In a November 17 post, PTC Product Management Director, Derek Piette, discusses how the new PTC Systems Engineering solution supports manufacturers’ initiatives to design and build products that are part of smart, connected systems of systems.
These efforts are a big shift for manufacturers accustomed to producing discreet, stand-alone products to meet specific sets of needs. Demand for smart, connected products is pushing manufacturers to retool internal processes. It’s also expanding the scope of “product line engineering” to encompass portfolios of related products that leverage common components to simplify customization.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Derek about product line engineering (PLE), and how PTC helps manufacturing customers use PLE best practices to deliver better products more efficiently. Here’s a summary of our conversation:
Karen: Let’s start with the basics. What is product line engineering?
Derek: Initially, the term, “product line engineering,” was used to describe the process of building product variability through software. But in recent years, manufacturers have begun using it to more broadly define products that are designed with elements of variability and modularity.
Karen: Can you give specific examples?
Derek: Volkswagen has come up with a new platform for designing standard base frames that can be leveraged across all its vehicle models—such as Passat, Jetta and Golf. So instead of building a discreet engine for each product line, they design it modularly so it can be easily configured based on different feature packages. In respect to smart connected products, cell phones are a great example. Users can constantly reconfigure the software that powers their apps and communication functions. But they may carry around the same, physical phone for several years.
Karen: Describe the connection between PLE and the need of manufacturers to shift from building discreet products to “systems of systems.”
Derek: Historically, product line engineering involved defining a set of requirements, building a product to meet the requirements, and then making discreet modifications to individual products when a change was necessary. Now that manufacturers are designing products to be parts of systems of systems, they’re taking a more holistic approach to answer questions like: “How do we differentiate products to suit varying customer demands without rejiggering everything?” Or, “How can we use the Cloud to deliver new features and enhancements on demand? “ Doing any of these things cost effectively requires the ability to share and reuse processes, ideas and components across families of products. That’s what 2nd generation PLE is all about.
Karen: In what ways are PTC customers implementing PLE?
Derek: PTC has many customers that are early adopters of PLE. Most implement it in one of two ways: In a physical sense or in the abstract. An example of a customer implementing PLE in the physical domain is a truck manufacturer that uses our CAD software to design every possible configuration of specific vehicle features—like the height of the door or wheel, or size of the cab. No two trucks are alike.
Customers that use PLE in the abstract think about modularity and variability at the backend, identifying standard components that can be shared across the entire product line. Then designing these standard components in ways that make them easy to configure. Like Volkswagen, for example, that designs one engine for all car models and then fine tunes it based on horsepower. We call this front end PLE, which is where most PTC customers are moving towards.
Karen: What are some challenges facing manufactures that use PLE to design smart, connected products or systems of systems?
Derek: Manufacturers today are often developing smart, connected products with thousands and thousands of configurations. It’s virtually impossible to test every configuration in every context; which makes risk management in terms of simulation and validation a big challenge.
Karen: How does PTC help customers address these risks?
Derek: With our acquisition of Atego last summer, we now offer a true, complete PLE solution that enables manufacturers to design modularity and variability into their systems upfront and close the loop between requirements and traceability. This alleviates much of the pain and cost of dealing with problems after delivery by identifying environmental and contextual risk factors early in the product development lifecycle. We’ve enhanced a solution focused on requirements and verification to also provide advanced, model-based PLE capabilities.
Karen: How does your work in the PLE sphere support PTC’s overall objective to help manufacturers do what they do, better?
Derek: Although PLE is common practice for many PTC customers and early adopters; it’s still a goal for others looking to take the first step. Some want to start with requirements management. Others are more focused on test management.
Our job is to help manufacturers find the best approach for delivering better products more effectively. With model-based PLE, there are many places to start.
Learn more about how the new PTC Systems Engineering solution supports product line engineering.