Accelerate 2015 tackles PLM, one bite at a time

Sep 8, 2015 | Hot Topics

The end of summer, warm days, cool nights, Boston harbor all around. Hard to focus on PLM, right? But 300 of us managed it, inside the Seaport Convention Center at Accelerate 2015. We were treated to dozens of presentations by Autodesk PLM360 users and Autodesk implementation partners; Autodesk itself held the stage for less than an hour in 2 days. It was a very practical event, with recent implementers sharing tips and tricks, successes and lessons learned with those just starting out on a new implementation or looking to extend what they already had. So practical, in fact, that the 100+ attendees who were there to explore Autodesk and the PLM 360 offerings came away with a realistic and comprehensive view of what it would take for them to get up and running on PLM360; unlike many companies, Autodesk didn’t limit attendance to only current customers.

The customer stories were, as always, fascinating. From Automatic Labs, which makes doohickeys that provide actual driving data to car insurers and others, to golf apparel and accessory maker TaylorMade, to Owens Corning’s capital project management, the amount of data and the number of processes managed in PLM continues to grow. General takeaways:

  • Small companies have the exact same problems as big ones, but have fewer resources with which to address them. They need quick-to-implement solutions that don’t rely on a huge IT department or budget. Not to say that large companies can’t also benefit from these types of solutions, but they generally have a different (often far bigger) agenda for a PLM.
  • PLM implementations of any size work best when you know what you want to do with information and processes BEFORE you start on the IT part of it all. One speaker told us that it took 2-3 weeks for his PLM 360 implementation —an incredibly short period— because he and his co-lead had done their prep work and knew exactly what they wanted to do.
  • To get the most value out of PLM, think laterally. If we make it easy enough to access and clear enough to understand, who else can use this information? One speaker talked about capital projects in the AEC domain, building chemical production facilities, and having construction workers use PLM 360. Construction crews come and go on projects; if it’s accessible enough for this casual user, who can use the data in your PLM?
  • Excel still rules the corporate world. Even in organizations that have PLM installs, Excel is used for quick tasks and to  move data around. I don’t think we can get away from it completely, but almost everyone wants to get away from the personal, formatted/formula-ed sheets that only their creator can use and modify.

Autodesk, in its sessions, chose to talk about shifts it sees in the world of manufacturing and offer a glimpse into the future of PLM360. I love this graphic by artist Ryan of the Ink Factory, that shares the mega-trends Autodesk has identified:

ADSK Future of Making

In case you can’t read it, the PLM-specific elements are

  • personalized and/or configurable products, tailored to specific customer expectations. The perfect example: the Briggs Automotive Company Mono seat and steering wheel, 3D printed to the contours of the driver’s body
  • collaboration with partners and customers to design the perfect product
  • flexible manufacturing, which includes additive and subtractive means
  • a focus on the customer experience, which means soliciting their input all along the innovation process from concept to design to production and into selling (don’t go getting all Dassault-y; it’s just words)
  • interconnectedness of the products themselves. Whether this has to do with industrial objects like machinery that the manufacturer can better service, or controlling the lights in my entryway from my cell phone, the implications of the Internet of Things affects all stages of innovation and extends what traditionally stopped at the sales floor far into the operational life of the product.

During the what’s coming next part of the program, we learned that Autodesk is working on a couple of really interesting ideas —with the usual caveats about these not being commitments, no release dates, etc. Coolest is the creation of an IFTT-like ability to connect event triggers and actions, apparently doable by non-IT people. IFTT stands for “if this then that” and is a popular and easy way for people to create what IFTT calls recipes — for example, if the Schnitger Corp site published a Wordpress blog post, IFTT sends it to Evernote. IFTT has hundreds of canned recipes, or you can create your own. The point: IFTT is easy and visual and you can quickly test the recipe to ensure it’s correct. Autodesk wants to do something similar for PLM, where a trigger in PLM might spawn an action in an ERP or an ADP payroll system or any one of the rest of “everything” Autodesk feels should be possible. Just one example: enter a new customer into PLM360, and spawn creation of a new account in Salesforce.

Less sexy but still important, Autodesk continues to further its “instant on/simple deployment” strategy with out-of-the box templates and other tools to speed implementation and improve accessing data anywhere on any device, with multi-CAD support and collaboration capabilities. Autodesk wants to have CAD data management behave the way users do, for example by  creating and merging branches, removing check-in and out, and generally simplifying the experience.

During the “Ask the Analyst” session, we got a great question that I think is a perfect segue into my wrap-up of this year’s Accelerate. It was something like “I starting thinking about PLM 20 years ago. What’s changed?” Twenty years ago, we had desktop computers but few laptops, no mobile devices (at least not with data capability), the Internet was still new to many, manufacturing was just moving to remote partners, IT departments controlled huge budgets and big companies ruled … It was a different time and the technologies that met the challenges of its users were rigid and cumbersome. Accelerate 2015 highlighted how far we’ve come, with solutions that are agile, customizable, easy to implement and quick to get value. You still have to do the legwork of figuring what you want to automate and find the correct data, but the rest has gotten a lot easier.

Autodesk has put some of the conference content online, here.

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