Why mid-sized companies should consider Product Lifecycle Management tech
Product lifecycle management (PLM) software originated in the automotive industry to manage the most complex portfolio of products in the economy. Persistent product refreshes meant it was worth a major investment for manufacturers to systematically manage their product lifecycle. In the past 30 years, PLM technology has advanced to become more valuable and more affordable for all.
In the simplest terms, PLM systems coordinate all the engineering that goes into a product. Maximum PLM value comes from the system’s ability to own and manage different types of bills of materials (BOMs), like engineering (eBOM), manufacturing (mBOM) and service (sBOM). Further, many benefits can derive from migrating an eBOM onto a PLM system, making it a worthwhile investment for product development teams.
The PLM system automates the coordination of different BOM versions during the development process. It also standardizes the information that is shared with manufacturing and service providers, which greatly reduces the manual effort and risk associated with managing products in production or service. For instance, the system can eliminate the risk of losing critical product information or accessing an incorrect version down the road when the original product development team has scattered.
During product development, the PLM system supports collaboration between engineers, maintaining alignment on versions, automating workflows and ensuring a single version of the truth. Beyond collaboration and data management, digitizing the BOM coordination process allows users to manage and optimize product costs.
While PLM systems’ popularity originated in automotive and other industries that are heavy users of computer aided design (CAD), industries such as petrochemical, packaged foods and life sciences also utilize BOMs or recipes. PLM systems bring value to these industries in supporting complex manufacturing processes, large product portfolios or a stringent traceability requirement.
PLM is a powerful tool in managing complex series of BOMs. For example, in industries that have country-of-origin requirements but source similar inputs from different countries, having the ability to organize different part numbers or variants based on lower pieces of the BOM is critical.
In the life science industry, PLM is highly valuable for traceability. The BOM, managed systemically on a PLM system, provides a basis for effective serialization of a finished product, hence, maintaining traceability for all the component parts.
Firms with configure-to-order models can leverage PLM systems with built-in configuration management systems, or feed standardized information into their configuration management process. These tools can make it easier and faster for sales teams to configure and price products while also supporting faster time-to-market for product enhancements.
As the benefits have become obvious, many PLM options have come to market. Since there is a lot of value in integration with other systems, particularly CAD and enterprise resource planning (ERP), many software firms supplying those systems have developed or purchased a PLM solution. These options can be affordably bundled with CAD, ERP or other systems to take advantage of pricing opportunities as well as integration value.
Like any business application, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to PLM. There are still many small firms that are better off managing their product lifecycle in spreadsheets or physical documents than bearing the upfront cost of implementing a PLM system. However, with improvements in the technology and market dynamics, many mid-sized companies would greatly benefit from considering this investment.
Andy Prinz and Jack Johnson are manufacturing and supply chain experts at PA Consulting
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