Friday, April 27, 2012

The BOM, the BOI, and PLM

There has been a lot of talk lately about Bills of Material (BOMs), and just how this important construct should be handled within a large organization. My fellow blogger Oleg has been obsessed with this topic lately, and he has several recent blog posts: PLM, Multiple BOMs and Cross Functional Teams, BOM: Overstructured, Understructured or lean, Seven Rules Towards Single Bill of Material. I have been asked by several people what I think, and I thought it would be easiest to post this blog to explain some of my feelings on this engaging topic.

First of all, the challenge to accurately communicate technical product information to all levels of an organization usually falls on a Bill of Material (BOM). The product BOM is often started in engineering (at least in discrete industries) and propagated to various groups within the company who modify the information for their own specific needs. Sometimes, a group will start their own BOM strictly for their own use with little regard for anyone else. Some groups have an actual BOM tool, while others use an Excel spreadsheet (after all, Microsoft Excel is the #1 PLM solution in the world). Thus, we end up with many BOMs and virtually no connection from one to the other.

Of course, the BOM above does not tell you everything. Far from it! This type of BOM is actually a construct from an earlier day when we did not have a strong PDM solution to assist us. When we start to dig a little, the BOM gets very complicated; people cannot manage this kind of complexity properly without help. Each of the parts (items) above has a host of important information that needs to be tracked, updated, and analyzed to create the final product.

With a strong PDM solution, we can track all the information that is needed to support various organization.  A PDM solution allows us to manage a much more comprehensive Bill of Information (BOI). The BOI not only includes the product structures from engineering, it also includes all the information needed to get the product from design to manufacturing and out to the customer. This BOI provides a strong foundation for all groups to work together and collaborate during the product design process, and beyond. The additional tools found within various PLM solutions allow us to collaborate and share this information as needed.

When a company relies on a BOI, information can be added, and various views of the BOI can be generated depending on who needs to use it. Another nice attribute is that a BOI can be used in any industry to communicate product information: recipes, formulas, patterns, simulations, etc. can all be represented and shared using a comprehensive BOI supported by PLM.

I know what you are saying, "In a perfect world we would have one BOI, but this is not Narnia!"

Yes, you are right. This is not Narnia, and I am not Prince Caspian, as far as you know.

But, the effort to connect your many BOMs using a BOI will be effort well spent. The BOI will still need to integrate to other systems, and pass data between various groups, but the concept is still sound: how can we put information into one comprehensive BOI in order to support our work. Starting down this path will pay handsome dividends in the long run.

What do you think?


Monday, April 23, 2012

Guest Post: What to Consider when Looking for Cloud-Based PLM Software

As of 2012, the term ‘cloud computing’ has gone mainstream. People are no longer limited to their computers to store personal and business information; it makes sense that product lifecycle management (PLM) systems would be the next area to get the cloud facelift. If you’re considering PLM software in the cloud, you need to know the good, the bad, and the ultimate truth.

The Good
One of the big pluses of a cloud PLM solution is the savings you experience in the short term. Often cloud-based PLM is offered as a subscription service with monthly fees instead of the large lump sum payment needed to purchase on-premise alternatives. Also with the cloud you’ll reap the benefits involved: reduced hardware reliance, fewer expensive upgrades, and scalability. However, one of the greatest benefits your company will reap is accessibility.

‘Anywhere, anytime’ was once a catch phrase for only a handful of companies, but now this notion has spread to every cloud-based software solution available. Your team can access a cloud PLM system wherever there is an internet connection, which is great for your business, partners and suppliers. The ability to collaborate more effectively through cloud access leads to continuous improvement and greater efficiencies. The innovation in both product and processes reflects positively on your bottom line and gives your company a competitive advantage.

By allowing all facets of the manufacturing process to be easily accessed by everyone involved, companies can consolidate data, remove redundancies, and better manage new initiatives. Universal access for all parties involved also leads to a reduced time to market for you products. Real-time data input, knowledge syncing and forecasting capabilities allow you to remove complications before they arise. 

The Bad (but not really)
Critics of cloud PLM systems will cite issues with security and availability as reasons to avoid software in the cloud. With large virtual servers that store your confidential information there’s no doubt that this is a serious threat to consider. That being said, with proper research into the reputation of service providers this risk can be mitigated. Check company policies that address security so you know how your confidential data is stored and what would happen if it was compromised.

Another challenge that you will have to consider is downtime. The information stored in your PLM cloud solution is crucial to your day-to-day operations, so limited access will affect your productivity. Check with the provider to see what kinds of compensation they offer for any downtime experienced. Often times cloud service vendors will list an uptime of 99% or higher and have it in their contract agreements that clients will be reimbursed for any time the service goes down.

The Truth
The choice of a PLM solution, whether it’s in the cloud or on in-house servers, truly isn’t going to make or break your business. At its core your business needs a strategy for success that moves beyond technicalities and encompasses company culture, industry trends and customer needs. A cloud PLM solution could be a great tool to help you advance your business to the next level. Just remember, it is still in its infancy and feature offerings will likely be expanded as cloud-based PLM systems grow in popularity. Keep your eyes open to see what’s available and what’s in development so that you can find the best solution for your organization.

What do you think?

See my previous post for more on cloud PLM!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The "Gamification" of PLM

Are you a gamer? Every day millions of people are online playing MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games); do you know what that is? They play games like WoW, SWG, EQ, AO, Runescape, and use terms like MUD, Ganked, Dirt nap, and Crit. If you've ever watched an online game tournament, you know how intense and interactive these "games" can be. Roughly 12 million people are subscribed to World of Warcraft (WoW), and that's just one game. At any one time there might be 10,000 - 40,000 people playing together in this virtual "world".

The other day I was thinking about the amazing power of these online "games": Someone sitting in their home in Germany can be playing an online game with another person in California. They can see the same information, they can talk to each other, and they can interact in real time; they can also see and interact with hundreds of other people. All you need is an XBox, or other gaming device, a cheap headset, inexpensive online access to a basic game, and you're ready to go. It seems easy for anyone to collaborate in this way, and very natural.

I started to think about PLM, and wondered why we cannot have this kind of collaboration in our daily work. Are you telling me that a $500 XBox with a cheap game, and a few added gadgets has more power to collaborate than my $30k worth of PLM hardware and software? This just doesn't make any sense.

Then, the other day, I saw a demonstration of this kind of technology: three people were working on a solid model all at the same time using this kind of technology. Of course, the model was on the cloud on a server somewhere, but all three people were making changes to the model and adding features, and all three people saw the same updates at the same time. These people were able to communicate about the changes, and work together in real time! Now, that's collaboration!

We don't see these types of capabilities as part of our PLM systems today, but the technology has existed for a long time to do this. As more and more PLM capabilities are made available on the cloud, I think we will see PLM vendors pushing the envelope in this direction; at least I hope so. The potential is available to make our experience with PLM at least as good as a person playing an MMORPG. There is no good reason we can't have as much fun collaborating with PLM as we can playing World of Warcraft.

Maybe PLM vendors should add guns, magic spells, and fun characters to our daily work. Instead of logging in as just plain old Engineer1, wouldn't you like to log in as: "Level 34 Spell-casting Shaman"?

What do you think? Can these gaming technologies make an impact on how we collaborate with PLM?

- Jim

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Attend the CIMdata Simulation & Anlaysis Workshop

It use to be that CAD models, and simulation results were separated into discrete departments. Simulation was an after-thought when something broke, or it didn't work properly. Analysis results were often thrown back over the wall to CAD designers, and the level of collaboration between these two disciplines was very low.

Well, that was then, this is now! Today, model-based systems engineering principles are being applied early in the design process to develop better virtual prototypes with better results that produce better products. This is not just about new technology, this represents a change in philosophy that companies must embrace to be successful.

At the CIMdata Simulation & Analysis Workshop (see the video), these and other topics that are important to the PLM industry will be addressed. This two-day event co-sponsered by CIMdata and NAFEMS will provide a wide array of topics and networking opportunities:

Day 1: Tuesday, May 1 - CIMdata Simulation & Analysis Workshop
Day 2: Wednesday, May 2 - NAFEMS' Simulation Data Management Symposium

Both days will be held at the GE Learning Center in Evandale Ohio (Near Cincinnati). The sessions will provide an energetic forum for leading practitioners to learn and share their experiences to help move the simulation community forward.

Get signed up today so that you will be on the cutting edge of simulation knowledge.

How are you using simulation in your company? Do you think you could be more efficient and successful? Let us know what you are doing, and share your success stories!

- Jim

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Now you Really Have Missed the CIMdata 2012 PLM Market & Industry Forum?

 Hey, what's the matter? Did you miss the CIMdata 2012 PLM Market and Industry Forum (#PLM4um)? If you did, then you missed the chance to network with a unique collection of the strongest PLM vendors in the world. At the PLM Forum there are many chances to talk strategy with people who are experiencing the same challenges, and developing the same technology as you. These are the same people that will chart the future direction of PLM. This is one of the few chances you will get to interact with your piers in the PLM industry.

If you did not attend, you also missed the chance to hear from the CIMdata PLM experts. The PLM market analysis results from 2011 were highly anticipated, but there were other important topics as well: PLM market trends, CAD and analysis, software as the solution, model-based systems engineering, process and mechanical PLM, and social PLM (see my blog on that one). These are all topics that are important to the PLM industry today and into the future.

There was also great food and a ton of good networking opportunities; did I already mentioned that? But, I have some good news. There is still a chance for you or one of your colleagues to attend. (See the Video) We plan to hold several more PLM forums between now and the end of April:

April 17 - Stuttgart, Germany
April 20 - Shanghai, China
April 25 - Tokyo, Japan

So, take advantage of this great opportunity to learn from the industry leader in PLM, CIMdata. Also take advantage of the unprecedented networking opportunities at this unique event. I hope to see you at one of our upcoming PLM forums.

(April 26, 2012) Update:

Well, now you really HAVE missed the CIMdata 2012 PLM Market & Industry Forum. I can tell you that there were good crowds in all venues, and a great time was had by all. The pictures below should give you some idea of what you missed, and allow you to start thinking about attending next time.

The first set of pictures is from our PLM forum in Germany:

Now, let's see some pictures from Asia!

Do you know someone that might benefit from this forum? Feel free to forward a link to this blog, or go to the CIMdata website for more information. See ya next time!

- Jim

Monday, April 2, 2012

What is Social PLM and Why Should you Care?

When I was a young man, I spent several summers working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Just for the record, that's a great place to spend a summer "working". In Wyoming, there is a local animal called the Jackalope. This mythical beast represented the convergence of a jackrabbit and an antelope; the result is scary, and at the same time kind of exciting. Today we are witnessing the convergence of Social Media and PLM, the result is: Social PLM; which is both scary, and kind of exciting!

There are several aspects to Social PLM: the first is, the customer. At the front end of the product design process there are tools used to gather customer opinions about your products. Many Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools try to figure out what the customer wants, and gather requirements. Today, your customers are saying more than ever!

You must have a tool that can gather what your customers say on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, blogs, and other social platforms. Then you must be able to aggregate all this information, get rid of the noise, and perform analysis that provides usable data that can impact your products. Customer requirements must also be managed and tracked throughout the product design process, and frequently tested against. This is not easy to do, and tools that can do this well are hard to find.

The next aspect is the ability to manage your product as it is developed. Allowing customers to give input to prototypes, and other ideas early in the design process is a possibility with many collaborative social media tools. There is also the need to provide a very social platform for your employees to share information and collaborate on your products. This is NOT email! This is something more like Facebook that works internally with Twitter-like features that supports ad-hoc communication, blogs, posts, follows, and provides tracking, feedback, and analysis.

Finally, you need a good mechanism to track all the information that is generated about your product once it is shipped. Tools that track all social outlets, gather pertinent information, provide aggregation, and analysis are essential to understand if your product is really delighting your customers. With this type of tool you will know what is being said about your product, both positive, and negative. Analysis of  this information can lead to updates to existing products, modified new products, or tap your knowledge to create a completely new product that you know customers will want.

In the one minute you've been reading this blog, 60 hours of video has been uploaded to Youtube, 650,000 status updates have appeared on Facebook, 98,000 tweets have been tweeted; were any of these about your products or services? Do you know? Do you care? You should. Don't let the same fate as the Jackalope befall you: he is stuffed and on my mantel now.

Is social media just a fad that will go away soon? What do you think?