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Technology Integration and Interoperability in PLM Landscape

Technology Integration and Interoperability in PLM Landscape

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The need to integrate different technologies in the PLM landscape has fabricated an interconnected digitalized system that offers data interoperability and openness.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a process that governs different stages of a product’s lifecycle, right from concept to retirement. The PLM involves various stages, starting with the conceptualization stage, where innovative concepts are designed based on user requirements. The second stage is product and process designing, where a detailed design is created based on the required functionality, service, and forthcoming problems that might occur in the system. The third stage is known as prototyping, where the actual model is either developed or simulated to validate results. Fourth is the production stage, where a market-ready product version is presented to be commercialized based on feedback from the previous stage. Fifth is the service and maintenance stage, where continuous maintenance and assistance are provided for the product. Finally, there is the retirement stage, where the product is disposed of from the market to generate scope for new concept ideas.

A holistic PLM solution supports enterprise-wide requirements for engineering planning, manufacturing strategy, and managing consistent product information to collaborate amongst internal and external stakeholders. The PLM platform provides a centralized repository to address a huge volume of product and process data across geographically dispersed teams for effective decision-making. The centralized repository includes data from products, processes, requirements, documents, and workflows, creating a scalable solution that lowers ownership and implementation costs for manufacturing industries, OEMs, and suppliers. Such a scalable solution helps support collaboration for better decisions making by creating room for a single integrated system. The holistic PLM solution helps manage smart, connected, and complex product development processes in the digital age.

Features of PLM:

Integrated PLM solution offers a central repository hub where the stakeholders can access all data. Generally, roles-based access control provides entry to the centralized hub, which helps streamline data allowing security during information exchange. The sensitive data are encrypted, which adds an extra layer of security.

The central repository hub offers functionalities across verticals, which include:

  • Vendor collaboration to data exchange across geographically separated vendors.
  • ERP integration to use approved data repeatedly, for example, information extraction on receiving purchase orders (PO).
  • Integrated business workflow to provide a unique software solution to promote end-to-end visibility.
  • Project Information Management (PIM) to collect and manage PLM data in a central repository to third-party systems.
  • Digital asset management to centralize product data using a cloud-based PLM solution.

Integrated PLM solution adds holistic value to the end-to-end business cycle:

PLM has evolved rapidly from being a separate set of tools to a close-knit platform that empowers teams to centralize the entire product data. The holistic nature of PLM leads to better collaboration among teams and accelerates the time to market. The scope of PLM is not limited to computer-aided design (CAD) and product data management (PDM) but also includes emerging technologies. Emerging technologies like digital twins for the virtual representation of a physical product in real-time utilize a virtual environment to train and validate algorithms, for example, autonomous vehicles. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) embedded in PLM enable virtual prototyping for interacting and validating the digital twins, for example, Data-Driven Modelling to understand on-site challenges. Integrating diverse technologies helps the PLM platform meet an organization’s end-to-end business needs.

PLM integration leads larger Integrated Ecosystem:

A PLM system provides real-time data to stakeholders for integrating heterogeneous systems. A large, geographically distributed organization faces challenges while managing and collaborating across different verticals. For example, a product-based company that requires constant feedback on improving its products needs to integrate different departments like supply chain and service to understand the dynamic market conditions. PLM tends to bridge this gap by providing a platform that integrates different enterprise systems like manufacturing execution system (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM) along with technologies such as internet of things (IoT), digital twins, cloud deployment, big data & analytics, and model-based enterprise (MBE), among others. Combining ERP and MES with PLM would automate operational, administrative, and physical assets to streamline supply chain collaboration in the manufacturing industry. While CRM and PLM collaboration helps to provide a single view of the customer, product, and quality information, PLM vendors are working towards designing integrated solutions from the end customer’s point of view to provide the highest return on investment (ROI). Therefore, end-users should assess vendors based on core integration capabilities allowing them to govern the manufacturing process.

Integration and Interoperability:

Integrated PLM solution addresses the issue of effective collaboration with easy exchange of process and product data, long-term knowledge retention, and traceability. This interdisciplinary approach helps link different technologies, thereby removing the constraint of interoperability. Nowadays, the aim is to develop a technical framework that provides predefined web services to ensure interoperability and integration with a PLM system. These web services utilize open internet standards and extensible markup language (XML) and are not tied to specific programming languages to provide service across varied platforms. Through web services, organizations can enclose existing business processes, publish them as services, subscribe to other services, and exchange data across the enterprise. Web service provides benefits like service-oriented architecture, which delivers a stream of services from any platform, provides interoperability across the platform, cross-platform integration, and accessibility across decentralized systems.

Interoperability is broadly classified into three categories;

  1. Conceptual interoperability defines concepts and semantics supporting the communication between data & knowledge models.
  2. Organizational interoperability focuses on the connection between process & data.
  3. Technical interoperability solves technical issues to support data exchange between software applications.

These approaches support the interoperability & data exchange between data management systems. For example, it is difficult for the manufacturing industry to manage and interpret Computer-Aided Design (CAD) file formats as they contain robust design information. In such cases, a third-party intervention like product data management (PDM) was used to bridge the gap between the PLM and CAD. However, such constraints can now be removed through a native connection with CAD-integrated PDM to remove the dependency on the application programming interface (API) for linkages. Such cases help us understand the level of integration and interoperability that can be achieved through the PLM solution.

Conclusion:

PLM offers different peripheral solutions in a large integrated ecosystem, and different technologies work hand in hand to facilitate the product lifecycle process in an organization. PLM, as a process, is evolving to integrate various technologies to enhance the user experience. It provides an open manufacturing platform for applications to integrate and exchange product data, benefitting the whole supply chain, from the manufacturer to the vendor and the end users. PLM also facilitates collaboration among the automotive and manufacturing sectors with the IT domain to build an open community to share codes, use cases, and smart factory solutions. Such openness and real-time connectivity will help create room for future technology integration to add value to the supply chain. PLM acts as an open platform that unites people, data, and processes under one roof, creating a seamless collaborative environment.

Author: Prasad Nayak, Analyst, Quadrant Knowledge Solutions