Study finds PLM software moving into process manufacturing

Research firm ARC Advisory Group also says more manufacturers are using PLM-based social media along with improved PLM-MES integration and three-dimensional simulation.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software is branching out from its traditional stronghold in engineering-intensive discrete manufacturing and moving aggressively into such process-oriented industries as energy, food and beverage and consumer goods, according to a new study from ARC Advisory Group.

At the same time, social media and three-dimensional (3-D) modeling are turning PLM software into a comprehensive tool for product innovation by giving customers a say in designs and helping manufacturers simulate products all the way to the retail shelf.

“The PLM supplier market has been primarily supported by the discrete industries,” said Dick Slansky, a senior analyst at the Dedham, Mass.-based research firm and principal author of the report Product Lifecycle Management Worldwide Outlook. The industry nosedived with two of its core markets, aerospace and automotive, during the 2008-2009 recession.  But discrete manufacturing bounced back strongly and stabilized, which has caused PLM software vendors to look for growth in other kinds of manufacturing, he said.

Companies like market-leading Dassault Systemes, based in France, have achieved “really good growth patterns” in process manufacturing, Slansky said.

The move has fueled historic highs in quarterly revenues for the handful of vendors that hold three-quarters of the $9.3 billion worldwide market in PLM this year, according to Slansky. Following Dassault, in order, are Siemens PLM Software, Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC) and Autodesk. SAP, Oracle and Ansys follow close by.

The PLM needs of process manufacturers don’t differ much from those of discrete manufacturers, so software vendors haven’t had to customize their offerings, according to Slansky. But PLM’s growing use among process manufacturers means they get the same advanced capabilities, especially 3-D simulation, that discrete manufacturers have long used to “test” products in virtual environments.

 Offshore drilling refineries and petrochemical plants, for example, can now be designed and tested on high-end computers that run PLM and closely integrated computer-aided engineering (CAE) and simulation software. “It’s very realistic,” Slansky said. “They can completely simulate an offshore drilling platform. They have avatars that represent the workers.”

Nuclear power plants are another promising application. “The Japanese are very, very interested, for obvious reasons,” Slansky said, referring to the May earthquake and tsunami that caused reactor meltdowns at one plant.

Training is another increasingly popular application of 3-D simulation. “This has really got the attention of oil and gas and other process folks,” he said. Workers can access all the relevant technical information for a pump, for example, often on the mobile devices they use in the field.

Food and beverage, consumer packaged goods and apparel makers have also taken to using PLM to design packages and simulate them on store shelves, Slansky said, naming Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark as examples. “[Kimberly-Clark] built this complete retail environment. It’s a field-marketing thing. They are also bringing it to inventory so they can see what it looks like as the stock moves.”

Manufacturers that use composite materials such as carbon fiber in vehicles including bicycles, ships and jetliners are another new segment where PLM is proving to be useful. “The manufacturing process is completely different,” and relies more on complex statistical analysis and pattern matching than discrete manufacturing does, Slansky said. “The cost of it right now is not in the material; it’s the process. They generally pre-impregnate [the carbon fiber] with some type of resin and it can be preformed into all kinds of shapes. It’s thrown into a big oven and baked. It‘s very critical how you lay this stuff up.”

Better product data through PLM-MES integration 
Another trend identified in the report -- PLM’s increased integration with manufacturing execution system (MES) software -- has helped companies get a better handle on composite materials, which are strongly affected by factors such as their age and level of refrigeration. Production metrics gathered in an MES can bring such process-oriented information into the product record stored in the PLM, according to Slansky.

The broader effect of PLM-MES integration has been to bring to PLM the same continuous-improvement methodologies, such as Lean Six Sigma, that MES has helped automate in production processes. “You want to close the loop between the as-built and the as-designed and really look at quantitative data to figure out how to improve the process,” Slansky said. “One of Dassault’s big customers, [aerospace manufacturer] Boeing, has really jumped all over this.”

Social media comes to PLM
Perhaps the most significant finding in the report is the extent to which PLM is being transformed by manufacturers’ appetite for social media, according to Slansky. “What they’re trying to do is reach out,” he said, “the idea being that innovation has to move outside the walls of the enterprise to reach that pool of ideation. It’s really starting to take hold.”

As a result, newer PLM suites have social media features that allow employees to collaborate more easily on product design and extend those discussions to customers and suppliers.

Demand for PLM-based social media is also predictably divided along generational lines, with younger workers inclined to “share everything,” in Slansky’s words. In contrast, older engineers can be reluctant to share what they regard as trade secrets. 

Slansky advises manufacturers to resist that tendency. “If you don’t reach out and get the new innovation ideas, you’re not going to have a product to defend,” he said.

As in other industries, social media is also becoming a marketing tool for manufacturers. With the simulation features in PLM, consumer goods companies can interact with customers in 3-D virtual environments, Slansky said.

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