The December 2 blog post on Aviation Week’s “Turnaround Time” talks about Autodesk, a PLM software vendor, and suggests that the latest offering 1) qualifies as social media, and 2) will bring new opportunities for aerospace maintainers and manufacturers. (PLM stands for product lifecycle management, which is really just a fancy way of saying engineering data management.) With all due respect to the blogger, both arguments seem a bit of a stretch.
First of all, Autodesk 360 Nexus is a cloud-based PLM solution. Now just because it is “in the cloud” does not make it social, despite what the blog says: “So how does that relate to social media? Well, companies are finding better ways to share information about design data, and not just internally. PLM can make it easier for manufacturers and repairers to share data with one another for MRO purposes. So, it’s social. And it can be considered media, as companies are able to give each other pretty much any type of interactive video, graph or diagram that they need. Consumer social media tends to act as more of a marketing initiative for MRO companies more times than not, but this is the social media that gets the products out the door.” What does that mean?
Second, could it be true that Autodesk’s cloud solution is “the social media that gets products out the door?” Doubtful. The fact is that companies already share product information, with or without a cloud. Manufacturing companies are always looking to protect their intellectual property, therefore the benefits of cloud solutions are not based on sharing information but rather on reducing total hardware spend, improving IT staff productivity, increasing end user service levels, and reducing total spend on software licensing and maintenance.
Third, the blogger really stretches the definition of social media. Social media takes many forms (commonly blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) Many vendors, including Enigma, have been making it possible to share information in various formats (or media): interactive video, pictures, 3D models, illustrations and diagrams. Just because a file format is 3D doesn't make the content “social.” And just because it's interactive doesn’t make it “media.”
The blog goes on to say: “… Autodesk’s command of the cloud will allow for more lightweight data, so maintenance technicians will eventually be able to look at information on their tablets and phones without much trouble at all. Again, doing CAD on a tablet is not going to happen yet, but imagine the types of apps for MRO that could come out of the woodwork if companies are using PLM more and more. Not many PLM solutions use the cloud yet, so I have a feeling that Autodesk is going to bring on many new opportunities that MROs haven’t even begun to think about yet. At a very simple level, PLM is a system for maintaining a product throughout its lifecycle, and the last stages of that include maintenance, repair and overhaul for aerospace components.
Now that statement is scary because it stretches the truth on so many levels. CAD/CAM systems have been spitting out 3D engineering data for over 20 years. For the past 10 years engineering managers have been trying to justify their CAD/CAM budget by claiming it helps in maintenance. It hasn’t happened yet. Why? Because the needs of engineering and the needs of maintenance are different, and engineering owns the data. In fact, Enigma has supported 3D data for many years but none of our customers use it. (That said, Enigma demonstrates this capability to almost every potential customer.) In the real world, 3D might be good for training mechanics but it’s not very practical in practice. Give a skilled mechanic a decent drawing with an integrated parts list and they’ll outperform the guy with the 3D glasses every time. (It's just faster.)
Is it true that maintenance technicians will use tablets in their daily work? Yes, that’s why Enigma supports tablets. Could technicians use a cloud-based solution for this purpose? Yes, that’s why Enigma provides a cloud solution. (But again, it’s about controlling costs not to be “social.”) Do technicians need a PLM solution to perform their work? No.
Although PLM vendors have a significant role in design and manufacturing, their solutions seldom play a role for mechanics (though the vendors would undoubtedly like to change that). In two decades of Enigma supporting maintenance organizations, we have yet to see PLM be effective. (Despite what Autodesk, PTC and Dassault Systèmes want you to believe.)
Should there be a feedback loop between the maintenance staff and design engineers? Yes. And for many MRO organizations this feedback loop already exists. Enigma InService MRO is the prime example of an IT solution that enables maintenance planners and technicians to publish, share and revise (update) all technical content, including PLM illustrations such as schematics and drawings. Furthermore, users can attach notes to parts, schematics and service procedures, to collaborate with fellow technicians, planners and even the engineers at the OEM.
Finally, it’s questionable whether Autodesk has “command of the cloud.” No vendor can stake that claim. We don’t mean to be too negative toward our friends in the PLM world, but supporting engineers is very different from supporting mechanics. Just because you’re using buzzwords like “cloud, social and media” doesn’t mean you’ve figured it out.