PLM Emerging as Key Solution for Collaborative Manufacturing
IMT Staff posted on October 10, 2014 |
Thomasnet, PLM, manufacturing, collaboration

Receding in the rear-view mirror is the world in which products were mostly manufactured at a single location by a single company. Increasingly complex products and production processes are inexorably extending the manufacturing supply chain across many organizations and far-flung physical locations. This evolving manufacturing environment means volumes of data are increasing and must be managed and shared intelligently. That requires collaboration and data solutions that support it, and that is being led by product life-cycle management (PLM).

As it grew by acquisition in recent years, Eaton, a large manufacturer of power-management technologies, based in Dublin, Ireland, took on business units with globally dispersed manufacturing operations and engineering facilities. This resulted in a need for collaboration to manage product design, particularly with the objective of speeding up time-to-market for new products. Eaton’s challenge is the same kind that now confronts manufacturing organizations across the globe.

“It used to be that typically a company would own a manufacturing plant and operations centralized in a certain country or region,” said Tom Comstock, vice president at Dassault Systèmes S.A. “The company served its markets by shipping its products out from there -- a very siloed kind of operation typically owned by the manufacturer.”

Comstock works in strategy and user experience for Dassault’s DELMIA division, which produces digital manufacturing solutions. He spoke with ThomasNet News about the role of PLM in collaborative manufacturing.

The picture is changing rapidly, Comstock stressed. One important factor is the rise of contract manufacturing. Also, product proliferation is requiring greater speed and flexibility for manufacturing operations. More frequently, a single plant or even a single company is simply not capable of producing all of the products in all of their varieties and in all of the locations where they must be delivered.

At the same time, he said, quality must be maintained despite supply chains no longer being linear. “More and more problems are cross-plant,” Comstock said. “When a product goes through two or more plants, you really need to be able to look at data across those plants.”

The proliferation of products and the decentralization of product production accompany a rising parallel need for close collaboration between manufacturing and upstream functions like research, engineering, and design. Engineering needs to be able to communicate back and forth with production on issues like specifications, quality, design changes, and manufacturability.

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Product life-cycle management is emerging as the key technology solution that allows teams and organizations to collaborate, keeping sequences, schedules, and costs on track, and managing risks across complicated supply chains. PLM, in a generic sense, is a business strategy that also includes distribution, customer support, and end-of-life and disposal, with the technology supporting it holistically.

Karthik Sundaram, an analyst with Mountain View, Calif.-based research firm Frost & Sullivan, in an interview with ThomasNet News, said this collaboration can be achieved only via an effective method of acquiring data and generating intelligence that can be used throughout the production process – whether it is in one physical location or not.

Its recent study predicts that the global market for PLM solutions will grow from $20.5 billion in 2013 to $27.8 billion in 2017. The manufacturing resurgence in the United States is important factor of growth for PLM, given the U.S. sector’s particular focus on digital manufacturing, which requires cross-boundary collaboration.

A key product segment within the PLM category, collaborative product definitions management (cPDM) is an important driver of the adoption of PLM solutions for collaborative manufacturing in discrete industries.

cPDM, used to manage the data and workflows around products, manufacturing processes, and the overall product portfolio, along with related content, requires extensive integration with enterprise systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP). Sundaram said cPDM brings together all of these “intellectual assets” to create, in effect, “a virtual product that can be used across the enterprise.”

Such a capability, he said, is becoming essential for those competing in the “high-end manufacturing market,” where it is deployed to help reduce lead times, enhance product design, and drive profitability.

PLM adoption is already high in the big automotive and transportation industries, as well as aerospace and defense, high-tech, and electronics. But the Frost & Sullivan study pointed to life sciences and pharmaceuticals as an industry ripe for PLM adoption, given the fragmentation of its value chains.

Large companies, the analyst firm said, have been the early drivers of collaborative manufacturing, in part because of their reliance on extended supply chains and numerous contract manufacturers. Production facilities traditionally functioned by themselves, apart from design groups and R&D labs. Deploying a cPDM solution allows them to function in alignment in real time, with the same “version of the truth” for any product being worked on.

In many cases, the deployment of such solutions has brought smaller companies – outsourcers and lower-tier manufacturers -- into the world of PLM, as they are being required to become integrated supply-chain participants in taking on contract work. Cloud solutions can make such platforms manageable and affordable for small and medium-sized companies.

In the case of Eaton and its need for its business units to collaborate and speed up new product introductions, the manufacturer deployed Dassaults 3DExperience platform to create a global virtual design center that brings together all CAD and analysis tools, allowing 24/7 design collaboration among some 20,000 users across the enterprise globally. Eaton said it was able to increase its design velocity by over 200 percent. The solution also integrates with marketing, sales, and ERP systems within the company.

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This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends

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