The sheer number of moving parts in the workflow creates plenty of scope for error or delay, even where design and engineering phases are relatively simple. Mistakes mean delays, and delays risk damage to profitability or market position.

The ideal solution is clear: all those different steps, phases and demands need to be brought together more efficiently. Effective streamlining starts with gaining a better, more holistic overview of the entire product journey, and this is precisely what Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) aims to achieve.

The fact that today’s PLM software is so good at streamlining these processes means it has rapidly become a real driving force in modern product design, engineering, manufacture and release. Today, Cloud-based PLM is cost-effective, powerful, and applicable across all industries.

In this article, we’ll outline the fundamentals of PLM and why it’s used. We’ll also address how and why PLM software platforms are becoming more central to cost-effective product design, engineering and testing processes.

PLM Software Offers a Coherent Overview

Getting a new product from initial concept all the way through to full commercial release can become quite a disjointed process if it isn’t handled efficiently. This is due in part to the sheer number of engineering, testing and revision phases most modern designs end up going through.

Most companies create solutions to solve their problems organically. Often using spreadsheets or isolated software with a distinct purpose. Unfortunately, this approach compartmentalizes data and makes it increasingly difficult to share access as projects mature.

Along the way, responsibilities and priorities bounce repeatedly between multiple teams and departments, and the route from A to Z is rarely linear. From prototyping and simulation, test data to design adjustments, to material cost changes, and varying compliance standards, a full development and release cycle often faces multiple setbacks.

PLM-based approaches seek to minimize these disconnects by centralizing and streamlining the entire end-to-end process. In a nutshell, PLM software enables improved remote collaboration, allows manufacturers to develop better products more quickly and cheaply, and increases a company’s power to effectively monitor and respond to performance post-release.

Among the main strengths of a well-integrated PLM structure is more efficient handling of transitions between the various stages of a development and release cycle. During the actual development stage itself, the core aims of a PLM-based approach include:

  • Identifying and streamlining various aspects of workflow between phases and teams.
  • Enabling real-time updates and edits to requirements, CAD models, engineering drawings, BOM data, compliance tests, and other key documents.
  • Assigning roles, responsibilities and data access levels more easily.
  • Providing more efficient storage, search, access and retrieval of new and historical project data, digital assets, and performance metrics.

Discover more about PLM throughout the product development cycle.

Cloud PLM For a Sustainable Future in Manufacturing

Another reason for the rapid uptake of Cloud-based PLM systems in recent years is that it can play a significant role in helping businesses meet environmental sustainability targets. There are several ways it helps towards this:

  • A well-implemented PLM platform helps channel optimal levels of resources and materials into the finished product.
    • It minimizes waste at every step, helps find potential reuses for any unavoidable excess, and enables better planning for resource recovery and reinvestment during end-of-life product phases.
    • It also makes supply chain management oversight easier, enabling sharper focus on responsible sourcing of core materials.
  • PLM Simulation and Analysis helps optimize designs for product longevity.
    • What’s more, the ability to carry out virtual testing in a PLM software simulation environment – a virtual twin – means fewer physical prototypes need to be produced and shipped around.
    • This also helps reduce time to market even further.

The Value of PLM Software in the Development Cycle

Bringing a product from early concept to final form often requires input from a number of different teams and departments. Each will usually be responsible for an entirely discrete part of the process, yet oversight or error in one phase will have a knock-on effect in another. The impact may not be felt until later on in the cycle, but it will invariably cause problems somewhere down the line.

Common Issues that Developers and Manufacturers Face

Errors and issues commonly occur during interdepartmental communication. Effective PLM oversight starts with the understanding that each step flows directly into the next. Because they’re all closely connected, continuity is absolutely key to overall efficiency.

PLM software acts as an efficient, effective method of handling these transitions between phases more coherently. Used well, it’s a vital tool in minimizing the risk of errors or delays, detecting them more quickly where they do occur, and keeping the whole process moving quickly and smoothly

A Powerful Framework For Remote Collaboration

A key factor in helping to streamline the overall development cycle is enabling more effective collaboration between remote teams and departments. Cloud-based PLM software keeps everyone on the same page through a single source of truth approach. It also helps manufacturers to avoid many common pitfalls caused by a lack of holistic oversight on a multi-phase, multi-team project. Examples might include:

  • Inefficiency in transitions between systems, departments or teams
  • Data inconsistency and fragmentation
  • The challenge of increasing product complexity through various prototyping and testing phases
  • Maintaining a clear overview of version histories
  • Staying abreast of shifting product regulations and compliances
  • Logging of material supply, use, and varying costs
  • Difficulty in integrating enterprise systems
  • Addressing the need for detailed record keeping, sharing and updating at various locations
  • Monitoring customer demand, behavior and feedback

What Specific Challenges Can PLM Software Help Overcome?

Streamlining Development For Quicker Time to Market

One of the most powerful aspects of PLM is its ability to reduce time to market. It does so by enabling more transparent management and oversight of all the diverse processes involved at early concept and design phases.

This can drastically speed up the entire innovation and development process, helping to ensure new projects remain on schedule and within budget. Shorter, more efficient development cycles in turn mean increased rates of innovation, allowing for faster growth into a given market.

Sharing information in real time, as outlined above, results in a single source of truth. This way, everybody has the same information at the same time, and any interpretation of that info is more easily managed. Making sure that everyone has the latest and most relevant data at all times is fundamental in lowering the risk of errors and delays, as well as making it far easier to order changes mid-project.

IP and Asset Management

PLM also provides a coherent way to manage key information, particularly around intellectual property and other data-related assets. This is widely acknowledged as a crucial ingredient in successful growth, but too few enterprises have suitably robust measures in place for efficient management of this area.

Without a concrete system underpinning how data assets are handled, valuable information can be difficult to index, search and retrieve effectively. If documents and diagrams need to be replaced or rewritten, this can cause significant slowdown and waste of human resources.

Most PLM software includes integrated Digital Asset Management enabling real-time sharing and referencing of images, code, project updates and more. Also, the risk of information loss during transition phases is greatly reduced.

A Better Handle on Multi-line Management

PLM software gives companies the ability to share plans at the same time, among various teams and departments, both prior to, and during key development stages. This means it’s much easier to gather accurate phase forecasts ahead of time.

It’s also much easier to cross-reference ongoing projects with previous product performances in comparable markets, and identify potential problems or areas for improvement.

Maintaining a unified vision across the entire production line means that everyone is working from the same page, with the same projections and directives being updated in real time across all teams. This can be hugely beneficial in terms of budget management and preliminary supply chain organization, as well as enabling earlier planning around issues like compliance, shipping, distribution and vendor relations.

In Our Experience…

Part of the reason why the use of PLM software is growing so quickly is that we now operate in a truly global economy. This means that many processes are more easily outsourced than ever before, and separate teams or departments are more likely to be based in another country altogether. Where this might once have led to significant delays in the event of a change being required during a remote production run, PLM helps ensure that everyone involved is receiving the exact same information at the same time.

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