Integration of ALM, PDM, and ERP Systems

Today, a variety of different management systems control the processes involved in mechanical and software development as well as logistics and production: ALM (application lifecycle management) for the software, PDM (product data management) for the mechanical systems and ERP (enterprise resource planning) for manufacturing control. The ability to access, at any time, up-to-date and binding information about a product has always provided the basis for making sound business, economic, technical and organizational decisions. Industry 4.0 and the digitalization of products make the end-to-end availability of information about a specific product crucial to, for example, being able to offer services over the entire product lifecycle.

What is important when it comes to integrating these data management systems and what are the resulting requirements?

The lack of data integration between systems and departments in an enterprise and across value and supply chains is a major obstacle when it comes to establishing new business models. Responsibility for collecting data and managing the data logistics usually lies with the process owners in the respective organizational units. At the interfaces between development, production, service and maintenance, however, data passes between different systems, is thus represented differently, and ownership of data changes. This has always resulted in the need for automated data transfer in both directions so that, for example, it is possible to identify those products in which a defective part has been used or which software version has been installed on a certain controller.

The growing influence software is having on key product characteristics raises additional requirements regarding the integration of ALM, PDM and ERP, especially if parallel handling of multiple product variants is necessary at different speeds in mechanical and software development. Mechanical parts require a long lead time before they are available, especially when they are manufactured with complex tools. Software allows for late changes, which however also have to be tested and documented. System integration must support both read and write access and search operations for documentation purposes, which results in data networking. The lightweight integration of multiple systems in a single cockpit is one of the attractive options. It must also be possible to manage data ownership despite the changing status of the information objects.

It would be an illusion to think that a single management system alone could be expanded to create a general purpose data hub. It would not be able to meet the requirements relating to secure data management nor would it offer the flexibility needed for agile processes and innovation. The best solution is a network comprising ALM, PDM and ERP systems that allows the entire lifecycle of a digital product representation to be mapped. The integration of the data sources needed for the development and manufacturing of smart products will be implemented by means of a powerful integration platform. It ensures the highly efficient linking of data without any need to overhaul the existing ALM/PDM/ERP landscape.

The increasing proportion of electronics and software in smart, connected products requires tighter integration of ALM, PDM, and ERP.
Lutz Lämmer , Head of Business Unit PLM, PROSTEP AG