Software vendors have a vision. It involves moving from separate CAD, CAM, CAE, PDM, viewing, and collaboration systems to full data throughput, including all related company processes. Called Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), this vision is not yet in place, largely due to interoperability issues in engineering software.
"To enable PLM, companies must be able to share product data through the entire company and into the supply chain," explains Marc Halpern, Research Director for E-Commerce Design and Manufacturing at the Gartner Group. "STEP and other standards haven't brought them far enough yet, so vendors are going to have to deliver the data transfer capabilities that these companies require to meet their customers' expectations."
Trends show vendors moving away from merely selling software, and working in partnership with manufacturers, other enterprise application vendors, and system integrators.
EDS, for example, has a federated approach to PLM, with a number of technologies from the former UGS, SDRC, and EAI companies that are currently connected via XML. The company has announced its "next generation" CAD software, Unigraphics NX, which is the first step in the job of combining I-DEAS and Unigraphics, but the final "unifying" release is not due until the third quarter of 2004.
In addition, EDS has made interoperability agreements with two CAD heavyweights in the last few months. The company announced at Daratech 2002 that it had agreed to forge a link between Autodesk's ShapeManager kernel and the EDS Parasolid kernel. A few weeks later, EDS announced a technology exchange enabling interoperability with PTC. EDS will also embed See-Beyond's e*Gate Integrator platform into the company's software for connectivity with other business applications.
PTC has continued its strategy of an open Web-based PLM platform that leverages Windchill technology with a host of "link" products (see Global Design News February 2002) and a total re-vamp of Pro/ENGINEER. The new application should allow users to set up an ad hoc Web-based Project Center with no extra effort or additional software, because it is all bundled in the program along with some core PDM functionality. The company has also made agreements with Siebel and Tibco software to integrate with other business platforms.
Dassault Systèmes is ahead of the game, having rolled out its V5 architecture and partnered with MSC.Software. In addition to MSC's shift to the V5 architecture for all its products, the company will now sell Dassault's products, and is offering PLM implementation services to the simulation community. MSC's recent acquisition of Mechanical Dynamics will reinforce its ability to offer an integrated analysis solution for kinematics, dynamics, deformations, and other types of analysis. "While there are currently no PLM solutions in production that use the V5 architecture as the backbone," notes Halpern, "there are a number of pilot studies and departmental implementations."
PLM has been called "the intellectual property ecosystem of the enterprise" but, as was well noted at the Daratech 2002 conference the vision is well ahead of the implementation. The race is now on to see when the PLM ideal can finally become a reality.