Rough economy slows the spread of PLM

DN Staff

April 22, 2002

3 Min Read
Rough economy slows the spread of PLM

Facing an uncertain economy, companies are being careful with their software investments. So the "killer apps" of 2002-2003 will be conservative, limited to low risks and immediate benefits, says Charles Foundyller, president and CEO of Daratech. He spoke at the firm's annual summit here Feb. 25. Daratech is a Cambridge, MA-based analyst firm focused on the CAD/CAM industry.

But he did predict that three areas would show particular growth-digital prototyping, digital manufacturing, and process engineering.

Virtual prototyping and simulation can save time and money over physical testing. And the problem with current processes is that many past solutions have merely accelerated old processes, not made them smarter. For example, if departments can share CAD models now, the product maintenance group would not need as many written documents.

"It's a cow-path process chain that meanders around to places long since irrelevant," Foundyller said. "We must straighten it out, not merely pave it over."

That's where PLM (product lifecycle management) comes in. Foundyller's vision for PLM software is that it can forge links between every stage of the value chain, then optimize and integrate them. This can empower the average engineer to share his CAD models throughout the company, using them to instruct and get feedback from other departments, suppliers, and customers.

So, how do you make the case that PLM will pump up profits better than existing design chain organization tools like ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), or SCM (supply chain management)?

One strategy to avoid is a price war, says industry ana-lyst David Burdick. In recent weeks, several 3D CAD providers have begun competing along the "price vs. performance" curve, making claims like "I'll offer 80% of your functionality for 20% of your price." This "race to the bottom" simply trades product quality for market share, he says.

Rather, the way to pitch PLM is not as a peer to those previous networks, but as an "ecosystem" around them, encompassing their IP (intellectual property). So Burdick echoed Foundyller's plea to straighten out the cow-paths-merely improving the speed of your operation does not improve your aim in hitting the target market with a perfect product.

Instead, companies must have a two-way flow of IP; both growing ideas into products, and turning customer reactions into new ideas. PLM can perform this function, by uniting the "Dagwood sandwich of technologies that have been accumulating," Burdick says.

Taking steps to simplify these technologies, EDS and Dassault Systemes (with partner IBM) rushed to unveil their progress toward PLM.

EDS (Plano, TX) announced Unigraphics NX, the next step in creating a common interface to unite Unigraphics and I-DEAS, as well as their sibling PDM systems. "We will do two, maybe three more releases of I-DEAS, all the while adding more NX functionality," said Tony Affuso, President of EDS PLM Solutions. NX, which isn't an acronym for anything, has a PLM-based architecture, able to share data through TeamCenter-whose eight modules in-clude enterprise (the former metaphase), engineering (the former i-man), and manufacturing (the former i-factory). NX, the release after UG18, will be released in the third quarter of 2002.

"But PLM is not just CAD, PDM, and visualization," said Dassault Systemes (Paris, France) President Bernard Charles. Just as CATIA V4 was DMU (digital mock-up)-centric, V5 is PLM-centric, he said. That permits engineers to follow what Charles calls the next great step forward in design-converse engineering. This Japanese concept creates new products by "morphing" similar parts from past assemblies, shrinking the workload of each designer since he handles merely the changes, not the entire model. And V5R8's PPR Hub (product, process, resources) connects the remaining pieces in the puzzle-ERP, SCM, and CRM.

"I think that in the future, all design will be done with two things-reuse of templates, and morphing of existing shapes," Charles said.

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