Regardless of what you manufacture, how you move your product through the product lifecycle can determine your competitive advantage, drive efficiency and reduce your overhead. It’s a challenge that has plagued companies for years. Manufacturers are spending millions of dollars and endless hours implementing lean initiatives and enterprise business systems only to be disillusioned by the outcome. So, what is it that’s not working? And how can you fix it?
The answer isn’t as complicated as you might think. By implementing some Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) best practices for common challenges, you can significantly improve your efficiency and cost savings.
PLM is an information management system that can integrate data, processes, business systems and, ultimately, people in an extended enterprise. Unfortunately, traditional PLM, which is inflexible and complicated, hasn’t met the promise of bringing all these teams and information together. Recently, however, there has been a massive paradigm shift allowing a new transformative approach that’s more practical and adaptable. Following are some PLM tips to provide you with a solid foundation and roadmap moving forward.
Bring Teams Together
Many companies have great processes mapped out. The challenge is they are typically manual in nature, data is often trapped in disparate and disconnected forms, like excel, and the means of collaboration is e-mail. This lends itself to delayed product launches, project overruns, mistakes, and overall reduced customer satisfaction.
While there are countless processes you could consider improving, following are three common workflow areas in which incorporating PLM can help add a significant amount of value.
- New Product Introduction (NPI) – NPI sets the stage for the entire product development process. Input from all areas of the organization is required. Communication on Design for Manufacturability (DFM) is critical to assure the product comes in under budget and on time. Product data and cost information resides in many different solutions and most manufacturers do not have this data connected, so it is manually entered numerous times. Most manufacturers have multiple products being developed and team members are cross-functional. Thus, keeping on top of project status, tasks, milestones and deliverables is difficult.
- Managing Change – Change happens early and often and involves many entities in the organization. Keeping on top of change to avoid mistakes requires constant and real-time communication. More often than not, change typically funnels back through engineering, which not only puts a lot of pressure on the department, but can also create a bottleneck, as the engineers become the primary point of truth. This slows the whole process down. Engineering ends up spending less time on innovation, and more time simply searching, tracking, and modifying information.
- Managing Items/Product Structure – Change requires data inputs and outputs to multiple systems, like CRM, PDM, ERP, MRP, Quality, etc. Maintaining a single point of truth is extremely difficult. Trying to manage manufactured and purchased parts along with costs and multiple suppliers is no small task. Now add multiple product lines, facilities, and acquisitions, and your challenge grows exponentially larger.
PLM can help you solve these common workflows — and many others. The first step is to determine which workflow could have the most immediate impact and return on investment for your business. Take a hard look at the “as is” state and assess its viability. As mentioned earlier, many companies have this well documented. The issue may just be that it is too manual and/or the data is not connected effectively. Regardless of the challenge, the next step is to create the desired “to be” state and start mapping out the new workflows. Lastly, understand what data is required and where it exists today.
Connect Disparate Systems of Record (CRM, PDM, ERP, Excel)
While process improvement is critical, so too is getting data from multiple systems into a single point of truth. Businesses spend too much time searching, manually entering and re-entering data across multiple sources. What they need is a “solution of engagement,” a way of connecting teams of people and their data. In some cases, the solution of engagement takes multiple systems of record and pushes/pulls data into the hands of the people that need it. And in other cases, it acts as an aggregator. The solution of engagement serves as a single point of truth — a user-friendly tool that is easily accessible and provides all parties with the workflow, access to data, task assignment, report status and more.
Start Small, Map to Value, Expand from Success
Regardless of the number of workflows you may have, it is best to take an agile approach of starting smaller and scaling as appropriate. Choose and prioritize the workflows that will yield the biggest return. Identify key team members who have a passion for continuous improvement and want to make their jobs and the organization more effective. The great thing about this agile approach, and flexible technology, is that the defined process does not need to be perfect. You can, and will, adapt the process as you go.
Map to value means providing a phased plan to other key workflows. Start to build a longer-term roadmap, based on prioritized value, and in manageable phases. Each phase should stand on its own and have timeframes and metrics for success in place. This will help drive adoption. Once you adopt and succeed in the early phases, it’s easier and faster to expand throughout other areas.
Look to the Cloud
Leveraging today’s cloud technology is a powerful tool for success. Utilizing cloud-based PLM is a growing trend among many companies in the manufacturing industries. Cloud technology offers substantial benefits in the form of flexibility, configurability, ease-of-use and reduced risk paradigm. As you move to a pay-for-use model, no longer are you bound by massive amounts of upfront capital and extensive time consumed to get the implementation off the ground.
From a process perspective, PLM helps to provide accurate, up-to-date information from early concept design through service to the people who need product data to play their part in delivering profitable products is essential.
From a data perspective, PLM brings all product information into one comprehensive location. It integrates data from different aspects of the product in a meaningful way, enabling manufacturers to control, access, and share this information across their business.
From a communications perspective, PLM allows companies to share product information with a broader array of people, and extend the value of the information across the company by integrating it with product-oriented processes to coordinate activities.
Even the smallest of companies can take advantage of best-in-class process improvement at a pace that they dictate, and for which they can gain the largest return.