Vendors of product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions have long touted the technology’s ability to help manage variants across a family of products, but a new partnership aims to push the vision a step further and give it a systems engineering twist.
BigLever Software, which markets what it dubs a product line engineering (PLE) solution aimed at managing product family variation across the entire lifecycle of a product line portfolio, is joining up with Aras to integrate its PLE platform with Aras Innovator PLM. While PLM’s strength has been in managing variations in product families of mechanically-intensive systems, BigLever’s PLE system hails from software product line engineering, which has become an increasingly important component of complex products, particularly those in the automotive, aerospace and defense sectors.
PLM has historically been used to manage the mechanical aspects of variants within a product family, but another tool does the same work with software, and yet another tool manages the various test case scenarios, presenting little opportunity for integration let alone reuse. “All these tools have the ability to create and manage variants, but what they don’t do is work together,” said Dr. Charles Krueger, BigLever’s CEO. “What we do is provide a single source of truth about product variants.”
That single source of information is critical today as manufacturers in these industries are faced with more configuration and variant options to add features and differentiate their products. Increasingly, that differentiation is being delivered through sophisticated embedded software and electronics, and manufacturers are faced with the need to seamlessly manage those variants in sync with a family of mechanical parts across the entire cradle-to-grave lifecycle of the product.
BigLever contends PLE is emerging to fill that role, employing a view built around “features” as a common language for expressing and managing products across the different functions within the enterprise. Rather than use a bill of materials (BOM), an entity common to PLM, BigLever Gears lets companies employ a Bill of Features to determine the specific elements slated for a product variant, which could encompass mechanical parts, electrical elements, wiring, software, calibrations, requirements, designs, test cases, documentation and more.
“PLM typically describes a product in terms of part content,” Krueger said. “We start with a bill of features and use that to drive the part set.” This approach provides a holistic view into the feature variations for a product family, eliminating the need for multiple feature management mechanisms for multiple tools, Krueger added, and resulting in better interoperability across software and mechanical teams.
The integration with Aras Innovator plays into this vision by providing a “single source of truth” and a unified feature-based approach for all software, electronic, mechanical and operations artifacts. Built on BigLever’s PLE Bridge API (application programming interface), the new Innovator/Gears Bridge makes that product line awareness and PLE capabilities accessible from within Innovator menus.
Aras was a natural partner for BigLever because of its open systems approach, Krueger said. “Our business model is all about an ecosystem of partners, and Aras tends to be very open its ecosystem,” he said, adding that BigLever is also talking to other PLM providers about similar integrations.
Watch this video to learn more about BigLever’s approach to managing product family variation across the engineering workflow.