2015-05-18 08.34.08I’ve been on a quest to find out where designs come from and one thing is clear: nothing is ever created in a vacuum. A good industrial designer will look at what else the prospective buyer might have on his desk, so that the new ergonomic mouse fits into the landscape; an eyewear designer will make sure her concepts fit with the colors and clothing styles that will predominate for the next few seasons; and a furniture designer will use new, cutting edge materials (or traditional materials in new ways) to create an attractive blend of form and function. Cars that blend new body shapes with classic looks established by a brand over decades. OK, you say, those industries cater to buyers looking for cool and are all examples related to exterior appearance. But what about mechanisms? Or industrial machinery? Where’s the design thinking?

It turns out, everywhere. Ergonomic instrument panels and hand controls. Refined assemblies that use less material, weigh less and yet meet every requirement for strength and fit-for-purpose. Medical implants that are uniquely designed for their patient, yet based on the best, newest research. Crowd-sourcing designs with Local Motors or Quirky. Incorporating the results of big data analytics to optimize the product for how it’s actually used, rather than the designer’s conceived uses. New products that start with connectivity and re-imagine how products and services can be bundled to monitor air conditioning or production processes.

It’s a huge new world out there, with challenging buyer expectations regardless of what product you make. How can you keep up? And how can PLMish technologies help?

I was fortunate to attend PLM Connection a few weeks ago and heard from Siemens PLM and its customers how look for competitive advantage through design and manufacturing. While many of the customers who spoke represented the biggest companies in the world, their lessons are equally applicable to our smaller enterprises:

  • connect people with the right information — don’t make them hunt for it because they might give up
  • visual information is best — most people are quicker to understand an image than to read page after page in a report
  • make decisions with the customer in mind — what do they want or need?
  • analysis should lead design — why waste time on a variant that won’t meet spec?
  • apply robustness studies everywhere, from manufacturing variations to design components
  • the world is not going to get simpler; create an approach/architecture that lets you be responsive and limber.

Siemens PLM’s CEO Chuck Grindstaff kicked things off by discussing how everything is moving faster: Beating the competition often means reducing the time to market. That, in turn, means shorter innovation cycles. At the same time, we’re building in more electronics and combining unitaskers into multifunctional products. That’s added complexity. But buyers are picky, and often want semi-customized products, which means more agile, responsive designs and manufacturing. And, of course, it’s all got to be cheap and energy/inputs friendly. Net result: at 8:30 AM on a Monday, we were all already stressed and depressed (no, not really) until Mr. Grindstaff brought it home, telling us that digitalization will smooth these edges, making it easier to find both product and process innovations. Digitalization is Siemens AG-speak for tying together ideation, realization and utilization within an enterprise —it’s been called digital twinning, creating a digital asset for every physical one and many other things, if digitalization isn’t a familiar term.

How does Siemens PLM help with this? Mr. Grindstaff said that his team is working along four basic themes:

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In essence, Siemens PLM wants to help customers ensure that

  • everyone in the innovation process has access to up-to-date information to make the best decisions in the shortest time. This involves everything from a user interface geared to a specific role or task to desktop/cloud/mobile access
  • designs meet customer needs by leveraging simulation of many different types: modeling the system architecture very early on, multi-domain 3D simulation, managing test article manufacturing and verification, virtual and physical test execution — all tied back to design requirements
  • manufacturing and design work together, by connecting the digital and physical worlds of product and production. This one is tough: it requires integrating PLM and manufacturing operations management systems, often on a global scale. (At this point in his presentation, Mr. Grindstaff showed off the integration of Bentley’s point clouds of an existing factory with Siemens PLM’s factory model — so cool.)
  • they will have access to leading technology at all times. This point was inward-facing: Siemens PLM needs to reassure customers that it is building solutions that deliver value now and are flexible enough to incorporate new technologies as they arise, and be delivered as customers want, say via the cloud or on a subscription.

The company presentations following Mr. Grindstaff’s were all keyed to filling in the details of this vision, for the various CAD, CAM, PLM and other solutions under the umbrella.

Siemens PLM’s big announcement at PLM Connection was Solid Edge ST8, the latest release of its mid-range CAD/CAM product. VP Dan Staples once again ran through the dozens of enhancements and new features (read more here at the Solid Edge website and here at Develop3D); my big takeaways were

  • cool improvements to sketching that make it a more natural process
  • better handling of assemblies, especially complex hierarchies
  • it actually runs on a tablet! The full version of Solid Edge ST8 runs on Surface tablets, which means design tasks can move as people move. I’ve been skeptical of doing CAD on a small device; all that panning and zooming would make me lose the thread of my overall design too quickly. But the demos we saw were very natural, with the designer naturally moving back and forth between keyboard, stylus and touch
  • the debut of the Solid Edge App Marketplace. There’s quite a bit already available and it will be interesting to see how this develops over time. Will customers buying Solid Edge subscriptions want to buy apps this way? Will people buying in a traditional perpetual/maintenance come here for add-ons? We’ll find out.

One more very interesting bit of news: the release of Omneo Performance Analytics (Omneo PA), acquired in last year’s Camstar deal. Omneo PA is Siemens PLM’s entry into big data analytics, monitoring data across an entire supply chain to analyze billions of data combinations in seconds. Siemens PLM SVP, Cloud Services, Steve Bashada told us that “Omneo PA changes the way companies understand their products, by combining data from field service, real-time monitoring (aka IoT), manufacturing, CRM, ERP and other sources”. Mr. Bashada also pointed out that not all big data is new — there are years of un-analyzed data sitting around, often terabytes of the stuff, waiting to create value. What happens when you look at that data, from design systems, factories, suppliers, customer call centers, field services, after-market repairs & more, to see what happened and why ? You can learn from the past, expose emerging trends and, if appropriate, quickly drill down further to see what you can to do correct the problem before it spirals out of control.

We also saw a tease for Catchbook, a purpose-built sketching app for tablets that’s coming out this Fall. Take a look — what do you think?

The last word goes to a true hero: Captain Eugene Cernan was the non-PLMish keynote speaker for the event. Capt. Cernan flew 3 missions in space: he was the pilot of Gemini IX and the Lunar Module for Apollo X, and the Commander of Apollo XVII. He is, perhaps most famously, the last man to have left footprints on the moon. (I’m doing a happy dance as I type that. The MOON.) Capt. Cernan told us that technology is a tool, not a crutch, and that we, as engineers, must take personal responsibility for the products we create. He said that the astronauts were well aware of the work done by thousands of others to make the missions possible: “The engineers and other behind-the-scenes support took responsibility for the technology that took us to the moon. When we went [to the moon], we went with half a million people who took ownership of the task — what we took ownership of was that we were not going to fail.” You and I may not be sending someone to the moon, but let us not forget that what we create is just as important to someone, somewhere.

Bottom line: Siemens PLM and its customers seem well aligned in how they view the complexity of their products, manufacturing processes and after-sales support opportunities. Technology is a tool, and an important one, but does not supersede the human’s ability to be creative, to solve problems, to think in new ways. Use technology to connect dots in a big data world. To serve information to whoever needs it, in a context they can quickly absorb for decision-making. Wherever they may be.

Image credits: Slide courtesy of Siemens PLM Software, photo of Chuck Grindstaff taken by Monica Schnitger

Note: Siemens graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.