I started a series of blog posts about PLM dedicated to hardware startups. In my previous article, I explained why important to setup a product lifecycle management strategy at the early stages of your product development. It might be not needed at the prototyping stage. But it is critical to set up basic elements of product lifecycle management as you move from prototype to manufacturing stage. It is not simple. The challenge for the product development team – is how to balance the need to setup 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.
Today, I want to outline the basic elements of product lifecycle management (PLM) setup. Remember, it is not about how to set up a 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 the storage of design files and manage their revision. The chances are you will be using multiple CAD systems for different disciplines – mechanical, electrical, and electronic. Also, most products these days are also including software.
What is important is to set a document numbering system to identify documents and revisions. You should also think about how to store documents in a way it will be accessible to all team members and contractors. Regardless of a specific tool (I will discuss tools in my following articles), you should be clear about setting <Document Numbers>, <Versions>, and <Access rights>.
Any product is made of parts. You will be using lots of parts. You need to manage data about the 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 in the data set about parts – manufacturers, cost, MOQ, compliance, etc.
What is important is to set up a way to manage Part Numbers. It all starts from your ability to identify the part and use it later on in the Bill of Materials, change orders, communicate with suppliers, and ordering system. The simplest way to manage the Parts you establish, the easier it will be later on for you to extend it.
Bill of Materials
Everything you build will require a Bill of Materials (BOM). It is an essential part of the product record and lifecycle. Therefore, it is important to manage a diversity of information coming to the bill of material in the right way. Most product manufactured today is not a simple collection of mechanical parts as it was decades ago. Modern products such as smartphones, electronic gadgets, and other small devices are combined with 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 section for different BOM elements. PDM / PLM tools can help you to establish product data records in a better way and manage change processes.
Thinking 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 the pros and cons of this approach and its 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, and mass production. Track what you change in your design, manufacturing, and quality procedures is important in order to deliver a 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, and work with subcontractors or contract manufacturers, it is essential to record changes.
The easiest way to think about it is 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 allow 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 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, bills of materials, and changes. Without that, you will have a hard time managing 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 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 your manufacturing business. Just my thoughts…
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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 networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.