What is Product Lifecycle Management?

“Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is defined as the business activity of managing, in the most effective way, a company’s products all the way across their lifecycles; from the very first idea for a product all the way through until it is retired and disposed of. PLM is the management system for a company’s products.” [1]

John Stark, Author | 21st Century Paradigm for Product Realization

PLM processes and solutions were traditionally thought of as tools for use in Automotive, Aerospace, High Tech and Industrial Equipment. But nowadays, we see widespread adoption in industries such as Life Sciences, Construction, Consumer Packaged Goods and more.

Read our blog on the topic, “What is Product Lifecycle Management?” for a more detailed definition and breakdown.

What is Blockchain?

“Blockchain is the foundation for the second era of the internet – an internet of value, where anything of value, including money, our identities, cultural assets like music, and even a vote can be stored, managed, transacted, and moved in a secure, private way. Blockchain is poised to transform every industry and managerial function —redefining the way we make transactions, share ideas, and manage workflow.” [2]

Don & Alex Tapscott, Founders | The Blockchain Research Institute

We’re working with a lot of acronyms here, and we could easily fall into the trap of taking a granular, technical view of this topic. So, let’s turn this into a business way of thinking. Let’s start by identifying the current business challenges within the market.

What Are the Current Business Challenges?

In the last 10-15 years, we have seen an exponential growth of product complexity and data. To create a ‘product’, it’s not enough anymore to only create an appealing one. To develop and maintain products, companies need to take into consideration multiple disciplines like; mechanics, electrical, pneumatics, robotics, software development and many more.

Making sure you can bring your products to the market fast and in a cost-efficient manner, while balancing on the cutting edge of innovation, is a very difficult goal to achieve. More often than not, we see that end-users are less concerned with brand equity; changing their buying behavior toward newer, more sustainable, or reusable products. Of course, this makes the challenge even greater.

What is Model-Based Systems Engineering?

One of the ways to make sure the development of products is managed and validated at the same time, is the usage of Model-Based Systems Engineering’ (MBSE). So, what is systems engineering? According to the International Council on Systems Engineering (InCoSE):

“Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) is the formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification, and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases.” [3]

Laura Hart, Author | Introduction to Model-Based Engineering (MBSE) and SysML

The v-model, as shown below, visualizes the steps within the definition and validation phases.

definition and validation process

Figure 1; ITS-Based Systems Engineering V-Model (Source: Systems Engineering for Intelligent Transportation Systems, US DOT, 2007)

In short, it’s a way of coordinating all sorts of disciplines to develop high quality, maintainable products that meets, if not exceeds, customer needs.

How Can PLM, Blockchain and MBSE Help You Achieve Your Business Goals?

A contemporary research report, “How the Blockchain Fosters E/E Traceability for MBSE and PLM in Distributed Engineering Collaboration” [4] focuses on the use of PLM, Blockchain and MBSE in the context of electric and electronic traceability in automotive manufacture. The report addresses universal, critical challenges for OEMs: shortening time-to-market, lowering costs, and faster innovation. Some key findings relate to the topics below:

  • Modularity and Configuration Management
  • Traceability
  • Reusability and Circularity

Modularity and Configuration Management

Setting up modules that have certain positions will result into clear variants, connected parts and code rules. Thinking holistically, and managing this in the right way, should lead to fewer parts, products, and lines of software code. These gains can be reused within different products in your portfolio. This then frees teams up to focus on developing new solutions and enhancing current products.

Traceability

It’s important to keep track of all process and product changes within your organization. So, how do you keep track of all choices and changes when you move part of your responsibility towards a development partner and their supply chain? The level of ‘tiers’ involved could extend to 3-4 levels deep.

How do you make sure that all this information is still up-to-date and consistent? This is when the power of blockchain comes in. Through the use of ‘hashes’ in a decentralized way, it’s possible to trace the history and visualize all choices that are made. Below, you can see the traceability steps on the example of a car mirror:

traceability of car mirror parts

Figure 2: D. T. Heber and M. W. Groll. How the Blockchain fosters E/E traceability for MBSE and PLM in distributed engineering collaboration. 2018 IEEE International Conference on Technology Management, Operations and Decisions (ICTMOD), Marrakech, Morocco, 2018, pp. 125-130, doi: 10.1109/ITMC.2018.8691219.

Reusability and Circularity

When configuration management and traceability are in place, it should be possible to ‘reuse’ solutions. This should lead to a deep insight into the type of materials used for each type of end product.

When you have this insight, it should be easier to reuse and leverage products that have a lower impact on the world and buy more products in bulk (since you’ll have a better understanding of your modules and product structure). When managed correctly, this can lead to less transport (cost), movements in your facilities, less stock and many other benefits.

In Our Experience…

Working in the field of PLM, it won’t surprise you to hear that we have a deep interest in how companies solve today’s problems with tomorrow’s solutions. The combination of PLM, Blockchain and MBSE has been a topic of conversation for a few years now. But, with the recent acceleration toward global digitalization, it seems that a precedent for this way of working will soon be established.

References:

[1] Stark, John. ‘Definition of PLM’. Stark Associates. (2020): 3 par [online website], visited on 18.01.2020. Available via http://johnstark.com/

[2] The Blockchain Research Institute. ‘Navigating The Blockchain Revolution’. (2021): 1 page [online website], visited on 18.01.2020. Available via https://www.blockchainresearchinstitute.org/

[3] Hart, Laura. ‘Terminology’. Introduction To Model-Based System Engineering (MBSE) and SysML (2015): 43 pages [online presentation], visited on 18.01.2020. Available via https://www.incose.org/docs/default-source/delaware-valley/mbse-overview-incose-30-july-2015.pdf

[4] D. T. Heber and M. W. Groll, “How the Blockchain fosters E/E traceability for MBSE and PLM in distributed engineering collaboration,” 2018 IEEE International Conference on Technology Management, Operations and Decisions (ICTMOD), Marrakech, Morocco, 2018, pp. 125-130, doi: 10.1109/ITMC.2018.8691219.

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