“Data is the New Oil” asserted Airbus vice president of engineering solutions during his presentation at the 2016 PDT Europe conference. Only to be followed by a Boeing executive exclaiming “Unshackle our designs and free our data.”

As the aerospace industry continues to change, it’s reached an inflection point where the openness and upgradability of IT systems - particularly PLM - have taken on far greater importance.

Open data access, tool interoperability, and connectivity among systems are all now recognized as critical PLM priorities to enable next generation design, cross-discipline engineering and supplier collaboration processes.

In fact, openness is a necessary prerequisite for most 21st century strategic imperatives including Industry 4.0 / smart factory, IoT, Digital Twin, Machine Learning, and more. Without full and open access to data these initiatives will be ineffective at best… and potentially not possible / won’t work.

When you factor in the additional challenges of the obsolescence of aging PDM/PLM systems and an inability to upgrade and you’re looking at foundational barriers to digital transformation.

That’s why most of the world’s aerospace OEMs, including Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault Aviation, Embraer, GE Aviation, Gulfstream, Rolls-Royce, SAFRAN, and others, have banded together to form the Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group (A&D PAG). Facilitated by CIMdata, the A&D PAG is a “who’s who” of global aerospace providers all collaborating.

That’s right… Airbus and Boeing are working together… Rolls-Royce and GE’s jet engine groups are on the same team… and Embraer and Bombardier see eye-to-eye… What could possibly bring together all of these competitors?

PLM data obstruction, that’s what.

Mandate for Change

OK, with all these companies working together on PLM topics, it’s only logical to ask: What the Φϋχκ is the point of all this, anyway?

From my perspective, the group’s intent is pretty straightforward: Band together to demand solutions to key problems that have dogged the PLM industry for decades and that PDM/PLM vendors have been unwilling, unable, or unaware (oblivious?) to address.

Officially the A&D PAG’s mission is to function as a PLM advocacy group to:

  • Set industry directions for aerospace and defense firms on PLM-related topics
  • Promote common PLM processes and practices
  • Define requirements for common-interest PLM-related capabilities
  • Communicate with a unified voice to PLM solution providers
  • Sponsor collaborative PLM research on member-prioritized industry and technology topics

Unofficially? Well, it seems to me like these companies all recognize that if they don’t come together to take action, nothing meaningful will happen and in fact it could get worse.

From my perspective, this is a logical and smart move by these companies. Right now, each is pushing to digitalize processes, connect systems in new ways, and aggregate data from across their enterprises. That all requires open access and compatibility that simply does not exist in today’s legacy PDM/PLM systems and proprietary formats.

The fact is, for years, each of these A&D companies has customized their PDM implementation to fit their specific competitive processes and to support continuous improvement.

Now, with very real competitive disruption occurring and their own digital transformation initiatives underway, they are trying to reinvent themselves to provide differentiated value, improve delivery performance, and change their operating models - all of which will lead to an even greater need to connect systems and further customize PLM processes.

But in their current PDM environments, they all know that customization is a double-edged sword. Once they customize their legacy PDM/PLM systems, they’ll create upgrade nightmares and dig a grave called PLM obsolescence.

To complicate matters even more, proprietary formats inextricably link data to the vendor’s product, effectively “locking in” the customer company to the PLM vendor. The dirty little secret is that the major PLM vendors have created technical obstacles - barriers to switching - for business purposes / their revenue models depend on them.

But that’s hardly a path to innovation, efficiency, or transformation. And that’s why these aerospace and defense contractors are demanding standards-based PLM interoperability - to end vendor lock-in and upgrade traps.

Path Forward

One way the A&D PAG is working toward change is by publishing a series of position papers on key topics, such as PLM obsolescence management, Bill of Materials use cases, Model-Based Definition (MBD) and others. Then, they intend to incorporate the requirements outlined in the papers into future PLM contracts.

During the drafting phase the group invites their strategic PLM vendors to review, respond to, and comment on the documents in a collaborative effort to reach a common understanding on the issues and indicate future intent.

Only a select group of PLM vendors are invited to participate: Aras, Dassault, Siemens, PTC, SAP, and IBM.

We’re proud to be included in this important initiative, and we/Aras believe we have a unique point of view to share on these topics.

We also believe the issues that the A&D PAG are addressing aren’t limited to the aerospace industry. These same challenges are faced by every company that uses PDM/PLM from automotive companies and industrial providers to electronics firms and life sciences businesses, and many more.

That’s why, over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be discussing some of these topics and sharing our perspectives and responses.

So what’s your take? Is your “digital oil” (data) easily accessible in your PLM? Or do we need industry-wide action groups in every sector to realize our collective PLM future?[:]