Digital product lifecycle management (PLM) drives innovation in the auto industry


In the automotive industry, the challenges of designing, building, selling and updating a product has become more about software than steel, and all roads lead to digital-driven product lifecycle management (PLM).

Perhaps no industry is undergoing more transformation than the automotive industry, with customers demanding personalization, connectivity, self-driving features and entertainment centers.

In response, carmakers are embracing the concept of ‘sell locally, design globally’. They are creating globally dispersed design teams consisting of mechanical, electrical and software engineers.

To maximize the effort of these global teams the industry is deploying digital twins, technology that makes it possible to run simulations on digital replicas of actual products, particularly in the areas of connected and autonomous vehicles.  Digital twin technology, which creates massive amounts of data, also simplifies product decomposition, which can lead to increased reuse of components and thus reduce the time and effort needed to engineer new products.

However, managing the large number of easily changeable “soft parts” is creating new challenges for product engineering organizations.  Their compute environments, for example, aren’t set up to cost-effectively scale.  Companies are considering cloud-based and high-performance computing (HPC) options to augment their existing solutions, but ultimately the pressure to modernize and globalize engineering will force them to replace their aging PLM systems with digital solutions.

The good news is that there is a way forward for companies that find themselves divided by silos, calcified by old habits and riddled with technical workarounds. Here are three steps on the road to digital-driven product development and PLM:

  1. Break down silos. Globalization has changed the way the automotive industry thinks about developing products and managing design resources, especially when it comes to skilled engineers and software developers.

Siloed development teams limit a company’s flexibility to leverage unique worker skills. And the lack of design collaboration means parts and software can’t be reused as effectively, problems already addressed are being tackled over again and products manufactured at different plants might not be uniform.

Digital transformation can help companies overcome these issues, effectively blending design teams so they can reuse parts, assemblies, code and engineering plans.

  1. Manage complexity. Automotive companies are discovering the challenges posed by products that contain a growing share of software-defined features. For example, manufacturers must be certain that firmware and software updates won’t render some vehicles inoperable due to differences in car models or years.

What’s more, customers are not only demanding some level of customization, they also want autonomous features like lane correction as well as an mobile entertainment centers.  The growing sophistication and complexity of vehicles will require automakers to deploy digital PLM systems.

  1. Cross the digital divide. In many companies, engineering teams have become technologically isolated from the rest of the enterprise, as they have continued to modify and customize their legacy toolset, while other departments have transitioned to cloud-based applications.

Moving engineering teams to modern PLM tools requires planning, but it can be done. For example, engineering teams can migrate select functions into Microsoft Azure, and companies can begin moving data to platforms that are accessible to global teams.

The benefits of moving to digital PLM extend beyond day-to-day processes and can actually change the culture to help drive innovation across the company.

Nicholas-Holian-headshotNicholas Holian is a DXC Technology Distinguished/Chief Technologist and the lead PLM consultant responsible for PLM and engineering environment integration, focused on developing solutions that enable clients to build a flexible and scalable engineering ecosystem. His more than 17-year career includes management and technical roles encompassing engineering, software and automation development, operating system testing, and quality practices, among others. Nicholas holds several U.S. and foreign patents and has extensive international experience working with and developing teams in EMEA and APJ, Nicholas graduated with honors from Texas A&M University.

Robert-Gosselin-headshotRobert Gosselin is Chief Technologist for Manufacturing & Automotive at DXC. He is a recognized leader with experience utilizing IT technologies and methodologies to create infrastructure and application solutions that support manufacturing customer initiatives to increase operational effectiveness, customer engagement or employee satisfaction. Robert lives in Madison, Wisc. and holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics from Regis University in Denver.

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