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PLM Knowledge Gap Hampers New Engineers

As the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 heat up, newly minted engineers are entering the workforce at a time when companies are prioritizing innovation and design. Yet many fresh-faced graduates don’t have adequate understanding and training in core technologies like product lifecycle management (PLM), which are increasingly important for addressing modern-day product complexity.

That was the premise of a recent survey conducted by CIMdata called “Are Students Real-World Ready.” The survey found that industrial companies are experiencing a serious gap in new employees’ understanding of PLM in addition to a lack of practical experience applying concepts in this area. Because of this knowledge gap, enterprises are having a hard time hiring people fresh out engineering programs that have any broad and reasonable PLM background, explains John MacKrell, CIMdata vice president.

New engineers lack adequate understanding of PLM practices as they head towards the workforce. Image Courtesy of Siemens PLM Software

“We’re finding educational organizations teaching PLM are really teaching CAD,” he explains, adding the curriculum is heavily focused on 3D modeling as an evolution of 2D drafting. “What they’re not teaching is all the process and data management aspects of PLM and why it’s so important to capture data and continually manage it throughout the lifecycle.”

As companies strive for a true digital enterprise—including creating digital processes that span the entire product lifecycle, from conception through manufacturing and service—PLM becomes an increasingly important platform to foster collaboration and streamline processes across the different functional areas involved in bringing a product to market as well as with suppliers and customers. Today’s products are far more complex thus require much broader cross-disciplinary thinking along with an emphasis on simulation-driven product design, systems thinking, and an understanding of PLM as a business strategy, not just a product development platform, MacKrell explains.

“PLM is a business strategy that impacts many business decisions such as product profitability, supplier relationships, manufacturing strategies, product delivery concepts, and product maintenance,” he adds.

With that broader perspective in mind, universities must stay in step with that full lifecycle view and adapt their curriculum accordingly, MacKrell says. Specifically, college-level engineering programs need to move beyond the narrow view of PLM as a CAD tool for product design into a big-picture perspective where PLM is deployed to support entire product lifecycle processes with information beyond geometric 3D models.

Universities have encountered problems making that switch for a number of reasons, the survey found. For one thing, the vendor community has long donated CAD software to higher institutions, but has not made PLM platforms as freely available, the research found. In addition, PLM tools can be much more difficult and unwieldy compared to CAD and simulation tools, and there isn’t adequate time in the class schedule to teach the concepts surrounding the tools let alone provide hands-on training.

Interviews with educators that participated in the survey, which was sponsored by Siemens PLM Software, revealed their desire for more training materials and use case guides, underscoring a need for the PLM vendor community to step it up and provide more robust and extended training. The research also recommended that vendor subject matter experts participate in “reverse sabbaticals” whereby they embed in the academic community to better educate faculty and students on current and future PLM use cases and best practices.

Watch this video to see what it takes to educate next-generation engineers, according to Siemens PLM Software.


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About Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.

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