I started a series of blog posts about PLM dedicated to hardware startups. In my previous article, I explained why important to setup product lifecycle management strategy at early stages of your product development. It might be not needed at prototyping stage. But it is critical to setup basic elements of product lifecycle management as you move from prototype to manufacturing stage. It is not simple. The challenge for product development team – 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 inability to create fully fledged product lifecycle management solution. After all, your hardware company is barely few months old and are running out of time to deliver product on time and with projected cost.
Today, I want to outline basic elements of product lifecycle management (PLM) setup. Remember, it is not about how to setup PLM system from a specific vendor. You might decide about it later or use other tools.
As you work with your design tools, you need to organize storage of design files and manage its revision. The chances are you will be using multiple CAD systems for different disciplines – mechanical, electrical, electronic. Also, most of products these days are also including software.
What is important is to set document numbering system to identify documents and revisions. You should also think how to store documents in the way it will be accessible to all team members and contractors. Regardless on a specific tool (I will discuss tools in my following articles), you should be clear about setting <Document Numbers>, <Versions> and <Access rights>.
Product is made of parts. You will be using lots of parts. You need to manage data about parts you are using. These parts will be purchased from multiple suppliers, which have different conditions. Some of them are interchangeable and some of them are not. There are many pieces of information that you can include into data set about parts – manufacturers, cost, MOQ, compliancy, etc.
What is important is to setup a way to manage Part Numbers. It all starts from your ability to identify part and use it later on in Bill of Materials, change orders, communication with suppliers and ordering system. The simplest way to manage Parts you establish, the easier it will be later on for your to extend it.
Bill of Materials
Everything you build will require Bill of Materials (BOM). It is an essential part of product record and lifecycle. Therefore, it is important to manage a diversity of information coming to bill of material in the right way. Most of product manufactured today are not simple collection of mechanical parts as it was decades ago. Modern products such as smart phones, electronic gadgets and other small devices are combined of mechanical parts, plastics, PCBs and software.
The diversity of multidisciplinary data creates a high level of data management complexity. In case you are managing product data using spreadsheets, you need to establish an appropriate sections for different BOM elements. PDM / PLM tools can help you to establish product data records in a better way and manage change processes.
To think about how to manage BOM from the beginning is absolutely important. The odds are you are managing BOM with Excel or online spreadsheet tools. In my following articles, I will speak about pros and cons of this approach and best practices.
Lifecycle Stages and Change Tracking
The product you develop will go through stages of development. Think about it as design, prototype, initial production, mass production. To track what you change in your design, manufacturing and quality procedures is important in order to deliver quality product. It is not equally important and you can certainly can skip some change tracking during early development stages. However, as you move towards limited production, work with subcontractors or contract manufacturers, it is essentially to record changes.
The easiest way to think about it as a list of change records that you can identify and references in the team. Each change record includes identification, related part numbers, documents, effectivity dates and information about what should be changed. Templates are good, but change tracking should be searchable and allowing to connect changes and people in the team and related organizations as soon as activity will expand.
Tasks and process records
Everything we do can be considered as a project. Your product development is your project too. Therefore, it is a good idea to bring some project and task management tools to your team. It can be a luxury at the very early stages, but later on, you will be able to rely on this tool to manage deliveries and follow up team activities.
It is important to have a tool that can be easily connected to the previously defined data about documents, parts, bill of materials and changed. Without that, you will have hard time to manage it. I will speak about possible options in my later articles.
What is my conclusion? The important thing to learn about data management and PLM – this is not a project you should implement and forget. Product lifecycle management is a vital part of engineering and manufacturing activities. Once you are setting up it right, you will be able to expand and make it more sophisticated as far as your business will be growing. The strategy and main elements of PLM setup are not related to a specific PLM products or technologies. You can do it using Excel, Google Spreadsheet or PLM tools. However, by setting up PLM elements in your startup, you insure a proper foundation to scale up you manufacturing business. Just my thoughts…
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