At face value, those are some pretty big claims for a pretty simple message. But in this book, Grieves has compiled somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 use cases that showcase how marquee organizations like General Motors, Apple, Boeing, and NASA are leveraging a virtual product model to play a far greater role than just bringing efficiencies to engineering. Here are a few of the more interesting points Grieves makes along with his perspective:
Five phases of virtual product representation. Grieves outlines five phases of evolution as companies transition to virtual product representation, and he claims we're as far along as the fourth or fifth stage. The drawing-based phase has been the standard since man started to build products, and is based on 2D drawings and heavily reliant on physical prototyping -- hardly a catalyst, Grieves claims in the book, for lean or innovation. CAD-based drawings followed suit, giving rise to the model-based stage where a 3D virtual representation of the product is defined and utilized.
Building on this stage is the model-based environment stage, where the 3D geometric models no longer float around in empty space, but rather integrate with the world in which they operate. This is the stage where many companies are today and where simulation comes into play to determine if a model meets its structural, aerodynamic, or requirements goals. The other important factor in this stage, Grieves told us, is that you start to extend the virtual product into other aspects of the product lifecycle, including manufacturing. The last stage, the PLM phase, involves capturing the information about the product throughout its lifecycle -- the nirvana, if you will, of virtual product development.
Bits are cheaper than atoms. Thanks to inflation and rising costs, Grieves makes the case that it's far more expensive to build physical products (atoms) than virtual ones (bits). Therefore, any time you can trade off bits for atoms, you take waste out of the system, and it's a far less expensive proposition, he explains. There's also value to this process in terms of innovation. If you are using bits to simulate the behavior of a particular product, you can afford to do a lot more permutations than you could in the past -- therefore exploring more possible designs. The lean aspect also frees up engineers to spend more time innovating, he says.
Staying connected to products long after they are in the field. This concept really zeros in the lifecycle aspect to PLM. Grieves explains that sensors and other communications technologies are allowing manufacturers to keep tabs on their products long after they leave the factory floor, providing a rich set of information about the state of their condition at all times. This data, Grieves says, is an important part of the virtual product record, and enables manufacturers to really get innovative in terms of future products and services.