Is PLM an Option for SME’s?
Verdi Ogewell posted on August 28, 2015 |

PLM used to be complex, expensive and only aimed at large corporations. But then there was PLM 360: a disruptive, cloud-based and affordable solution provided by Autodesk. Suddenly PLM was a reality that every company, regardless of size, could embrace. Especially the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

This is how Autodesk want us to look at their PLM offering. But how true is this perception? At Roulunds Braking, one of the leading global providers of braking systems to the automotive industry, development engineer, Mark Lawrence, has no doubt:

”It is a great solution. The ability to rapidly deploy the system and provide all users with access to real-time data has significantly minimized development errors and improved development time.” A strong statement, yes, but Mark argues his point well: the company has been using Autodesk PLM 360 as its central source of information since 2012. That makes Roulunds an early adopter in the area, because although Autodesk’s CEO, Carl Bass, asserts that he is pleased with how sales have developed, PLM in the cloud isn’t a commercial success, yet…

Accelerates Roulunds Braking’s business with PLM – Product Manager, Mark Lawrence, has no doubts about the gains.
Roulunds Braking’s accelerates business with PLM – Product Manager, Mark Lawrence, has no doubts about the gains.
“We are ahead of plan,” Bass said when I spoke to him during Autodesk University. While this may be true, the general truth is that cloud based PLM so far has only attracted a small part of the cPDm market. According to analyst CIMdata, cloud-based PLM investments are still at low levels; CIMdata estimates that there is less than $75 million globally invested in cloud PLM right now. Compare this to the $5.5 billion invested globally in cPDm solutions in 2014.

The Cloud is an easy, low cost way to get started on PLM

Does this mean that Autodesk’s all-in bet on cloud-based PLM has been a mistake? Probably not, but it does indicate that it takes time to establish new platforms in this marketplace. Furthermore, one should remember that Autodesk historically has been labeled a CAD company, and for a long time they did not have a PLM offering. Although this has changed in light of the capabilities introduced by the Cloud, change takes time. 

“It certainly does,” says Gartner’s analyst, Marc Halpern. “I made a prediction back in 2012 that the major breakthrough would happen in 2017. So far, I believe I am on track. The vendors are moving in that direction and I am seeing more interest in this area. There is some adoption of cloud PLM, but I think we still have 18 to 24 months before it really accelerates.”

CIMdata analyst Stanley Przybylinski agrees, adding that,  “For the small and medium sized enterprises (SME) targeted by Autodesk with PLM 360, the Cloud is an easy, low cost way to get started on PLM. There are really no services required, which is a stark contrast with the legacy on-premises leaders.”
Roulunds Braking has over 2,500 employees worldwide. They have facilities in China, India, France and Denmark and they had a hard time to connect everything into a smooth workflow. ”PLM 360 changed all that”, says Mark Lawrence, ”but make no mistake about the times it takes to get things into full functionality”.
Roulunds Braking has over 2,500 employees worldwide. With facilities in China, India, France and Denmark, they had a hard time to connect everything into a smooth workflow. ”PLM 360 changed all that”, says Mark Lawrence, ”but make no mistake about the time it takes to get things into full functionality”.

The needle in the haystack

There’s a lot to be gained by SME’s using PLM in the Cloud, and Roulunds Braking is a good example.

“Yes, we’ve made a lot of lead time gains,” Mark Lawrence explains,  “but make no mistake about the time it takes to get a fully functional system in place. It’s probably harder for large corporations and OEMs, but it’s hard enough for a company of our size.”

Roulunds – a part of MAT group – has manufacturing facilities in India, China, France and Denmark, and over 2,500 employees worldwide. The company is a manufacturer of high quality friction materials for the automotive industry, with worldwide sales and a product portfolio including flexible brake linings, brake pads, brake shoes, discs, and kits for passenger cars, light commercial and heavy commercial vehicles.

This Denmark-based company has expanded rapidly over the past few years and now supplies their products to original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), original equipment suppliers (OES’s), as well as the after-sales market. In total there are over 12,000 well-documented articles.  

In spite of this, it is easy to find the needle in the haystack. 

 “From the moment you log on, everything is intuitive. I can easily set up a filter and find exactly that one specific part I am looking for. And instead of presenting CAD data, the system generates nice, clear and informative images in an instant,” claims Mark Lawrence, adding that they started with PLM a long time before Autodesk 360 came in to play.

 “We had so many people all over the world trying to work together. You know, the production line was in India or China, some of the engineering was done there, but the main responsibility for that part was in Europe with myself and a couple of other people,” Mark continues, pointing at the difficulties in keeping track of drawings and approved documents from around the world. 

 “It all became very frustrating,” he says.  “We couldn’t manage their document system from where we were, and mistakes had been made.”
Roulunds’ product portfolio include flexible brake linings, brake pads, brake shoes, discs, and kits for passenger cars, light commercial and heavy commercial vehicles.
Roulunds’ product portfolio includes flexible brake linings, brake pads, brake shoes, discs and kits for passenger cars, light commercial and heavy commercial vehicles.

While dealing with this situation 8 years ago, Roulunds found a US company called Datastay that offered a solution.  “We had them over, we talked, and we took the decision to go with it.” They worked with Datastay, and then in 2012 Autodesk acquired the company and their solution became PLM 360. 

“We started with 20 users of the system. Right now there are 80. Many users who are working at home and travelling a lot use the system on both their iPads and laptops. And a large number of the users are actually our customers,” states Mark Lawrence.

A nightmare to gather data

The implementation process of Autodesk’s PLM solution was fast; the thing that took the longest time was collecting and entering the data. Dependent on poor systems and poorly maintained records, he says,  “For me it was a nightmare because I had to gather data from all kinds of areas and sections. Gathering the data in the first place took an eternity, but to get the data into Autodesk took no time at all. I mass upload data all the time now, almost daily. Putting data into the system takes no time at all, as long as you have it in the right format. The question is how to get it in the right format, which is all about how the partner company has it stored and how they managed it.”

When asked whether he evaluates any other PLM systems, such as Siemens (Teamcenter), Dassault (Enovia) or PTC’s Windchill, Lawrence stated,  “We looked into it, but they were very complicated systems, and we couldn’t personalize them in the way we wanted to.”

Why Roulunds selected PLM 360

Improved performance for new product introduction and more involvement from customers in developing their products were the overarching reasons why Roulunds selected Autodesk's PLM 360. 

For this purpose they chose to go with PLM, instead of using the content management capabilities of their ERP system (SAP), as PLM gives greater flexibility and adaptability to the environment as business needs continue to evolve.

More specifically, Roulunds uses PLM for the management and development of all their products, whether it’s aftermarket products or AE products. 

“We use it to generate engineering change requests or modifications to the products, to store documents and to exchange them with our customers and partners,” Lawrence explains. 

The customers are allowed to see their own product within the database, albeit with a reduced amount of information. However, some of the bigger customers have logins for their own product, and they can download documents that may be missing, or make their own change requests.   

“Say they want to add four bolts to the pad they buy, they can do that,” he says.  “They can generate it online, send it to me, and I’ll get back to them when it’s completed.” 

Moreover, Roulunds can do sign-offs in the system, and generate all their numbers that go into SAP from this system. 

“It’s the base for the products and the accessories we buy in from other suppliers,” Lawrence claims. He continues,  “We have all of our quality systems in the PLM system because we can link it with the product. For any quality issues that have been raised, we have a section for every customer, and an internal vault in kind. At the moment we are putting in quality manuals, so that each site can review its quality documents and how they should be operating according to us. We store all of the part information in a vault which is accessible from any site. We also store all of our documents related to certifications of the manufacturing plants or the products, and this is just to name a few things. It just keeps on going.”

To integrate new companies and partners

How does it work to integrate new companies or partners into the PLM 360?

“If we have new departments that we bring in, I’ll have a meeting with whoever is involved, and then we create a basic layout for the system. If they like that, we create workflows. We determine who’s going to be involved in those workflows so that we get the proper privileges and conditions for the people that need to access the data, as well as what they need to see in regards to information.”

This can be done either in the preview version of the software, or the production version directly. If it’s something that would interact with other sections, Lawrence says that he would set it up in the preview version, test it, and then ask Autodesk to migrate it across to production. ”If it’s something that’s very straightforward, then I’ll just create it directly in production, give access to the people, and away we go.”

Training requirements are minimal, because all of the sections work in basically the same way.  “For instance, if I want to set up a quality section for a new customer, I can just copy another customer’s section and change it to fit their needs, and in three or four hours I can have a new quality section up and running with everyone given access.”
Jitterbit technology can connect Autodesk PLM 360 to a variety of other data management systems. In the case of Roulund SAP is the system. But Mark Lawrence says he wants to integrate SAP with SAP’s own software.
Jitterbit technology can connect Autodesk PLM 360 to a variety of other data management systems. In the case of Roulund SAP is the system, but Mark Lawrence says he wants to integrate SAP with SAP’s own software.

A remaining manual problem – the ERP integration

The connections to the ERP-system are often surrounded by manual work involving spreadsheets. 

How did Roulunds solve this problem?

Mark Lawrence tells me that they have been pushing this issue during the last three years.  “But these things take time, and it’s still on the table. The whole idea that I’ve raised is to integrate it with SAP via SAP’s own integration software. There are no connections right now, but that’s what we’re looking to do in the future. When we update information in Autodesk it would update SAP automatically, and if we update SAP it would update Autodesk,Then the system will track which information was updated and at what time, whether it goes through an approval process in the meantime or if it is fully automated. These things have to be decided.”
PLM 360 is a part of Autodesk’s product development and realization concept, Digital Prototyping. This suite contains most of the tools you need from CAx to PDM and 3D printing solutions.
PLM 360 is a part of Autodesk’s product development and realization concept, Digital Prototyping. This suite contains most of the tools you need from CAx to PDM and 3D printing solutions.

“The New Autodesk” – one of the PLM Mindshare Leaders

During the last couple of years we have seen a “new” Autodesk emerging as they rebuild their portfolio of tools. The Digital Prototyping concept (of which PLM 360 is a part) that they introduced a few years ago is an ambitious project aiming to provide Autodesk’s customers with a complete suite of modern product development and realization tools, including CAD (3D design), CAE (simulation), CAM (manufacturing) to 3D printing solutions, factory layout software and PDM/PLM.

What really makes Autodesk stand out is the all-in wager on the Cloud, and the PLM 360 solution is a good example. It features BOM Management, Change Management, New Product Introduction tools, Supplier Collaboration, Quality and Cost Management.

Although Autodesk is labeled as one of the “PLM Mindshare Leaders” by CIMdata, it is not a big cPDm player. The company’s cPDm-related revenues are small but fast growing; of a total direct software revenue of $2.25 billion, only $72 million came from cPDm during 2014. Historically, Autodesk is a CAD tool company with solutions like Inventor and AutoCAD (on the MCAD side they earned more than $800 million in revenues during 2014) as main revenue generators. But since they decided to go for PLM/PDM in the Cloud they’ve made significant investments in this area and have taken a number of technological steps forward, resulting in CIMdata’s decision to add Autodesk to the PLM Mindshare Leaders in 2012.

Nothing comes easy in the world of PLM

The case story above – Roulunds Braking – is proof that Autodesk has succeeded in creating a working solution that can make a difference, from increasing customer involvement in NPI activities and reducing the risks of product data errors by having one environment for managing content contributed, to reducing NPI time by approximately 50%. The improved working relationships with customers, combined with a scalable low-cost means of adding new users, has contributed to this company's ongoing growth. Also, the company reports that the software's flexibility enables them to easily expand and modify content organization.

But nothing comes easy in the world of PLM for product realization processes among SMB companies. “Even cloud-based software comes with investments and necessary planning. For example, it is vital to plan for migrating data, organizing content within the application, and structuring the user environment for easy content access and change management,” Gartner’s Halpern concludes.

Additionally, Roulunds Braking also learned that their initial concerns about data security did not materialize as issues. Since some groups of users were experienced in the practice of sharing content via email, education and emphasizing the importance of using the cloud-based application instead of other applications was an initial challenge that was largely overcome.

Is security still really an issue?

Finally, what are generally the main reasons for the decisions to take the Cloud path to PLM, and what are the main reasons for not doing it?

Marc Halpern listed the following: 

In favor of PLM in the Cloud  

  1. Greater agility to add users (particularly in the case of acquisitions), partners, and suppliers. 
  2. Perceptions of lower costs to maintain and upgrade the PLM software. 
  3. Ability to use the software from many more locations – meaning greater business agility.

Against PLM in the Cloud

  1. Concerns about security.
  2. Money is already invested in “on-premise” PLM. 
  3. Concerns about compatibility and integration with complementary on-premise apps (e.g. ERP, etc.). 
  4. Belief that there are more opportunities to customize or create complex configurations with on-premise PLM.
”Security isn’t really an issue in the Cloud”, asserts CIMdata’s Stan Przybylinski.
”Security isn’t really an issue in the Cloud,” asserts CIMdata’s Stan Przybylinski.

Security still seems to be an obstacle, although it is not really an issue according to CIMdata’s, Stanley Przybylinski, “You’re right, companies are still concerned about security, even though it is not really an issue. Cloud companies invest way more in security than any individual industrial company can,” he claims, adding that,  “Some are concerned about availability - if your critical processes and data are on the Cloud and you can’t get to it, that is a big problem. Yes, the software providers may be able to do 99% availability, but can every part of the network and services between you and ‘your cloud’ say the same? That is one reason why people are having private clouds set up for them.”

Generally, analysts like CIMdata and Gartner are positive, and expect PLM cloud-based solutions to grow bigger during the coming three to four years, and Autodesk is one of the providers with potential to make a difference in this market.

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