1/6/2006 | 7 MINUTE READ

What's New In PLM?

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In the market for a new plm system or curious about the current state of the commercial products? here’s a look at what many of the major vendors have on offer.


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PLM vendors are moving toward the same goal: adding specific business and industry process functions to their PLM products, improving PLM user friendliness (including tackling the problems in implementing PLM), and broadening the scope of “product lifecycle” in their PLM systems. Here’s how, starting with how the vendors define PLM.


Autodesk, Inc.

(San Rafael, CA; www.autodesk.com)
Basic PLM lets users organize and manage the engineering and work-in-process data, says Robert (Buzz) Kross, vice president of Autodesk Manufacturing Solutions Div. “If all your company does is design and give design information to somebody else, Autodesk Vault is all the PLM you’ll ever need. If your company designs and manufactures, you may want to go the next level, to Vault and Productstream.”

Vault stores designs in a centralized location for easy access, reference, and data reuse. It is included with all of Autodesk’s manufacturing CAD products, including AutoCAD Mechanical, AutoCAD Electrical, Inventor Series, and Inventor Professional. It is also fully integrated with those products. Explains Kross, “The user doesn’t know what goes into the database and what goes into the solids model. And the user doesn’t care. It’s all just presented to him in a logical format.” Vault is also integrated with Microsoft Office. This integration lets users open Vault files from within the various Office applications.

The latest version of Vault automatically creates a design web format (DWF) file for each file checked into Vault. It also updates the DWF file whenever the parent file changes. (DWF files are compact, noneditable files. They are expressly for file sharing, even when the user of that DWF file doesn’t have the Autodesk design-creation software.) Labeling tools in Vault let users take a quick snapshot of design data at any phase of a project; as required, a project can be restored to that snapshot. On the information services side, systems administrators can now remove unused design properties as well as outdated and unwanted version histories from the Vault server. This helps reduce storage requirements and improve a compute server’s overall performance.

On the recent-acquisition front, Autodesk acquired Alias, which develops Alias|Wavefront and other graphics software. This brings high-end visualization into the Autodesk product line.

With Autodesk Productstream, Vault is infused with manufacturing process management, including automated release and change management with bill of materials (BOM) tracking, automated engineering change order workflow management, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration.


Dassault Systèmes

(Troy, MI; www.3ds.com)
At Dassault, PLM is “about defining and innovating the manufacturing environment, the processes, the process sequence, and how the factory should be set up. It’s also about computer-aided engineering tools to validate and simulate specific aspects of the design and the manufacturing. All this on an infrastructure that enables collaboration,” says Peter Schmitt, Dassault’s vice president of marketing and business development.

In several ways, Dassault is making good on that vision through Catia (3D CAD), Delmia (digital development of factory and production processes), Enovia (product data management, PDM), and Smarteam (PLM and collaboration). Here are two recent additions to this PLM suite. Last May, Dassault introduced a change management mechanism for design engineers to alert manufacturing engineers of design changes. Along with that, Dassault added tools for manufacturing process planners to determine which parts and process plans have been modified. Other tools let process planners evaluate how design changes may affect manufacturing process plans, as well as identify and eliminate potential errors early in design development.

Second, Dassault and Microsoft Corp. came out with 3D XML. This pushes the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) into the world of 3D, giving users the ability to share 3D visualizations of product data and 3D models with the non-engineering communities. For example, a user can pull up a CAD file—a data-rich visualization of virtual products, including annotations and animations—right into PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, or Excel spreadsheets, and then work on that visualization. “Work” includes modifying, customizing, or otherwise manipulating the 3D geometry, as well as defining or redefining the properties associated with that geometry, and having that all link back to the CAD system.

Incidentally, Microsoft’s Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) format in the Dassault 3D XML is the format for “Avalon,” the code name of the presentation subsystem for the next Microsoft Windows operating system. Avalon is expected to provide native support for declarative, markup-based programming with XAML, making it easier for vendors to build and customize Windows-based applications.

On Dassault’s recent-acquisition front, the company acquired Abaqus, which brings nonlinear finite element analysis and simulation into Dassault’s PLM lineup.


MatrixOne, Inc.

(Westford, MA; www.matrixone.com)
MatrixOne says “PLM represents an over-arching concept for navigating a product through its entire life while PDM is now viewed as a sub-process of PLM. PLM addresses the complete lifecycle of products and fills in the product-related gaps that were never before addressed by other major enterprise applications.”

The MatrixOne PLM system, Matrix10, consists of a variety of Web-based modules that are either process, application, or industry specific, or a combination of all three. For example, MatrixOne PLM uses project templates to reinforce best practices when executing development projects. MatrixOne Business Metrics Module generates user-configurable reports to monitor project status. The module also lets users create personal dashboards to track key performance indicators about design creation, review, and release. MatrixOne uses IBM Rational ClearCase to fold software management tools into PLM as well. This integration helps software developers synchronize their work with the appropriate versions of the corresponding mechanical and electrical designs.

Broadening the “lifecycle“ aspect of PLM is MatrixOne Materials Compliance Central. This module lets manufacturers collect and analyze detailed materials and substance data related to all new products. This capability helps user companies satisfy environmental regulations, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, Restriction of Hazardous Substances, and End-of-Life Vehicle regulations in the European Union (EU). Note: Any company doing business in the EU must comply with these regulations, or face serious fines.



(Troy, MI; www.ptc.com)
“A PLM system looks at the business processes required to develop a part from concept all the way to its retirement,” says Dhiren Verma, PTC’s director of product and market strategy. Given that broad challenge, PTC has both improved the performance of its PLM product, Windchill, and expanded what business processes its PLM system will support.

For starters, Windchill version 8, announced last June, is faster than previous Windchill releases when running across a local area network. For instance, it is 83% faster in searching, 67% faster in creating/checking-in documents, and 94% faster in rendering product structures. The new version combines mechanical and electronic CAD data management and source code configuration by using IBM Rational ClearCase. Windchill 8 also has new capabilities for defining and classifying approved manufacturer and vendor lists. A new optional module focuses on classifying and searching for parts, thereby helping to reduce product cost by controlling part number proliferation. Last, another optional module provides bidirectional integration between Windchill and the Oracle Manufacturing ERP system (in addition to SAP ERP). This module helps synchronize parts, documents, BOMs, engineering change notifications, and product configurations between disparate enterprise applications.


UGS Corporation

(Milford, OH; www.ugs.com)
“We think of PLM as an ‘ecosystem’ for product-centric innovation,” says Bill Carrelli, vice president of strategic marketing for UGS. While he apologizes for using “ecosystem,” it is apt. The UGS PLM system involves all the supporting processes involved in creating a product, including requirements definition, manufacturing, sourcing, and support and in-service maintenance. This ecosystem has three primary “ingredients,” says Carrelli: a layer of applications; an enterprise backbone, which is “really a backbone of information as well as a backbone of best practices, processes, workflows, and those kinds of things”; and collaboration, specifically the “dynamic processes of bringing people together.”

To date, such functionality has been available to automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. Sadly, this isn’t exactly so with mid-market manufacturers (according to Boston-based AMR Research, those companies with $30 million to $999 million in sales), which often have the same level of complexity in certain areas as their larger customers and partners. For those companies, UGS announced in September its newest PLM system: the UGS Velocity Series. This mid-range, modular-yet-integrated PLM system includes digital product design, analysis, and data management—all aimed for easy deployment and low cost. The Velocity Series features the latest versions of currently available applications: entry-level Teamcenter Express (PDM); mid-range Solid Edge (3D CAD, now at version 18); and Femap (finite element modeling, now at version 9.1). (Actually, Femap Express is embedded in Solid Edge version 18 for the basic analysis of solid and sheet metal parts. The CAD package is associative with Femap for advanced analysis.) These applications can run standalone or as an integrated system, and entirely on the Microsoft Windows operating system.

One aspect that makes the Velocity Series right for Tier 2 and beyond suppliers are its templates, a.k.a., “pre-configured industry best practices.” The UGS templates combine time-tested business models, workflows, and wizards that UGS has gained from its implementation services. Plus, there’s a toolkit for creating, configuring, and customizing add-on applications. With these templates and tools, user companies are spared the hassle and expense of programming “best practices” into the software applications they’ve just bought. Says Carrelli, “Believe me, OEMs and large companies love to do a great deal of customization, and they’ll build process layers on top of the tools that are provided because some of these processes are these companies’ unique differentiators. They want to build those differentiators in.”

In non-mid-market news, UGS will be integrating the Environmental Materials Aggregation and Reporting System (EMARS) from Synapsis Technology, Inc. (Spring House, PA; www.synapsistech.com) into UGS Teamcenter. This folds environmental material and hazardous substance reporting, specifically EU environmental compliance monitoring, into UGS’ PLM.


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