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Setting Up PLM for Future Use

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In a recent blog post, we focused on how to best configure your new product lifecycle management (PLM) system to manage your existing data in an efficient and useful manner. Now it’s time to plan for the future. After all, you plan to grow your business, and this means new and improved products. You will get the most benefit from PLM by putting time now into managing your new data.

But first ask yourself these product development questions:

  • What new products are you in the process of rolling out?
  • Where are they in the following processes:

Did you finish answering these questions? Good. Let’s continue. Unless you don’t want to continue, but then you’d be missing out. Trust me – things are starting to get exciting.

At the point where product data is ready for quoting, purchasing, or manufacturing, that data should be under change and revision control. That means your PLM system should be ready to manage it. What does this mean?

I’ll tell you.

Item and File Categories

We previously discussed how to best define your Item and File categories. This was set up for your legacy data. But will it support new product data? For example, let’s say in the past you outsourced your PCBA design. This means you didn’t track board level components.

For your new product, let’s say you’re taking board design in-house. Did you consider this in your initial Item categories? Do you need to add Categories for PCB components, like Capacitor, Inductor, IC, etc.? You may also need additional File categories, like Schematic, Gerber, etc.

Item Attributes

Do you have all the attribute fields defined that you need in your PLM system for the new product? In the example above, you may want to start tracking data like Value, Symbol, Footprint, Voltage, Power, etc. This will allow you to more easily search for an existing item to reuse in the future, as well as interface with a schematic design part library.

Item Numbering

What internal item numbering scheme do you want to use going forward? Perhaps you had been letting your contract manufacturing assign item numbers for you. For commodity parts, perhaps you had been using the manufacturer part number as your item number. Or perhaps you’ve been using an old item numbering scheme that someone else designed, but isn’t best practice.

Remember this: best practices make for best products.

With the implementation of a new PLM system, it’s the perfect time to evaluate the Item numbering you want to use going forward, and make it work for you, rather than the other way around. Item or part numbering is a common topic discussed in blog posts these days. In fact, one of our most popular eBooks is about Part Numbering.  Everyone has an opinion on it. Our high level advice is two-fold:

  • Don’t build a lot of intelligence into it. That is better handled by adding item attributes (discussed above). Super intelligent item numbers add a lot of complexity for very little value. Super intelligence is a cruel misnomer.
  • Add just enough intelligence to separate the numbers by category. While it’s possible to go with a simple numeric scheme used for all Items (e.g. 6 digit sequential number), it makes sense to add a category prefix at the beginning. When you search for Items in PLM or view a bill of materials (BOM), PLM tends to display Item lists alphanumerically. Using a category prefix will group like parts together in listings, making them easier to work with.

In summary, you’ve already made the investment to purchase a PLM system. Now take the time to configure it to best support your future products and data. As your company and product line grows, the investment will pay off handsomely later.