Two articles have been published exclusively in this small series. One on the position of Dassault Systèmes, here Darko Sucic, Senior Director, Industry Consulting in Central Europe at Dassault Systèmes, was my interview partner. And one on the position of Siemens Digital Industries Software, and here I spoke with Joe Bohmann, Senior Vice President, Lifecycle Collaboration Software.

Some key questions were also answered by Roland Riedel, Senior Director, Europe Manufacturing Mid-Market at Autodesk; Johann Dornbach, CTO of PROCAD Group; and Dominik Rüchardt, Head of Business, Market, and Partner Development, PTC. CONTACT Software did not answer my questions, and at ARAS a change in the top management intervened.

After the gradual discontinuation of the term PLM in the communication of almost all software manufacturers known until recently as PLM providers, I was more than surprised during the interviews for this small series: Without exception, all interviewees still see PLM as a central and absolute prerequisite for making progress in the digital transformation of the industry.

Roland Riedel, Autodesk, for example, says: “In recent decades, companies have invested primarily in ERP, automation and CRM. PLM always came last. Now it’s a rude awakening for many to see that they can’t take the next steps in digitalization without PLM. That they haven’t done their homework.”

Johann Dornbach, PROCAD: “PLM is the essential component of our portfolio of offerings for PROCAD Group.”

“The importance of PLM is just growing enormously”

Dominik Rüchardt, PTC, sees an expansion of the scope of PLM: “Originally, PLM was seen more as a downstream technology, starting from engineering to the completion of the product. Now the application extends into service and operations. PLM not only continues to play a central role, its importance is actually growing tremendously right now.” (Photo Dominik Rüchardt)

And it is obviously precisely because of the expansion of the topic of industrial digitalization to include the entire value chain, all the way to new business models in the form of data-based services, that PLM is experiencing a veritable renaissance.

Johann Dornbach emphasizes that “without end-to-end digital data along the entire product lifecycle, the core approach of PLM, the digital transformation cannot be successfully realized at reasonable expense and in a sustainable manner.”

Dominik Rüchardt sees PLM as “a central element in the series of technologies such as cloud, augmented reality/virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning that are indispensable for digital transformation.”

In Roland Riedel’s view, the trend towards the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI over the last five years has also led to a real turnaround in industry attitudes towards cloud use in Europe, and especially in Germany. Now, data from product operations is to be used and perhaps compared and analyzed in the cloud with data from other products. “But from the operation and via the cloud, it must then be possible to draw conclusions about the product itself, how it works and about its properties. And for that, companies need PLM.” (Photo Roland Riedel)

Also, with regard to the question, much discussed in recent years, of whether the famous ‘data lake’, i.e. the unstructured data lake filled from all available sources, does not make PLM superfluous, all providers agree: the possibility of using unstructured Big Data is a supplement, not a replacement for PLM.
Johann Dornbach finds that “Data Lakes and new data processing methods expand the possibilities of PLM because they reveal new approaches to solutions.” But “they are not an alternative to PLM strategies.”

Important data influx for the data lake

For Roland Riedel, PLM provides an extremely important “data stream that feeds the data lake. Without this structured source, the collected data is of little use.”

And Dominik Rüchardt says, “The big difference is that the unstructured data from the Data Lake always allows only approximation and guesswork, while PLM provides exact data. Machine Learning requires PLM structures to allow a meaningful and reliable evaluation of the masses of data.”

If I’m not mistaken, we can expect a renewed appreciation of PLM as a topic in the next few years. And with an increasing shift to the cloud, because just as cloud usage is of little value to the industry without PLM, it is becoming urgent that PLM can be detached from the desktop and used anywhere, even during the operation of connected products.

Dominik Rüchardt envisions “industrial lifecycle management.” It’s no longer just about the product and the production, it’s about the use of the product all the way to its sustainability, which is increasingly coming into focus in the process. “We are a learning company. We recognize the growing importance of PLM and the convergence of PLM and IoT, and that’s where PTC is investing in the coming years. For example, PTC’s acquisition of Arena as a pure “SaaS – Software-as-a-Service” PLM system complements Windchill’s offering, which is also increasingly being adopted in the cloud.”

Autodesk just this summer acquired Upchain, a startup founded in 2015 with 150 employees. Its core is a fully cloud-based PLM software that now adds PLM to Fusion 360. Roland Riedel quotes from a study that around three-quarters of all industrial companies consider PLM to be important, and of these, in turn, one-third rate the topic as crucial to competition. “The pandemic, with its pressure for remote working and home offices, has once again made it clear how important the data backbone from PLM is for companies. Autodesk will provide solutions for all of them.”
PROCAD Group is in the process of being acquired by a U.S. investor. For the investors, too, the topic of PLM has apparently become so important that they see their money well invested in it. (Pjhoto Johann Dornbach, PROCAD)

Johann Dornbach