PLM 101: Product Lifecycle for Hardware Startups

PLM 101: Product Lifecycle for Hardware Startups


If you’re in the manufacturing business, I’m sure you’ve heard about PLM (Product Lifecycle Management). And the thing you probably heard is “PLM is for large companies”. As far as you are concerned about your hardware startup business, you might think PLM is not important and that you can do it later. This is can be true when you work in your garage on some prototypes. However, as soon as you start thinking about how to bring your product to at least a handful of users, you can find that following some basic PLM principles can save you time, and money and help to bring products with the right cost and quality.

Why PLM is important? The nature of the new hardware project is very intense. The team is rushing the schedules between working on the prototype, kickstarting a fundraising program, and planning how to manufacture at scale. It is hard to set up a fully-fledged product lifecycle solution at this stage. Last year, I shared some of my thoughts in the article – Why do Kickstarter projects need PLM? I’ve been learning how manufacturing companies and especially hardware startups are using different engineering software – CAD, CAM, CAE tools, and data management software (PDM and PLM).

I have some bad and good news for you. The good news – is the chances are you are already doing product lifecycle management. Because, without that, you cannot design, engineer, and manufacture stuff. I’m sure you do some design, save it in some locations, back it up, manage versions, produce a Bill of Materials, collaborate with contract manufacturers, plan QA, and set up your testing and compliance processes. The bad news – you are doing it in a poor manner. The ugly situation can be in case you don’t do it at all and hope it will magically happen. Here is the thing – it will hit you at a moment you don’t expect. I’ve heard many stories about lost copies of CAD files and sending wrong versions of designs and specifications to suppliers. I can add the odds that you miss some information in your bill of materials and, as a result, the estimation of product cost is far from reality.

The challenge for the product development team – is how to balance the need to set up product data records, manage baselines of your design, and bill of materials, make an assessment of product cost, and inability to create a fully-fledged product lifecycle management solution.  After all, your hardware company is barely a few months old and is running out of time to deliver the product on time and with projected cost.

The last one is one of the key things. What are the two most important questions you ask before developing any project? (1) How many items I can sell and (2) what is the cost to build it? These two things are absolutely fundamental in manufacturing regardless of the size and scale. The same holds true for any hardware project you do. Without estimation of product development and manufacturing cost, you can make your manufacturing enterprise not profitable or just run out of money.

What is my conclusion? It is hard to overvalue the importance of establishing your PLM strategy at an early stage in your hardware startup lifecycle. But how you can do that? 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. In the next blog post, I’m going to share some of my thoughts about the basic elements of product lifecycle strategy and possible ways to implement it.

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PDM & PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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