A major battle in engineering change management has already been fought and won. The former change management strategy, accomplished with a mix of file locking and access limits, is now supplanted by model-based design, only achievable by multidisciplinary collaboration involving a wider circle of stakeholders. The new struggle is to find efficient ways to offer transparency, facilitate collaboration (both asynchronous and real-time) and comply with myriad regulations (both regional and international).

Because smart products are becoming the norm, change management tools, such as PLM (product lifecycle management) programs, may need to keep up. Many vendors are incorporating augmented reality (AR), compliance check mechanisms and mobile applications to make change management easier.

A Low Threshold for Clunky UX

Thanks to the mobile app culture, UX (user experience) design is all about “simplicity.”  Most PLM vendors today offer mobile apps that perform a subset of the operations possible with desktop clients. Siemens PLM Software’s Teamcenter Mobility and PTC’s Windchill Mobile fall into this category. PLM vendors with integrated CAD packages also tend to offer mobile CAD file viewers to allow those outside engineering to view, discuss, annotate and comment on 3D files with pending revisions and changes.

Design Review in AR

With the advent of affordable augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) hardware, engineering teams now have another way to preview and study proposed design changes. PLM can facilitate the design review preparation tasks by collecting all the relevant information, including 3D representation and then leveraging AR to share the information and collect feedback to be integrated in the change process.

Through its AR-focused Vuforia division, PTC offers VuMark, part of Vuforia 6, which is a customizable visual code that can be affixed to any product or machine–either manually using a decal, or automatically printed during the manufacturing process. It is intended to visually indicate to a user that an AR experience is available, such as step-by-step instructions for assembly, use, cleaning, repair, inspection.

VuMark is the next generation bar code
VuMark is the next generation bar code, allowing the freedom for a customized and brand-conscious design while simultaneously encoding data and acting as an AR target. (Image source: Vuforia.com)

Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform offers technologies to display 3D data in immersive CAVE environments, or in specialized hardware like zSpace.

Siemens PLM Software offers JT2Go, an in-house developed app to view 3D models in the widely accepted JT format on multiple hardware platforms, including the Microsoft HoloLens.

AR-incorporated mobile apps could also be much more inclusive than shared CAD models. Whereas CAD software is largely confined to engineering and design, product data delivered in lightweight formats to mobile devices has a wider, more accessible audience.

Cost and Compliance

One primary reason to closely monitor changes is to prevent potential cost overruns. Early stage cost estimates tend to be pretty accurate. Then, because of engineering and design changes, the project may need more materials, or less; it may need a different manufacturing process.

Siemens PLM Software’s Teamcenter offers a Product Cost Management module. According to the product home page, the module can “calculate complex assemblies and versions accurately and quickly. Furthermore, it includes “an extensive and cost-relevant database … to simulate different scenarios, including production sites, machines, and pre-configured reference processes for numerous manufacturing technologies and cost rates.”

The increase in environmental regulation adds a new dimension to change management. So project managers need to have good visibility into the compliance and sustainability content of their products.

PTC addresses this with its Materials Compliance Solution, part of the company’s Windchill software. The product tackles, among other things, the regulations governing conflict minerals.

Dassault’s Dalal notes that ENOVIA users can conduct a cross-functional change assessment process directly from the change order. This capability provides the global team with a visibility on all related data that might be impacted by this change.

Pricing and Progress

Aside from the technology, evolving PLM pricing practices may also widen the circle of change management. The shift from perpetual licensing and on-premise systems to subscription-based, cloud-hosted SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) style PLM allows a greater pool of users to participate in the discussions about change impact.

Change management tools in PLM have significantly improved, but many critical processes, such as impact analysis and cost control, largely remain manual; they rely on the expertise, diligence and timely input of the human reviewers to kickoff and complete the workflow. The next step in change management may be the development of rule-based, algorithm-driven tools, capable of not only spotting but also predicting cost overruns and manufacturing problems invisible to the naked eye.

>>Read more by Kenneth Wong, Digital Engineering, November 1, 2016

Changing Times for Change Management