IBM says its recently announced Product Development Integration Framework, dubbed PDIF, takes the concept of product lifecycle management (PLM) to the next level.

PLM software manages the development of a new product from the first few keystrokes on a computer screen, through design and manufacturing, to how it can be discarded and recycled. In the auto industry, PLM already has played a major role in driving down the time it takes to develop new vehicles and components.

The new PDIF system is designed to get products into the marketplace even faster than conventional PLM systems. But instead of replacing all PLM systems in current use, PDIF enables designers and engineers to seamlessly tie into current internal data processes with those used by suppliers and even dealers.

One of the benefits of combining PDIF with PLM is faster engineering changes, says Karen Newman, partner and automotive lead, IBM Global Business Services. One auto maker encountered a problem recently with a rain sensor because the thickness of a windshield changed.

The new dimension prevented the sensor from working properly. “It used to take six weeks to manually define an effective engineering change for this type of problem,” Newman says. “Now it only takes a day to complete this.”

The serial numbers of troublesome parts also can be scanned into the system at car dealerships, enabling engineers to quickly identify a problem and create a fix, or redesign a better part for a future version of the product. That type of information also can be used for inventory or warranty tracking.

In a nutshell, PDIF unites product design and development to core business processes by extending beyond the traditional PLM territories of design and engineering departments all the way through to the executive suite, IBM officials say.

That’s because unlike conventional PLM systems that focus primarily on engineering, styling, manufacturing and marketing, PDIF ties all product data management processes together in a fashion that makes the information more accessible and understandable to top management.

Mark Wilterding, IBM’s global PLM leader for business consulting services, says the system provides enterprise information to executives and improves their view of their businesses.

IBM predicts the market for this specialized software will grow from $60 billion in 2005 to $90 billion by next year. It estimates auto makers and suppliers spend between $4 billion-$5 billion annually for PLM software on a global basis.

IBM says PDIF is an important development for auto makers and suppliers because they rely on multiple PLM venders for specific internal processes and functions. That’s why IBM included eight major PLM and integration solution providers in developing its new framework.

Chris Kelley, vice president of UGS, one of the eight leading PLM providers that have signed on to create solutions around the open standards-based platform – and a major General Motors Corp. supplier – says PDIF supports its Teamcenter, the world’s most widely used PLM portfolio, and other software products.

“IBM is providing a lot of their intellectual property and know-how in PDIF,” he says. “We view this as complementary (to our software).”

The seven other PLM providers that have signed on to build solutions around the open standards PDIF systems include: Agile Software Corp., Centric Software Inc., Engineous Software Inc., Geometric Software Solutions Co. Ltd., MSC Software Corp., Prostep AG and PTC.

Other PLM companies are evaluating the criteria needed to make their systems support the framework.

PLM application providers are seeking to embrace the capabilities of all IBM’s software brands, including WebSphere, Information Management, Lotus, Rational and Tivoli. Their goal is to reduce the cost of (software) ownership and improve return on investment.

IBM says it already has 40 customers that want to integrate PDIF with their current PLM systems within six months. Of special interest to IBM for the framework is the auto industry. “All automobile manufacturers rely on multiple PLM providers,” Wilterding says. “Many have specific internal processes and functions.”

He says IBM has briefed most of the world’s auto companies on PDIF. However, he declines to name the auto makers and suppliers IBM has talked to about the new framework. Wilterding says PDIF supports more open system architectures and even integrates data written years ago.

IBM’s Newman says the auto makers’ challenge is to integrate various PLM systems into their supply chains. “For instance, data from GM and Delphi Corp. can be integrated (with PDIF),” she says.

In fact, all service-oriented architectures created by suppliers and their collaborative engineers can be integrated into PDIF. The framework has tools that allow teams from different companies to work with UGS’ Teamcenter and Dassault’s CATIA seamlessly, among other software products.

Auto makers that do a lot of clay models early in the vehicle design stage may feed data from those models into three different software packages for seamless integration.

Another benefit of working with PDIF and PLM is in government compliance. “Design engineering used to be highly protected,” Newman says. “Until recently, that data didn’t get out.”

But government regulations now require those data records be available. PDIF helps make the data more accessible for any agency that needs to review them.