PLM Start-Up Offers Alternative to Rip and Replace
John Hayes posted on May 23, 2018 |

“Rip and Replace.”

When applied to legacy PLM systems, few phrases conjure as much fear in the hearts of product development teams. Upchain is a start-up that aims to calm those fears by delivering PLM functionality without replacing existing solutions.

Proposals to replace existing product development environments are becoming more common. That’s because many vendors are moving towards a platform approach to offering their PLM solutions where every application that touches product development uses the same data.

To get the full value out of this type of modern PLM systems, all product development applications typically have to come from a single vendor, which often means replacing existing applications. The main benefit from this approach is the promise of a seamless data exchange, where every user has a different view of the same data rather than looking at different data in different systems. Ultimately, that could lead to the holy grail of a “single version of the truth,” where all users have access to the same version of every model and data.

Multiple types of users and applications access and change product data,  leading to multiple “versions of the truth” in many PLM implementations.
Multiple types of users and applications access and change product data, leading to multiple “versions of the truth” in many PLM implementations.

The other side of the coin is that there is a lot of value in legacy systems. There are good reasons why teams stick to their existing applications. They were chosen as the best tools available to the company at the time. In many cases, they are still the best suited to the tasks at hand. Often, they have even been customized to fit a company’s workflows.

In scenarios like this, there isn’t a lot of appeal to the “rip and replace” strategy. People are comfortable with their existing solutions and shy away from a lengthy and risky PLM implementation.

Upchain founder and PLM practitioner John Laslavic.

Upchain founder and PLM practitioner John Laslavic.

This was the challenge that PLM practitioner and entrepreneur John Laslavic set out to solve. Laslavic asked the question, “What if, rather than rip and replace, we could design a system of workflows and management tools that extracted data from existing systems rather than replacing them? What if that system could hold the PLM workflows and access the data, drawing it from the legacy CAD, PDM, and even PLM systems? Rather than creating a brand-new PLM platform that all data has to migrate towards, why not create a tight set of integrations and allow the data to reside where it is already?”

This notion led to the birth of Upchain, a new cloud-based PLM company that recently raised $7M of venture financing. Laslavic and his team have developed fundamental PLM tools such as workflow, model visualization with mark-up, ECOs and BOMs. The twist is that, rather than having to migrate all data to Upchain, users can layer these tools onto their existing environment through a series of prepackaged APIs. The data still lives within the key data repositories in customers’ mainstream tools such as CAD, PDM, CRM, ERP and even other PLM systems.

The result is that Upchain users don’t have to rip and replace. They simply layer new functionality and a modern user interface on top of existing legacy systems, thereby avoiding many of the pitfalls of launching a new PLM implementation.

Upchain task management with SolidWorks integration to show CAD data.
Upchain task management with SolidWorks integration to show CAD data.

James White, Director at PLM consultancy, CIMdata said, “Upchain offers a CAD-neutral visual, 3D CAD-like experience but one that doesn’t require a traditional CAD license, is easy for non-engineers to use, uses lighter weight data, and integrates with other mainstream systems of record.”

Laslavic added, “We’ve found that when people use the software they know, they spend less time doing admin tasks like moving files from place to place.” Much to my delight, he continued by quoting our research: “For example, engineering.com did a survey last year that found 8.9 hours get wasted every week by design engineers doing admin stuff, like looking for the right file or sharing file access to people who don’t have licenses to the software they’re using. It’s incredibly ineffective and it’s at least in part a result of users not having access to the tools they need to do their job and not having shared access to additional best of breed tools.”

Upchain intends to connect the entire value chain using the processes and tools users already have in place.
Upchain intends to connect the entire value chain using the processes and tools users already have in place.

The proof is in the success of Upchain customers, many of whom have been using early versions of the system prior to the formal incorporation of Upchain. One example is ATS, a company that makes assembly lines and other automation solutions. Laslavic said, “When we met ATS, they were struggling with a home-grown tech stack that had worked well at a small scale within single locations, but couldn’t keep up as the company grew. The solution fell short when they needed these disparate locations to cooperate on projects and to leverage global engineering and manufacturing resources. The company became over-reliant on manual processes that often only really worked when users were in the same building as the person or team they were trying to work with.”

“ATS couldn’t afford a ‘rip and replace’ type of implementation,” Laslavic explained. “They knew that an on-premise PLM wasn’t fit for purpose, and even a cloud-based PLM solution from traditional vendors wasn’t going to work because it wouldn’t integrate easily with the point solutions they had in place. With Upchain, they were able to use the best of breed products that they already had while integrating design and manufacturing data across their global value chain.”

For companies who have invested heavily in their existing product development solutions, but who now find their siloed data causing problems as they grow, Upchain may be worth a look. 


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