Four million parts, sourced from over 1500 manufacturers. No wonder the automotive and aviation industries were the first to use PLM. That’s an incredibly complex development cycle – and without stringent guidelines and processes, as well as a clear roadmap, havoc will ensue.
This makes it all the more worrying that many companies aren’t entirely clear on what PLM is, how it works and how to use it to get the most out of their development cycle. Especially when you consider that product development is getting more and more complicated, right across the board; that teams are more and more spread out across multiple departments and locations; that collaboration is increasingly crucial and regulations increasingly tight; and that any loss of productivity can be a disaster for a hyper-competitive company.
Sure, teams are excited about implementing PLM, but that enthusiasm will be drowned out fast if you don’t have realistic expectations. Your colleagues may soon be disheartened, for example, to find that not everything is fully integrated, or the system doesn’t work first time, or legacy data isn’t all migrated overnight.
Meanwhile, IT will quickly get frustrated with you if you’re unsure how to brief them on what you want, or if you treat your PLM as an add-on rather than a comprehensive new way of doing things.
How to avoid these outcomes? Well, it boils down to understanding one question: What is PLM?
Here are three things you really need to know about product lifecycle management.
1. PLM is a System
During its lifecycle, a product typically passes through four phases: Concept, Design, Production and Maintenance.
The product lifecycle starts with a key concept or idea. Here, new product ideas are researched and the most promising selected for design.
During the design phase, product designs are developed, materials selected, and both virtual and physical prototypes are created and tested in a manner befitting their expected usage conditions (e.g. stress analysis).
After the design is locked down, product manufacturing starts. Material is procured, individual parts are manufactured and assembled. The product is quality tested and put out to market.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Companies continue to collect feedback on the product in order to maintain and enhance it going forward.
As such, PLM isn’t limited to one link in the chain. It is the chain: the whole process and cycle of product design.
Applied correctly, it will help geographically scattered executives to collaborate, and individuals from across the organization to become more efficient, productive, better able to visualize complexities and keep knowledge from leaking out of the process. It also helps you to identify whether a product has passed successfully to the next stage of development, identify possible delays and to plan material inventory.
2. PLM is a Tool
… Or rather, it’s a whole catalogue of tools, applied in specific, powerful ways to the product as it passes through various stages of development.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools let you build parametric models that can be rapidly adjusted if needed.
Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) tools let you simulate and test your design in virtual, lifelike environments.
Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) tools make virtual manufacturing possible, enabling engineers to identify manufacturing issues before a production facility exists.
Some PLM platforms available on the market today provide single sign-on access to multiple CAD, CAE and CAM tools. This helps to improve productivity and efficiency, as the same data is worked on by different people during progressive stages of product development.
The single sign-on platform also works as a central database, avoiding duplication of data. Everyone connected to the platform can access the latest data at any point in time and their changes are instantly available to everyone else in the organization. As such, stakeholders can review and verify changes, pushing the product to the next level in its lifecycle.
3. PLM is an Opportunity
If you commit fully to your PLM rollout, you’re also committing to clearing out the cobwebs from your data storage, scrapping bloated and unnecessary processes, and putting your resources to better use.
This isn’t just a ‘business function’; it represents a change to completely overhaul the way you do things, streamlining your product lifecycle, making your company more productive, and introducing better ways for colleagues to share and develop their ideas. Think big and you could be opening the door to a wealth of new opportunities in your organization.
PLM is only scary if you don’t know how to harness it. Once you understand what it is, what it’s capable of, but also what it demands, you’ll find implementing your PLM a far smoother experience.
That said, it’s vital to clarify what you want from your PLM from the outset, too. Often, that’s best achieved by working with a top provider who will become a true partner in your PLM journey. They’ll be able to identify which tools and processes will help you the most and how to structure your system to transform all those exciting opportunities into reality.