Posts Tagged "plm analytics"

“To specialize or not to specialize, that is the question.”

The question of specializing vs. generalizing has arisen in so many aspects: biology, health, higher education, and of course, software.  When one has to decide between the two ends of the spectrum, the benefits and risks must be weighed.

muskrat_eating_plantAs environments have changed over time, animals have had to make a decision: change or perish. Certain species adapted their biology to survive on plants – herbivores – others, meat 0 carnivores.  When in their preferred environments with ample resources, each can thrive.  However, if conditions in those environments change so that those resources are not as bountiful, they may die out. Then comes the omnivore, whose adaptation has enabled them to survive on either type of resource. With this wider capability of survival, there comes a cost of efficiency. The further you move up through the food chain, the less efficient the transfer of energy becomes.  Plants produce energy, only 10% of which an herbivore derives, and the carnivore that feeds on the herbivore only gets 10% of that 10%; i.e. 1% of the original energy.

Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year.
The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass.
— G. Tyler Miller, Jr., American Chemist (1971)

doctor-1149149_640When it comes to deciding on a course of action for a given health problem, people have the option to go to their family doctor, a.k.a. general practitioner, or a specialist. There are “…reams of papers reporting that specialists have the edge when it comes to current knowledge in their area of expertise” (Turner and Laine, “Differences Between Generalists and Specialists“)., whereas the generalist, even if knowledgeable in the field, may lag behind the specialist and prescribe out-of-date – but still generally beneficial – treatments.  This begs the question, what value do we place on the level of expertise?  If you have a life-threatening condition, then a specialist would make sense; however, you wouldn’t see a cardiologist if your heart races after a walk up a flight of stairs – your family doctor could diagnose that you need some more exercise.

graduation-907565_640When it comes to higher education, this choice of specializing or not also exists: to have deep knowledge and experience in few areas, or a shallower understanding in a broad range of applications. Does the computer science major choose to specialize in artificial intelligence or networking? Or none at all? How about the music major?  Specialize in classical or German Polka? When making these decisions, goals should be decided upon first. What is it that drives the person? High salary in a booming market (hint: chances are that’s not German Polka)? Or is the goal pursuing a passion, perhaps at the cost of potential income? Or is it the ability to be valuable to many different types of employers in order to change as the markets do? It’s been shown that specialists may not always command a higher price tag; some employers value candidates that demonstrate they can thrive in a variety of pursuits.

Whether you’re looking to take advantage of specialized design products (for instance, sheet metal or wire harnesses), or gaining the value inherent in a general suite of tools present in a connected PLM platform that can do project management, CAPA, and Bill of Materials management, we have the means. A “Digital Engineering” benchmark can help you decide if specialized tools are right for your company. Likewise, our PLM Analytics benchmark can help you choose the right PLM system or sub-system to implement.

Specialize, or generalize? Which way are you headed and why?

256px-caught_between_a_rock_and_a_hard_placeThere they were, sailing along their merry way. Toward the horizon, a narrow strait approaches. As the boat gets closer, they notice a couple of strange characteristics; to one side a cliff and the other a whirlpool. Upon arrival, it becomes apparent that this is the cliff where the monster Scylla dwells. Looking to the other side, the monster Charybdis, spewing out huge amounts of water, causing deadly whirlpools. Each monster is close enough that to avoid one means meeting the other. Determined to get through, our intrepid hero Ulysses must make a decision.  The idiom “Between Scylla and Charybdis” comes from this story.  In more modern terms, we would translate this to “the lesser of two evils.”

PLM administrators, engineering managers, and IT teams are often give this same choice with equally deadly – well, unfortunate – outcomes. What is this dilemma? Customize the PLM system (beyond mere configuration) to match company policies and processes, or change the culture to bend to the limitations posed by “out of the box” configurations.

Companies will often say something to the effect of “We need the system to do X.” To which many vendors meekly reply “Well, it can’t exactly do X, but it’s close.” So what is a decisionmaker to do? Trust that their organization can adapt? Risking lost productivity and possibly mutiny? Or respond by asking “What will it take to get it to do X?” incurring the risk of additional cost and implementation time.

We can further elaborate on the risks of each.  When initially developing the customizations, there is the risk of what I call “vision mismatch.”  To the best ability, X is described with a full understanding of the bigger picture that is missed when the developer writes up the specification.  This leads to multiple revisions of the code and frustrations on both sides of the table.  Then, customizations have the longer-term risk of “locking” into a specific version.  While gaining the benefits of keeping your processes perfectly intact, the system is stuck in time unless the customizations are upgraded in parallel.  Some companies will avoid that by never upgrading…until their hardware, operating systems, or underlying software systems become unsupported and obsolete. Then the whole thing can come to a crashing halt.  Hope the backups work!

office-1209640_1280However, not customizing has its own risks. What if the new PLM system is replacing an older “homegrown” system that automated some processes that the new system cannot? (And a “homegrown” system comes with its own set of risks; original coder leaves the company, never commented code, no specifications, etc.)  For example, raising an issue automatically created an engineering change request while starting a CAPA process. The company has gained a manual process, thus exposing them to human error. Or, perhaps the company has policy that requires change orders go through a “four-eyes” approval process, to which the new system has no mechanism to support such a use case.

Customizing is akin to Charybdis, whom Ulysses avoided, deciding that it is better to knowingly lose a few crew members rather than risk losing the entire ship to the whirlpools. Not customizing  is more like Scylla, where there is lower risk, though a much higher probability to the point of almost certainty.

We’ve been through these straits and lived.  We’ve gone through with many companies, from large multi-nationals to the proverbial “ma and pa” shops.  Let us help you navigate the dangers with our PLM Analytics benchmark.

When we talk with customers that may have a need to enhance their PLM technology or methods, there are commonly two different schools of thought regarding the subject.  Generally companies start the conversation with one of two different focuses: either CAD-focused or process-focused.

CAD-centric companies are the ones who rely heavily on design and engineering work to support their business.  They generate a lot of CAD data, and eventually this CAD data becomes a real pain to manage effectively with manual processes.  Things get lost, data is hard to locate, design reuse is only marginally successful, and the release process has a lower level of confidence.  These companies usually start thinking about PLM because they need to get their CAD data under control.  They usually start PLM with a minimal approach that is just sufficient to tackle the obvious problem of CAD data management.  Sometimes other areas of PLM are discussed, but are “planned” for a later phase, which inevitably turns into a “much later” phase which still hasn’t happened. What they have done is grease the squeaky wheel while ignoring the corroding frame that is potentially a much bigger problem. CAD-centric companies often benefit from taking step back to look at their processes; many times they will find that is where the biggest problems lie.

BOMs are often associated with CAD geometry, but many times this isn't the case.

BOMs are often associated with CAD geometry, but many times this isn’t the case.

Companies that don’t deal with a lot of CAD data can often realize the benefits of PLM from a process improvement perspective. Product introductions, project management, BOM management, customer requirements, change management, and quality management are just some areas that PLM can help improve. Many process-focused companies already have systems in place to address these topics, but they are often not optimized, and usually not connected.  They tend to be their own individual silos of work or information, which slows the overall “get to market” process, and reduces the overall effectiveness of the business.  These companies might not have the obvious “squeaky wheel” of CAD to manage, but they have PLM challenges just the same.  The key to improvement with them is to identify the challenges and actually do something about them.

In either case, Tata Technologies has the people and processes to help identify and quantify your company’s biggest challenges through our PLM Analytics process.  This process was developed specifically to address the challenges companies have in identifying and quantifying areas for PLM improvement.  If you’re interested in better identifying areas of improvement for your company’s PLM process, just let us know.  We’re here to help.


This quote embodies a phenomenon in today’s entertainment media culture: the Alternate Reality Game, or ARG. These ARGs aim to bring the audience deeper into the product experience, to rev up the hype. The game’s producers build an elaborate web of interconnected “plot points,” for lack of a better term. These plot points are not overt, not communicated outright. The audience has to dig for it by picking up clues and solving puzzles that lead to the next, and so on.

A recent entry into the world of ARGs is Blizzard Entertainment’s new game, Overwatch – a game whose players are very interested in information about the next character planned for release. It started with a list of character names on a piece of paper seen in the game, with one exception. That started the rumors that this could be the next character to be revealed. Next, Blizzard released a couple of videos on YouTube where a seemingly innocuous blip (below left), actually turned out to be an image; the colors had to be enhanced to reveal a series of numbers (below right). A member of the community converted the hex values to ASCII, and XOR’ed them with the number 23, converting the result back to hexadecimal and mapping to readable letters…which turned out to be a phrase written in Spanish.


IFphkqCAnother clue puzzle was solved when a similar strange anomaly appeared in another video. It was a series of images that looked like the color patterns you used to see on a TV station late at night after they stopped broadcasting. One of the other images was a series of horizontal black and white lines. One player took those lines, turned them 90 degrees, and read them via a bar code reader. The result was, of course, more hex values, which were converted into binary. Through some form of applied computer science, taking the binary code into pixels where 1s were black and 0s were white ultimately revealed a QR code. What did the code reveal? “Was that easy? Now that I have your attention, let’s make things more difficult.” As of the writing of this blog, the ARG is still alive and well, with more pieces being revealed regularly.

Where Does PLM Come In?

09 0C 0B 0E 0B 17 04 12 19 0B 11 06 19 03 12 17 18 03 02 19 18 18 15 04 05So why is this story in a PLM Insights blog? Well, I’ve seen many companies treat their design and engineering data like an ARG – meaning that lots of people are interested in it, it’s all over the place, and only a few (smart and creative) people really know how to find it. Whether it’s the “smart” part naming scheme from the late 80s that needs some kind of secret decoder ring, or the folder naming conventions where names serve as some sort of obscure meta data for the files contained in them.

An example part file (the names and numbers have been changed to protect the innocent):

S:\22648 COMP-LOGISTICS TAILCROSSER BG-F813\Units Designed By ABC\22648-9399 OP 30 Backup ASM Fixture reworked (same as 22648-9899) See XYZ Folder for new Op80 design\OP80 reworked 4-16-08 same as 22648-9899\Libraries\OP30\Purchase\Stndrd\fd65645_2

Here we have used just about every bit of the Windows character limit (which is 260, for those interested: 3 for the volume designation, 256 for path and file name with extension, and a null terminating character). Anyone that can manage files this way is clearly a talented individual. Much more impressive is that they were part of a 23-person design team that did all of their projects this way. I couldn’t imagine the frustrations of their new hires trying to find anything in this kind of environment.

The benefits of searching for data are pretty clear (see Google). Yet to this day, companies are still using antiquated methods because they think it’s “cheaper” than implementing a PLM system. Our PLM Analytics benchmark and impact analyses have proven otherwise, and that doesn’t include the myriad other benefits a PLM system offers. Let us know if you’re done playing the engineering and design ARG!

FYI, there is no ARG in this post…or is there?

Back in the day…

There it was, one of the first internet communities, Usenet, about to undergo a sea-change unlike any it had seen before. It was 1993, September, a month that would never end.

IT - Ethernet Cable outletIt started much like the years had before; an influx of new people coming into the universities, getting online for the first time. The community absorbed them in much the same manner as they had in the past. These first-timers were indoctrinated with the well-established etiquette and protocols that were required to thrive in this brave new world.

It seems archaic now, but back then, in the “before times”, there was no way for mass discussion; social media had not yet been born.

The plot twist

And then it happened. AOL, then a name synonymous with the internet, decided to grant access to Usenet for all of its customers. Picture the mobs that gather outside department stores the morning after Thanksgiving: the unlocking of the door let loose a mass of people that overwhelmed the community. There were just not enough graceful souls able to help coach these new users in “civilized” net behavior. Social norms were thrashed; standards went out the window. It was the equivalent of the wild, wild west. In a word, it was chaos.

Future looking

Misc-Walking-peopleNow think of how you on-board new designers or engineers. You show them who’s helpful and who to avoid. You show them around, pointing out places of interest, teach them company standards, design methodologies, workflow processes, etc. Over the coming decade (to be exact, 2014 through 2024), according to stats provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Architecture and Engineering field will grow an average of 3.4%, or about 710,000 jobs.

The biggest (projected) job gainers:

  • Civil – 106,700
  • Mechanical – 102,500
  • Industrial – 72,800
  • Electrical – 41,100

Manufacturing - SuspensionCouple this with the BLS projection of labor force participation over the same time period where we’ll see a 1:1.3 ratio of people leaving the work force to people entering. That will be a lot of churn, meaning a lot of people to on-board. The products will be ever more complicated, and the enabling technology will be as well. Technology is cited as one of the reasons the field isn’t growing as fast as other areas.  The productivity gains in PLM are making companies more efficient, even as the complexity grows.


Business - Chess pawn inverseCompanies will need a strategy for managing changes in their employee base as well as the technology evolution. We offer a series of benchmarking and analysis services called PLM Analytics, and there is one specifically aimed at this issue called PLM Support. Let us know if we can help solve your Eternal September.

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