Quo Vadis is a Latin phrase variously translated as “Where to?” or “Where are you going?” or “Where are you marching?”. (It is also the name of various films, all set in Rome – not covered by this article)
It goes without saying that we live in unprecedented times. Also, it is unlikely that we will all emerge from this and return to life as it used to be. The world will fundamentally change in ways we cannot yet predict, and which are not the subject of this article.
But a pertinent question that potentially we can address is – Will it affect PLM and if so how?
Seems strange to talk about the past already, but here we are. All of us who work in the PLM industry are familiar with the how the industry looked at the beginning of 2020. At a very high level, PLM technology has outstripped actual implementations and many organizations have either got older systems or half implementations that do not utilize the full functionality of a PLM system. Adoption has been patchy.
No need to expand on where we are today. From a PLM perspective what is the immediate impact? Two are notable:
PLM infrastructure is usually behind the scenes but becomes important if it is to facilitate a remote workforce. Most PLM systems are designed to handle this and provided the underlying infrastructure (VPN, File Cache Servers, license servers, etc.) is in place – no problem. If not, it can be adjusted in a short space of time to allow for the new scenario
Everybody was sent home and told to work remotely. It should be easy to pull off. Connect your CAD workstation or other device to the server via VPN and work should continue as normal. Workflows will still be sent to the relevant people and they can be approved. BOM’s can still be edited. Projects can still be monitored.
The PLM technology providers have already traveled a long way down this road – the work from anywhere, on any device strategy. Consider solutions such as Active Workspace Client from Siemens PLM, Mobile Apps from Dassault Systemes and PTC PLM in the Cloud as examples of connecting a distributed world.
But the most interesting question is – how the PLM world will look in the future once we have defeated C19? Currently experts say that until there is an effective vaccine and a large proportion of the world’s population has been vaccinated, the threat will remain. Two years?
Let’s speculate on some potential changes in the overall PLM landscape:
Much of current PLM technology is designed for remote collaboration; in fact, it is marketed as one of the strong reasons why you should use PLM platforms. Because humans are social animals, we tend to prefer personal interactions and have been slow to adopt these remote collaboration tools. We are now forced to use the tools and may find it has benefits – ease of use, less office space, no commuting etc. Would we revert to the personal or carry on with the remote? Business in the future could all be remote, facilitated by PLM and our desire for personal interactions is satisfied in the social sphere.
PLM as a Business Platform
To elaborate on the point above, PLM providers advertise their technology as a business platform, able to do much more than vault CAD files. But adoption has been slow with many organizations still using multiple disparate systems glued together by human interventions. (Send me the excel file with the BOM).
Potentially this is the time when these separate systems are migrated to a PLM platform – necessity is the mother of invention. Once that point is reached, there is no turning back.
PLM in the cloud
Potentially, this watershed moment may propel PLM fully into the cloud. There are multiple advantages to having PLM in the cloud as these have been covered in other articles. If we move to remote collaboration, business platforms and distributed work forces, then it only makes cloud hosting mandatory.
Your PLM personal assistant
There are multiple examples of how AI and related technologies have entered our daily lives (Alexa, Siri, ChatBots). Is it not only a question of time before these get applied to PLM?
In the past, if you where unsure on how to start a workflow, you walked across to co-worker and asked for a quick demo. The co-worker is not there anymore; now we will have to ask our AI backed PLM personal assistant. “Pat, please initiate a workflow” “Yes Bob, who would you like it to go to?” “My boss” “Ok, what document would you like to attach to the workflow?” “The last one I saved” “No problem, workflow 27 started, Inventory.docx attached, routed to your boss” “Thanks” “Anything else Bob?”
This type of approach could prevent errors, make systems more available to larger groups of users and replace some level of personal interaction. No more will PLM be the territory of specialists
The Digital Twin?
Much has been written about the Digital Twin and that is not worth rehashing here. Adoption has been patchy because it requires effort to implement. Maybe that will change.
It is easy for a manufacturing engineer to walk on to the shop floor and use a physical model to show how a product is assembled. What if that were no longer possible; the engineer is working remotely or is not allowed on the floor. The best way to overcome this limitation is to have a digital twin that can be used to do the required demonstration over a virtual session.
Or, consider the scenario where we can no longer get together around a physical prototype and diagnose problems. The digital twin is required for a virtual troubleshooting session
Currently, PLM is sometimes integrated with other systems but most of the time data transfer between systems is manual. This is not possible in the future and more attention will be paid to automating these integrations and data transfers. This will reduce errors and allow for more distributed activities.
Things will change. PLM will be among them. Maybe the time has come to embrace the full capability of these systems and future proof the business. Here is hoping!
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