By Bruce Jenkins, President, Ora Research
Is the new term “product innovation platform” simply a rebranding exercise to refresh the aging “product lifecycle management” (PLM) label? Or is there more to it?
“Autodesk Fusion product innovation platform unites every stage of the product development lifecycle”
Autodesk observes, “Manufacturers are facing a dizzying array of technology and industry disruptions. Crowdfunded start-ups can design a new product, 3D print prototypes, refine it based on real-time collected data and outsource on-demand manufacturing in record time. This future of making things is upon us, and it compels product developers to innovate or get eclipsed by more nimble competitors.”
What’s Autodesk doing about it? “To help companies big and small adapt to this changing environment, Autodesk introduced its Fusion product innovation platform, which unites every stage of the product development lifecycle in a single platform,” the company says. The foundation of this cloud-based platform is Fusion 360, which provides parametric and direct modeling, mechanical engineering, drawings, visualization, simulation, machining and additive manufacturing, all in one place and available on demand from any device via subscription starting at $25/month (free for students and startups).
“Product lifecycle management, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and data management are also essential in this new era of product development,” Autodesk adds. To better integrate all those elements, Autodesk just added Fusion Lifecycle and Fusion Connect to its innovation platform. Fusion Lifecycle is the new name for Autodesk’s cloud-based PLM 360 software, while Fusion Connect is the new name for SeeControl, the Industrial IoT software acquired by Autodesk in 2015.
“The old way of doing product development required multiple disconnected software tools, often costing tens of thousands of dollars apiece,” says Stephen Hooper, Autodesk’s senior director for manufacturing industry strategy. “It was cumbersome, slow and expensive. Autodesk is working to fix this with a single cloud platform that is affordable and supports the complete product development process—not just design and manufacturing, but even the post-sale period of product monitoring and innovative sensor-driven services.”
Siemens PLM: “Smart Innovation Portfolio”
Another major example is Siemens PLM Software, which describes the challenges its customers face today: “In a world of smart, connected products, where entire markets can vanish with a single innovation, manufacturers must take a new approach to business. Some closely watch how products are being used, and feed data back from product utilization into product ideation and development in order to anticipate trends. But even if you know what to make, you still have to make it. That’s why manufacturing—the realization phase of innovation—is vital in this new era.”
For Siemens PLM, its differentiation from competing technology vendors is its ability to extend the “digital thread” all the way from product design through production and in-service life. “Manufacturers must weave a digital thread through ideation, realization and utilization,” the company says. “It’s not enough to digitize. That just mimics processes digitally for incremental improvement. You have to digitalize. Digitalization makes the digital thread of knowledge a proactive agent in driving your business. With a fully optimized ‘Digital Enterprise,’ you are better equipped to initiate or respond to disruptive innovation.”
To help its customers “activate digitalization,” Siemens PLM is building what it first unveiled as a “Smart Innovation Platform” before evolving that characterization to “Smart Innovation Portfolio.” This portfolio, the company says, delivers “engaged users who receive the right information at the right time—by transforming information so that only what’s relevant is delivered in a context suited to each person’s role; intelligent models that evolve throughout the process with the information necessary to optimize themselves for how they need to be built and how they should perform; realized products that achieve business goals through the integration of virtual product definition and real production execution; and an adaptive system that helps you efficiently deploy solutions today, while maintaining future flexibility.”
“SOLIDWORKS cannot simply be a faster pencil”
SOLIDWORKS is yet another leading vendor jumping in with both feet. “Providing tools to make you more productive and efficient is not good enough anymore,” says SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi. “SOLIDWORKS cannot simply be a faster pencil. No, it needs to transform into a platform that renders many of your less creative tasks obsolete. You shouldn’t need to spend time optimizing geometry. You should be spending time acting on ideas to create new products or improve upon old ones. Finally, you need to have the choice to design on your terms: whether on a desktop, online or connected. To meet your changing needs, we are building an innovation platform that will support the development of the best new products, the way you want to develop them, now and in the future.”
Bassi continues: “Users don’t want to focus on how to optimize geometry. They want the computer and the software to be smarter and be able to optimize based on the information they have provided. They need tools that enable them to focus on creating the next great product. What are the elements that foster innovation in companies? Innovation is an ideative process; you don’t invent something in a vacuum. It requires the generation of hundreds of ideas. You need insight from research, advice from other peers, experimentation, etc. You don’t need a better pencil or tool. You need a way to connect all these ‘dots,’ and transform all that data into knowledge, because all of these elements are fundamental to innovation. That won’t be done by a CAD tool. It must be a platform, a place that encompasses all of these things—people, technology, products, infrastructure and services.”
“The emergence of the product innovation platform is clear, but not complete”
Industry analysts agree that all this will ultimately reach well beyond simply a rebranding of PLM. Gartner research vice president Marc Halpern observes, “IT enablement for business is evolving from specialized enterprise applications to plug-and-play ‘apps’ supported by mega-vendor technology platforms. Product Innovation Platforms reflect this trend for the PLM software market.”
CIMdata president Peter Bilello elaborates: “Many industrial companies and software providers no longer believe that a single monolithic enterprise information technology application is sustainable and robust enough to serve all of their business functions. In many ways the complexity of extended enterprise processes, organizational requirements and information constructs cannot be addressed by any single solution provider—an open and robust business platform is required.”
Bilello continues: “The emergence of the product innovation platform is clear, but not complete. Its vision is to enable applications from multiple providers to be seamlessly deployed using an architecture that is resilient and can withstand rapid changes in individual business functions or delivery modalities…the vision [is] where apps from platform and non-platform providers are downloaded and instantly available for use, just like we experience with our smartphones.”
The vision for product innovation platforms remains in great part aspirational today, with much work still to be done by all stakeholders. But the concept is already a practical directional template for engineering organizations preparing their technology infrastructure to meet the product development, delivery and service-life challenges of today and tomorrow.