Q&A Tuesday: Where does PLM fit? What’s a flexible ship? And more

Apr 10, 2017 | Hot Topics

You ask the best questions! Here, some quick answers from the mailbag:

I probably get more questions on PLM than anything else: what is it, who uses it, why does it matter — and where does it fit into an overall IT strategy. The first thing to realize is that history matters here; PLM, Product Lifecycle Management, grew out of the realization that PDM, Product Data Management, was generally confined to the engineering and manufacturing domain even though the data archived in a PDM could be used in lots of other parts of an enterprise. And, of course, that processes managed by a PDM could benefit from comments from other departments. PLM was intended to push that data out to other potential users in purchasing, services, training, marketing — anywhere that product-related information was needed — while also including those resources in decision-making. That, in turn, led to PLM being integrated (as the source of that engineering data) into all sorts of systems: supplier management, to ensure that the stuff engineers were using in their designs could actually be sourced. Configurators, product styling-engineering-design, manufacturing process planning, recipe management. production planning and scheduling, supplier/customer/service collaboration. package management, embedded software versioning — you name it, there’s likely a PLM module for it. So when you ask me about Daimler’s Smaragd, and why Daimler decided several years ago that it made more sense to switch CAD products than replace a PLM, the answer lies in all of the connections Daimler created between its PLM and other crucial management systems. Yes, switching CAD is tough: you may need to migrate parts, you need to retrain users, there’s a boatload of testing to do; it’s not something to undertake without a lot of careful planning. But Daimler’s Smaragd –a heavily customized solution based on Siemens PLM’s Teamcenter– is even harder to disconnect and replace. For all who are not Daimler, the lesson here might be that massive customization isn’t necessarily a good idea: you can’t always anticipate the consequences but they’re likely to be expensive.

So, where does PLM fit into an overall IT strategy? You can have a PLM manage engineering and design –people, tasks, projects, collaboration, etc.– and maybe, someday, you can start to connect it into the other systems you use to run your business. The other half of that question is usually, do I need one? Probably, perhaps, yes. Every group of people working on a common project develop shortcuts, workarounds and other ad hoc processes that are hard to teach newbies; someone always has files tucked somewhere they shouldn’t. At minimum, a PLM (or PDM, in that case) can impose order on chaos. Perhaps the best way to get started is to implement a PDM solution from your CAD vendor or one of their partners on your next project and see how that goes. Learn, adjust, try again.

You also continue to come to the Schnitger Corp. website to learn about earning preannouncements, what they are and why companies may choose to make one. The latest batch of questions is on banking. Not my area or expertise, but I’d imagine that the issues are the same: sitting on information that could affect the stock price could lead to insider trading rumors (even if completely unfounded). Too, there’s the whole strategy of getting the news out to soften the blow and control the narrative before a competitor gets to comment. Read more here.

Finally: what is flexible ship? Excellent, excellent question. If you’ve ever watched World War II movie or documentary, you’ve seen the naval ships used at that time. There were destroyers, fast and maneuverable warships that typically escort larger vessels in a battle group and defend them against smaller, short range attackers. Destroyers were clearly different from aircraft carriers, which lumbered around and acted as bases for fighter aircraft. Those are single-purpose ships, built for a time when war was pretty well-defined. Today, that’s an expensive way to run a navy that must be prepared to deal with many more types of threats. I’ve written about this before (here, for example), but an emerging concept is to design warships that are more modular and can be adapted to be a humanitarian or relief ship, a supply carrier in support of other ships, or a more traditional warship, as needed. In part, this is a recognition that naval design/build timelines are looooong, and that entire generations of systems can come and go before a ship has passed its sea trials. Think about how the Space Shuttle relied on outdated computer technology during its last voyages, and you get a sense of what’s in play here — but expand that to IT, stealth, communications, weapons, radar/sonar, and warcraft, and you get a sense of why modular systems design matters. Too, there’s cost: war is expensive and the US Navy is far from efficient in spending its resources. Creating modular designs would enable facilities around the country to build modules that would be assembled somewhere else; we could start looking for more manufacturing efficiencies, and work on bringing down cost without sacrificing either the ship’s mission readiness or the workers needed to keep the country’s shipbuilding capacity. Heck, we might even get efficient enough to see the industry grow.

There’s also the maintenance aspect to all of this. The US Navy says it has a backlog of work in its public yards of “about 5.3 million man-days”, caused by worker inexperience, “increased operational tempo” and hiccups in the budget approval process in the US Capitol. A more modular and flexible systems approach to ship architecture should make maintenance simpler. It doesn’t, necessarily, require the same level of expertise and should be faster since much of the staging can happen before the ship even arrives at a yard. Can’t do much about the budget arguments …

Keep the questions coming! Use the comments field below or send them via the Contact Us form. I look forward to hearing from you!


Before you say it: yes, I know that picture is not of a warship. But it’s such a dramatic photo … The sky, the red hull, the tugboat. Can’t you hear the seagulls?