Digital Thread from Systems Engineering to Service and Asset Lifecycle Management

Siemens and IBM extend their partnership to accelerate sustainable product development and operations.

Building an end-to-end integration of systems and data for the purposes of traceability and insights is commonly referred as building a digital thread, or more realistically, multiple data threads. Once implemented, such systems drive data flow continuity across teams and business processes, reducing silo-working, delays or the duplication of work. Notwithstanding the drive for portfolio consolidation and standardization, these systems bring the opportunities for a speedier and more effective product delivery.

IBM and Siemens join forces to develop a systems engineering and asset management software solution. The tool links domains like mechanical, electronics, electrical and software engineering. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

IBM and Siemens join forces to develop a systems engineering and asset management software solution. The tool links domains like mechanical, electronics, electrical and software engineering. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

Most PLM, ERP, MES and enterprise software vendors provide integration APIs and connectors to extend the reach of their solution to third party platforms and applications. Bringing enterprise integration to the next level implies leveraging end-to-end insights from combined data model architecture and cross-functional capabilities. To that end, software and technology vendors have partnered to bolster their solution portfolio and extend their customer base.

This was illustrated by the SAP-Siemens strategic alliance launched in July 2020. The two software giants joined forces to develop a joint interface between Teamcenter and SAP for the discrete manufacturing industry. Furthermore, SAP became a Teamcenter reseller while Siemens widened its customer reach to existing SAP customers. In 2021, Siemens and SAP expanded their partnership to deliver intelligent service and asset lifecycle management solutions.

In a similar vein, Siemens and IBM have a long-standing relationship. More recently, Siemens and IBM have collaborated on initiatives related to IoT, data analytics, AI and Industry 4.0. The two giants recently renewed their relationship by reaffirming and extending their partnership in integrating PLM and asset lifecycle management capabilities.

In this post, I elaborate on the recent Siemens and IBM collaboration announcement across product lifecycle management (PLM), model-based systems engineering (MBSE), service lifecycle management (SLM) and asset lifecycle management (ALM).

Siemens and IBM Talk About Their Partnership

The collaborations between IBM and Siemens that serve the manufacturing industry go back a long way. In 2016, the two companies initiated a partnership to combine Siemens’ expertise in industrial IoT, automation and controls with IBM’s cognitive computing and analytics capabilities to create new solutions for the manufacturing industry. In 2020, they widened their partnership to combine Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio and IBM Maximo to improve product performance, maintenance and operations by reducing equipment downtime and increasing production capacity.

Building on from their existing relationship, Siemens and IBM are now expanding their partnership to build a holistic digital thread continuum for advanced systems engineering modelling across product development, production, operations and asset maintenance. The integration scope includes connecting the dots across the entire product lifecycle, leveraging IBM Engineering Lifecycle Management and Systems Design Rhapsody, Siemens Xcelerator Portfolio (Teamcenter, Capital and more), and complemented by IBM Maximo for in-field asset lifecycle and workflow process management.

Per the joint IBM-Siemens press release: “These integrations will focus on the effective reuse of processes and materials to allow traceability for sustainable product development. This can help companies to make informed decisions earlier in the design and engineering process to help drive improvements in cost, performance, and sustainability.”

During a private webinar on the partnership attended by engineering.com, Dale Tutt, head of Vertical Industries Strategy at Siemens Digital Industries Software highlighted that the “biggest challenge [in the market] is in managing hardware and software design and code assets […] with a lot more emphasis on sustainability in recent years.”

In addition, referring to a quote from Siegmar Haasis, R&D CIO at Daimler: “80 percent of product innovation and differentiation is now electrical, electronics and software.” This links to key market trends, from the need for visibility across the product chain, to integrated processes across product lifecycles, enabled by next generation enterprise data architectures.

Furthermore, Tutt reiterated that there is still “a lot of disconnection in the product lifecycle […] with siloed process throughout.”

These are not new challenges. Brett Hillhouse, Global Industry Leader, IBM Sustainability Software, made the point that “the pain has got so much greater” with rising product complexity and change across multiple business perspectives and technical domains.

Connecting the dots implies domain information models (including business processes and data flows) that connect OEMs and suppliers with the related artifact types, being able to visualize relationships between artefacts at source, while maintaining transparency and traceability across the lifecycle. (Image courtesy of IBM and Siemens.)

Connecting the dots implies domain information models (including business processes and data flows) that connect OEMs and suppliers with the related artifact types, being able to visualize relationships between artefacts at source, while maintaining transparency and traceability across the lifecycle. (Image courtesy of IBM and Siemens.)

The partnership aims to leverage and combine proven solutions of IBM and Siemens towards a seamless lifecycle management system that provides greater control for sustainability. This implies answering key questions, such as:

  • How to ensure environmentally sustainable operations?
  • How to drive early product development decisions (shift-left model) that will affect downstream operations?
  • How to sustain and feedback operational decisions to the next product development iterations?
  • How to leverage speed and accuracy to make change in real- or near real-time?
  • How to effectively perform impact analysis, mandate reuse and agility in product development cycles?

Hillhouse highlighted that, “reuse is not just about the BOM.” It relates to all associated artifacts, from project tracking to hardware and software change alignment across system engineering cycles. Furthermore, Tutt mentioned that “80 percent of the [product] cost is affected by decisions made in early development phases,” and this also applies to sustainability decisions. Therefore, connecting upstream and downstream activities and data can significantly add value to organizations through strategic orchestration across digital threads.

IBM and Siemens are aiming high: towards continuous integration across domains and disciplines, from requirements, to concept design, system architecture, reliability, compliance, collaboration, digital manufacturing and more. (Image courtesy of IBM-Siemens.)

IBM and Siemens are aiming high: towards continuous integration across domains and disciplines, from requirements, to concept design, system architecture, reliability, compliance, collaboration, digital manufacturing and more. (Image courtesy of IBM-Siemens.)

To that effect, Siemens and IBM said in a press release that they are aiming to “create a SysML v2 based solution with a migration path to help customers transition to next generation systems engineering. SysML supports the specification, analysis, design, verification and validation of a broad range of systems and systems-of-systems. Service lifecycle management can assist in maximizing business value for product servitization by connecting service engineering to service maintenance to facilitate new collaborative processes between OEM and operators.”

To sum it up, the strategic intent of the Siemens and IBM collaboration is very powerful—with the intention to bring it all together within Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio. It builds on joint developments initiated in 2020, widening the scope to sustainability use cases. It would have been interesting in the webinar to hear more about the integration capabilities already delivered, and how the newly announced extended partnership will bring it to the next level—similarly to the aforementioned Siemens-SAP strategic partnership launched in 2020. This way Siemens can issue a comprehensive end-to-end solution roadmap for its Xcelerator portfolio, highlighting what is already available out-of-the-box today, what and when further enhancements and use cases are to be expected.