For the past few years, the relevance between product lifecycle management (PLM) and sustainability is increasing as more manufacturers are starting to tie their initiatives in sustainability with PLM adoptions. Based on the PLM selection project statistics captured at Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC), the “improve level of regulatory compliance” ranking, among 50 business objectives applicable to PLM adoption as identified by TEC increased from 44 (in 2007) to 34 (in 2008) and then fell to 28 in 2009.
Although regulatory compliance only represents a piece of the entire "sustainability pie," this significant increase indicates that besides speeding up time-to-market, reducing product costs, improving product quality, etc. improving sustainability is becoming an important decision factor to make for companies when adopting PLM.
This article is an introduction to achieving sustainability through the adoption of PLM.
PLM and Sustainability
Although there is hardly a consensus on the definition of sustainability, in order to discuss what PLM can do for sustainability, I’d like to make my version of sustainable development as follows: in a business setting, sustainable development refers to maintaining and improving the well-being of the natural, social, and economic environment while conducting business activities toward profits.
Following this definition, today’s businesses should not only meet requirements from their shareholders, customers, and employees, but also take their capabilities in meeting requirements (sometimes not as immediate and mandatory but will affect the growth of the business) into consideration from a larger scope of stakeholders. In order to do so, companies need a more holistic view on their offerings and operations and better control over the entire value chain. With that being said, the relevance between PLM and sustainability becomes clearer to me. Here are a few key points that demonstrate why I think PLM is so important to sustainability.
The lifecycle vision: The core of the PLM methodology is the lifecycle perspective of managing a product. Other than treating product design, development, manufacturing, and services separately, the PLM approach suggests that the relevancies between different phases should be identified, maintained, and enhanced so all activities within the entire lifecycle of a product can be optimized and problems can be identified and addressed as early as possible.
Although PLM focuses on the lifecycle of products and thus is somewhat different from the time span of sustainable development (it might be hundreds of years long, as the concept of seven generation sustainability advocates), each lifecycle instance managed by PLM systems is an iteration toward the longer-term wellness.
Collaboration: Collaboration helps avoid suboptimizations that will cause loss to a larger scope. Since its origination, PLM has developed capabilities to facilitate the collaboration among people from different disciplines, product lifecycle stages, and organizations. PLM not only provides an electronic venue for collaboration, but also strives to provide the right information and a common language (i.e., the protocol for product definition) for more efficient and fruitful collaboration.
Modeling and simulation: The incompetency of foreseeing what consequences the current activities will lead to is one major obstacle of sustainability. Since the very beginning of today’s PLM technologies, people started to digitally model products and simulate the performance of the products when manufactured. In the future, PLM may be able to model and simulate much more complex products and systems than it is capable of now.
Of course, there are others ways of examining the relevance between PLM and sustainability. In my blog post What Can PLM Do for Green?, I took a more practical angle discussing how PLM functionality can help sustainable development in the association of different urgency levels of addressing environmental issues. For the purposes of this article, I’ll try another approach by using a single PLM vendor—Dassault Systèmes—as an example to see what PLM has to do with sustainability.
Dassault Systèmes' Strategy on Sustainability
The reason I chose Dassault Systèmes as an example is because it is a prominent PLM vendor in the market, and it seems to me that this vendor is making the most efforts in sustainability based on my interactions with the PLM vendor community.
One angle to examine Dassault Systèmes’ strategy on sustainability could be tied to the company’s branding strategy. Currently, Dassault Systèmes has six major brands categorized on three levels:
1. Create: including SolidWorks, CATIA, SIMULIA, and DELMIA for product design, simulation, and digital manufacturing
2. Share: ENOVIA, for product and process collaboration and lifecycle management
3. Experience: 3DVIA, with the vision to promote 3D as a common communication tool and to expand 3D technologies to a much wider range of users
Introduced by Bruno Delahaye, vice president (VP) of ENOVIA, Dassault Systèmes’ strategy on sustainability is consistent with the above-mentioned three-level offerings:
1. Eco Create: based on Dassault Systèmes’ strengths in product design, the Eco Create level strives for helping customers design products that are more material efficient, durable, optimized, compliant, and cleaner to be produced.
2. Eco Share: mainly based on the collaboration platform that ENOVIA provides, Eco Share facilitates sustainable processes to efficiently develop and manufacture eco-friendly products.
3. Eco Experience: with the democratizing of 3D visibility, Dassault Systèmes’ vision of Eco Experience is to provide lifelike experience to minimize the use of resources and more easily share rich information through Eco Social Communities.
If we go back to the three key elements that PLM offers for sustainable development (the life cycle vision, collaboration, and modeling and simulation), we can find that each layer in Dassault Systèmes’ strategy for sustainability is highly related to one or more of these key elements.
While leveraging its existing strengths and building up more in-house capabilities to support sustainability, Dassault Systèmes also actively creates partnerships with complementary solution providers and customers. In an initiative regarding sustainable urban development, I counted at least eight partners brought on board by Dassault Systèmes, so specialties (e.g., air quality, traffic control, and noise reduction) from different parties can be united for a common goal—a more sustainable living environment in the future. In areas such as enhancing sustainable innovation, enabling global environmental compliance, and integrating life cycle assessment tools and PLM, Dassault Systèmes has created strategic relationships with some key customers.
Also worth mentioning are Dassault Systèmes’ activities in improving its own sustainability in operations. One significant event, in 2008, was the launch of DS’ "green" global headquarters that incorporated a series of environmentally friendly features. As introduced by Valérie Ferret, Dassault Systèmes' manager of corporate social responsibility, moving to the new facility results in a more than 15 percent decrease of carbon footprint per employee.
2010 also sees Dassault Systèmes start participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project to report the company’s carbon emissions. More importantly, Dassault Systèmes is currently considering utilizing its own technologies (such as building solutions and product maintenance solutions) to improve the company’s own sustainability. This will make the company more credible as it becomes the adopter of its own offerings for sustainability.
What to Look for from Dassault Systèmes?
Dassault Systèmes has defined its strategy toward sustainability and is actively exploring more potential in supporting sustainable development. At the moment, when many Dassault Systèmes initiatives in sustainability are in the experimental phase, there are some more mature areas where users can immediately use Dassault Systèmes’ offerings for a greener future.
Product design has crucial (estimated at over 80 percent in Europe) influence to all product-related environmental impacts. Dassault Systèmes’ capabilities in product visualization and simulation allow manufacturers to foresee, during the design phase, the social and environmental impacts of their products. Benefiting from digital prototyping, life cycle approach, and design collaboration, users gain not only in design efficiency and cost saving, but also preserving natural resources, optimizing energy efficiency, complying with environmental legislation, and improving ergonomics and safety. Below are some examples on how Dassault Systèmes’ offerings can help product design and development become more sustainable:
Lifecycle assessment (LCA): LCA is the approach used to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product when it is produced, distributed, used, maintained, and disposed. In the SolidWorks product family, as a key product focusing on sustainable design, SolidWorks Sustainability provides a dashboard of LCA information, in the design phase, to determine the environmental impacts of assemblies or individual parts.
Material compliance: Manufacturers are facing increasing requirements for ensuring products and their associated materials comply with both external and internal rules and regulations. By collecting, integrating, analyzing, and reporting a product’s environmental compliance throughout its development life cycle, ENOVIA Materials Compliance Central enables companies to implement a Design for Environment solution.
Product data visibility: Better visibility of product data (especially product models generated by 3D computer-aided design [CAD] systems) not only enables lower-cost and more efficient collaboration within the manufacturer’s organization, but also helps increase fruitful participation from other product stakeholders (e.g., suppliers, customers, and consumers) in the product life cycle as early as possible. Manufacturers can now use Dassault Systèmes 3DVIA (a set of tools to provide tailored 3D capabilities and a platform for 3D content sharing for free or with relatively low cost) for better product data visibility.
Above are some basic and straightforward examples about how PLM technologies can benefit sustainable development. As a matter of fact, Dassault Systèmes’ offerings are not limited to these. Innovative uses of PLM technologies can go as far as using immersive 3D technology to reduce burn victims’ pain (read the blog post), coupling 3D modeling and simulation with expertise from scientific research institutions to reduce noise pollutions (watch the video), and utilizing PLM as a collaboration and integration platform to optimize the operations of complex systems such as a city.
While PLM is becoming more relevant to sustainability, many areas that PLM can help improve sustainability are still in the early stages. Nevertheless, PLM, as the methodology and technology that can help build a more foreseeable, efficient, and friendly (thus more sustainable) planet, is worth your attention if you are looking for a more sustainable future for your organization.