In High-Tech Electronics, Managing Three Lifecycles as One Is a New Key to Product Development

CIMdata says PLM implementations need to embrace ALM and EDM

Electronic circuitry. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Electronic circuitry. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

The extreme speed with which today’s high-tech electronics (HTE) products are developed can leave gaps in the information generated as new products move from concept through sourcing and production, into marketplace and on to obsolescence.

One remedy for these gaps—product lifecycle management (PLM)—is widely used, although in rudimentary form in this highly-competitive and fast-moving sector. Effective implementation, integration and governance of the processes are often elusive. It can be challenging to connect the physical product development (as it is maintained within the PLM solution) to the software product development as managed with application lifecycle management (ALM).

The remedy is better education about how PLM applies to HTE combined with shared research into the particular difficulties faced by the industry, and an understanding of why these difficulties hold PLM back.

PLM Hasn’t Addressed the Product Development Issues for High-Tech Electronics

HTE’s need for PLM is straightforward—a firmer grasp of the information generated before and during product development and subsequently “in the field.” Many information needs go unmet when products go into assembly operations of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and are built into other manufacturers’ components in complex supply chains. Users and system integrators may also be slow to share information.

For many reasons, PLM has repeatedly fallen short in this industrial sector. At CIMdata, the reason we see most often is a lack of integration with the full information set that defines the product. Achieving this integration is a multidisciplinary challenge and in PLM’s twenty-plus year history with the high-tech industry, the challenge has yet to be resolved. This largely accounts for the scarcity of compelling PLM successes in HTE and the ongoing skepticism about PLM.

Close-up of electronic circuit board with processor.  Image courtesy of koko-tewan at

Close-up of electronic circuit board with processor. Image courtesy of koko-tewan at

Solving HTE’s multidisciplinary challenge entails PLM education with webinars and tutorials combined with member-funded shared research conducted in “action group” environments. These education and research efforts should be leveraged with HTE-oriented consulting services that focus on the unique demands of the high tech industry sector.

IoT is Driving a Need for PLM, ALM and EDM to Work Together

Tying together PLM-enabling solutions such as ALM, electronic design automation (EDA) and PDM has taken too long. Integrating them has become urgent amid the enormous expansion in the use of “smart” or “intelligent” devices. Devices with embedded software impact virtually every industry, so these integration delays must be overcome.

These embedded smart devices are crucial for other reasons. They are the key to unlocking the benefits of the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT), unheard-of levels of connectivity and countless digital data services.

Integrating ALM, EDA and PLM will foster the exploration of real-world implementations and successes. PLM is a lifecycle strategy that enables people, processes and technology to collaborate across the extended enterprise and through the lifecycle end to end. This is a knowledge based business strategy and not a technology strategy.

Over the past 30 years, CIMdata has consulted with hundreds of enterprises large and small on lifecycle management, striven to educate C-level managements about the real-world value of sound PLM strategies and shared PLM expertise with countless people in product development and information technology.

Why PLM strategies Are Struggling in HTE

At this point, it is appropriate to ask why PLM strategies are struggling in HTE. What many in the HTE community see as PLM are really PLM’s forerunners, product data management (PDM) and engineering document management (EDM). These include:

  • Document “vaults” to manage the review-and-approval processes. These still rely on check-in / check-out constraints to forestall simultaneous changes on top of changes.
  • PDM / EDM systems that touch only a small part of the lifecycle.
  • Spreadsheet-based tools to manage data and documents that require time-consuming manual data entry and cross-referencing.
  • Homegrown approaches to manage engineering change, bills of information, and supply chains.

For effective information management, these approaches are 20 years out of date. Most are regarded as “legacies” whose users never stop struggling with connectivity between the mechanical, electrical and software disciplines. The consequence is that the product information set that defines the full product is often brought together very late in the development cycle. This results in late discovery of design issues that can extend planned product development cycle times, often with little warning.

This is not to disparage those who manage the new-product information in the HTE community. High-tech companies have done surprisingly well given their time, resources, budgets, skill sets and staff turnover. However, the everyday realities of HTE present unique requirements for PLM.

What still seems to be poorly understood:

  • Coherence of the three distinct disciplines involved with the definition of the product—the mechanical, electrical and software. The usual ways of tracking of EDA and ALM in isolation from the mechanical design (typically managed in a PDM system) are insufficient.
  • How to monitor the development of the product, including the EDA data and ALM data so they can be managed as a single integrated lifecycle.
  • Why the processes managed in PDM, EDA and ALM should no longer be managed separately from one another. Together they contain the many forms of intellectual property and the bills of information generated at every stage of the lifecycle. If this information is to be used effectively, it must not be scattered.

To summarize, coherence, togetherness and equivalence define the HTE community’s core requirements for PLM.

Why High Tech’s Low Rates of PLM Successes Is Worrisome

The explosion in the use of intelligent devices is pushing together the formerly separate engineering disciplines of electrical / electronic design and mechanical design. Causing this push are parallel business and technology booms developing and producing these devices in previously unimaginable quantities.

Globalization concept and the Internet of Things. Image courtesy of bluebay at

Globalization concept and the Internet of Things. Image courtesy of bluebay at

Additionally, there are many other pain points in developing today’s products. The difficulty is usually some disconnect that thwarts effective collaboration and blocks interoperability between datasets. Disconnects can arise over why a product was designed as it was, why it performed as it did, and what was learned.

For engineers and product developers, data and information disconnects have big implications, none of them good. Previously-solved problems are solved over and over again, and here is why:

  • Tedious and costly workarounds of balky systems used to develop product definitions, which may still be incomplete. Faulty product definitions can hamper users, systems integratorsand service technicians. Development of future products can be skewed.
  • Conflicts in product requirements arising from hit-and-miss supply chain collaborations, disruptions in joint (global) production arrangements and product-line divestitures. High-tech electronics companies are horizontally integrated, so much so that OEMs and suppliers sometimes switch roles. Supply chains are in a constant state of flux even during short production runs.
  • The Internet of Things and the need to balance tradeoffs in user privacy, vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity, drones, and wearables; these tradeoffs dramatically increase the complexity of managing the fully defined sets of product information assets.
  • Lapses in information governance, errors in intellectual property and inconsistent adherence to best practices can multiply when the pace of development increases.

Any of these can cause a window of opportunity to be missed. These opportunities—a newly-discerned customer need, for example—will then be exploited by a nimbler, or luckier, rival.

About Laila Hirr

Laila Hirr is CIMdata’s practice lead for high-tech electronics.  Hirr has nearly 25 years of experience in PLM integrating product design with regulatory compliance, risk management, supplier management, quality management, field service management and portfolio and project planning.

She holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Portland State University and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from San Diego State University.

About CIMdata

CIMdata is a leading independent global strategic management consulting and research authority focused exclusively on the PLM market. CIMdata is holding an HTE Road Map™ / Best of Breed conference June 16, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. Sign up at PLM Conferences.