Almost one year after issuing a three-year Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) road map in August 2007, SAP AG, the Walldorf, Germany-based enterprise software giant, is on track to deliver on its PLM promises, says Hans Thalbauer, vice president, PLM Solution Management, at SAP Labs LLC, in Palo Alto, Calif. “I’m proud to say that we will fulfill everything that’s on the road map for 2008,” Thalbauer said in a recent interview with Automation World.
SAP PLM 7.0—to be released in this year’s fourth quarter—will deliver a new, simplified user interface and improved collaboration capabilities, Thalbauer said. Supply chain partners in various global locations will be able to work simultaneously on the same object, he noted, while “a sophisticated authorization concept” will ensure appropriate levels of access.
PLM 7.0 will also provide new “product intelligence” or “product-centric view” capabilities that will support users through better integration of product data from various parts of an organization. An engineer working on a bill of materials who wants to exchange a component will be able to see how much inventory of that component is in the warehouses, for example, along with its quality and supplier history, Thalbauer explained.
What are SAP’s plans for so-called “digital manufacturing” capabilities to provide closer links between product design and factory automation? That’s on the road map for 2010, when SAP PLM enhancements “will enable the design, simulation and tracking of digital design and manufacturing processes, supported through integration with digital manufacturing tools.” Thalbauer said the degree to which SAP will develop simulation and digital manufacturing capabilities in-house is still under discussion. But he added that “we will have partners involved in different ways.”
In general, SAP’s PLM strategy calls for “supporting customers to achieve product and service leadership” through four different categories of scenarios, Thalbauer said. “Continuous product innovation” focuses on ideas management and product portfolio management. “Integrated product development” involves support from product concept through design and development to manufacturing hand-off. “Product as a service” picks up on a trend across multiple industries to develop integrated product and service offerings. “Embedded product compliance” aims to support the design of products with an eye toward meeting various worldwide regulatory requirements.
Thalbauer noted that manufacturing cost reduction and supply chain optimization have been among major themes in the manufacturing world for the past decade or so. These remain very important, he said. Given the growing complexity of global supply chain networks, “there’s a continuing challenge in supply chain management,” he observed. “But I think really, one of the next steps, and a very urgent topic for companies right now, is how to handle innovation and stay in the game,” Thalbauer added. And in meeting this challenge, he believes, PLM is destined to play a major role.