About Product Life-Cycle Management

Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) is the process of managing the life-cycle of a product, starting from its inception to the product design and manufacturing, product use and maintenance, ending with the product decommissioning and recycling. PLM and PLM systems are meant to control the information and activity flow from the beginning of the product’s life to it’s end. PLM’s objectives are to transform any information that is collected at the various stages into knowledge, so it can be used to improve the quality, efficiency and the sustainability of a product and the services that related to it (e.g. maintenance).

PLM dramatically helps in improving the management of the products’ life-cycle but its efficiency is still mostly limited to the engineering and manufacturing phases. Indeed, gathering information after a product have been sold, i.e. during its use, decommissioning and recycling phases, is still a tedious process, because information is spread over many locations and obtaining feed-back is still – in most of the cases – a “manual” process. This seems paradoxical, considering that these are the stages where the most valuable information can be obtained from a product.

Closing the Loop: the role of IoT platforms

Closed‐loop product life-cycle management (CL2M or CL-PLM), is a an evolution of PLM that consists in continuously gathering data on the condition and performance of a product throughout its life. Gathered data is used to predict the product’s remaining lifetime and maintenance actions, plan for more effective reuse and recycling, and ultimately improve the design of future products or even prepare shifting the manufacturer’s business model from product selling to service selling activity. CL2M has notably been successfully embodied by the EU-funded PROMISE project that brings together 25 companies in nine countries.

(PROMISE PLM architecture)

As depicted in the above figure, a fundamental component of CL2M’s architectures is connected sensors technology, which can be embedded into products (PEID, Product Embedded Information Device) to regularly send/obtain status data and alerts. However, sensors are just the first step towards closing the loop: data that is sent by sensors has to be collected, aggregated, enriched or transformed, then dispatched to Enterprise applications and systems, such as ERP, PLM systems, Knowledge Management systems or Manufacturing systems. All of these different tasks should be addressed by a middleware layer, where IoT platforms can prove instrumental in closing the information loop. Indeed, connecting products to the Enterprise layer requires the availability of multiple capabilities, most of which are already provided by IoT platforms such as scriptr.io (out of the box or though partners), notably:

  • Connectivity: to connect to different communication and network protocols, used to interact with the products,
  • Data transformation and enrichment: to process product data streams and turning them into information,
  • Integration: to push information to and reading data from Enterprise applications, including those of partners such as retailers or recycling platforms,
  • Orchestration: to formalize and execute part or whole product model update process in the PLM, integrating with the various Enterprise systems,
  • Device Management: to manage the embedded devices

The availability of the aforementioned features is a major aspect of the implementation of the CL2M middleware layer. Another important aspect is the availability of a common interfacing language that would enable the interoperability of all the involved stakeholders in the life-cycle. The PROMISE project has issued the PROMISE Messaging Interface (PMI) to act as a common communication interface between the different components of the PLM architecture. The PMI has further been used by the Open Group as a base for specifying the Open Messaging Interface (O-MI), a standard messaging interface to provide interoperability between products and with all other information systems that consume or provide information that is relevant to the product lifecycle. However, O-MI hasn’t met widespread adoption yet, as it is actually the case of IoT standardization in general.

As a consequence, and while waiting for standardization efforts to reach some consensus, interoperability might be the most important feature that you would look for in an IoT platform to support CL2M.