PLM Connection showcases the Digital Enterprise

May 20, 2017 | Hot Topics

PLM Connection, a Siemens-associated but user group-driven event, tried something new this year: day long sessions devoted to a single topic. I was fortunate enough to be asked to moderate panels during a day focused on “Realizing the Digital Enterprise – Transforming the User Experience”, with speakers from Siemens PLM, industry and partner companies. (Unfortunately, since I was in that track all day, I didn’t get to any Simcenter, Solid Edge, Teamcenter, NX …. sessions, I’ve asked for briefings and hope to catch up on what I missed in Indianapolis.)

Our objective for the day was to tackle how emerging technologies are changing how we all work and to explore how they’re likely to evolve over time. Not surprising, we spent quite a bit of the day on Virtual / Augmented Reality (VR and AR) and touched on the Internet of Things, cloud, mobile, who does what in a manufacturing context –and with what tool sets– and how all of this works together to transform engineering, manufacturing and product service.

The lessons were profound:

  • Start now, start small, figure out what works for your enterprise and grow from there. The hardware for AR, especially, isn’t fully baked yet –everyone had a story of a toolkit that failed– but the technology is improving so quickly that companies that don’t investigate how their design reviews, training, field operations and so on could benefit will be left in the dust by those who started early
  • Focus on standards. Each speaker also pointed out that there are file format issues, data translation protocols and so on — this isn’t easy yet. But if you stick to standards-based devices and approaches, you should be OK
  • Workflow matters, hugely. If you use Teamcenter, for example, to manage CAD model iterations and you spawn off a process every so often to create a rendered version appropriate for a VR experience, you don’t want to have to re-render with every change. Consider how often that would be appropriate; what level of fidelity you need, when and for what reason — and manage those assets just as you do any other because it has significant value
  • Solid best practices in setting up your PLM will pay dividends when it comes to implementing new technologies like AR/VR and mobile apps. We had some in the audience who were just starting their PLM journeys and who wondered whether the industrial speakers had any pitfalls to share; it always came back to “If only we had spent the time upfront”
  • And PLM is still not “done” by any means. As industries move more and more into a sensor-enabled world, they need to mange both the placement of the sensors and the data that they generate. That digital to physical to digital loop can, as we all hear, create a huge data lake from which it can be near-impossible to create meaningful, actionable, information. Companies implementing (or re-evaluating an existing) PLM need to factor this in: how will that loop be created? How will it be closed? Machine learning is only possible if you know the questions you want to start with; from there, magic can happen
  • We also touched on additive manufacturing, and how it can transform both how a business operates (how products are designed, the products themselves, what types of things are held in inventory)  and business models that bring production closer to the customer.

Many great examples were shared during the day, but I’d like to highlight just one, both because I had no idea, and because Jim Maul subbed in for another speaker at the last second, making him a hero of the day. Jim works at Orbital ATK, making rockets and missiles for the US military. Orbital ATK is working on integrating VR across design, verification, ergonomics, field simulation, manufacturing process simulation, operations, and training — but also, interestingly, in recruiting and training new workers. Orbital ATK created an Immersive Visualization Lab to trial technology and let people become more familiar with it, and to develop more use cases. Jim told two stories that really resonated: first, it’s tough for the people making purchasing decisions to visualize how these products will work; by creating an immersive environment but at human scale, Orbital ATK was able to show the military exactly how it would feel to an insurgent to be on the receiving end of one of its missiles. I had no idea that mattered, but of course it does: they’re aiming for shock and awe as much as for the boom. By being able to show this to the military, Orbital ATK scooped its competition and won the order. Second, many new engineers need to get a sense of what they’re really working on. By creating a virtual environment, they get to “crawl” around inside a rocket, to really understand scale and configuration. Orbital ATK rolls this sort of process out to training, using the Oculus Rift and a “see it, do it” concept. An avatar shows the trainee what to do in the inspection process, the trainee then does it but with little tests thrown in to see how they react. There are still issues:  VR and large CAD assemblies can be problematic, since untethered devices can only hold so much data. But the goal is to get to a point where realistic fit checks and walk thrus become routine. Bottom line, said Jim, “VR engages our customers, engineers and program management in a new way,  to better understand the current design, analysis, manufacture and/or training challenges.” By all “seeing” the same thing, everyone can more quickly work together on a resolution.

It was an awesome day, Thanks to the PLM World/PLM Connection team for having me and to all of the speakers who made the day possible: Siemens’ Ray Kok, Alastair Orchard, and Mohsen Rezayat; Jim Maul from Orbital ATK, Jeffery Legan from MTD, who showed off his Microsoft Hololens, Todd Slater from Amway, who shared great lessons in PLM; Dave Hutchinson from Lightworks; Jeff Pohl and Mike Cheung from Deloitte.


Note: Siemens 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. The title image is from John Whetstone, who wrangled all of us to the session.