics increases in products, manufacturers have the challenge of managing exponential growth in variants and options.

In automotive, a vehicle may have a billion or more different configurations. We have incorporated Configurator Services into the platform so that companies can more easily develop 150% BOMs [bill of materials] and create organized structures to manage variants. The more that companies offer products tailored for individual customers’ needs, the more they will need to empower design teams to handle variant management.

ME: How have some customers deployed your software to improve productivity?

Lind: Most recently, the BMW Group selected Aras for management of test data. BMW needed to solve traceability of tests, test results, and different stages of vehicle development. Verification and validation is a key process for auto OEMs [and others] and it is an area where companies can improve productivity. More than 5500 BMW engineers are expected to use the Aras platform.

Other major customers include GM, Nissan, Airbus, GE Aviation, Kawasaki, Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding, and Microsoft. Because we enable an agile approach, they are able to transform more quickly and solve problems in weeks that they could not solve in years with other solutions.

ME: What’s the key to the future of PLM?

Lind: From our perspective, the future of PLM continues to be realizing its original promise—managing product processes across the full lifecycle, from requirements and development to manufacturing to field operation, albeit in new ways for more sophisticated products. To do so, we are delivering an open PLM platform that is fully scalable, flexible, and upgradable when heavily customized so that it’s future-proof.

The future requires companies to refocus their PLM strategy and reset their expectations of what PLM can accomplish in order to transform their global processes. They’ve got to solve tomorrow’s most complex problems in new ways because you can’t engineer the future with yesterday’s technology.

ME: How do you see the current manufacturing climate?

Lind: We see manufacturers at a crossroads, where their old processes and legacy systems are hitting a wall when it comes to managing complexity and maintaining innovation. The next several years will be telling as to who embraces new technologies to digitally transform and who is disrupted and displaced by competitors.

New Releases

New features in Mastercam 2018 Design add a suite of shop-tested CAD-for CAM design tools aimed at getting parts on and off the machine as quickly as possible. Image courtesy CNC Software Inc.

CAM developer CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT) has added to its “CAD for CAM” design tools with an Mastercam 2018 Design package enhancement, which adds a suite of shop-tested design tools that get parts on and off the machine as quickly as possible. Modeling tools included are 3D surfacing and solids, hole-filling, direct editing without a solids history, geometry repair, and more.

Mastercam Design streamlines and simplifies modeling and editing geometry, and it supports advanced geometry creation, including solid modeling, hybrid machining, NURBS curves and surfaces, 2D and 3D associative dimensioning, surface extension, blending, trimming, splitting, variable filleting, solid modeling, and hybrid modeling to complete jobs quicker and more efficiently.

Enhancements include angle sweep, solid sweep, and hole axis tools. Angle sweep improves creation of more complex wireframe functions, and when creating or editing primitives there are now on-screen sweep and rotate controls. Solid sweep has more options and controls, and now supports 3D Along curves in addition to 2D. Hole Axis is now easier to use with a large number of holes, especially holes with matching diameters selected as a group.

Cloud ERP and MES developer Plex Systems (Troy, MI) has extended shop-floor mobility with its new Plex Mobile. The app is an extension of the Plex Manufacturing Cloud, enabling a manufacturer’s workforce to handle shop-floor and administrative responsibilities, and access and share real-time information from mobile devices.

The new Plex Mobile app from Plex Systems adds to shop-floor mobility for Plex Systems’ ERP and MES software users. Image courtesy Plex Systems

Plex Mobile is designed for industrial environments, with role-based menus and functionality made to support specific operators and responsibilities, the company said. Plex Mobile’s applications support the requirements of specific tasks. This approach improves workforce efficiency and data capture accuracy, while eliminating gaps in the manufacturing process for improved traceability. Initial app functionality includes shipping and receiving, inventory management, human capital management, production management, including load/unload work center and record production.

The app uses native mobile device capabilities, including camera and audio, to streamline and automate data capture, such as barcode scanning. Plex Mobile also enables next-generation wearables and sensors to create a hands-free environment for users. The new apps leverage Plex’s role-based security, with data access and functionality tailored to each user’s responsibilities.

Manufacturing software developer 42Q (San Jose, CA) has released Rapid eDHR, a solution that is said to enable medical device manufacturers to implement all electronic device history records (eDHR) in as little as three weeks. Leveraging 42Q’s secure cloud MES platform, medical executives using Rapid eDHR have online access to hyperlinked component traceability data and other quality records, enabling them to respond to potential issues and optimize processes.

Rapid eDHR provides online access to medical device history records. This capability is an important first step to rolling out an MES solution that provides the structure for, and ensures compliance with, key elements of the FDA QSR (Quality Systems Regulation). The Rapid eDHR cloud solution can electronically track and maintain documentation and quality records pertaining to the production of finished medical devices. For more information, visit:

Oracle Corp. (Redwood Shores, CA) has developed new AI cloud applications that enable manufacturers to reduce costs and increase yields by providing analysis and insights. The new Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Applications for Manufacturing leverage machine learning and AI to process large amounts of data from production environments and identify issues, enabling improved operational efficiency.

The new cloud-based Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Applications for Manufacturing enable manufacturing and supply chain organizations to reduce costs and increase yields via machine learning and AI capabilities. Image courtesy Oracle Corp.

The new applications let manufacturers spot anomalies during production, pinpoint the root cause of issues, and predict events before they occur. Built on the scalable Oracle Cloud Platform with embedded machine learning capabilities, this solution includes a manufacturing-aware “data lake” that brings together and analyzes structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data from multiple data sources on the shop floor.

Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Applications for Manufacturing include pattern and correlation analysis, genealogy and traceability and predictive analysis. Applications work in a complex, heterogeneous mix of IT systems such as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Quality Management, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Capital Management (HCM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Operational Technology (OT) systems that include sensor and log data from equipment and machines.

“Traditionally, pattern and correlation analysis, genealogy and traceability analysis and predictive analysis are done by a small group of specialist data scientists,” said Ramchand Raman, vice president, Oracle product development. “Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Applications for Manufacturing simplify the output of complex machine learning and AI algorithms and present these insights to users to drive better, faster decision making.”


Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX) and the American Center for Mobility (ACM; Ypsilanti, MI) announced a new partnership that bring Siemens’ Simulation and Test solution for Automotive to ACM to support virtual and physical testing and validation of automated and connected vehicles. Siemens is part of similar initiatives in Singapore and the Netherlands, now leaders in the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles and infrastructure in real-world environments.

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