By Pat McLoughlin, Seabrook Technology Group Sales Manager UK & Ireland

PLM can often be thought of as an advanced technology that is a product of the ‘digital factories’ of recent times. As PLM expert Pat McLoughlin explains, the technology has in fact played a central role in major manufacturing feats for the past 31 years.

While it is only in recent years that Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems has been spoken about widely across all manufacturing industries, PLM has been around for longer than people might think. To really understand the growing need for PLM in the future and in Industry 4.0 – I am going to take a look back and its development. What has remained clear since its inception 31 years ago is that it remains just as mission-critical, if not more so, to manufacturers.


The inspiration for the strategic business approach of PLM first came from American Motors Corporation in 1985. The auto-manufacturer was looking for a way to speed up the production process for the Jeep Grand Cherokee in an effort to compete with bigger competitors. With PLM, all designs, drawing and documents were stored in a central database accessible to all departments involved e.g. design, engineering and manufacturing. This allowed for issues to be resolved faster and reduced costly engineering changes. So, even back in 1985, PLM was facilitating a number of significant benefits – benefits it continues to facilitate today – with greater sophistication:

  • Team members from every department have access to the same and most up-to-date information.
  • The need for design revisions is cut – reducing costs.
  • Time to market is reduced.

When Chrysler bought American Motors in 1987, they opted to retain the PLM model because it had been so effective.

Post 1985

PLM has continued to be used widely in the car manufacturing industry since then. If we look at Opel in Europe, they have used Siemens PLM portfolio of products with huge success. Its Opel Astra for example, is expected to have the lowest depreciation of any car in the compact class. Opel uses the virtual creation tools of PLM to achieve such accomplishments. PLM also allows them to:

  • Evaluate a design variation in less than one day
  • Achieve faster development cycles
  • Reduce mistakes
  • Achieve a higher design quality
  • Produce safer cars

PLM and the Mars Curiosity Rover

One of the most widely talked about uses of PLM, and arguably the one which captured the global imagination more than any other case study, is the use of Siemens PLM in the development and testing of the Curiosity Rover on the planet Mars. Curiosity is the largest and most advanced space exploration robot ever made.

The Curiosity Rover landed successfully on the planet Mars in 2012 and captured headlines across the world. To a lot of the general public however, what went unnoticed was the critical use of PLM in simulating models, and in rigorous testing of that initial and all-important landing.

  • The ‘virtual twin’ is often discussed in a PLM context. This refers to the technology’s ability to create a visual model of the end-product which is re-designed and tested before a single screw is ever turned in ‘real life’ eliminating the need for costly re-designs. This ability of PLM was crucial to Curiosity’s development.
  • Siemens PLM software was used to digitally design, virtually assemble and simulate the craft before a physical model was created. This was a mission-critical element of the NASA project. Each individual component of the rover had to fit together perfectly and work in unison to withstand the planet’s harsh conditions.
  • Another crucial stage of the project was testing the physical landing of the rover on the planet’s alien terrain to ensure it would endure the touchdown. There was simply no margin for error in this and it was a one-off opportunity which had to go successfully. Again, Siemens software was relied on to test the landing a total of 8,000 times. Seamless, multidiscipline integration between design, analysis and manufacturing enabled the rover to meet the thermal challenges posed by the Mars landing.

Curiosity is still on Mars completing its mission, and has exceeded all expectations.

PLM in the modern market

The PLM market has grown significantly and expanded far beyond the automobile manufacturing and the space exploration industry. It is has been adopted into broader markets, including packaged goods, consumer electronics, clothing and of course medical devices and the life sciences. And it will continue to grow – as its role in Industry 4.0 becomes more widely understood. In fact, CIMdata predicts that by 2017 alone, the PLM market will be worth $50.7 billion.

As is clear from our look back through history, the adoption of PLM will take companies to the future, and take them there successfully.

Pat has more than 25 years’ experience supporting, implementing and using the advanced

technology of PLM for enterprise companies in the UK and Ireland.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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