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A Shaolin Monastery for Managing Product Life Cycles, Smart Factories, and Digital Solutions

Steinbeis experts launch training to become a PLM Principal Consultant

Digitalization, smart production (Industry 4.0) – these are topics that everyone seems to be talking about at the moment. That’s all right, because if Germany misses out on the digital solutions trend, the impact on local business would be colossal. Some of the high-profile success stories one hears create the impression that smart products or self-controlling production are no longer such a difficult challenge. But in reality, things are very different. For companies to develop smart, mechatronic products and introduce them to the market, what is needed is horizontal integration. Offering new, product-based services entails developing digital twins. These are operated in parallel to real products. In keeping with this, a company needs ways to plan how information is generated or is allowed to flow around the business, and this needs the support of modern software. In essence, what this means is that a company needs product lifecycle management (PLM). To train specialists for the demands of PLM in business, the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Applications in Engineering has joined forces with Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB) and now offers a training program to qualify as a Certified PLM Principal (SHB).

PLM is a broad discipline that affects many areas of digital technology in companies, from modeling to information networking, software functionality, and processes at every stage of the product and production life cycle. Succeeding with digital transformation takes a disciplined approach to PLM.

To acquire the right skills to implement PLM, an excellent understanding of the relevant business processes is required, especially product development, order processing, and production. Broad specialist knowledge is also needed in the fields of IT, software architecture, and all software solutions currently on the market. To implement PLM, certain skills are also required: an ability to think in abstract terms in order not only to resolve the sometimes implicit and explicit differences between target and actual business processes (and how these are actually implemented), but also in order to work on an interdisciplinary level and understand which departments or areas need to be involved. Not everyone involved in applying PLM needs the complete battery of qualifications. Nonetheless, every PLM project should have at least one principal consultant involved, equipped with the necessary qualifications. There are already many highly capable PLM consultants working in the market, but few have the required official qualifications to assume the role of a principal consultant. There are two reasons for this. First, there are not enough suitable training options, and second, a broad understanding of business processes and methods is required to apply PLM. This understanding has to be so broad that with current resources and techniques it is practically impossible to acquire.

These are the issues addressed by the Certified PLM Principal (CPP) training program offered by the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Applications in Engineering. Its course is based on a new way of looking at PLM, which assumes that information flows within a company just like materials, so it is part of a network. Flow and networks have to be planned and designed. The new Steinbeis course has been pulled together as part of a collaboration between Siemens Industry Software GmbH (SISW), Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, and the professorial chair for virtual product development (VPE) at the University of Kaiserslautern. The project is being supervised by three professors, Jörg W. Fischer, Martin Eigner, and Bernd Langer, who are also running the course modules and overseeing work carried out on projects.

Jörg W. Fischer, who is a partner of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Applications in Engineering, uses an analogy to explain the benefits of the CPP program: the martial arts practiced by Shaolin monks. “There are very view excellent consultants working in PLM. In keeping with this analogy, they’ve got many years of often painful experience under their belts doing street fighting, but they lack systematic martial arts knowledge. As a result, they find it hard to share their knowledge, if at all. The young and talented consultants following in their footsteps now have to go through the same painful experiences and learn by doing, engaging in a lot of fights.” The CPP training represents a new school of thought, similar to Shaolin Kung Fu. Suitable candidates with the right talent and a bit of experience can offer more after half a year’s training in a Shaolin Monastery than a street fighter with twenty years of experience. With the CPP program, this will now be possible for PLM.

The CPP training is currently going through its first round and is being offered exclusively through SISW. SISW has sent its top consultants to take part in the program, one of whom is Thorsten Neumann, who already speaks positively about the program after the first couple of months on the course: “The program gives the course participants an understanding of information flows and networks within companies. It creates a better understanding of the entire task of a consultant, not just focusing on technical skills but also placing plenty of emphasis on methodical approaches. As students on the course, it puts us in a position to work beyond just designing a technical solution, which we’re generally familiar with and have had practice with. Instead, we can map and plan information flows independent of the specific system.” This provides added value for the customers of Siemens, with professional consulting based on solid technical know-how, all underpinned by a methodical approach that revolves around the actual industrial process. Neumann is also already applying his newly acquired skills directly to his everyday work. For his current project, which involves document management at a medium-sized enterprise, he is approaching the topic from other angles, and not just focusing on features and functions. One of his colleagues on the CPP course is Daniel Schnurr, who is also deriving benefit from what he is learning. “The angle taken by the instructors and their practical experience and methods can be applied directly to projects we’re working on, and because they refer to actual cases, you get to think outside the box,” concludes the Siemens consultant. Schnurr finds the methods and approaches they learn a valuable addition to techniques already used at the company, adding that the initial extra work involved is justified given the results, which are clear and efficient when it comes to everyday use.

The CPP program allows students to learn about various core topics affecting industrial processes in a number of industries, how to systematically analyze process and information flows, methodical solution planning, the skills required to leverage personality, and how to initiate the required change processes within a company.

To qualify for the program, applicants need at least four years’ experience working with PLM in industry, the ability to think logically and abstractly, excellent presentation skills, and an understanding of PLM in different areas. Skills are assessed as part of an interview process with the program professors.

Certificates for the course are issued through Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB). Training as a CPP counts as a degree major at SHB and earns 15 ECTS credits. The training course is based closely on Steinbeis project competence principles. These revolve around the fundamental assumption that knowledge in itself has huge potential, but that success is ultimately dictated by how that knowledge is applied to a given situation and managed by the individual. Course participants are taught the fundamentals in classroom sessions along with methodical skills; these then have to be applied to a PLM project, which is also assessed.


The next course is scheduled to start in September 2017. For further information contact:

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg W. Fischer
Steinbeis Transfer Center Computer Applications in Engineering (STC-RIM) (Karlsruhe)