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PLM Gets Unified

Basing PLM on a service-oriented architecture makes a "single source for the truth" possible, helps broaden the PLM "footprint," and brings enterprises closer to integrated manufacturing. Really.

"Digital manufacturing" has been pitched for quite some time. Major proponents have been Dassault Systèmes (Auburn Hills, MI; www.3ds.com), which has owned Delmia for years, and Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX; www.siemens.com/ugs), which as UGS bought Tecnomatix in 2005. Add to that Siemens' acquisition of UGS in January 2007 and the Dassault partnership with Rockwell Automation announced in December 2007 to "integrate the digital factory and plant operations for a virtual design and production environment." The result of all this activity is the further merging-some might say the honest-to-goodness merging-of design engineering with the actual industrial control, process planning, and manufacturing execution that goes on down on the production floor. Also, despite that most of PLM is still focused on design engineering, the PLM footprint has lately been broadening to encompass other critical enterprise issues, such as supplier relationship management (SRM) and environmental compliance, to name two biggies.

But before the far-reaching, integrated system called PLM can go any further across the enterprise, further down into the enterprise, and across multiple enterprises, the PLM vendors-the major ones particularly-have first been redesigning their PLM systems, making SOA a fundamental component of their PLM offerings.

SOA? Software applications based on a service-oriented architecture promise to be open, scalable, and unified to act as a single system operating from a single source of data.

 

SOA essentials

Before SOA, there were APIs (application programming interfaces). "All systems have APIs," explains Paul Downing, vice president of Prostep Inc. (Troy, MI; www.prostep.com). "You never want to start mucking with a database directly. Instead you want to use the vendor's APIs. They are how we get into those systems."

Middleware "talks" to the APIs, and vice versa, in a common vocabulary. In automotive, that vocabulary is the STEP AP214 protocol (Standard for the Exchange of Product; application protocol), an open standard for exchanging product-, process-, and resource related information. Each of those AP214 definitions are then programmed as XML-based web services processes (such as, "reduce the fillet," "move the end effector horizontally," "create a change order," "generate part numbers"). This open middleware and rewriting monolithic software applications into components (objects) is the basis of SOA.

Why should anyone but an IT geek care? (Before continuing, here's what SOA provides IT geeks: quick and easy integration with existing databases, software, file servers, and the like; easy business process modeling; and easy scalability and adaptability. All of this lowers the cost of ownership for glass-house IT stuff and applications such as CAD and PLM.) The ability to easily mix 'n' match disparate or multi-vendor software systems, or both, comes along with the ride to a SOA-based system. SOA "enables a revolutionary level of global collaboration," says Bob Brincheck, director of PLM business transformation at Dassault. "Now I can operate off a single server or server farm in one location, and everybody around the world can actually access that location with a high level of performance without endlessly duplicating data around the world."

 

SOA selection

There's another aspect to all of this, points out Ed Miller, president of the research firm CIMdata (Ann Arbor, MI; www.cimdata.com). Consider the argument SAP has used in the ERP world for so many years: "We'll give you the framework and, by the way, we'll also give you all the applications." Dassault and Siemens, says Miller, "want to be your framework. They also want to sell you a whole bunch of applications."

So is this the start of SOA-platform wars? Should department heads in design engineering and manufacturing rip out their existing PLM systems to install SOA-based PLM systems? No! One of the hallmarks of SOA-its raison d'être-is the ability to put "wrappers" around legacy systems to enable bidirectional communications with other systems. The SOA platform becomes the backbone to make that happen.

"You're going to see people commit to a platform for the long haul," says Miller. However, regardless of the user-General Motors, Johnson Controls, or even a small mom-and-pop-"one of the things they absolutely don't want is to have that platform constrain them in terms of all these applications they decide to use." The reality is: No vendor can "supply it all." The framework guys know their SOA platforms must accommodate third-party applications.

Determine the following, suggests Robert Norton, program director for IBM Product Lifecycle Management (Armonk, NY):

  • Does the PLM system use industry standards?
  • What tools were used to develop the PLM system?
  • What do those tools offer in terms of integration capability, in terms of creating an uberPLM system?

Also consider the political ramifications. "The center of the universe [engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, etc.] is wherever the customer wants it to be," says Norton. "In some ways, it doesn't matter where the center is because middleware sits across that; SOA serves data to downstream systems and sister divisions of the company and to whatever application they're using. The boundaries of [PLM] systems relate to organizational control, such as who has the money, and the very practical aspects of the functional design of a product, such as powertrain versus."

 

The unified digital platform from Siemens

The-company-that-was-previously Siemens PLM Software has gone through its share of moving from multiple CAD, and by extension PLM, systems to what it now calls its "unified architecture." The first instance of that architecture is Teamcenter 2007 (www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/products/teamcenter/index.shtml), launched October 2007. (The previous version of Teamcenter was launched in 2005.) Teamcenter doesn't contain everything that goes into a PLM system. Instead, it's essentially the backbone for PLM. It's the single source of product and process knowledge for an enterprise. And it contains a bunch of applications for visualization, collaboration, requirements management, and other PLM-support applications.

Explains Bill Boswell, senior director of Teamcenter Product Marketing for Siemens PLM, there are 10 application areas in the Teamcenter brand, including systems engineering and requirements management; engineering, mechatronics, manufacturing, and simulation process management (those are separate areas); maintenance repair operations; SRM, and compliance management. These are on top of 14 core capabilities available across the board, including basic enterprise knowledge management, collaboration, visualization, and reporting and analytics kinds of things. Gone are separate databases, user interfaces, and seemingly disparate CAD/CAE/simulation products from Siemens. There are also embedded business processes and workflows, such as parsing tools for content and change management, which are available to the base user.

Gone also are the hurdles to share data with related and sometimes competitive third-party PLM products, as well as ERP and other enterprise/manufacturing management applications. Case in point, says Dave Taylor, senior director of Automotive Marketing for Siemens PLM in Livonia, MI: Ford Motor Company, is moving to Dassault Systèmes for CAD while still using Teamcenter globally to manage all their Catia data. (General Motors and Volkswagen are also Teamcenter customers.)

Running software from a unified database has several advantages. One, the single data model also makes data mining and integration with ERP easier. Two, it links seemingly different part families. For instance, the Teamcenter Embedded Software Manager treats software as a unique part. The resulting engineering bill of material (BOM) helps integrate software development in product design; it helps design teams plan product design at the system level and associate functional and logistical requirements to the physical implementation of software features. Conversely, the associativity of system requirements lets software development teams trace features and functions across the entire product lifecycle.

Teamcenter 2007 looks like Outlook from Microsoft Corp. Providing this type of user interface simplifies user adoption and reduces training costs. A variety of tools are available through this interface, including new tools to visualize and browse complex product relationships, aligning design BOMs with business BOMs, and editing and redlining BOMs.

Some Teamcenter tools have lately been folded into the PLM universe. First, requirements planning tools. Now Teamcenter links requirements documents born early in the design process to documents that define the product and that were created later in design development. Teamcenter can parse the documents (in Word, for example), find the requirements definitions, and create a structure consisting of objects from the Teamcenter database that point to the relevant product/process information. Those objects (really the requirements contained in that document) are maintained, updated, and added to as the project continues. Each object can be linked to further documentation and entities as required. Second, portfolio management lets users investigate where resources are used and whether new projects are practical and consistent with corporate performance metrics (including soft metrics like improving sustainability, and hard metrics, like reducing costs and material usage).

 

PLM 2.0 from Dassault

The first release of V6 is a major release of the PLM system from Dassault Systèmes. V6, according to Dassault, is the company's "next-generation platform for PLM 2.0." It makes virtual products up front and personal. "PLM 2.0 is to PLM what Web 2.0 is to the Web, harnessing collective intelligence from online communities," says Bernard Charlès, president and CEO of Dassault Systèmes. "Any user can imagine, share, and experience products in the universal language of 3D. PLM 2.0 merges the real and virtual in an immersive lifelike experience. PLM 2.0 brings knowledge, from idea to product experience, to life."

The V6 user interface is intuitive. Displays are lifelike. They have the high interactiveness of 3D objects in video games. Depending on the red-yellow-green feedback in a dashboard, a user can drill down a product structure, for example, and information spins off into separate turntables. Users can easily find and search information, communicate, collaborate, and experience products in 3D, online, in real time, and even when those products don't physically exist.

V6 makes it easy for professionals and non-professionals to directly interact with the 3D data in composite documents based on PLM data, including manipulate, cutaway, and dimension images, check for clearances and interferences, and annotate. Users can access the 3D data, regardless of format and access multiple formats simultaneous, and then create content to be used standalone or embedded into Microsoft Office documents, PDF files, web pages, and the like. Dassault's 3DVIA virtual-reality technology invites non-professional users, including the general public, to the product development/collaborative fray, such as providing feedback about the design and test of virtual prototypes.

Because it's based on SOA, V6 can be integrated with existing PLM systems and with other enterprise systems. SOA helps V6 open files from most CAD systems and lets users edit those files natively. V6 is also based on the latest version of Dassault's enterprise-level PLM system, Enovia MatrixOne 10.8. V6 will become Dassault's single source of truth-intellectual property (IP)-about product development and manufacturing. It merges what were formerly separate data models in Enovia, MatrixOne, and SmartTeam. (Dassault has been able to provide a "single" data repository before without any data loss. Now this is done without any data translation. "Translation causes challenges," comments Brincheck.)

V6 pushes the online envelope of PLM. It lets everybody experience products virtually so that all user interactions generate IP. Continues Charlès, "With V6, IP can be put to use immediately via 'networked' PLM solutions, so that anybody can 'test drive' a virtual product in the real world."

V6 freely uses Dassault's suite of integrated applications, namely Catia, Simulia, Delmia, Enovia, and 3DVIA. "Next-generation" (i.e., new) capabilities are in each of these applications. For example, Catia V6 expands the modeling of physical design to include aggregating requirements, functional, logical, and physical (RFLP) product definitions. Delmia V6 opens up collaboration so that an entire supply chain can create and optimize build-to-order and lean production manufacturing systems using an enterprise's single data repository.