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PLM Takes On Digital Transformation

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

New cloud, simulation and augmented reality capabilities help PLM users navigate the smart manufacturing frontier

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Manufacturing users employ the latest AR and VR technologies in implementing Siemens’ global PLM to connect far-flung factory locations.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software helps manufacturers manage, shape, guide, and refine new product developments, speeding up the design and production process. Manufacturing users of PLM software are looking for easier-to-use PLM tools, including the latest product data management and CAD/CAM/CAE tools in the age of Industry 4.0.

PLM users need open and adaptable tools that work well together, which are often found in the cloud. The growing importance of true digital twins with realistic simulations of physical manufacturing plants and products are often cited by PLM developers as vital to manufacturers staying competitive.

Smart, Connected Product Developments

Open systems make it much easier for PLM software users to connect with other systems and share critical product data. “Product development not only leverages multiple authoring tools, it also includes data from multiple enterprise systems,” said Bill Lewis, director of marketing for Plano, Texas-based Siemens Digital Industries Software. “Being open to connect and integrate into those tools is critical to helping our customers deliver their products.”

The challenges faced by customers are constantly changing, and at a rapid pace, Lewis added. “PLM tools need to respond quickly,” he said. “The ability to quickly grow into new markets, such as with our new Capital Asset Lifecycle Management solution, or flexibility through true low-code development platforms and so on, give customers the ability to meet challenges quickly,” he said.

Exploding product complexity plays a huge factor in how PLM developers approach new product developments. Today’s components often include not only the mechanical aspect of designs but significantly greater electrical and software content. “The big thing is smarter, more connected products, [made] in a shorter time—and you’ve got acceleration in the process,” said Mark Reisig, director, product marketing, Aras Corp., Andover, Mass. With more embedded software and electronics included particularly in vehicle manufacturing, development teams have to account for greater variation in both engineering and the larger supply chain, he noted.

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Engineers collaborate in a CAD viewing session running in Aras Innovator PLM, enabling designers to easily view the latest product designs.

“There’s more systems engineering, with more software,” Reisig said of the greater electronics content now prevalent in vehicles and robotics. “You’ve got more disciplines going on, and there are constant tradeoffs, so the systems side has become more important. Software was an afterthought, but it’s not anymore.”

Embracing the Digital Realm

Complex products, such as smart products, require a holistic, closed-loop digital twin, Lewis noted. “The ability to not just manage and develop, but simulate performance and behavior, provide feedback from real-world devices in the field, and feed all that knowledge back into product development means that our customers not only develop products fast, but they develop products that work,” Lewis stated.

In recent years, all of the major PLM developers have made significant moves, either through technology acquisitions or via partnership developments, to either shore up, add or improve existing simulation capabilities, with a focus on offering customers a true digital twin. Siemens’ list of acquisitions includes MultiMechanics Inc. last November, adding the company’s MultiMech line of CAE simulation to the Siemens Simcenter 3D software portfolio.

Siemens made a big splash in simulation with its $4.5-billion purchase in November 2016 of Mentor Graphics. Last September, Siemens announced its Xcelerator integrated portfolio of software, services and an application development platform that combines Siemens’ software for design, engineering and manufacturing with an expanded Mendix low-code, multi-experience application development platform, which the company also acquired last year.

From the digital thread to the digital twin and digital deployment, manufacturers’ digitization push of the past few years has focused on giving builders realistic digital simulations. Starting with the digital thread, “PLM is one of many strategic enterprise systems, each of which provides digital continuity in their domain,” noted Mark Taber, vice president of marketing for Needham, Mass.-based PTC. “To tie these heterogeneous systems together in support of digital transformation is the digital thread. The digital thread is inclusive of connected data from machines and fielded products as well as the supply chain.” He thinks that PLM is the backbone of this multi-system orchestration, providing associativity/traceability for product data.

“The digital thread is the foundation for the product and factory digital twin breaking down data barriers across the full product lifecycle with models that virtually represent both physical product and process counterparts,” Taber continued. “All the data—including behavior—is captured in the digital twin, which will, for example, help engineers troubleshoot reported errors. By gathering and connecting data, you’ll uncover new findings and can extend these activities from ‘plant’ to ‘customer’ with the IoT.”

Regarding digital deployments, Taber said “modernizing the application infrastructure [in the cloud, on-premises, or hybrid] is part of every digital transformation project. When we talk about digitalization, it has to be with a recognition that everything is IT, including the need for a good systems landscape, which enables agile product development. To survive, you will need a modern, scalable, upgradeable, secure application infrastructure.”

In November, PTC purchased OnShape Software, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform that offers CAD, data management and collaboration tools. OnShape, which was founded by CAD/CAM pioneer Jon Hirschtick, a co-founder of Solidworks, will operate as a unit within PTC under Hirschtick.

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An iPad running PTC’s Windchill PLM software shows a digital Polaris snowmobile model (left) alongside its real-world physical counterpart.

The industrial transformation is continuing and demands for bringing increasingly complex products to market faster are accelerating, noted Garth Coleman, vice president of ENOVIA Advocacy Marketing, for Dassault Systèmes, based in Waltham, Mass. and Vélizy-Villacoublay, France. “Our customers believe that embracing the transformative power of virtual worlds is essential to realizing companies’ goals of delivering increasingly more innovative and sustainable products,” Coleman said. “When we look at trends in PLM, the future is reliant on several key factors—leveraging digital twins; using product data analytics throughout the value chain to improve designs through virtual prototyping and understand how products perform in the physical world; and advancing collaboration across the value stream and enabling collaboration in real-time during the design process.”

Providing designers the right tools and design environment is essential, he added. “Even though PLM systems manage product development well, alone they lack the ability to connect the entire value network and to manage a single, holistic representation of the product,” Coleman noted. Through a single, holistic system, with apps that connect various stakeholders into that system, an “innovation platform” allows stakeholders to leverage the complete digital product definition, in real-time, to virtually create and validate product experiences, he said. “Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform connects the enterprise digitally through its data-driven apps working from a single and complete product definition with different functional views on the same data, rather than separate data repositories for each function, helping companies accelerate the digitalization of their businesses.”

Overcoming PLM Barriers

Some of the biggest obstacles to manufacturers deploying PLM in the age of Industry 4.0 include siloed tools that prevent teams from unifying engineering information into a single source of truth; organizational change management; technology installation/upgrade, migration of data, and migration of tools; and multi-discipline innovation such as using different design systems, Coleman said.

“The way PLM is delivered and deployed is changing to address these concerns—not only for startups and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), but also for our largest corporate partners,” said Coleman. Dassault is seeing great interest in its cloud offerings, he stated, particularly among mid-market and startup customers, because of the ease and value it brings.

Along with rising part complexity and the high costs of PLM, manufacturers may also be looking at a slowdown in IT budget growth, further squeezing PLM prospects, said Siemens’ Lewis. “Many of the challenges are the same they have always faced; it is just getting tougher,” he said. “For example, IT budgets were growing for a while, but that has stopped. Now, IT organizations are being asked to do a lot more with less.” Tactics that start with industry best practices help get customers up and running with solutions specific to their needs, he added. “Flexibility with a low-code development environment allows our customers to quickly deploy new targeted applications that specifically meet their use cases,” he said.

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An assembly shown in Dassault’s 3DExperience PLM’s 3DDashboard enables engineers to collaborate on new designs from different locations.

The explosion in manufacturing data also presents builders with new problems and opportunities. Being CAD-agnostic is an advantage for Aras, which has its Innovator PLM platform but no home-grown CAD tools. Other than adding new simulation management capabilities, which are due to arrive this summer, the company focuses on working with all CAD/CAM offerings. “The universe is expanding,” Aras’ Reisig said of steadily growing data collection in manufacturing. With the focus on the digital thread, manufacturers “have to stitch this stuff together. That data by 2025 is going to reach exponential levels. I read that they (manufacturers) use only 3 percent of that data.

“The openness of these systems and the ability to move that is critically important,” Reisig said. Manufacturers need to think outside of the box, he added, in order to deal with the big disruption in PLM, and builders stuck with older legacy systems that aren’t easily upgradeable is an important issue.

“There’s a gigantic IT problem to solve in migrating that data. The most important characteristic is that if you’re mired in technical data, you are stuck in a million different ways,” stated Reisig, who said nearly 100 percent of Aras’ new customers are using legacy PLM. “When that’s the situation, they’re stuck.”

One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of will to undergo change due to perceptions about the costs and complexities of implementing PLM, noted Keri Bender, PLM business strategy manager for San Rafael, Calif.-based CAD/CAM/PLM developer Autodesk Inc. “Many companies feel they don’t have the right resources in place to embark on this journey—and we know it’s not an easy one—but we also know it’s necessary and ultimately attainable.”

New Solutions, Often on the Cloud

Using a cloud-ready solution means companies can open the enterprise to a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders who can participate and collaborate anytime, anywhere, Dassault’s Coleman said, while providing the flexibility and scalability to grow-as-they-go. “Cloud eases both upfront and long-term investments in IT infrastructure and the personnel resources required to get PLM solutions deployed and keep them running—and it ensures updates are automatic [and] IP is secure.

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An Autodesk simulation displays different part orientations of a generative design on an additively manufactured component.

“The ability to connect multiple file-based CAD data on a single platform is a significant obstacle for many manufacturers,” Coleman said. “Through PLM Collaboration Services, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform can be accessed by users of numerous competitors’ mechanical and electrical CAD systems.” Coleman also noted that a suite of new and updated ENOVIA roles are designed to work in a 3DDashboard on a web browser or mobile device. This gives stakeholders access to information anywhere, anytime.

Dassault Systèmes had more than 250 new features and enhancements delivered for ENOVIA in the recently announced R2020x release, Coleman noted. “The expansion of our PLM Collaboration Services is a key part of this release enabling designers to connect to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform for improved data management and sharing with the enterprise.” Release 2020x now means the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform is on the cloud and its PLM Collaboration Services are available to users of AutoCAD, Inventor and Altium, according to Coleman. “This ensures continuity across multi-discipline MCAD and ECAD environments with 3DEXPERIENCE platform roles and apps. With a single, shared product definition, teams can more efficiently govern the product development process across the product lifecycle,” said Coleman.

Siemens has a number of technical developments across its Xcelerator portfolio, noted Lewis. They too are on the cloud. Lewis also noted that AI is helping its customers perform tasks faster and train users how to use Siemens’ tools.

“With complex, multi-domain products, simulation has become more critical than ever,” he added. “Being able to manage the test plans, targets, simulations, verification management, and results [enables] a product development process that delivers products that work the first time, faster than ever before. This is one piece of the holistic, closed-loop digital twin.” The digital twin isn’t just CAD, software, electronics, simulation, manufacturing, service, or IoT, Lewis said. “It is all those things and more, all working together.”

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A Suzuki motorcycle model shown with multi-domain BOM (bill of materials), combining the mechanical, electrical, and software elements, which ensures the manufacturer has a complete BOM for planning purposes.

PTC’s Taber said the company is adding manufacturing use of engineering derivatives like CAD + BOM for “mass customization” process plans and work instructions. “As a result, we are investing heavily in boosting our manufacturing engineering capabilities within Windchill, to not only trace to Windchill engineering sources but also third party PLM sources. BMW is spearheading this work with us.”

In the past couple years, PTC introduced its ThingWorx Navigate View and Contribute apps to help non-expert users, including augmented reality for industrial customers. “We are improving interfaces between Windchill’s digital definitions and ThingWorx’s physical experiences to bridge these data gaps and lifecycle states,” Taber said. “This gives engineers access to factory and field data, and vice versa. Not only are we enabling the digital twin, we are also developing applications over it for top use cases like data-driven design and augmented reality procedural guidance.”

In addition, PTC is leveraging its OnShape cloud technology to offer Git- (distributed version control) and Google-doc-like real-time collaborations in engineering design like CAD and bill of material, he said. “This is a longer runway initiative,” Taber said. “Product complexity requires more individual experts, often spanning multiple companies across the supply chain.” PTC is also looking at leveraging AI in PLM for different use cases, from basic help to diagnostic and descriptive analytics to more advanced predictive and descriptive analytics. The latter includes PLM business processes performance; PLM users assistant; change management and change impact prediction; predictive quality; and prescriptive analytics supporting generative engineering processes (product cost and tooling cost scenarios, generative mBOM, and Process Plan), Taber added.

Autodesk’s latest offerings focus on continuing to make PLM more accessible and easy to use for manufacturers of all sizes through the developer’s Fusion Lifecycle, which users can access through a web browser as a subscriber, noted Autodesk’s Bender. “Users can continue to expect continuous improvements to core usability for BOM, Change, NPI, Supplier Collaboration, and Quality in a modern experience that is instant-on and highly flexible,” Bender said. “In addition, we are investing in providing better integration possibilities for connecting the power of our design-and-make portfolio and extending to third-party tools and enterprise systems.”

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