Intersection of Product Lifecycle Management and Climate Change

A new international collaboration called the PLM Green Global Alliance is emerging to help advance PLM toward a more sustainable, lower carbon economy.

A new international collaboration called the PLM Green Global Alliance is emerging to help advance PLM toward a more sustainable, lower carbon economy.

Image courtesy of Robert Farrell/PLM Green Global Alliance.

Until recently, initiatives to advance sustainability and combat climate change have primarily focused on improving product performance to minimize energy usage and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Product lifecycle management (PLM) is enabling technologies and supporting software applications that are contributing to a greener global economy in many ways. 

Robert Farrell

For decades, product development organizations and manufacturers were often forced to choose between product performance and environmental stewardship without regard to externalized costs or long-term harm to the planet. As a result, sustainability practices were often implemented at the minimum levels required to satisfy regulatory requirements and shareholder expectations.

Today, many organizations are taking initiative to repair an ailing planet. Designing sustainability into a product’s lifecycle offers a holistic and integrated solution—and PLM is a critical tool. 

When fully embraced as a part of mainstream product development, sustainability initiatives have a measurable, lasting impact on the environment and a company’s bottom line. Product quality, innovation and profitability are ultimately enhanced while optimizing cost, quality, aesthetics, performance and manufacturability. 

An Emerging Alliance

Motivated by opportunities and challenges to create a sustainable circular economy and green future, a new initiative, the PLM Green Global Alliance (PGGA) was recently formed. The coalition’s mission is to connect and unite the global community of professionals who use, develop market or support PLM-enabling technologies that can address the causes and consequences of climate change that stem from human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea for the global collaboration was created from discussions in North America and Europe between PLM industry consultants Richard McFall of PLM Alliances and Jos Voskuil from TacIT. 

“My personal motivation to help start the PGGA was driven by a wish to combine my PLM world with interest to create a more sustainable global society,” says Voskuil. “It is a challenging combination. For example, PLM was born in aerospace and defense, probably not the most suitable industries, but now they are driving the development of new technologies to drastically reduce carbon emissions from aviation.”

McFall, a PLM industry veteran and PGGA co-founder, observes that there are many examples of how PLM-related technologies are being used to combat climate change and improve sustainability. Yet, there are few venues where organizations can research, share, discuss and promote professional resources and application case studies for the collective good. PGGA’s goal is to change that with an open platform where professionals can begin to integrate their personal values into their own career development. 

“We face an urgent challenge to create a more sustainable future for our industries, economies, communities and all life forms that depend on healthy interdependent ecosystems,” explains McFall. “Through this alliance, we seek to educate, advocate and collaborate for greater recognition of the role of PLM to help assess, reduce, mitigate and adapt when necessary to the effects of climate change now being experienced across the world.” 

Putting PLM to Work

In understanding PLM’s value in a greener economy, it is helpful to remember that PLM is not a single software application. Industry analysis firm CIMdata defines PLM with this in mind:

“PLM is not a definition of a piece, or pieces, of technology. It is a definition of a business approach to solving the problem of managing the complete set of product definition information —creating that information, managing it through its life, and disseminating and using it throughout the product’s lifecycle. PLM is not just a technology but is an approach in which processes are as important or more important than data. It is critical to note that PLM is concerned with ‘how a business works’ as with ‘what is being created.’”

With that broad definition, PLM-enabling technologies that can help combat climate change far exceed what most may initially think. No longer is it limited to CAD, product data management, CAE or simulation and analysis. 

Now, newer technologies and software used for additive manufacturing, digital twins, product portfolio management, augmented reality/virtual reality, model-based systems engineering, multidisciplinary design optimization, multiphysics simulation, configuration management, Industrial Internet of Things, high-performance computing and enterprise innovation management all have a role to play.

Through the PGGA, PLM professionals, researchers, teachers, students, users, consultants and solution providers can share case study examples, best practices and other resources illustrating how PLM technologies can specifically be used to:

  • make products and processes more efficient;
  • find and develop new sources of renewable energy;
  • store and transmit alternative energy supplies;
  • reduce or sequester human-made carbon emissions;
  • capture naturally produced greenhouse gasses such as methane; 
  • develop green manufacturing processes;
  • recycle, reuse and repurpose assets and natural resources;
  • simulate and test global geoengineering strategies;
  • monitor a warming planet and the impact of climate change; and
  • enhance the resiliency of infrastructures and communities.

The group has defined numerous research themes in which to organize their collaboration. These topics currently include the intersection of PLM with: climate change, sustainability, circular economy, renewable energy and Industry 4.0. 

For example, the group recently hosted a global-spanning meeting to discuss the Exponential Roadmap Report on Scaling 36 Solutions to Halve Emissions by 2030.

We All Can Make a Difference 

The pandemic has taught us that we can live, work and collaborate more simply with a lower carbon footprint, all without sacrificing productivity. Today’s product development organizations have the opportunity, insights and tools to help address climate change within existing and new markets in numerous ways. 

Billions of dollars are being invested worldwide right now to help communities, industries and nations transform their economies. And while big-budget projects may get all the attention, meaningful progress can also be achieved through smaller innovative multinational initiatives like the PGGA.

Participation in the PGGA, which is non-commercial, is open and free. Those interested can join the PLM Green Global Alliance LinkedIn Group. The alliance has recently published a new website to begin collecting and sharing examples, thought leadership, white papers and other resources submitted from around the globe as nations confront the emerging climate crisis. 

Stay tuned for an update in Digital Engineering in 2021 that profiles some examples that industry practitioners nominate.

Robert Farrell is president of Farrell MarCom Services and media representative for the PLM Green Global Alliance.

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