I recently read a blog over at engineering.com from Verdi Ogewell about the new Joint Venture between PTC and GE Intelligent Platforms. One the one hand, this is exciting news. PLM vendors, one by one, seeing the benefit of TRUE Product Lifecycle management, not just the design side, but all the way through prototype, production, service and retirement. PTC now joins the ranks of Siemens (with Tecnomatix and Simatic IT) and Dassault Systemes (with the Delmia family including former Intercim and Apriso product lines), in adding Manufacturing Execution to their arsenal.
The thing is, creating a joint venture or making an acquisition is just the start. The PLM-MES combination has been a work in progress for many years. Why have we not seen widespread success?
Here are a few thoughts:
1) The focus of PLM as an engineering project management tool does not translate well into ERP driven manufacturing execution. Actual production (in many industries) has too many variables. What if the part called out in the BOM is not available, what substitutions can be made? Can the design tool actually define the best method of manufacture? Maybe the ‘Model-Based Plan’ calls out a machine that is down for maintenance, or a process that is currently a bottleneck. Do we hold production until the machine is available in order to use the plan created by the PLM system? Tell that to the plant manager…
2) The driver for any manufacturing concern is fulfilling orders. There is nothing in the PLM environment that takes order management into account. That’s an ERP function. Having a PLM system manage the engineering side of the equation is fine, but the technology is woefully inadequate for paying the bills by getting orders out the door. Work will shift to other workcenters, schedules will change, suppliers will be late with deliveries. Driving the PLM design to MES does nothing to solve these issues.
3) Also, history has shown that JVs and acquisitions don’t immediately solve anything. How many PeopleSoft and Oracle eBS users are clamoring for Oracle Fusion? The truth of the matter is most of these acquisitions/JVs spend a great deal of time effectively taking an EXTERNAL integration problem and turning it into an INTERNAL integration problem.
4) Everybody wants to be on top. A good friend of mine was involved in a gigantic ERP/PLM/MES implementation at a major US corporation. I asked him at one point how the project was going, he chuckled and said, “Very little progress, right now it’s a holy war between ERP, PLM and MES on who owns the BOM.”
I think the bottom line on why tying these technologies together is so frustrating is that, well, you are attempting to solve problems across multiple domains, with multiple drivers and conflicting priorities with a single toolset.
In the end, I applaud GE and PTC for their approach; ‘bridging the gap’. However, the gap they are bridging (in their own words) is between Windchill and Proficy. They have now joined the arms race with Siemens, Dassault, Oracle and SAP.
For those who live in the world of a global supply chain, there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Your supplier/customer/partner/acquisition will most likely NOT share your vendor stack. What then?
Maybe we should make sure that each domain has the best tools in place to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their subject area, and that these tools embrace whatever integration technology standards are out there to make sure that vital communication exists between these domains, regardless of vendor.