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Seven years after CADcircle was founded, IT use in the manufacturing industry had changed so radically that the circle had to realign itself.

The focus was no longer on generating CAD models, but on managing product data to optimize company processes. Even if the focus at the turn of the millennium was still very much on M-CAD data.

Once CAD on the PC had become the standard tool for designers in industry, companies were faced with a completely new problem: designers had learned to use software for 2D drawings and 3D models. This resulted in vast amounts of data, which they initially stored manually in self-created and named directories on their computers or servers. It gradually became clear that only electronic management of this data could ensure its usefulness for the company. Product data management (PDM) became the new topic for IT providers.

For me, this development led to the decision to no longer place the generation of geometry data at the center of the circle, but rather the digital support of processes in the manufacturing industry. The AEC and GIS providers left the circle. New providers were added whose main focus was on product data management. For example, Compass Systems, which was later taken over by Autodesk, or PROCAD, which was sold to the USA a few years ago.

Development proceeded along two tracks. On the one hand, all CAD system manufacturers soon offered their own data management as additional software. As this software was very closely linked to the respective system and provided valuable assistance to the engineering team in particular, this was referred to as team data management. While PDM was increasingly confronted with requirements that went far beyond engineering.

The easier it was for non-engineers to understand designs via the 3D model, the greater the desire of marketing, sales, the press department, service and other areas in the company to be able to access such data centrally, without having to start the CAD software, which could only be used by insiders. The entire product life cycle came into focus.

The Liebenstein Theses on PLM

When the CADcircle met under this name for the last time in spring 2002, IBM, Ariba and SAP had just created a new term: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). They wanted to express the fact that the data from all their systems would ultimately only deliver the promised benefits for customers through centralized data management.

This new direction contained a new promise from IT, but also a new challenge for everyone involved. Without exception, all CAD programs were monolithic systems with proprietary data models, just like the PDM software. No wonder that data exchange via neutral data formats became almost the most important issue for some time.

Incidentally, organizations such as the prostep ivip association and companies such as PROSTEP AG owe their emergence and enormous importance in the coming decades to this topic. For a long time, the automotive industry in particular hoped to have found the solution to its data exchange problems with the STEP data format.

Although the topic of PLM was already on everyone’s lips in 2002, we did not rename CADcircle to PLMcircle. This was because nobody could say how long this abbreviation would be around in the industry. With the agreement of the members, I chose the neutral name sendler\circle.

But PLM actually became our main topic for several years. Initially with the important question of what was meant by this new term. For two full years, we held a fundamental debate on this in the circle with the help of external experts. The result was a set of central theses that we named the “Liebenstein Theses”, as they were unanimously agreed at our meeting at Hotel Schloss Liebenstein.

Hotel Schloss Liebenstein was our conference venue in May 2004 and gave its name to the “Liebenstein Theses” (photo Christine Schulze)

Together with the realignment of the circle, we had also changed the framework conditions in 2002. We no longer met in turn at one of the member companies. With the increasing consolidation of the IT industry, one inviting company too quickly and too often became a subdivision of another that was no longer capable of making decisions. So I looked for nice conference hotels, which soon made a very important difference to other IT conferences for the participants.

The fundamental debate on PLM was unusually open for the IT industry. Although the providers naturally began to talk about PLM systems, we were finally able to publish a unanimous position from within our circle, which was expressed in the two central theses:

  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a concept, not a system and not a (self-contained) solution.
  • Solution components are required to implement/realize a PLM concept. These include CAD, CAE, CAM, VR, PDM and other applications for the product development process.

This contained a truth that many IT sales people and IT managers in the industry no longer wanted to accept in the years that followed: There can be no single system that completely fulfills the task of product lifecycle management. But the promise was tempting and kept the industry busy for around 20 years.

Even the three providers that would have been most likely to come at least relatively close to a comprehensive PLM system, namely Dassault Systèmes, PTC and Siemens Digital Industries Software, have long since turned their backs on “PLM” in their product and company names.

It is difficult to identify a comparably large umbrella topic among them. This is because the “digital transformation of industry”, for example, is a very high priority for all of them in marketing. But it is not a saleable product, not a solution.

This graphic was published together with the Liebenstein Theses. IBM representative Dr. Thomas Wedel contributed it.

It is possible that the discovery of PLM and the focus on it by major IT providers worldwide were the beginning of the end of a market development that for three decades understood IT to mean nothing other than proprietary, monolithic large-scale systems.

In 2011, Autodesk, the first of the founding members, left the sendler\circle because the provider apparently no longer found sufficient added value in the network. In the following ten years, PTC and Dassault Systèmes left. Siemens Digital Industries Software was the last of the major providers to remain a member until the last meeting in 2023.

The meetings increasingly turned to other topics from 2010 onwards. The sendler\circle became a circle in which topics ranging from interdisciplinary product development and model-based systems engineering to Industry 4.0 were discussed at a high level and with top-class speakers on what was driving the industry in terms of IT technology. It was the beginning of a third phase in the history of the sendler\circle.