The State of PLM in Your Supply Chain- Now, and Into the Future

Once seen as the center of the universe for the product definition, PLM now shares the stage in a grand ensemble of supply chain and manufacturing applications. These applications give you unprecedented visibility across the supply chain and (thanks to the Internet of Things) even into customers' everyday use of your product. Never has the single source of product truth been so damned truthful. 

Industry 4.0 

Using smart autonomous systems, applications will monitor and control physical things like manufacturing machines, robots, and applications from big data, IoT, design, logistics, and other appendages of the smart supply chain. It also integrates back-end systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP) for visibility and control. Industry 4.0 is a company’s definition of digital transformation bridging the physical and digital worlds.

While the particulars vary some from source to source, most analysts today agree that Industry 4.0 includes the following: 

Internet of things (IoT)

The internet of things is the interconnectivity of devices and appliances on the internet, delivering actionable information to applications that can harness and use it in a smart way. IoT often includes remotely updating software, collecting sensor and performance data, and remotely controlling devices by sending task instructions. 

Industry 4.0 technologiesImage- courtesy SAP Insights - "Industry 4.0 technologies"

Big data

Analytics, integration of processes both on the production floor and across facilities to the entire supply chain– in-house and via contract manufacturing, including R&D, QA, sales/marketing, and others who create or consume what in the past were isolated knowledge silos.


True cloud computing is the enabler of Industry 4.0 and transports the digital transformation necessary for everything to be accessible and distributed to all that need information at the time they need it. This includes virtual speed, scalability, and storage in the most cost-efficient way possible. 

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI in the industry is the ability to autonomously make decisions in a human-like manner, even learning for better future decision-making. 

Augmented reality (AR)

AR overlays digital content in a physical environment. With the use of mobile devices, one can visualize real-time IoT data, digitized parts, repair or assembly instructions, training data, etc. While still underutilized in the industry, AR has major implications for QA, Service, and Maintenance – potentially providing feedback into the change and improvement of a product. 

Autonomous robotics

Machines that perform tasks with minimal human intervention – usually for pick and place operations these robots are using cutting-edge AI, sensors, and machine vision these machines can perform increasingly difficult tasks by recognizing, analyzing, and acting as they receive information from their surroundings. 

Digital twin

Virtual simulation of a physical part, assembly, or entire physical product. When built in a virtual environment, a business is better able to understand, analyze and improve the performance of products, reducing overall cost and time to market or through IoT improvement on the in-service products. 


Cloud connectivity opens systems and data to be hacked, stolen, or otherwise utilized in a malevolent way. Cybersecurity specifically acts to minimize the risk of data breaches and time-to-market delays across both internal and virtual networks. 

When you combine these technologies your potential for greater product profitability Industry 4.0’s promise is to empower companies with the data available; presented in a way to allow quick decisions as they spring up. It produces improvement in productivity through automation, agility, confidence in products, and increased profitability. 

The Impact of Industry 4.0 on PLM

In a recent webinar we did with Oleg Shilovitsky (CEO of OpenBOM and Founder of, he discusses how these Industry 4.0 technologies are coalescing into new, connected PLM.  A PLM without obvious borders, and one which connects users and decision-makers to the vast amount of valuable data in a kind of giant network.  

Is PLM 4.0 developing into end-to-end digitalization of the product lifecycle?

“Isn’t it already digitalized”? The answer is “we’ll kind of, not really.”  It depends on how you are doing the defining.

PLM 3.0 (or current Legacy PLM) shares digital information with the integrations across the supply chain application set. So, you could say, it is digitalized – however what PLM 4.0 attempts to accomplish is more. It is the virtualization of processes, applications, and data so it is all available to everyone all the time as compared to a serial offering of demand consume at a predefined point in a process. 

Image: courtesy Oracle Corporation

The primary benefits of 4.0 are the promise of quicker decision making, shorter cycle times, lower product costs, and fewer quality issues. Representative of the 4.0 approach in the industry; Oracle describes their 4.0 approach as a PLM tool that: 

  • Tightly links the voice of the customer with the voice of the product into the enterprise product record, delivering the visibility necessary for smarter innovation.  
  • Leverages social monitoring, Internet of Things (IoT), Digital Twins, Artificial Intelligence, and quality assessment to close the data latency and information gaps between the product and the customer. 
  • Built on top of a single common data model with a built-in PIM solution for commercialization. 
  • Embedded analytics and social platforms to drive quick and accurate decisions and enforce teamwork. 
  • Connects various data silos, stakeholders, and processes together with a digital thread.  
  • Integrates external data from the voice of the customer/product/factory for measurable insights that lead to ideas the customer wants and new business opportunities and models such as product-as-a-service. 
  • Accelerates innovation through the commercialization process. 

The beauty of 4.0 is the single source of information and functionality that is needed to perform any supply chain task from conception to maintenance and support – in other words, the entire product lifecycle – accessible for use before, during, and after other applications have enriched it. 

Which applications are PLM 4.0 enabled?

Again, it depends. Certainly, all vendors will step forward to let you know they are 4.0 but what does that mean? Access and manipulation of all the data is one thing, having it truly single-sourced so everyone works virtually on the same data at will is likely another.

Even tools like Oracle Modern Supply Chain have been reengineered and rearchitected from top to bottom to accomplish this begins to falter if each application in the supply chain is not branded by Oracle. So, unless a single vendor is providing all application functionality, and if there is vendor competition, there will be the need to integrate into that single data source from a dissimilar tool.  

Image courtesy Oracle Corporation

The good news is that Industry 4.0 functionality (listed above) is available now and provides an important benefit, to the point that not moving to take advantage leaves you increasingly behind. 

Society 5.0 

But wait, there is more. Even before Industry 4.0 with PLM 4.0 can fully take hold, there is now talk of a “Society 5.0.”  Its premise is that solutions thus far are technologically based, while the goal should be moving from technology to society using the right political, economic, and moral constructs. Think of it as societal change enabled by technology.  

The concept was first introduced by Japan and attempts to change a paradigm. It refers to a technology-based, and people-centered society. This new 5.0 aims to provide goods and services that address needs without disparity, it merges cyberspace with physical space and attempts to balance economic advancement to resolve social problems. 

If that sounds conceptual, it is because it is.

Even so, it does conjure up fantastic possibilities for the future. 

The Here & Now 

For now, most of us are simply racing to bring our supply chain legacy applications to a point where they can play nice with each other while beginning to take advantage of PLM 4.0 capability. The challenge is to do it with the future in mind and to pick a overall solutions that enable those choices to the reality of PLM 4.0 (Industry 4.0 as well) which is now beyond acceptance and is in play.

There are plenty of current challenges in ideation and product development to keep things interesting.  

These are truly fascinating times.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Domain Systems. The author takes full responsibility for the views expressed here.
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