Why integrated Product Lifecycle Management is of existential significance for digitalisation strategy and what requirements will be set in respect of the modernisation of existing PLM systems

Every one of you is familiar with the highly polished advertising videos in which technology visions suggest the end of complicated development processes. In this, engineering via augmented reality becomes child’s play, the design is optimised in real-time feedback loops in the virtual space and then produced on site using additive manufacturing processes. All of this is framed by artificial intelligence. Who still needs Product Lifecycle Management in that environment?

What sounds so visionary is, from a purely pragmatic point of view, only the long-term result of the disruptive change processes of modern industry. However, the basic requirements in terms of the product lifecycle remain the same even with such a degree of automation:

the introduction of digital system models for continuous process chains in product development, production planning, production and service. That means: the provision of all information to do with the system, a seamless horizontal and vertical integration of the value chain, consistent traceability and thus, finally, minimisation of the total cost of ownership (TCO).

One of the greatest current challenges in Product Lifecycle Management is the setting up of a PLM system that is integrated across the entire product lifecycle. In practice, however, the focus of enterprise applications to date has been exclusively on development and design. In this context “integrated” should, however, also include supply chains and after-sales. To achieve this, you need a type of central BUS system that can communicate uniformly across the entire lifecycle and across all dimensions: the product structure. It ultimately provides the framework for a digital system model.

Specifically, this break is evident in the upstream integration at the boundaries between the engineering CAD models, the requirements structures and the BOM line items of the E-BOM.

In the downstream integration, the same problem occurs, at the latest, at the interface of the E-BOM with the M-BOM. Different authoring systems and missing connections or non-existent functional and logical product architectures enormously obstruct the path to complete integration.

Future PLM systems must be able to smoothly depict the processes just mentioned above. Particularly in light of modern “as a service” business models, predictive maintenance and sustainability trends, digital models are of strategic importance for the system development of the future and the digitalisation strategy of almost every enterprise far beyond delivery.

For service and maintenance, “digital twins” will in future be derived from the global digital models and thus represent the “as maintained” status of the individual system instances. Running times, down times, health data and other system information from the operation flow back and are directly included into the design of future product generations. Systems are, for example, therefore able to independently place orders for replacement parts – condition monitoring using IIOT.

The following requirements can be briefly summarised from this information:

  • Introduction of MBSE for vertical and horizontal traceability
  • Integration of a continuous product structure for the resolution of conflicts between various BOMs and system views
  • Use of a digital model/digital twin for “as a service” services
  • Standardised change and configuration management across the entire product lifecycle
  • Use of Business Intelligence to detect optimisation potential early on and thus, for example, improve engineering and service
  • Integration of agile procedures in the further development of authoring and administration systems.

Ultimately, it is up to management to set the relevant course so as to direct the rolling train into digital transformation and not into a siding. Setting this course correctly requires perseverance and powers of persuasion. However, social empathy is also required as dogmatic language only causes employees to fold their arms rather than causing the barriers at the railway crossing to open.

However, it is indispensable as a key concept for the journey into the digital age. Integrated PLM can be seen as not just a challenge but also a huge opportunity for industry and society.