In a marketplace plagued by customer frustration, one product lifecycle management (PLM) developer takes an unusual approach — starting with open software.
Aras, developer of the Innovator product lifecycle management (PLM) solution, recently released results from its PLM Benchmark Survey for Enterprise Organizations. The survey, which ran from 2015 to 2017 and was conducted by Gatepoint Research, invited participation from select executives from “a wide variety of industries,” both within and outside the manufacturing arena.
The results weren’t pretty: Aras found that more than two-thirds of the 300 respondents are unsatisfied with the PLM software they have in place. Most of the surveyed companies “have more of what we would describe as a PDM [product data management] implementation, around MCAD,” explained Marc Lind, senior vice-president of strategy at Aras. Only one-quarter of those surveyed reported being able to make changes quickly and easily — “they’re really being handcuffed by the PDM system,” he said.
Aras realized that the complexity of the modern design and development environment demands greater customizability and upgradeability, Lind explained. Aras PLM is gaining traction, he said, because “people are recognizing that just using mechanical CAD is not going to get them to the smart, connected [place] their products need to be for tomorrow’s world.” With the rise of smart devices and vehicles, “everything is moving in the direction of increasingly sophisticated mechanical design” — complicated by added electronics, sensors, and software. According to Lind, Aras brings all that design information together in a cross-disciplinary way, providing a unified view and bill of materials (BOM) for an entire aircraft, for example.
Tackling PLM Pain Points
Aras is out to make PLM a less painful proposition, starting by eliminating something that no one enjoys: paying for software.
Changing the cost equation. “Anybody can download and use [Aras Innovator] forever with no cost,” said Lind. Aras has brought a “Red Hat business model” to the PLM marketplace, Lind explained, referencing a company known for providing Linux platforms and other open-source software products.
An optional subscription plan, which includes security updates, user training, and a help hotline, is available for a fee (which varies based on the number of users). Lind pointed out that “if people stop subscribing, they still can use the software,” but most don’t stop; he reported a subscription renewal rate of more than 97%.
Accommodating a custom fit. Customers on subscription also receive software release upgrades, regardless of how much they have customized the system. That’s a benefit that “nobody else includes,” said Lind, because of the way his competitors’ solutions are structured.
According to Lind, “all other PLM systems” — including Windchill from PTC, Teamcenter from Siemens PLM Software, and ENOVIA from Dassault Systèmes — are built from hard-coded data modules with hard-coded business logic. Making a change to the system, such as expanding part numbers from seven digits to eleven, requires breaking the business model. And by doing so, “you have effectively orphaned yourself from future updates,” Lind explained.
Aras takes a different approach, and hard-codes services instead. Services for check-in/check-out, revision and version, etc., “are hard-coded, but they have no comprehension of a data model,” said Lind. Updates to those services don’t impact users’ customizations, so Aras is able to guarantee upgradeability.
Overcoming institutional inertia. “These are long-life systems,” Lind observed; in many cases, they have been in place more than 10 years, so adopting a new solution is challenging. And particularly in larger organizations, there are many different processes that are all or partially automated. “Companies are customizing their systems, even if it is just MCAD management, and they’ve had them in place a long time,” he noted. “[There’s] a lot of organizational status quo … it’s not an easy proposition to say, ‘We need a new one, let’s go for it.’”
To reduce these obstacles to a PLM changeover, Aras offers customers the option to layer the new solution over the old. “With Aras, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition,” said Lind. He shared the example of car maker GM, which uses Teamcenter with NX — both Siemens PLM Software solutions — but needed enterprise change management, so the company layered Aras PLM over Teamcenter.
It’s less disruptive, Lind explained, to leave a legacy MCAD system in place for a time, rather than “rip and replace.” Digital transformation and the current pace of disruption are such that “you have bigger fish to fry [than] simply ripping out your old CAD management system … you really need to get control of the BOM and variance of your product.”
PLM: Perceived Like Mandate?
The level of dissatisfaction revealed in Aras’s survey is especially concerning since PLM is increasingly seen as a non-optional tool. As the survey report states, “Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a core requirement for modern product development, particularly as organizations face increasing product complexity and shorter product lifecycles.”
Lind pointed to technological advances that are making PLM ever more necessary: For the industrial Internet of Things (IoT), PLM is a critical enabler to get data in and out of the system more easily. “The digital twin is so important right now,” Lind said. “People are realizing that the virtual model from the design is not a digital twin”; rather, a digital twin fully replicates one specific real-world item, not just in its mechanical, electrical, software, and firmware aspects but in its maintenance schedule, wear, environmental conditions, etc. — all of which translates to tremendous masses of data streaming in. “If machine learning and AI [artificial intelligence] can’t get to the data, it’s either going to not work well or not work at all,” he said.
Lind is seeing “real movement across the board,” as organizations of all sizes struggle to embrace these changes. “It’s not just consumer companies — even the largest companies are realizing that they’ve got to do something … [we’re seeing] an uncharacteristically high level of motivation to change and take this seriously.” So while companies in aerospace, automotive, industrial equipment, and medical devices may be at the front of the pack, product developers in every industry would do well to pay close attention to the changes afoot — and to examine their strategy for managing product data.
>> This article by Cyrena Respini-Irwin appeared in Cadalyst, January 27, 2018