Manufacturers turn to PLM for digital transformation

For some time, businesses had struggled with finding effective ways to manage the life cycles of their products, from inception and design to manufacturing and service. The rapidly increasing complexity of products and global competition are now motivating them to change.

Many implemented early product data management systems 20 years ago, but now grapple with out-of-date technology. “These systems were really designed just to manage data from computer-aided design and don’t address the electronics or embedded software in today’s products,” explains Peter Schroer, chief executive of product lifecycle management (PLM) firm Aras.

“Manufacturers have limped along with these legacy systems, and resorted to ever-expanding spreadsheets that are unwieldy and inaccurate in filling the gap. Leading companies recognise this is not a sustainable solution, much less a formula for digital transformation.”

Businesses are attempting to solve the complexity of product development but, if they make a wrong choice, it is another costly setback. “When companies try to migrate from one old technology to another, essentially solving an old problem with the same approach, they meet very limited success,” says Mr Macdonald.

Instead, experts such as CIMdata note firms should take a platform approach to PLM to overlay and connect existing systems, before expansion to other parts of the business.

A modern PLM platform that is flexible and upgradeable, such as those provided by Aras, can be easily deployed to manage data and processes that co-ordinate engineering teams across design disciplines, as well as external supply chain partners for more efficient product development.

“The platform approach to PLM is really catching on because business competition is ever-tougher and product life cycles are shorter. Manufacturers see they must introduce better support for their engineering processes,” explains Mr Macdonald.

Among those at the forefront are Huntington Ingalls, one of the largest ship builders for the US Navy. The company was under pressure to keep costs down to meet national budget targets. Having managed most of its engineering change processes on spreadsheets, it moved to a new PLM solution from Aras. The result is better management of models, drawings, parts, technical specifications and structural planning, and removal of process bottlenecks.

Other firms are also improving their product systems. Honda UK, which has a sophisticated production facility in Wiltshire, selected PLM applications from Aras for new model project management.

The platform approach to PLM is really catching on because business competition is ever-tougher and product life cycles are shorter

Airbus, which has aircraft design and manufacturing facilities in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, uses Aras PLM to manage complex engineering processes, supporting aircraft development and manufacturing following a successful initial application.

Anders Romare, vice president of engineering solutions at Airbus, highlights success “with the deployment of test information management for aircraft” which “proved the viability of Aras for complex engineering business processes”. The Aras platform will be used by up to 30,000 staff.

Elsewhere, Microsoft’s devices group, which includes Xbox and Surface tablet products, uses the software as an open platform linking existing systems, reducing the amount of time required to perform engineering tasks, cutting the time to release data and increasing responsiveness.

When businesses get PLM right, they can use it to optimise other critical processes necessary to enable smart, connected products. Using PLM to manage a digital twin – a complete computer replica of a physical product – allows lessons learnt in service and support to be incorporated into the next product generation. Combined with a digital thread, which traces all the inputs, decisions and data involved in development and manufacture, PLM can revolutionise the way businesses operate.

For most businesses, the opportunity to improve massively product lifecycle management is clear. A move to a PLM platform gives them the chance for improved agility and strong competitive gain.

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