If you’ve ever wished for better methods of managing your product’s lifecycle other than manual processes and silos of data, you’re not alone. My clients frequently express this concern to me. That’s why I’m glad I found Cloud PLM (product lifecycle management) years ago and have been able to help many companies scale from early-stage businesses to high-volume manufacturing.
Working as the head of operations at several high tech companies, it’s been interesting to see how PLM adoption and buying behaviors have evolved. I’ve seen many companies use homegrown databases, spreadsheets, cloud file-sharing tools, and even low-end project management tools that were not designed to securely control and share complex product information and intellectual property with distributed supply chains.
Many small companies start with manual processes or low-end tools due to the misconception that enterprise software solutions are difficult to implement and/or too costly. With today’s cloud-based PLM solutions, manufacturers can take advantage of enterprise solutions without a long-term capital investment or a lengthy implementation. Cloud PLM solutions can be implemented easily, in phases, and can scale to meet the manufacturing company’s evolving needs.
However, often a culture change is required to adopt, embrace, and support key corporate objectives that drive customer and revenue goals. The operations team and related internal departments must be aware of and understand the corporate goals allowing them to work through poor practices that worked in the past. Removing silos and obstacles to collaborate more effectively between internal departments like engineering and manufacturing or with external partners can make the difference in getting your products into customers’ hands on time and under budget. It can reduce time to market and material waste. And it also allows you to keep records in compliance to several regulatory requirements like ITAR, ISO, and other standards.
Cloud PLM solutions are essential for companies that need to scale their operations. Furthermore, flexible PLM solutions allow for phased deployments to successfully and effectively transform into a fully collaborative environment. Cloud PLM solutions can be configured and implemented quickly in a “walk before you run” approach, so you can begin to see immediate benefits by getting your entire product record and bill of materials (BOM) organized and under revision control before rolling them out to external supply chain partners. I see three key phases to implement and roll out PLM to scale and support a collaborative supply chain.
Phase 1. Aggregate the entire product record. At a foundational level, PLM provides a single place to control the entire product record required to design, test, and build complex products comprised of mechanical, electrical, and software components. This includes part numbers, specifications, BOMs, and other relevant documentation.
Phase 2. Introduce revision control and change management. Once you have a controlled product record in a single solution, you can begin controlling changes to the product and BOM using engineering change orders (ECOs). Everything required to design, manufacture, and ship the finished product is managed electronically under revision control using ECOs to eliminate errors and introduce a complete audit trail from concept though end-of-life.
Phase 3. Collaborate with product teams. With centralized processes in place, you can begin sharing and collaborating around the design with key stakeholders. This will likely include your internal teams first, followed by collaboration with external design or manufacturing supply chain partners. No matter how many changes are necessary during the product’s lifecycle, all affected parties—regardless of proximity and time zones—will be notified and will be able to collaborate around all changes and the latest design. Furthermore, all key stakeholders can give immediate and relevant feedback. For example, suppliers might provide materials analysis for a suggested design change that leads the contract manufacturer to wait until current supplies are depleted before introducing new components specified by the ECO.
The ability to share information in real time with your entire supply chain eliminates potentially expensive miscommunication and manufacturing mistakes, often caused when relying on point solutions such as spreadsheets and emails or other siloed systems.
PLM solutions enable product teams to manage the product design and development process throughout the entire product lifecycle—from cradle to grave. By managing the new product development process within the PLM solution using project management capabilities, tasks and deliverables can be driven and linked to the relevant product design.
To streamline product development processes and establish supply chain success, the recipe is simple. Aggregate your product and process detail into a single system, place it under revision control, and drive secure collaboration with all internal and external teams. Do not try to achieve “nirvana” in a single phase. The beauty of cloud-based PLM solutions like Arena is the ability to adopt and implement them in phases so you can scale quickly as your company grows.