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PLM That Makes Sense

What could your company achieve if you could make all the walls disappear? You know the ones — all the walls you hit trying to manage the product lifecycle. Marketing tosses product specifications over the wall to the development team. Development tosses designs over the wall to the manufacturing team. And manufacturing tosses supply needs over the wall to the supply chain.

Walls are everywhere

     What could your company achieve if you could make all the walls disappear?

     You know the ones — all the walls you hit trying to manage the product lifecycle. Marketing tosses product specifications over the wall to the development team. Development tosses designs over the wall to the manufacturing team. And manufacturing tosses supply needs over the wall to the supply chain. 

     In over-the-wall mode, handoffs are rough. Overall project visibility is low for most product team members; individual disciplines act in the dark when they need to be working concurrently to stay on schedule. Duplication of effort, manufacturability problems, engineering change requests, and late-hour supply glitches are the norm. And everyone thinks that something is broken. 

     It is. The real culprit here is a broken approach to product lifecycle management (PLM). PLM has always been full of good intentions. It promises to increase innovation and increase efficiency in creating products and getting them onto the shelf.

Why not a big PLM system?

     There is no shortage of heavyweight applications that advertise themselves as complete PLM solutions. But historically, the heavyweight approach has not delivered on its promises. In fact, it has introduced unprecedented complexity and sprawl in applications, data, and processes, all of which work against the very gains that PLM was intended to produce.

     This broken approach to PLM affects every discipline across the extended product team. For instance, early input from manufacturing and clear communication with the supply chain is critical for designing and developing manufacture-ready products that go to market on time. But it’s difficult for these disciplines to get visibility into the early stages of product design. Similarly, it’s difficult for the development team to move product data from a massive, traditional PLM system and into manufacturing’s ERP system.

A better approach

     It’s time for a new look at PLM. If your company hasn’t figured out how to optimize the communication flow across the product lifecycle, others in the global marketplace will — or already have.  Your company can’t afford to underwrite inefficiency while your competitors move to the front of the line.
     Forward-looking companies are taking a new approach. They’re redefining and embracing PLM as a process flow, staying focused on the promise of maximizing product value from concept to retirement. What they are not doing is burdening PLM with a heavyweight product implementation and all its associated costs and risks. These companies start out agile from the earliest design stage, and stay agile through the transition to product development, and on to a clean handoff to manufacturing systems to manage the remaining stages of the product’s lifecycle.

PLM that makes sense

     This is PLM that makes sense. At CoCreate, we call it 3rd generation PLM. Third generation PLM maintains open doors for communication and data exchange across the extended product team and throughout the product lifecycle. Third generation PLM also makes it possible to maintain a single version of the truth, putting an end to manual reentry of data into multiple systems.
     Each lifecycle stage relies on different ways of working and different supporting tools. Companies that practice 3rd generation PLM have learned to streamline their product lifecycles by identifying what’s broken, leveraging what works, and filling in the gaps.

Taking a 3G approach at every stage

     At the front end during product design, extended product teams evaluate potential product and project choices, calculate break-even points, and capture customer requirements. Team members rely on Microsoft Office products as the primary tools to support new product development and introduction. These tools are familiar and easy to use, and most importantly, they get the job done. Third generation PLM promotes a tight integration between these common design tools and the product development tools that will support the following stage in the lifecycle.

     Another component of 3rd generation PLM is a collaborative product environment that keeps product data constantly visible across the extended team, during product design and beyond. This environment enables developers, manufacturing, and suppliers to redirect design decisions that could impede development or hurt manufacturing time, quality, or cost. Communication across the disciplines remains open, and the transition from design to development is smooth.

     During a product’s development stage, different needs arise. Creative chaos and maximum flexibility reign here. Developers must be able to access the most current version of project data, capture decisions, and prepare for a clean transition of product data to manufacturing. Extended team members may also need to access data during development for purposes ranging from marketing launch plans to consultation with manufacturers and suppliers. 

     In the traditional approach to PLM, this is the stage where things begin to unravel. Traditional PLM uses heavyweight applications to serve as both design tool and system of record for the rest of the product lifecycle. Such systems historically have caused data pile-ups, impeded visibility into the development process, and interfered with manufacturing.

     Third generation PLM branches off from historical practices in two key areas at this stage: use of flexible, dynamic modeling tools, and reliance on the collaborative product development environment.

     Dynamic modeling is an approach to geometry creation and modification that lets developers freely execute modeling steps without storing them in a history tree. Because model changes are independent of the steps originally used to create the model, the design remains flexible and open to even the most substantial change throughout development, including during the precious hours leading up to the release to manufacturing.

     The collaborative product development is equally important. Using a data-rich, dynamic 3D master model as the single source of information for all product development knowledge, developers can stay in sync, design iteratively, contribute to each others designs as needed, and make necessary changes. This master model is also available as a single source for downstream contributors such as those in the supply chain.

     Once the design is ready to transition to manufacturing, XML and Web services seamlessly open the development environment to the downstream manufacturing system for handing off product data. The ERP system then serves as the undisputed system of record and manages the remaining stages of the product’s lifecycle.

Getting started

     The first step toward implementing PLM should not be to get out the checkbook. Instead, look at what your company needs to accomplish at each point in the PLM process. Identify the walls that you want to knock down. Then start turning on the processes and technologies that will streamline data flow and communication across the lifecycle and throughout the extended team — both inside and outside of your company.

     First and foremost, make it a priority to collaborate early, and collaborate often. Over 80% of a product’s lifecycle costs are determined at the completion of conceptual design. That number climbs to 95% by the time design transitions to production. Staying involved throughout the design process is one of the best ways for a supply chain to offer its customers additional value. During this phase, suppliers can guide the customer on how to l

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