Over the last 25 years, the product development function – and the full breadth of product lifecycle management (PLM) capability, process, and technology – has come a long way from its roots in CAD and engineering-focused tools that manage documents and product data. Digital pushes the scope even further: PLM is now the critical foundation for digital transformation, managing complex product data, relationships, and change throughout the entire end-to-end product lifecycle and across the value chain.
Most recently, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of new ways of working. The last 12 months have validated the benefits of cloud and new technologies to support the need to work in distributed environments – both within the company and externally with customers and supply chain partners –transforming overnight the way companies develop products.
Meanwhile, the pressure to shorten cycle times, cut costs, eliminate complexity, improve quality and reduce compliance risk has never been greater.
The future of product development is powered by the digital thread – a seamless flow of data that connects business processes, systems, products, and equipment across the value chain to deliver business growth, operational excellence, and risk mitigation. For product development, the digital thread carries rich product and simulation data, supercharging accessibility and collaboration.
Traditional Product Development Tools vs. a Digital Thread Mindset
Traditional product development processes and tools will not be sufficient to support the future.
Most existing tools are file-based, inherently limiting accessibility and creating functional silos that in turn create communication and collaboration challenges. Data stored in files means conflicts in versioning and a disconnect between a rendered product and the data that makes up that product. In addition, file access is often restricted to one person at a time, limiting collaboration within a one-in-one-out cycle.
Traditional product development tools also require expensive, often specialized, computing power to support the rendering of complex structures. This means their effectiveness – and ultimately value to the business – is dependent upon costly upgrades and IT support.
As a result, traditional tools and processes are slow, methodical, and expensive, but the future is rapid, agile, collaborative, and disciplined, driving immediate business value.
The future of product development relies on a digital thread mindset, focused more strategically on business outcomes and leveraging digital ‘webs’ of data from multiple sources. With a completely seamless collaboration environment, teams can simultaneously develop parts of the same product in the context of the same overall goal.
For designers and engineers, this means that teams distributed across geographies can work simultaneously on the same concept, in an environment that allows them to see changes as they happen.
For businesses, this means unprecedented savings in specialized computing equipment and IT costs, as the move to cloud or SaaS models eliminates complicated maintenance contracts and IT upgrade efforts.
For product development and quality, this means significant reductions in risk and increases in speed of time-to-market due to seamless collaboration between teams and business functions – not only in product development but also with suppliers, partners, and across the value chain.
For suppliers, this means the ability to create products that are developed to the specifications of valued partners, like packaging that fits just right on store shelves.
Key Capabilities for the Future f Product Development
Here are some examples of important capabilities and how they will enable product development teams in the future.
- Design Exploration: Develop more innovative products with parallel branching and merging, allowing teams to explore, test, and track more design variations.
- Voice of Customer: Improve customer/consumer satisfaction by developing differentiated products based on data-driven customer/consumer, market, and performance insights.
- Real-Time Virtual Collaboration: Quickly understand and address design changes that would delay production or time to market by including parties outside of design and engineering.
- Supplier Collaboration: Reduce time and mistakes inherent in traditional supplier collaboration with accessible and secure cloud-based and centralized data management.
- Advanced Analytics: Make more intelligent business decisions with access to complete, up-to-date data and analytics. Identify bottlenecks, eliminate repeated mistakes, and optimize resources.
- Simulation / Emulation: Easily exchange data with simulation/ emulation software, including integration with cloud-based solutions, shortening development time.
Getting Started with the Future of Product Development
The potential of this vision is exciting, but any significant shift in ways of working requires management of change across your teams and organizations. Capturing the full future potential requires an understanding of where to start and how to take advantage of these new capabilities to bring your product creation process into a new paradigm.
Catch more insight on the new frontier of product development in Episode Two of LiveWorx 2021: The Limited Series, airing live April 22nd and sponsored by Rockwell Automation.