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Study: Better Tools Needed For Product Intro

Although product lifecycle management tools were designed to help manufacturers manage the product manufacturing process, they fall short when a manufacturer needs to know, "When will my product ship?"

Most manufacturers would probably agree that getting products to market on time is one of the major problems they face in today's competitive marketplace. Although product lifecycle management tools were designed to help manufacturers manage the product manufacturing process, they fall short when a manufacturer needs to know, "When will my product ship?"

According to a recent study of more than 150 mid-market ($50 million to $500 million) manufacturers by Arena Solutions, a provider of on-demand PLM systems, 92 percent of respondents said they faced challenges in the area of new product development (NPD) and new product introduction (NPI).

Some of the specific challenges cited include:

     • Poor coordination and communication across product teams (66 percent)
     • Lack of visibility into constraints and bottlenecks (59 percent)

     • Lack of infrastructure for standardizing processes and refining best practices (55 percent) 
     • Difficulty including suppliers and partners in project planning and execution (48 percent).

"What the study uncovered was that most manufacturers use desktop tools such as Microsoft Excel (70 percent) and Microsoft Project (68 percent) to manage their product-related projects," said Michael Topolovac, CEO of Arena. "And often these tools are used in conjunction with a 'hodgepodge' of other systems – off-the-shelf software designed for other purposes or something someone's brother-in-law put together."

The problem is that most of these solutions don't work, as demonstrated by the majority of respondents to Arena's survey who were unsatisfied with their current set-up for managing new product introductions. Only 4 percent of these manufacturers considered their existing tools and processes effective for planning product-related projects, while just 7 percent felt they were effective for project execution and analysis.

"PLM systems are very good at doing what they are designed to do," Topolovac explained. "This includes gathering and keeping all data in one place, managing the manufacturing process and coordinating supply chain activities. But PLM was not designed to manage projects and provide the visibility manufacturers need to launch new products on time and on budget."

The PLM vision is "cradle-to-grave" and Topolovac acknowledged that most vendors do a good job of supplying PLM systems that can handle the whole lifecycle of a product. But what current PLM systems are not doing is working at the higher analytical level needed by the NPI process.

The intricacies of NPI can be daunting, even for the most experienced manufacturer, and includes several steps such as design conceptualization, technology validation, research and development, parts supply management, and regulation compliance.

And while some project systems, such as Microsoft Project or Microsoft Excel, can perform some of these product functions, noted Topolovac, they fall short of providing a full solution.

"Product development and introduction involves many components in each product, sometimes hundreds or more," Topolovac said. "So, the model for handling these product projects must be able to handle many, many 'micro' projects – which are each of the components that make up the entire product."

Arena recently introduced Project Collaboration as part of its on-demand, Internet-based PLM service, which the company says  provides a 360-degree view of product projects, allowing manufacturers to view a product in the development phase and know where they are in the manufacturing process.

"Project Collaboration can show that of the 400 parts in a particular product, 60 percent of the work is completed, with 40 percent left to be done," explained Topolovac. "And a manufacturer will be able to link all members of the extended product team, from internal employees to global supply chain partners, to participate in projects."