A Conventional Approach to PLM Research

The story of PLMIG involvement in the world of research is a tale of two halves.  The respective narratives provide a useful illustration of the difference between a conventional and a radical approach.

In 2004 PLM was a comparatively new subject, and research projects were few and fragmented.  With its extensive background of liaison with academia it seemed natural for the PLMIG to try to improve this in the usual way - by forming a Research Special Interest Group.

This page tells its story, and shows how a conventional approach to generating PLM research can create many good ideas, but produces very few actual projects.

 

Birth of the Research SIG

In general, research into PLM can seem to be in a separate world from PLM in industry.  There are various centres of academic excellence, but there is no mechanism for global coordination and synergy that might match the global scope and applicability of PLM.

The PLMIG itself had been formed from the coordinating body of a research consortium that aimed to create and carry out the first truly-comprehensive research project into PLM, under European Programme FP6.  

The PLMIG therefore started with some experience of organising large-scale PLM research, and of the attitude of funding bodies towards PLM; and aimed to continue that momentum in its early years by forming a Research SIG (RSIG) that went on to hold meetings in Brussels, Gothenburg and Lausanne.

 

RSIG Aims

PLM at that time was a comparatively new activity in research terms.  The subject raises many questions and opens up new research areas such as:-

  • what are the resulting changes in the application landscape?
  • how are the benefits achieved?
  • what are the relevant business models?
  • what are the success factors in collaborative product innovation?
  • how will PLM evolve?

Simple as they are, those questions still have not been answered in any amount of depth.  It is not easy to do research in PLM.  The subject:-

  • is complex
  • is cross-functional
  • may be international
  • may have a lifecycle of many years

It needs a collaborative approach, and a wide scope of knowledge and experience.  It can be difficult to build the industrial/academic relationships that are required - there is a lack of industry awareness of academic work in this area, and academics may not have the close industrial contacts needed to set up and follow through their research.

The objectives of the Research SIG were to bring together people and organisations with an interest in PLM research:-

  • to help enable members to organise and coordinate themselves to present proposals
  • to facilitate contacts and knowledge flow between academia, research organisations and industry
  • to develop a forum for discussion and debate on PLM research ideas
  • to be the high-level organisation promoting PLM research to funding bodies as required by its members

Its aim was to develop over time to be inclusive to PLM research and funding in all of the countries of its members (then 12 for the PLMIG itself).

 

Brussels and Gothenburg - White Papers

The Research SIG set to work, and as a result of its meetings in Brussels and Gothenburg produced two White Papers:-

 

The Importance of PLM to Industry

 
 

By its nature, the subject of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) exists within an industrial context. If knowledge of, and capability in, PLM is to be extended, then research partnerships between academia and industry will be essential. This White Paper is a starting point for industrial organisations to consider the benefits to them of such partnerships.

 
 

The White Paper sets out 7 reasons why PLM is important to industry, and expands upon them in a way that industrialists may not have thought about.  It looks at trends affecting the manufacturing environment (at that time) and specifies a number of benefits that industrial companies should look for.

 
 

The Goals of PLM Research

 
 

Current research into Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tends to be fragmented and to address comparatively minor elements of the subject. If significant PLM research is to be funded, anywhere in the world, there will need to be a wide and common awareness of the subject and the direction it should take. This White Paper is a starting point for developing that consensus and awareness.

 
 

The White Paper is written from the academic perspective.  It looks at areas of understanding that PLM research should provide, and suggests elements of new knowledge that research should actually achieve.

 

At the time the RSIG members themselves were not quite happy with the Papers, and felt that they should be edited and improved upon, but they were being unduly self-critical.  The Papers provided a sound starting point for each theme, and showed that even relatively informal collaboration can make rapid progress.

 

The Global Challenge

The meetings in Brussels and Gothenburg were very productive, but they also reached a rather disturbing overall conclusion ... which is that there may never be any genuine PLM research.  

Everyone concerned with PLM knows that it is a truly complex subject, and that academic research, by its nature, is always at a more complex level than the general subject.  However, we would define PLM research as "Research into PLM" - that is, research into PLM as a complete paradigm and not merely into small elements of it.

We would also define PLM research as research that is so advanced that it changes and improves the real world of industrial PLM as it is disseminated and applied.

The issues of PLM arise from industry, but industrialists are struggling to understand the day-to-day problems and cannot see clearly which are the issues that will need academic research to resolve. Academics have a natural and thought-provoking diversity of ideas, but this makes it very difficult to present a consistent Vision of PLM research to industry.

Without such a Vision; and a clear and coherent message; and collective engagement with industry; the chance to do far-reaching PLM research may be lost forever.  Research proposals take time to prepare, more time to be funded, and three or more years before completion and new knowledge.  During that time the PLM landscape is continuously evolving into new areas, away from the research topics.

 

Lausanne - Common Research Strategy

If PLM is such a huge and complex subject, will it ever be possible to research it completely? The experience of the ICP-35K Project (that gave rise to the PLMIG) indicates that the answer is "Yes", in theory at least.

In 2003 a consortium of 55 organisations from all parts of the PLM spectrum formed the ICP-35K Project to submit a massive research proposal in response to a European FP6 Call that was open at the time.  It would have involved 25 million of funding and 250 man years of work grouped into 12 overlapping subject themes, embodied in two practical "demonstrator" systems hosted by the industrial participants.

The exact details of the ICP-35K Project are not important here because the proposal was rejected and there will never be such a large Call again.

However, because it attracted such a large participant base, and because of the work carried out on the internal project framework, it did show that very advanced and large-scale research into PLM itself is possible.  It also showed what can be achieved when research and industrial organisations work together with a common aim.

The Lausanne meeting tackled this issue by considering the question:-

 

"What are the possibilities for an overall PLM Research Strategy, a PLM Research Programme, and hence for individual research projects?"

 

... where the definition of PLM is:-

 

"Everything that improves the development and management of products from an enterprise and lifecycle perspective."

 

... and PLM research is then:-

 

"Research that advances the horizons or capabilities of PLM."

 

They worked on this at length, and concluded that there needs to be an initiative in PLM research to cover:-

  • PLM Research Vision
  • PLM Research Roadmap
  • Retrieval and categorisation of existing research

The vehicle to drive such an initiative was defined as an Academic-Industry Research Platform - a formalised grouping of research organisations and far-sighted industrial companies that can champion the long-term view.

The results of this platform for global collaboration would enable everyone in the PLM industry to debate and improve the long-term route that PLM is taking.

 

Evolving the PLM-IRF

And there the idea rested for a few years.  In the absence of suitable funding, the RSIG participants went back to their universities and everything lapsed back to the status quo.

Until, in 2015, a radical idea for a different and more powerful funding framework gave rise to a new initiative, to establish a PLM International Research Foundation.

The PLM-IRF concept puts everything in a new light.  Funding comes from the industry that benefits from it, and research horizons become the limit of what is possible.

 

Read More

The whole narrative of the RSIG, including the White Papers, the Academic Survey results and the detailed evolution of the logic, is published in the Compendium of PLM Ideas.

  Compendium  

The Compendium is available in hard copy format from your nearest Amazon site:-

 


 

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