Chasing the Vision of the Virtual Product

In my first job two and half decades ago, the notion of a “virtual product design” would have been as remote a thought as the transporter from Star Trek. But over time we’ve all seen a lot of changes in technology, business processes and business models. Some of these trends started as a wave, but became a tsunami that transformed the Hi-Tech industry landscape.

The first evolution that seemed to me big at the time was the move from MRPII to ERP, and the fact that business processes from HR, Manufacturing, Quality, and Finance were all interconnected to produce good results to the bottom-line.

The second wave seemed to be the move from vertical to horizontal business models (remember when Solectron was a small start-up in Silicon Valley?) leading to the $150 billion USD out-sourced manufacturing model we take for granted today to produce our electronics products at the lowest cost. In addition to manufacturing, Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) companies are now also supporting Original Design and Manufacture (ODM) and Joint Design and Manufacturing models as a part of the business. These new models continue the wave for horizontal business evolution.

Now for me, I think I am seeing the start of a transformation as revolutionary in PLM 2.0. This starts with the ability to capture requirements, functional descriptions of features, models of system behavior and finally the engineering and physical product on a single platform. This Requirements to Features to Logical to Physical (R-F-L-P) model allows for us to begin the journey to create the ‘virtual product’.

Now product concepts can be reviewed, modeled and tested perhaps before we even invest in any ‘design resources’, let alone a physical ‘golden’ version of the product. The high costs of avoiding physical prototyping or finding ‘issues’ based on physical prototypes (translate this as ‘it’s not working) are revolutionary in my opinion. We can already see this type of innovation starting to occur in the ‘high-fashion’ consumer electronics industry, where several global Dassault Systemes customers are modeling and configuring product features and platform technologies prior to investing in expensive traditional design resources.

Many customers we talk to want to also find ways to eliminate the frustrating and manual processes required to track issues in the final product to the original requirements. This is where the RFLP model can be used in reverse, like a “Where-Used” function in traditional PDM (hey, where is this part or item used), but now much more effectively and with greater impact. Now, we can trace with PLM 2.0 and Dassault Systemes V6 from end-product, to design, to systems (features) and finally to the signed-off requirements for the product in a single platform, database, and system.

Of course, this journey will be a winding road, but like every major transformation the end result will be more customer intimacy and satisfaction, fewer products that miss the mark. Along the way, I believe companies on the leading edge of this vision will have greater efficiencies, greater long term success and the margins and markets that define winners from losers.