What Keeps EAM/CMMS Away From PLM?

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Today, many assets are designed and manufactured with the help of product lifecycle management (PLM) tools and systems, which contain highly valuable product definition information for enterprise asset management (EAM) and computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) operations.

That being said, if there is a way to tie the two systems (EAM and PLM) together, the result will be beneficial to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), asset owners, and third-party maintenance service providers. However, this isn’t an easy job. The following are a few barriers between EAM and PLM as I see it.

1. Two Different “Lifecycles”

Yes, the product lifecycle (PL) and the asset lifecycle (AL) are similar. Both of them may begin at a strategic starting point (e.g., PL begins with planning the next offering for the market, and AL begins with planning the next purchase of equipment for a factory) and finish at the disposal stage. However, the difference between the two is also obvious. Quite often, the concept of “product” in PLM doesn’t coincide with the physical asset within EAM. In PLM, a product is likely to be a model or a version, which may have multiple physical instances. In other words, in the development process, a product is not serial-number-sensitive in many cases. Even cases in which the product structure contains part serial numbers, usually a PLM system finishes its job at the stage when the product is built.

To EAM, the original configuration of an asset at the time when it is delivered is helpful, but asset maintenance history and current configuration are more important with the passing of time. One solution for this situation is to connect EAM and PLM to each other.

2. Integration across Organizational Boundaries

As discussed above, it makes sense for an EAM system to be able to retrieve product design information from a PLM system and for a PLM system to receive maintenance records from an EAM system. Actually, some PLM systems are able to manage as-maintained product configuration, which means that the systems are capable of creating and maintaining configuration information for each physical asset. However, there are remaining issues, such as how asset owners or maintenance service providers will be able to access the product information as needed and how well the configuration information will be maintained every time a maintenance task is performed—given that PLM systems and EAM systems belong to different owners.

The integration between EAM and PLM is not only a technological issue, but also a business issue. I’m wondering if the whole ecosystem has found a way to distribute fairly the responsibilities and benefits associated with the integration between the two systems.

3. Intellectual Property (IP) Rights

Before cross-organization integration becomes feasible, an alternative solution is to implement a PLM system on the EAM side. More precisely, a product data management (PDM) system will suffice for the requirements of better managing product/asset definition information, since EAM will be able to manage the rest. Disregarding the cost of embracing another system, this solution has another difficulty—the intellectual property (IP) issue. As an asset owner, even if you have an in-house PDM system, how likely is it that your equipment providers will share their detailed design information so you can maintain it in your own system?

Retrieving design information directly from an OEMs’ PLM servers also faces the same IP control issue, but it seems to be more manageable, since the OEM can have control over what product information can be disclosed and what procedures are used to authorize access to that information. When the capability of storing computer-aided design (CAD) models in a non-file-based way is ready (which means CAD models are collections of objects in the database rather than distinct files), secure and efficient IP control may become even easier. However, in my opinion, IP control over product design information in a collaborative work environment is a complicated issue that can’t be resolved in a short period of time.

These are the barriers between EAM and PLM that I’ve seen. A blog series by P.J. Jakovljevic addresses some of the challenges from the strategic service management (SSM) perspective. What I can leave you with is an imaginary scenario like this:

One day, when a maintenance request is submitted to an engineer at the asset owner, AO-1 Company, he searches for a resolution based on the description of the problem. Unfortunately, within either AO-1’s or the equipment provider OEM Company’s database, he can’t find a satisfactory answer. However, a search result about a different company—AO-2—seems very applicable. This search result is about a resolution of the same problem, requiring the replacement of a certain part, which unfortunately is not in the inventory at AO-1. The engineer then submits an order request to the OEM and is informed that it will take 2 days for the OEM to ship the service part. In addition, the OEM also notices that within AO-1’s part inventory, there is another part that can be used as a substitute after light modification, which can be performed on-site, easily and quickly. After the engineer chooses the second option, he receives a dimension specification for the modification and a 3D animation of how to replace the part. The engineer then is able to complete this maintenance task and log the information in the EAM system before finishing his day. The OEM’s PLM system then realizes that this has become a repeating problem and routes it to the design team…

If this scenario ever happens, I hope it is not in my dreams, but rather in, say, the clouds, maybe.
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