PLM and Managing a Company’s IT
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on April 26, 2017 |

Imagine inventing an exciting product, manufacturing it and taking it to market, only to discover the need for management tools that can monitor and control all aspects of the business. There are plenty of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software products to manage and automate back-office processes related to orders as they get produced and shipped out the door. When it comes to other aspects of the business, such as product development and design, however, many firms make mistakes in choosing software solutions.

ENGINEERING.com spoke with Jon Gable, director of Sales at Adaptive Corporation, to learn what these mistakes are and what the real solution might be.

Piecemeal Programs

The workflow of a manufacturing business looks something like this: Step 1. Determine a customer’s needs. Step 2. Design a product to meet those needs. Step 3. Prepare for manufacturing and service. Step 4. Produce, deliver and service the product.

The steps often involved in any manufacturing business. (Image courtesy of Adaptive Corporation.)
The steps often involved in any manufacturing business. (Image courtesy of Adaptive Corporation.)

ERP tools typically capture this last step, making it possible to manage production, shipping and service. And, while an ERP provider may be able to offer some solutions to tackle Steps 1 through 3, they likely won’t be able to do so adequately or comprehensively. As the product does get made and shipped, a number of inadequacies of document-based systems may become apparent.

The first three steps often found in a manufacturing business broken down into specific details. (Image courtesy of Adaptive Corporation.)
The first three steps often found in a manufacturing business broken down into specific details. (Image courtesy of Adaptive Corporation.)

Take Microsoft SharePoint, for example. Microsoft’s solution for document management makes it possible for a number of people to access and work with documents stored in the cloud. While this product may be a potential answer to managing a business’s forms and spreadsheets, the package is not adequate for the needs of CAD designers, who rely on data-intensive 3D models.

With feedback and multiple parties modifying the design, issues such as proper revision management may come up. In turn, a business may begin using SharePoint to handle its documentation, but then look to find another product that can manage revisions made to a CAD design.

Somewhere along the line, other issues will come up, such as project management. A business may then implement a project management tool for performing tasks like defining project schedules and assigning resources to various parts of a project.

Pretty soon, these piecemeal solutions begin to add up and, while they may address each individual problem, it’s clear that, not only do they lack efficiency, but they may also not address issues around the corner.

Gable explained that a more efficient and, ultimately, economical method for encompassing all of the issues that may arise while developing a product is a comprehensive IT solution, such as a product lifecycle management (PLM) package.

PLM Across a Business

PLM makes it possible to integrate the various aspects of a business into a single information management system that can ultimately enhance efficiency and innovation. By adopting a comprehensive PLM solution, it’s possible to capture the entire idea-to-production workflow. This does not mean improving the creativity of a team, according to Gable, but rather introducing a connective management thread throughout a company’s various operations.

Jon Gable, director of Sales at Adaptive Corporation.

Jon Gable, director of Sales at Adaptive Corporation.

You’re not going to become Steve Jobs just because you’re using PLM,” Gable said. “The goal here is to connect ideation to product development more efficiently, so that when you do have a good idea, you actually have the right process in place. “Much changes between that original idea and the market, where you’re actually launching a product. There are many design iterations—and companies often mismanage that initial market intent—and the eventual design doesn’t actually fulfill the original plans of the product managers that came up with the ideas.”

For this reason, Gable suggested that PLM can establish traceability between the original idea and product development. Over the course of months or years required to develop a product, design or manufacturing challenges may arise and cause engineers or designers to deviate from initial market requirements. However, if a designer or engineer is able to consistently refer back to the original idea through PLM software, they can balance design changes with the initial market intent in the best way possible.

“That way, when someone needs to make a change to a design, they can see the requirements,” Gable added. “If they make a change, they can ask themselves if they are still delivering the intent for that requirement. Otherwise, one might be compromising the overall market capability in order to accommodate a design challenge or manufacturing challenge.”

The Ideal PLM

To adequately address all issues throughout the manufacturing workflow, Gable pointed out that some PLM solutions are designed in such a way that all of the steps of product development and production are considered. “The best approach is to find a PLM solution that covers the whole breadth of those challenges described in those first three steps,” Gable said.

When it comes to determining customer needs, a PLM solution should offer ideation and requirements management, as well as contract fulfillment. That way, such important actions as managing contracts and validating conceptual designs can be automated, increasing the overall efficiency of the first stage of working with a client.

Customer needs are then translated into product features, which serve as the basis for what engineering teams must develop. These features also act as input for the go-to-market approach for defining sales configuration rules and even the earliest input of what will be used to differentiate the product from a marketing perspective.

A good, comprehensive PLM solution should also closely partner with all of the necessary CAD and CAE tools for product development. For example, CAD software will enable product design, while CAE will make it possible to simulate the product’s performance. Other features that may be required are the ability to determine manufacturability and perform a manufacturing cost analysis.

Then, as a product heads into production and service, there are a number of PLM capabilities that will help ensure that this occurs in a streamlined manner—often through an engineering bill-of-materials solution. For instance, traceability for how the product is manufactured and supplier part management strategies should ideally be covered by a complete PLM solution. Once the product is in service, PLM may also be able to provide proactive product updates to customers or address quality issues of products with engineering.

Is PLM Right for You?

Many small businesses may be unsure if they are ready for a comprehensive PLM solution. The price may be too high for an enterprise-level PLM solution. Also, a small firm may see capabilities they are unlikely to need.

But according to Gable, a PLM solution will actually save money in the long run. The alternative of purchasing individual pieces of software to address issues as they arise may eventually add up to cost more than a PLM package over time. So, while PLM may offer more than is required at the start, it could ease the organizational burden on a company as it grows.

To better understand which specific PLM package may be best for a given operation, however, and how exactly to integrate that package, it may be necessary to utilize the services of a third party that can properly guide the process. Gable pointed out that once a firm does begin using PLM to handle its overall product-to-market processes, that firm can recover the energy spent on IT issues and focus on product innovation.

Adaptive Corporation has sponsored this post. They have no editorial input to this post. All opinions are mine. —Michael Molitch-Hou

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