PLM: Work-in-progress vs. System of Records?

June 6, 2011

Recently, I’ve been in a very interesting conversation with one of my industry buddies. It was about a role PDM and PLM systems are playing today manufacturing organizations. To summarize our discussion in few sentences, it was sounded like that: all data management systems (PDM, PLM, ERP) are used as a system of records. People keep in PDM/PLM/ERP information about released products. However, people never used these systems as Work-in-Progress systems. I read a AIIM blog post – Is it ever okay to copy "final" documents to a separate system? I learned that problem of system split is not unique in PLM world. Here is my favorite passage from there:

Both organizations have mature ECM implementations and in both cases have had their ECM programs in place for more than a decade. The original mandate of their programs was to manage all information through its entire lifecycle, following AIIM’s advice to capture, store, manage, deliver and preserve all unstructured content.

But a funny thing happened on the way to ECM nirvana. Both organizations decided to pursue a "parallel" strategy; one system for collaboration and work-in-progress documents and one for "official records" or final versions (often copies) of documents that have completed the collaboration cycle (and yes, the rise of SharePoint plays a part in this decision, but that’s a discussion for another day).

It made me think about relationships between work-in-progress and released documents a bit more.

Vaulting and System of Record

In the early beginning, PDM/PLM started as vaulting systems for CAD. The straightforward need was to "vault" all revisions of design (CAD files and others) and maintain their changes. The main objective was to manage traceability of design decisions. The original ideas, strated as CALS (Continues Acquisition and Lifecycle Support) and Configuration Management (MIL-973 and EIA-649) explored to what we know today about PLM. The notion of WIP (work-in-progress) vs. Formal Control was all the time there. In my view, it developed a notion of "system of records". In parallel, the role early PDM/PLM tools played in the organization and their relationships with ERP also favored ERP as a final system of record that disconnected from engineering and R&D in every manufacturing organization.

Design Collaboration

At the same time, CAD vendors continuously developed the tied connection of CAD and PLM tools. This connectivity helped to establish more efficient engineering work and helped engineers to collaborate online. This collaboration tool helped engineers, but becomes complicated and made designers and engineering life really complex. So, justification of the deployment of these tools created a stigma of complicated and expensive PLM environment. However, when established, these systems helped to make engineering information available across the organization and improved the way company worked with engineering and product information.

Downstream Problem – what is the right tehnology?

One of the most complicated problems in manufacturing organization related to engineering, and product development is the availability of information downstream. It initially defined as 3D information availability, this problem is much broader and related to many other aspects of engineering information. Recently, CAD/PLM vendors recognized the problem. Examples of investment in this space are Dassault acquisition of Seemage and 3DVIA Composer product, Autodesk Inventor Publisher release earlier this year. You may be also interested to watch what Lattice Technology is doing in this space. They pioneered the idea of lightweight 3D format’s proliferation. At the same time, the problem is unsolved and lots of engineering information is still not available and not connected downstream in manufacturing organization.

What is my conclusion? In my view, the time when you can split the problem into the two independent problem is over. Last 10 years we split work-in-progress problems with the system of record problems. Engineering was throwing released engineering information to manufacturing and were fighting tons of ECOs. It is still happening. To develop a new way to work is probably the next challenge. What is your take? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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