Product lifecycle management – also known as PLM – can be a powerful business tool for manufacturers of all industries. In this SearchManufacturingERP.com guide, discover the basics of PLM tools, find software selection best practices, read implementation strategies from industry experts and learn the value of cloud PLM and 3D CAD imagery.
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Before getting started with PLM software, it’s important to fully understand what PLM is – its components, capabilities, and uses for manufacturers. PLM software can give manufacturers insight into the entire lifecycle of a product, from design to shipping. PLM is generally considered a three-part system:
- Beginning of life (BOL) -- new product development and design
- Middle of life (MOL) -- supplier management, product data management and warranty management
- End of life (EOL) -- product termination, recycling or disposal
With roots in lean production models, PLM’s main purpose is to identify and eliminate waste in the product manufacturing process. It helps store and automate product data management, as well as share that data across the organization and with other manufacturing enterprise systems.
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Understanding the various capabilities of PLM modules is a critical step in the pre-software selection process. According to AMR Research -- now part of Gartner -- PLM software is comprised of five areas of functionality: Product data management (PDM) or product information management (PIM), collaborative product design, direct materials sourcing, customer needs management and product portfolio management. Comparing these functionalities with the business needs of the organization will help IT leaders determine the ROI of PLM and build a business case for PLM deployment.
While PLM tools have traditionally been most popular in discrete manufacturing environments, a study by ARC Advisory Group has shown that PLM vendors have made significant advancements toward providing better support for process manufacturing industries, such as food and beverage and energy.
Once a manufacturer is ready to begin the PLM software selection process, it’s time to explore the variety of PLM models and platforms available. PLM services are available from standard on-premises enterprise vendors such as Oracle and SAP, as well as vendors with backgrounds in 3D design and computer-aided design (CAD), such as PTC, Siemens and Dassault Systemes. There are also smaller, niche PLM platforms that are designed for specific manufacturing industries.
When evaluating PLM vendors, manufacturers should take note of how well the vendors can meet the unique needs of their specific industries, as well as how well potential PLM systems can integrate with existing enterprise systems and how user-friendly the interfaces are. For example, communications equipment manufacturer Harris Corp. integrated Agile PLM -- now an Oracle product -- with its Oracle Autovue system to optimize their document visualization capabilities, while medical device maker Varian Medical Systems Inc. used PLM tools provided by its ERP vendor, SAP, to help it meet international environmental compliance laws.
Managing a PLM deployment can be a struggle for manufacturing IT departments. Carefully mapping production data ahead of time and accurately estimating deployment schedules for implementing the new system are two expert-recommended strategies for overcoming common PLM deployment challenges. Industry analysts emphasize the need for clean, reliable and synchronized PDM data in the enterprise prior to a PLM deployment. Experts also suggest setting clear PLM deployment metrics and timelines before getting a project under way, as well as creating a strategy for migrating data from legacy systems to the new PLM system.
The importance of post-deployment employee PLM training cannot be overstated. Unless the usefulness of the new PLM software is made clear to the rest of the organization, PLM runs the risk of only being used by engineering -- a waste of the time and money spent on deploying an enterprise-level system. Take a careful look at which departments and staff would benefit from using PLM and what these benefits would be, experts suggest, then use that data to determine which employees should have access to the PLM system and to what degree. Follow up by creating “super-users” to aid other staff and providing hands-on PLM training courses to help make the new system a part of the company culture.
Besides employee training, manufacturers should also examine where PLM integration with other software systems makes sense. Integration between PLM and supply chain management (SCM) is common, as SCM-PLM integration provides for advanced supply chain visibility across the enterprise, along with supply chain sustainability waste reduction benefits. Many companies also integrate PLM with their existing ERP systems to improve the quality and flow of production data throughout the enterprise.
Cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) models have consistently risen in popularity in recent years, and for some manufacturers, cloud PLM services may be viable options. Security concerns -- primarily intellectual property theft -- have caused PLM cloud adoption to lag somewhat behind SaaS versions of other systems, but for some, eliminating the financial burden of maintaining physical servers is worth the risk. SaaS PLM also provides opportunities for peer-to-peer collaboration and cheaper, more flexible licensing agreements.
Integrating PLM and 3D CAD imagery is another collaboration method that can provide significant benefits for manufacturers. When combined, CAD and PLM can quickly visualize and share product data with key decision makers in a variety of departments, from engineering to quality control.