What PLM vendors can learn from manufacturing startups?

What PLM vendors can learn from manufacturing startups?


About half year ago, I was looking for bluetooth location trackers. The solution that caught my attention was Tile. I liked the slick video and interesting design. At that time I learned that Tile grabbed $2.6M via crowdfunding – very remarkable result. However, I noticed that solution is not available. I followed Tile since than occasionally. TechCrunch article yesterday put my focus back on Tile. Navigate to the following link to read the article – Tile, The Lost-Item Tracker With Millions In Crowdfunding, Was Worth The Wait. Tile’s story in a nutshell is interesting – coming out of crowdfunding, heavily socialized via blog, twitter and other social media, looking how to ramp up their manufacturing efforts and keep growing. Here is an interesting passage talking about Tile’s challenges with ramp-up of manufacturing, communication with customers and shipments.

But the buzz around Tile has been both a blessing and a curse. Instead of being able to scale slowly, the company had more orders than it was prepared to handle. “It really changed the dynamics of manufacturing this in a really good way. However, one of the bad things it did was add delays,” Tile CEO Nick Evans says. “We had to go and find a different manufacturer — our current manufacturer couldn’t produce enough.” And, he adds, “we needed to make sure if we were shipping that many units, that they’re really, really going to work.”

Nearly a year after Tile achieved its multi-million-dollar crowdfunding raise, shipments finally began getting off the ground, and today the company is still working to get the device into the hands of those who’ve paid. And last week, a shipment schedule was finally posted. From the looks of it, Tile will be working through its pre-orders until September 2014. What that means for those buying from the website today is that their Tiles won’t ship until late September to early October, says Evans. After that point, Tiles will ship out more quickly, but how quickly may remain to be seen.

I don’t have insider’s information about Tile design, engineering and manufacturing. However, facts published in open press made me think about some interesting challenges that new type of manufacturing companies like Tile can face.

1. Intensive social design activity. Solution got viral via social campaign. It means some elements of design and functionality were disclosed probably even until prototype design was finished. Future communication with customers included discussion related to product availability.

2. Manufacturing scale-up is a big challenge. Company was ready to produce in small batches, but was caught as unprepared by the need to speed up deliveries and increase manufacturing capacities.

3. Engineering and manufacturing complexity.  Tile as a manufacturing product is a combination of mechanical parts, electronic components and software applications (some elements of software components are delivered via Apple App Store). So, my hunch, bill of materials should include traditional engineering BOM as well as electronic and software parts.

What is my conclusion? The story of Tile reminded me my blog post just few weeks ago – Why Kickstarted Projects Need PLM? Tile is clearly a good example of these stories.  Tile is completely new type of manufacturing companies. Bluetooth tag is not airplane or electric car with lots of configurations and hundred of millions lines of code. Nevertheless, to NPI (New Product Introduction) even for such a small product is probably a very challenging task. What existing PLM system is capable to help here? This is a good question. I hardly believe Tile had a chance to evaluate one of the existing PLM software. If yes, I would be eager to learn more. My hunch, we are going to see more companies of such type in the future. To help them to design socially as well as to ramp-up manufacturing quickly is an interesting challenge for PLM vendors. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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