ThingWorx Navigate’s App-Based Approach to PLM
Staff posted on June 05, 2019 |
PTC’s ThingWorx Navigate offers out-of-the-box apps for accessing PLM data, such as viewing the part structure for this Whirlpool washer. (Image courtesy of PTC.)
PTC’s ThingWorx Navigate offers out-of-the-box apps for accessing PLM data, such as viewing the part structure for this Whirlpool washer. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

It takes a lot to go from an idea in your head to a product that’s out in the world. From initial design work to 3D modeling to simulation to prototyping to manufacturing to service, the lifecycle of a product is often a twisting rollercoaster that seems determined to go off the rails. As products become evermore complex and connected, product lifecycle management (PLM) software becomes evermore critical to their success.

One of the key advantages of PLM is the so-called digital thread, a virtual trail of breadcrumbs that shows exactly where a design and its associated data have been and should go. As your design moves along in stages, passing through various teams and enterprise systems, it’s important to maintain a clear record of its data. Failing to do so could lead to mistakes, rework and, ultimately, costly product delays. Rather than inadvertently reworking parts of a design as it moves from, say, an electrical to a mechanical engineer, a product can pull its digital thread behind it, weaving through its lifecycle with the most up-to-date data always on hand.

As useful as the digital thread is, the use of PLM systems can come along with its own share of complexity and drawbacks. For one, these systems are generally geared toward expert users capable of managing the digital lifecycle of the product. These users are familiar with the best practices and strategies for managing documents, bills of materials (BOMs), parts, suppliers, processes and more. Further, enterprise systems can compete with one another and cause confusion about the true source of product data. Often, non-expert users must interact with a product and its digital thread, and expecting them all to learn the intricacies of domain-specific systems is not just unreasonable, it’s unachievable.

Role-Based Apps for PLM

PTC, provider of the Windchill PLM platform and ThingWorx Internet of Things (IoT) platform, has a different approach: apps. By offering a suite of out-of-the-box apps built on top of ThingWorx, called ThingWorx Navigate, users with different needs can have tailored solutions for following the digital thread. These include apps focused on viewing, such as viewing models, drawings and parts, or taking 3D measurements, as well as contribute apps which bring new users into critical product development processes such as change management. Contribute apps enable a broad set of users inside and outside of engineering, including members of the supply chain, to participate in change management online via digital voting.

ThingWorx Navigate also enables users such as IT administrators to build their own task- and role-based apps by using re-useable domain specific components of the ThingWorx platform (e.g. parts lists). In this way, an enterprise’s PLM data can be combined with product information from connected IoT devices and other legacy enterprise systems. With these user-defined applications and the predefined Navigate apps, users can stay focused on just the data they need (and just the data they should have access to) with a custom user interface that requires no training.

“The challenge is we have these different systems, different processes. We struggle very much with systems that are sometimes complex to use. And we have people that just need very specific information, and they’re not heavy users of that given system,” said Tiago Bitencourt, PLM solutions architect for appliance manufacturer Whirlpool. “Navigate helps us deliver apps that have a very simple user interface and a good user experience. So, for folks that are really not frequent users of Windchill or SAP or other downstream systems, we’re trying to abstract all that complexity and provide them a user interface that’s easy to use and gives them the specific information they’re looking for.”

A collection of apps offered in ThingWorx Navigate, which focus on tasks for parts, such as viewing drawings and files and performing measurements; task for documents, such as viewing documents and document structures; and custom tasks, which can be defined using preexisting enterprise systems and connected IoT devices with the ThingWorx Navigate application development kit. (Image courtesy of PTC.)
A collection of apps offered in ThingWorx Navigate, which focus on tasks for parts, such as viewing drawings and files and performing measurements; task for documents, such as viewing documents and document structures; and custom tasks, which can be defined using preexisting enterprise systems and connected IoT devices with the ThingWorx Navigate application development kit. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

For products that are becoming increasingly connected and data driven, easy access to all of a product’s associated data is essential. Engineers and non-engineers alike need this data to make informed decisions that account for a holistic picture of a product. But not all users need all the same data—breaking down apps based on role removes unnecessary clutter and simplifies the interface, enabling users to get straight to the point.

“[Navigate] gives us the ability to mash up data from different sources,” explained Mandy McIvor, senior engineering manager at Whirlpool. “People are starting to embrace the fact that we need to start putting our data in this connected environment and let the source data live where it’s supposed to. We can now put together these role-based views and make them available in web format, so people can open up an app on their phone. It really is that easy.”

Agile with Apps

The ThingWorx Navigate app-based approach to PLM provides many benefits, including a simpler user experience, more accessible product data, extensible and adaptable tools, no need for user training, and the ability for both engineers and non-engineers to use the same data platform for PLM. But the confluence of all these benefits unlocks an even bigger one: agility.

Role-based views in ThingWorx Navigate allow all members of an organization to effectively use the data that’s available to them. (Image courtesy of PTC.)
Role-based views in ThingWorx Navigate allow all members of an organization to effectively use the data that’s available to them. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

“What is driving Whirlpool to really become more digital is that we are working very hard to redefine ourselves not as a 100-year-old manufacturing company anymore, but a company that is really creating new experiences for the consumer,” said Regina Salazar, CIO of Whirlpool’s Global Product Organization. “When I look at the things we’re doing to enable that—transforming our factories, or providing better experiences all the way from the product acquisition to the product service—the features that we are providing the consumers cannot be enabled if you don’t have the digital strategy behind it.”

For Whirlpool, ThingWorx Navigate makes up a big part of that digital strategy. With easier, broader access to the company’s product data, employees from engineering, manufacturing, IT, quality, management and more can all be aligned. Engineering changes can be implemented much quicker, existing IT systems can be used more effectively, and decisions can be made more accurately with cross-domain collaboration.

“In order for you to really realize the true benefits of a complex solution like PLM, you have to take the time to put the right foundational components in place,” continued Salazar. “The engineers can actually understand how the appliance is performing in the field and make decisions on the fly as they’re designing the products. I think what makes me excited about PTC is they offer solutions that allow us to develop our products faster and be more innovative.”

To learn more about ThingWorx Navigate, or to download a free trial of ThingWorx Navigate View, visit the PTC website.


PTC has sponsored this article.

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