Giving Graduates a Competitive Advantage with PLM


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Universities globally are being tasked with attracting students into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines to provide the workforce needed for this century. In order to become competent professionals in their field, undergraduates and graduates need to acquire skills in the software applications they will use in their careers, such as CAD and GIS software or simulation suites that perform finite element analysis (FEA) or computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Vendors of these software products know that the students of today are their customers of the future and are happy to partner with universities or provide their software at academic rates. A working knowledge of AutoCAD and/or Solidworks are definite enhancements to any résumé. However, this only partially equips the graduate for life in the business world. He or she will learn how their skills acquired at university will integrate into the organization once they start working there, but they could have the edge on other applicants if they already had this knowledge. This is where training in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is so important – it provides a holistic understanding of product development from cradle to grave. 

Currently, only a few universities offer specialization in PLM, but there is a growing trend to incorporate it into relevant curricula. The trailblazer in PLM education is Purdue University, who opened the Product Lifecycle Management Center of Excellence in 2002, which was renamed the Digital Enterprise Center. The focus of the Center is on enabling organizations to make the transition to digital enterprises. Undergraduate, graduate and professional courses and certifications are offered in all aspects of Product Lifecycle Management.

Other universities are following suit, such as Clemson University in South Carolina and Oakland University in Michigan. Such initiatives are collaborative, supported by industry leaders who need an institution that can upskill their existing workforce in PLM, as well as provide future employees from their alumni. 

Leslie Miller, general manager for GE Power and Water, which is based in North Carolina, is quoted on Clemson’s website as to why PLM is an important inclusion for any university or technical institute:-

Product Lifecycle Management software and processes revolutionize how our industry designs, manufactures, services and operates our products. We are creating a digital thread that unites product configuration, analytical results and operational data. A university program that can research PLM processes and applications, and educate PLM-proficient new engineers, is critical for General Electric’s continued innovation.

Leslie Miller – GE Power and Water




One of the main hurdles in the inclusion of PLM in a University’s portfolio is that its precepts cut across different faculties, and it is STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics ), not just STEM. For a start, Lean Manufacturing is a readily available subject but is mainly taught at business schools. Product management involves marketing, which is already straddling an uneasy path between arts and sciences, with the growth of Martech. Graphics designers are part of the equation, using rendering tools like Keyshot to produce a vision of the finished product. To conceptualize a product, design and build it, bring it to market, service and maintain it and eventually to retire it, requires many different skillsets and roles. To understand how it all fits together and the processes that support the value chain are the answers that enrolling in a PLM degree or course needs to provide, as well as a familiarity with the tools and platforms used to interact with the data, processes and artifacts. PLM has also been subject to a major disruption, the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT). 


The Internet of Things and Digital Twins

IoT is reshaping business across a wide spectrum of industries. The ability to record real-time data in the field via sensors and other devices is creating huge volumes of data wherever they are placed. Among the myriads of benefits that can be realized by judicious extraction and analysis of data, whether by human or artificial intelligence, understanding how products actually work in the live environment can be collected and collated. This has changed the approach to design and simulation, with the increasing use of “digital twins”, prototypes that are fed the live data to test, understand and improve design. Crash test dummies and driving cars into brick walls is obsolete, when the same results can be achieved with a virtual simulation. The ability to build digital twins and collect and interpret IoT data is an essential adjunct to any PLM infrastructure.

Which Software Vendor?

 The institution offering PLM must decide which PLM vendor will be appropriate for the software they acquire. Fortunately, the number of vendors in this space is limited in this space, although the choice is growing. There are three main contenders and a few alternatives. The choice is simplified via two reports produced by Forrester at the end of 2017 and Quadrant at the end of 2018, which can both be downloaded from the PTC website.


Vendors- the Usual Suspects

The three vendors below are used extensively by traditional PLM industries, namely automotive, aerospace, and industrial and high tech equipment. Their foundation is in engineering software, which gives the advantage over contenders such as SAP and Oracle.


Dassault’s software was developed to support its aerospatial engineering. The company’s 3DEXPERIENCE is the most widely used digital platform and sufficiently scalable that Singapore is using it to build the city’s digital twin. As the leader in this field according to both Forrester and Quadrant, selecting Dassault offers graduates good opportunities in finding work. Dassault do provide their own education, but it is product-related.


PTC was the forerunner in PLM and has an extensive customer base. Recognizing that the future of PLM and IoT are intertwined, PTC acquired IoT platform Thingworx as an offering that integrates with their PLM Windchill solution. Adding to their highly rated technological solutions is their integration of augmented reality (AR) with Vuforia. Forrester identifies them as the market leader, while Quadrant places them as a technology leader, running second to Dassault on customer experience. Again, with PTC experience, a graduate will be able to pick and choose work opportunities across a wide band of industries.


Siemens PLM and Teamcenter also have an established customer base and are used at Purdue and Clemson. Interestingly Forrester placed them 4th in their report, although Quadrant has them hot on the heels of PTC and Dassault. While Siemens were early entrants in the PLM field, they have been a bit slow in innovation, but their platforms are open and easy to integrate.


Other Vendors in the Wings

Aras – Aras is Forrester’s surprise third-ranked PLM vendor. They are open-source and new and while it may be premature to consider them because their market penetration is currently small, they should be watched. They have their own Aras University for PLM learning.

AutoDesk – It may be surprising to find Autodesk outside the leaders, when one considers how pervasive AutoCAD is in both industry and academe. Despite their strong presence as an engineering software vendor, it seems that they have some way to go before their PLM offering can match up to the rest of the market. They declined to participate in the Forrester research.

IFS – UK-based IFS Systems won an award for PLM software of the year awarded by Construction Computing Awards recently. Forrester did not consider them, probably because of their UK rather than the US presence. Like SAP, IFS is more of an ERP than an engineering solution.

Oracle – Oracle became a PLM provider by acquiring Agile, who had a ready-made PLM offering, to be integrated with Oracle’s ERP. Agile had customers in industries such as life sciences. Oracle is trying to move existing customers to their PLM Cloud offering.

SAP – This ERP heavyweight has PLM functionality, but based on their ERP offering, rather than an engineering base. The investment in SAP is very high for any manufacturer, which probably forces company


In Closing

Industry 4.0 is disruptive, but some of the disruptions is not obvious. The need to work collaboratively and the blending of science and the arts are all part of this new wave. Academic institutions have to provide alumni who can function in digital enterprises, and PLM education is necessary for meeting this demand. Obviously there are engineering faculties which have an education path that takes their students into a specific industry, such as oil and gas, but according to Quadrant, industries that were formerly not regarded as customers for PLM, such as consumer goods and retail, are turning to the PLM business model to bring efficiencies to their business. This market is predicted to grow and they will be looking for candidates who understand and can work in a PLM environment.

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