The past few years have been pretty exciting for the PLM market. First, manufacturers are looking to extend PLM to a product innovation platform so they can address the new realities today of complex product, supply chains, and demand. This trend is accelerated by 3rd platform technologies (cloud, mobile, analytics, social) and innovation accelerators (IoT, cognitive computing, 3D printing). Second, manufacturers now are exploring the efficacy of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to complement field service, manufacturing execution, and product design, as well as to address the complexity dynamic I noted above.
Interesting thing is each of the "big 3" PLM vendors comes at AR and VR from different angles at this point – that is, from its respective areas of expertise. PTC focuses on AR for service, Dassault on VR for Design, and Siemens on AR for manufacturing. Each company is playing to its strengths with this AR/VR story, although that's not to say they aren't pushing capabilities into other areas. Recent examples include:
- Service: PTC's "ThingEvent" took place earlier this year, where the company's latest acquisition, Vuforia, was on display showcasing its augmented reality (AR) capabilities, primarily for service. See my colleague Heather Ashton's blog for more information on this event. This latest development, as well as the acquisition of ColdLight for predictive analytics and machine learning, and PTC's "connected PLM" product launch late last year where the ThingWorx IoT platform is integrated with PTC's PLM system, Windchill, show that the company is focused on connecting the worlds of PLM, IoT (Internet of Things), and Service Lifecycle Management.
- Design: Dassault Systemes' Virtual Reality Cave at their U.S. and France headquarters is a theatre complete with a stage and seating where you can virtually go "inside" the virtual image of a car, a store, a heart. Other "experiences" in the cave include airplanes, ships, washing machines, oil rigs, and manufacturing plants. Even Egyptian pyramids, icebergs, and the city of Paris through the ages are available to tour, for those who want to have a little fun with VR.
- Manufacturing: Siemens had a Google glass manufacturing operations management demo at its 2015 analyst event, where designers and engineers collaborated with their manufacturing counterparts during product design and production. And since 2014, they have offered COMOS Walkinside and Tecnomatix Intosite for 3D virtual walk-throughs of plant layout and design – viewable on your PC or tablet, no glasses or goggles necessary. Not fully immersive VR, however still gives the impression of walking through a plant.
The AR application to enhance manufacturing EWI (electronic work instructions) and service EWI is a clear opportunity, and one I think manufacturers will be interested in. The question from manufacturers will be primarily about cost and usability: can you fit AR within my budget, and can my service technicians and plant floor managers be productive with this technology on day one?
For VR, there are already examples in the automotive market of manufacturers using VR for prototyping as well as modeling crash test performance. And there is interest in the Apparel & CPG space to model how a product will be placed in display, on a store shelf, or on the store floor. While not a common tool used by manufacturers in design yet, one can see how VR is a natural enhancement to detailed modeling.
The outstanding questions to me are, will manufacturers find value in AR for design, and will they find value in VR for service? A designer could wear augmented reality glasses as they look at a physical prototype, to understand the details behind the product such as cost, suppliers, materials (as well as the alternatives). And a service technician, engineer, or plant manager could view the digital twin of a product or manufacturing plant floor to monitor performance, quality, errors, and usage and virtually explore this model in more detail as necessary. We will see.
Good times. PLM is becoming cool again.
As always, I welcome your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.