Why every hardware company should adopt PLM and QA processes?

Why every hardware company should adopt PLM and QA processes?


The number of hardware companies is growing and products are getting more complex.The nature of every hardware project is very intense, which raises many issues related to management of engineering and manufacturing processes. Product are getting more complex, which involves hardware, electronic and software. According to the latest Manufacturing Insight letter, discrete manufacturers are quickly adopting connected technologies:

One of the most important drivers shaping the manufacturing industry during the next few years is the rapid adoption of smart, connected products and the product-as-a-service revenue model. Consider that by 2017, 70% of global discrete manufacturers will offer connected products, driving increased software content and the need for systems engineering and a product innovation platform.

The growing complexity of products put a lot of pressure on teams. From the early beginning, hardware team is rushing the schedules between working on the prototype, kickstarting a fundraise program and planning how to manufacture at scale. It is very hard to setup a fully fledged product lifecycle solution at this stage. This is why I thought, Kickstarter projects need PLM from the early beginning.

How to balance between the need to setup product data records, manage baselines of your design, bill of materials, make an assessment of product cost and the inability to create fully fledged product lifecycle management

The complexity of new product development makes it hard at the earlier stage, but it can get worst on later stages. There are many examples of hardware project failures. You probably remember gigantic missteps in an extremely complicated Airbus A380 project going back almost 10 years ago – Airbus 380 nightmare – born in storm.

Small manufacturing companies are also in danger. My attention was caught by the last update about problems with MakerBot 3D printer. . Engaged article – Lawsuit claims MakerBot knowingly sold glitchy 3D printers put an alert on potential issues with MakerBot manufacturing and QA processes.

It’s not certain how this lawsuit will shake out at this early stage. However, the evidence presented in the class action isn’t exactly flattering. It suggests that QA had a hard time even getting complete 3D printers to test, which helped get shoddy extruders into the production run.

It made me think, fast growing hardware companies and especially startups are not paying enough attention on importance of engineering and manufacturing process already at very early stage. The chances manufacturing company is already doing product lifecycle management. When you create a CAD design, save it in the computer or the Cloud, back it up, manage versions, produce a Bill of Materials, collaborate with contract manufacturers, plan Quality Assurance and setup testing and compliance processes: you’re doing PLM! But here is the thing. If you do things as they come and don’t plan ahead your PLM process. And the absence of basic processes will hit you at a moment you don’t expect.

What is my conclusion? Balance the need of growing fast with establishing fundamental engineering and manufacturing processes. This is a major challenge every hardware project has. How to balance between the need to setup product data records, manage baselines of your design, bill of materials, make an assessment of product cost and the inability to create fully fledged product lifecycle management solution? You should think about basics – document records, bill of materials, lifecycle stages and change tracking. Setting it right can give you a chance to avoid problems and to provide enough traceability information to management team in case of problems. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of 2nix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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  • David Ewing Jr.


    You are absolutely right on this. Especially as the hardware products integrate electronics/software. The complexity grows at an exponential rate. This makes managing even visualizing) the “interconnectedness” a significant challenge.

    As you stated, a firm needs to have the ability to perform the basic “blocking and tackling” of Configuration Management. Leveraging a PLM system to manage the various forms of design data (CAX), product configuration (BOM, ECN…) and documentation (test results, Certification reports) is the right way to go. And even with a strong system this is still a challenge.

    I am a big believer in Lean Six Sigma methods. I recently wrote about this topic on the Aras Blog. Using these concepts in the context of PLM, a firm can build the basic processes to ensure a quality product. From there these processes and tools can be further developed/customized to achieve higher levels of efficiency/excellence.

    Great topic!

    David Ewing Jr.
    Product Manager

  • beyondplm

    David, thanks for the link! Look forward to learn more. From your experience, what would be the minimum scope to implement basic process. The challenge many companies are experiencing- it is too complex and it takes long time to build and, later on, train people to use that tool. Wonder, what is your take?

  • David Ewing Jr.

    In a brief nutshell…..

    Its easy to say – “just release the CAD and eBOM.” But I think that is shortsighted. If the MBOM is uncontrolled there is a risk of a product not meeting requirements.

    I would recommend getting a cross functional team together – just the people PLM impacts – R&D, Design, Operations, Service, etc.. At a high level, determine what needs to be managed from a CM/rev controlled perspective. This needs to take into account any regulatory requirements.

    With this list in hand I would drill one level deeper to refine the needs this may add more necessary releases and/or lifecycles. Using this list I would ask the team to determine the bare minimum of needs to operate the business. Build that…then incrementally add.

    Kaizen is about “small bites – chew fast.” It is important to get a win under your belt for morale and political reasons. From there add the more refined needs. But do it quickly!!! AND the people that do the work need to be involved!!!

    An imperative part of this kind of process is having your IT team involved. As I noted in my blog – it is not enough to have it on paper – you need to get it done!

    Quick response. There is much more in the details/nuance. But this generalizes things for a conversation.

  • beyondplm

    David, thanks for sharing your insight. Release CAD and eBOM makes sense. Clearly agree that to have a conversation and build it by small step is a right approach. Thanks again, for your comments! Best, oleg

  • I’m an IT guy, spent a good chunk of time at a mid-size manufacturing company supporting PLM. It was not cheap, and it was complicated.

    Now, I’m wiling to believe there are better PLM systems out there, but you still someone to devote at least part of a FTE to the job.

    Can a kickstarter project really afford that? Are there SaaS providers that would take the open source PLM I’ve seen, and do the hard work _for_ the kickstarter?

    It sounds like a fun little business, actually.

    Your thoughts?

  • beyondplm

    Brian, I spent a lot of time working with different large and mid-size manufacturing companies implementing PLM. You are absolutely right- it was expensive and complicated. These days SaaS PLM can provide subscription based PLM systems and vendors claim it is much simpler. But implementation of average PLM is still a complex brain exercise. Some of my thoughts about it are here – What cloud PLM cannot do for you?


    Best, Oleg