Reinventing the Automotive Industry with PLM 2.0

The automotive industry has a great opportunity to rise again by re-inventing itself -- laying the foundation for a more responsive, collaborative and technologically advanced future.

Over the last two years the automotive world has been turned on its head; many traditional market leaders are struggling to survive while new players are starting to emerge -- especially in Asia. While there's no doubt that this has had a truly disruptive impact on the market, some are viewing this dramatic period of change as an inflection point for the industry. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the largest manufacturers are using the opportunity to redefine their own futures, developing new ways of doing business and realigning their internal resources and external relationships while also focusing on reshaping their customers' experience.

Therefore, what are some of the key challenges the market will have to overcome in the coming months and years?

  1. Global Recession, Local Opportunities: Although on the whole the global market is flat, there is still significant growth potential in a variety of emerging markets that will require local R&D and production investment. This presents a variety of challenges, including how manufacturers manage local market needs while focusing on global platforms. To be competitive, how quickly do the OEMs start cooperating with new partners and how can one most effectively engage them at the lowest structural cost? In addition, the automotive infrastructure is expanding to leverage technology competency centers in certain regions, making local ideas globally-resonant.
  2. The Rise of Electronics: Electronic systems represent a significant percentage of the value of the average car and are forecast to continue to increase by 9% annually over the coming years. This has led to an increased demand for greater integration between mechanical, software and electronic engineering -- commonly referred to collectively as mechatronics. The challenge for many OEMs and suppliers is managing the increasing complexity of these systems while still maintaining product quality, costs and overall standards. Additionally, companies are looking for ways to integrate mechanical and embedded systems -- areas that have been traditionally isolated in the manufacturing process.
  3. Increased Customer Expectations: The economic recession has provided consumers with greater expectations about possible deals and bargaining power in purchasing new vehicles, forcing OEMs to adopt a paradoxical business model: increasing vehicle customization while trying to maximize development on a reduced number of platforms. In this environment, the automotive industry has to be able to deliver innovative and affordable new products while also anticipating consumer trends and federal regulations. This is putting a greater strain on developing capable, flexible and scalable platforms that encourage maximum customer satisfaction and minimal resource utilization.
  4. Green Issues and Sustainability: While the economy has driven many consumers to look for more fuel-efficient vehicles, local and regional government regulation has also forced manufacturers to integrate "green" strategies into their manufacturing processes. Not only must manufacturers be aware of current regulations such as ELV, RoHS and WEEE, but they must also be able to plan for and manage the introduction of even more stringent regulations over the coming years. The challenge is magnified by the fact that none of these regulations are global standards and all elements of the supply chain (down to suppliers of individual components) need to be compliant. This presents OEMs and their suppliers with an enormous burden, becoming further complicated as automotive firms seek to redefine their global development infrastructure and carbon footprint.

Maintaining global partnerships and eliminating traditional barriers will be crucial to addressing these challenges and ensuring long-term success. Facilitating this transformation will be a technological revolution capable of delivering true collaboration and an ability to synthesize real-time feedback from all key stakeholders into the process of innovation (at both a concept and product level).

It has become increasingly important for automotive companies to draw upon the expertise of all involved in the engineering, production, sales and support of vehicles. In the last couple of years, PLM solutions have helped to define a roadmap for how information will be managed, shared and accessed in the future. Encapsulated within this roadmap is the vision of PLM 2.0, which is at the forefront of the automotive industry's transformation.

What is PLM 2.0?

PLM itself is broadly defined as the efforts and processes involved in managing a product from inception to end-of-life, encompassing design, manufacturing and supply chain management. Though many people have defined PLM 2.0 differently in the past, it can be best understood as PLM with an emphasis on the collaboration between humans and technology, while channeling the potential of 3D tools and concepts to enable users to create a lifelike, interactive experience. This is achieved by applying the concepts of advanced physics to 3D models to make them move and function as they would in reality.

What is truly remarkable about PLM 2.0 is that it will prove to be revolutionary not only for engineers and designers, but for every type of user. Unlike other particularly intricate technical processes like finite element analysis (FEA) or mechatronics, the ideal audience for PLM 2.0 isn't restricted to those directly involved in product modeling. Like Web 2.0, PLM 2.0 encompasses an element of social networking that renders it accessible to most people with a foundation in computer science or architecture, even students.

The technology can link people of all backgrounds together by allowing users to develop products collaboratively and by giving them the power to merge their ideas on design, engineering and manufacturing -- no matter where in the world they live. People in the U.S., China, Australia and Germany can all work together on the same design and seamlessly exchange information with everyone in their supply chain, including partners, outsourcers and compliance experts.

In many respects the issues that the automotive industry must overcome serve as a template for future challenges. While it's going to take time, the automotive industry has a great opportunity to rise again by re-inventing itself -- laying the foundation for a more responsive, collaborative and technologically advanced future.

Kevin Baughey is the director for global automotive solutions for ENOVIA, Dassault Systmes. He has helped bring Dassault Systemes' vision for PLM 2.0 to the automotive industry, guiding adoption of the V6 platform among automotive manufacturers since its launch in early-2008: http://www.3ds.com/solutions/automotive


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