Engineering Process Debate: PLM or CAD?

Tech4PD: Episode 5

Product customization has grown increasingly important for many industries. Companies rely on platform design or modularity as a way to offer variations of a product while keeping the number of designs manageable. In this episode it is argued whether PLM or CAD is the right tool to take the lead in platform design. Which tool can help companies’ efficiency, bottom line, and quality, all while taking into account the importance of verification and validation, and configuration?

PTC’s View

While we can all agree on the value of a product platform approach (greater control over product cost, the ability to capitalize on new market opportunities, and the synchronization of product configurators) we also need to acknowledge that there are various approaches companies can take to try to realize that value. In many organizations, platforms are managed in a complex system of spreadsheets, documents and homegrown systems. This can become difficult to manage and can lead to inefficiency and losses in platform benefit, especially when it comes to scalability. As a result, products are introduced late into the market or fail to meet customers’ requirements.

At PTC, we believe that in order to fully realize the market opportunity and to take advantage of the best design and engineering your company has created, a consistent approach to managing core product platform information through a PLM solution is required. This means being able to connect the required product configurations for each geographical market with the correct engineering bills of material (BOM) and CAD geometry, ensuring that manufacturing – wherever it happens to take place – is producing the right product for the right market.

Video Transcript

Chad: Welcome to Tech4PD. I'm Chad Jackson.

Jim: And I'm Jim Brown. Today, on Tech4PD, we're going to be talking about platform design and modularity.

Chad: That's right.

Jim: Don't forget to vote on this one, because the consequence is going to be a good one. It's up to you. Someone is going to get a really bad haircut. So, Chad, why are we talking about modularity and platform design today?

Chad: Well, there's been a big move towards product customization. I think we've seen that in a lot of different industries, and people are looking at platform design or modularity as a way to still offer a lot of variations of the product. But, yet, keep the number of designs that they develop to a controllable number, essentially.

Jim: Yeah. Absolutely. I think we've also seen people that even aren't in customization using platform design...

Chad: Yeah.

Jim: ...to try and go to a common platform and reuse that across multiple products for efficiency, for cost control reuse, and also to improve quality because you're not reinventing the wheel every time.

Chad: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, from an enabling technology perspective, there are a couple different ways you can approach this problem. A lot of people have used CAD as a primary way to kind of take it on. However, there, it's not all that easy. I mean, the issue you run into there is you have a lot of variants and you really want to bring those up to verify and validate that they perform as you would expect. The only issue is, how do you check all those variations in CAD? I mean, it can be overwhelming for sure.

Jim: Right. Well, there tend to be a lot of rules involved in that, in trying to figure out exactly what's going to work, and that's why from a business process perspective and a rules perspective, PLM has started to offer some capability.

Chad: Yeah.

Jim: So, I think of some specialty vendors that have done that like Dryworks and IMark, TDCI, and really a host of others.

Chad: Yeah. That's true. Absolutely. There are some of the suite providers as well. The guys that offer both PLM and CAD have come a long way, too. So you look at someone like a PTC, they actually have an app for Creo right now. You look at Siemens PLM. They acquired Rulestream, and also Dassault offers a lot of capability through Catia as well.

Jim: Yeah, absolutely. So there are a lot, and I have to mention Autodesk as well, I think, in terms of their capabilities with inventors. So, a lot going on in this area.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. All right, let's get into the debate. So, Jim, from a technology perspective, both PLM and CAD can be involved with platform design, right? But which technology do you think should take the lead?

Jim: So, clearly I think PLM should take the lead for configuration and modularity. The reason for that is, companies have lots of business rules. They have engineering rules as well. There are calculations and rules of thumb that they've come up with to drive quality product. But there are also a lot of business rules as well, about what orders we want to take. For a product to be commercially successful, it needs to not only be technically successful and sound, but also it needs to be commercially sound. Those kinds of things come out of a PLM system. So PLM should take the lead and drive the configurations into CAD.

Chad: Okay. All right. Well, I have a different opinion. So, I think CAD should take the lead. The main reason is because it is used to technically validate and verify the performance of the product to make sure that errors that usually happen downstream are avoided like change orders and scrap and rework, and things like that. So, I think it's a natural fit for that.

Jim: It is, but then what happens is people end up with these - whether you call them 110% BOMs or super BOMs with every possible component in it, and it's incredibly brittle. Right? Once you put it together, it's hard to really validate from there, unless you have specific configurations. Where the configurations come, I think they have to come from PLM. So, ideally, we're dynamically actually dropping things into those assemblies.

Chad: Into the CAD. Hmm.

Jim: As opposed to having this huge, brittle, super BOM.

Chad: Yeah. Well, the only issue I have with - actually a couple of issues, a lot of times you might be dropping a bill of material into CAD that won't feasibly work. But also, if you just look at the product development process overall, usually business requirements are handed over to engineering and then the technical issues are addressed. So, really, using CAD as a leading technology kind of reflects the way people are doing it today.

Jim: Yeah. Well, it's not working very well on a lot of cases today. But I think what we're going to have to do is let the audience decide on this one.

Chad: Yeah.

Jim: So, Chad, what do we see happening in the future?

Chad: Well, I think we're going to see a lot of movement come from the CAD and PLM side of things, mainly just integration. I think in our discussion, I think we uncovered a lot of ugly warts on both sides of it, right? I mean, a lot of people are having a lot of trouble with it. So I think that having a closer handshake between the two is going to be a big step forward, and I think some people are thinking about that right now.

Jim: Yeah. I think the other thing that we're going to see is moving CAD and PLM integration all the way up towards the customer. ERP has a lot of sales configurators, pricing configurators, and have a lot of business rules in them. I think we're going to start to see a lot of the integration whether it be PLM vendors taking their capabilities all the way up to the customer, or doing integration with some other...

Chad: Yeah. That's a great point.

Jim: ...configurators that are out there. You mentioned validation. I think we'll also see a lot more on the automation side, driving into simulation to actually validate design.

Chad: Yeah.

Jim: Of course, it'll be coming from PLM to CAD to simulation.

Chad: Maybe not. But another point that goes along with that is mobility in the Cloud.

Jim: Yeah.

Chad: Right? So there are a lot of resources up in the Cloud, especially talking about automation whether it's for simulation, kind of the verification and validation of things.

Jim: Sure.

Chad: Or even to talk about the business rules.

Jim: Right.

Chad: To automate those. I think we know that a lot more roles are mobile today, especially sales.

Jim: Absolutely.

Chad: Right? Mobility could be a big enabler for them within platform design.

Jim: Configure it on your tablet and just hit Print. It comes out the 3D printer, right?

Chad: Of course.

Jim: Sounds good.

Chad: Yes. That's right, folks. I didn't get the most votes again for this debate. Now the consequence has been the polar bear swim. But here in Austin, Texas, it's cold, but the water isn't quite cold enough. So we decided to switch up the consequence and I'm actually going to be doing the consequence for the next episode, which was a crazy haircut. Take a look. So, there you have it, Jim. I tip my hat to you.

Jim: Thank you for joining us, and we'd like to thank our founding sponsor, PTC.

Chad: See you next time on the next episode of Tech4PD.