Not Every PLM Platform is an Innovation Platform

Dassault Systèmes explains how PLM tools that focus on collaboration drive innovation.

Dassault Systèmes has sponsored this post.

Real-time design collaboration supports the ability for everyone in the organization to participate in the product development process.

Real-time design collaboration supports the ability for everyone in the organization to participate in the product development process. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is an integral part of the product development process. It offers tools that help engineers manage the essential parts of product definition, from Bill of Materials (BOM) to requirements, document changes and more.

However, one PLM provider, Dassault Systèmes, argues that the evolution of traditional PLM has slowed or plateaued. As a result, it is no longer sufficient to match the rapidly accelerating pace and complexity of the product development process. The argument is that designing successful products requires companies to think beyond PLM by connecting the entire value network to foster innovation through real-time knowledge sharing, collaboration and agility.

Collaboration is the key ingredient to innovation because it is inherently a multidisciplinary process. Many products today mix mechanical, electrical and software elements. Information from each of these disciplines is stored in functional silos, resulting in work duplication, errors and wasted time. To innovate, you must break down these silos.

Within an innovation platform, all product-development stakeholders—internal and external marketing, sales, engineering, management, operations and more—can collaborate throughout the product-development process seamlessly, in real time and from any location, thereby reducing inefficiencies and unlocking the full creative potential of their teams—especially as those teams begin to grow.

For instance, Per-Arne Jonssön, Senior Mechanical Engineer at Flow Robotics (a company designing chemistry lab robotics) says in a blog about innovation platforms, “As we’ve brought more engineers on board and expanded across the company, we needed a centralized communication platform to establish a common understanding, ensure everyone is working from the same data and help multiple disciplines work together.”

In other words, Flow Robotics needed an innovation platform.

The Difference Between PLM and Innovation Platforms

So, what separates a PLM platform from an innovation platform? For Kyle Herring, marketing director at Dassault Systèmes, it is having a unified environment that connects all stakeholders with the apps and information necessary to create innovative products and meaningful customer experiences.

Herring says other options feel like “a patchwork environment where pieces are available, but they are not seamlessly or organically connected. What makes the 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform stand out is that it offers a cohesive holistic environment designed for tools to work together with a common user experience.”

As for what those collaboration tools might look like, two well-known examples in a post-COVID world are Microsoft Teams and Salesforce’s Slack. These offer a platform for discussions, chats and unstructured file sharing. For some organizations, this might be enough. However, that experience is hardly tailored to the more structured needs of product design, manufacturing and engineering management.

“Tools like Teams are great for basic communication needs and social collaboration,” says Herring. “You can discuss ideas and share content. But the 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform allows you to do all of this in the context of a holistic digital product definition. This not only allows for the seamless sharing of knowledge and expertise, but also the management of intellectual assets and processes throughout the lifecycle of a product.”

Sure, small engineering teams can get by, for a while, with something like Teams and a disciplined filing system. But this soon becomes unsustainable as the business grows and projects become more complex. The larger the team becomes, let alone the number of business partners involved, the less stable it all becomes.

“It was difficult to manage all the information we have across our facilities,” says Joan Orús, COO of QEV Technology (an electric vehicle design and consultant company), in a blog about innovation platforms. “With that and having to monitor all our products and manage all the related data, we were having to contend with changing file names and locations. When you start out as a small company with three people, it’s fine. But at the level we are now, it was becoming much more complicated.”

Innovation Platforms: A Day in the Life

So, what might a day in the life of an innovation platform user look like? At the start of the day, instead of checking email, the user goes straight into the platform. The platform acts as a single source of truth and central communication hub. It contains anything from ideas, chats and meeting notes to technical information such as design, manufacturing and simulation data.

“That is a significant piece,” Herring says. “If I have a project, I can associate all my design data with it. This means I can spend my time focused on creating amazing experiences, and not bogged down looking for current information.”

From here, they can easily check the status of a project by reviewing team tasks. Updates to team tasks are shared automatically, so there’s no need to track down progress reports. Once they have determined what tasks need to be accomplished, they easily access associated specifications and documentation, and launch design sessions with the appropriate engineering items.

The workflow is seamless. No searching for information, no risk of working on the wrong data, no bouncing back and forth between different tools. Everything necessary available in the unified platform environment. This means time can be spend focused on delivering innovations, not being bogged down in non-value-added activities.

Innovation Platforms are Best Matched with the Cloud

Innovation platforms are optimized when they operate on a Cloud. This is because not only will they act as a single source of truth, but they can also be updated and accessed from anywhere, at any time and on any device.

To illustrate, consider a project handoff between engineering and manufacturing teams within an organization. Traditionally, when the manufacturing team is handed a project, the first step is to provide the engineering team with feedback. If the feedback is significant, or if there is an error in the data handoff, it could have serious repercussions on the project.

With a cloud-based innovation platform, there is ongoing collaboration within a project’s community. The manufacturing team is notified when each iteration is completed so real-time feedback can be provided to the engineering team. As a result, engineers are able to make more informed decisions during the next design iteration. Additionally, as this is all done in one place and accessed anywhere, there is less chance of errors or the project stagnating.

The access from anywhere features of a cloud-based innovation platform proved helpful for QEV Technologies. They were lucky enough to implement one just before COVID lockdowns—a stressful time when other organizations faced many challenges moving data and projects from the office to the home.

“Using the 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud [Platform],” Orús says, “our engineers have been able to access all the tools and information they need from their home offices, and collaborate and share information with customers to keep the momentum behind projects going.” Read the full story here.

Another benefit of moving to an innovation platform on the cloud is that it can streamline the implementation process. This is what happened for Flow Robotics. “There are numerous requirements for these on-site installations; I have yet to see a company succeed in that without interruption,” Jönsson says. “Within 20 weeks we were running our first projects directly in the platform, using it for automatic bill of materials (BOM) generation, drawing templates and sorting standard components within a material database.” Read the full story here.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform eliminates silos by providing a secure, common infrastructure with advanced 3D modeling, simulation and collaboration capabilities.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform eliminates silos by providing a secure, common infrastructure with advanced 3D modeling, simulation and collaboration capabilities. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Go Beyond PLM

According to Dassault Systèmes, the 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform offers a fresh approach to innovation by bringing together R&D, engineering, production, commercialization and even consumers under one holistic environment.

By breaking up the traditional silos and offering flexible collaboration across disciplines, the 3DEXPERIENCE Cloud platform empowers organizations to invent, learn, produce and trade in new ways. 

Companies who have already implemented a PLM solution can learn how to transition from PLM to an innovation platform with Dassault Systèmes’ e-book Replace Your PLM With a Cloud-Based Innovation Platform.

For companies thinking about implementing PLM, read Dassault Systèmes’ dedicated e-book to discover how to benefit from extensive PLM capabilities and drive innovation.