During NI Week last week in Austin, Texas, IBM representatives discussed some news with me about a new engineering software tool the company has released – called Product Line Engineering (PLE) — designed to help manufacturers deal with the complexity of building smart, connected devices. Users of Internet of Things (IoT) products worldwide have geographic-specific needs, leading to slight variations in design across different markets. The IBM software is designed to help engineers manage the cost and effort of customizing product designs.

You may think, as I did, about IBM as an enterprise software company specializing in large, complex databases along with the Watson analytic engine. IBM is also home to Rational Software—an engineering tool used by many developers in the embedded software space. I had forgotten about the many engineering tools existing under the IBM umbrella.

They described the reason for the new release. Manufacturers traditionally manage customization needs by grouping similar designs into product lines. Products within a specific line may have up to 85% of their design in common, with the rest being variable, depending on market requirements and consumer demand and expectation. For example, a car might have a common body and suspension system, while consumers have the option of choosing interior, engine and transmission.

Product Line Engineering from IBM helps engineers specify what’s common and what’s variable within a product line, reducing data duplication and the potential for design errors. The technology supports critical engineering tasks including software development, model-based design, systems engineering, and test and quality management—helping them design complex IoT products faster, and with fewer defects. Additional highlights include:

  • Helps manufacturers manage market-specific requirements: Delivered as a web-based product or managed service, the IBM software can help manufacturers become more competitive across worldwide markets by helping them manage versions of requirements across multiple domains including mechanical, electronics and software;
  • Leverages the Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC) specification: this helps define configuration management capabilities that span tools and disciplines, including requirements management, systems engineering, modeling, and test and quality.

Organizations including Bosch, Datamato Technologies and Project CRYSTAL are leveraging new IBM PLE capabilities to transform business processes. Project CRYSTAL aims to specify product configurations that include data from multiple engineering disciplines, eliminating the need to search multiple places for the right data, and reducing the risk associated with developing complex products.

Dr. Christian El Salloum, AVL List GmbH Graz Austria, the global project coordinator for the ARTEMIS CRYSTAL project, said, “Project CRYSTAL aims to drive tool interoperability widely across four industry segments for advanced systems engineering. Version handling, configuration management and product line engineering are all extremely important capabilities for development of smart, connected products. Working with IBM and others, we are investigating the OSLC Configuration Management draft specification for addressing interoperability needs associated with mission-critical design across multi-disciplinary teams and partners.”

Rob Ekkel, manager at Philips Healthcare R&D and project leader in the EU Crystal project, noted, “Together with IBM and other partners, we are looking in the Crystal project for innovation of our high tech, safety critical medical systems. Given the pace of the market and the technology, we have to manage multiple concurrent versions and configurations of our engineering work products, not just software, but also specifications, and e.g. simulation, test and field data. Interoperability of software and systems engineering tools is essential for us, and we consider IBM as a valuable partner when it comes to OSLC based integrations of engineering tools. We are interested to explore in Crystal the Product Engineering capabilities that IBM is working on, and to extend our current Crystal experiments with e.g. Safety Risk Management with OSLC based product engineering.”

Nico Maldener, Senior Project Manager, Bosch, added, “Tool-based product line engineering helps Bosch to faster tailor its products to meet the needs of world-wide markets.”

Sachin Londhe, Managing Director, Datamato Technologies, said, “To meet its objective of delivering high-quality products and services, Datamato depends on leading tools. We expect that product line engineering and software development capabilities from IBM will help us provide our clients with a competitive advantage.”

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