Handling several versions of the truth

Posted on 16 Nov 2012 by The Manufacturer

This week, Cambashi research director Mike Evans discusses the software solutions that support manufacturers with a portfolio of smart products.

Experts at industry analyst and market consulting firm Cambashi contribute a regular blog to TM titled Silos Changing exploring how new software applications enable manufacturers to implement business initiatives for the new economy.

Just over ten years ago, the legions of consultants persuading manufacturers to replace their departmental manufacturing, distribution and corporate accounting systems with an all singing ERP solution used the battle cry “Single version of the truth”.

It had the merit of truth.  It was very irking to try to synchronize the various plans for manufacturing and distribution and was often impossible to see the financial implications of decisions.

The ERP solution with its single database and consistent user interface has improved decision making.  The evidence is in the health of many manufacturing companies which chose to implement ERP, despite a very difficult economy.

Since then, “Single version of the truth” has been used as a battle cry to persuade manufacturers to adopt various Product Lifecycle Management solutions to manage their engineering data.

In practice, many Enterprise Applications and Product Lifecycle Management solutions provide capabilities to handle different solutions to a problem, different configurations of modules, and different variants. Autodesk’s PLM 360, Dassault’s Enovia, PTC’s Windchill and Siemens PLM’s Teamcenter all offer support for configuration management and variant management.

However, using “Single version of the truth” in these scenarios is rather confusing since it implies a static and sequential view of product definition at odds with iterations of design and complex product portfolios.

In this environment of rapidly changing, customer driven, platform based, mixed technology products what is truth?

In the early stages, many alternative designs to achieve the required functionality are considered, some fail, some are too costly, some fall into the “not yet” category.  In-service upgrades and modifications are made on a regular basis. Particularly manifest in smart products.

Only when considering the manufacture or field maintenance of a specific instance of a product do we want one version of the truth – the definition of that instance.  For most of the product lifecycle, we also want to know information about that configuration’s provenance and what alternative courses of action might be taken.

Some business initiatives create more complex product portfolios, but these can be simplified if we can have one clear source of product descriptions that can handle several versions and designs.

For example, back in November 2011, in this blog series we wrote about portfolio planning, an initiative technique to ensure that a manufacturer develops a pipeline and family of products to address the market.

A month ago we wrote about the modular design of industrial machines, another initiative that helps manufacturers deliver a range of machines from a series of continuously improving building blocks.

A recent Cambashi study looked at medical device manufacturers, an area where smart products and devices are making considerable advances. These manufacturers reported that the top four business initiatives to improve profitability related to product innovation.

Nearly a quarter of manufacturers expected the rate of new product introduction to increase 20% in the next three years. This is despite medical devices being one of the most regulated industries requiring high levels of quality and compliance.

The same study identifies that the faster growing medical device manufacturers lead in deploying these business initiatives, supported with a variety of software solutions.

There is an obvious trade off between managing a larger product portfolio that addresses customer requirements more precisely, versus gaining operational efficiency from higher volumes.

Medical device manufacturers suggest that best practice is when requirements and tests are managed per variant in a PLM system as part of the product information, and are then distributed to plant floor solutions such as Manufacturing Execution Systems and Manufacturing Operations Management.

We think this finding can be generalised to other manufacturers. They too will face the challenge of managing many different product instances with evolving designs. Their Product Lifecycle Management solutions will need to handle several versions of the truth.

In future blogs, we will go on to write about other potential deployments that respond to consumer and business demand for smart products and devices.