PLM Black Box

PLM Black Box


Enterprise software is easy. Take any relevant world from a jargon of your company, add word “management” and voilà – another piece of enterprise software is ready. That was one of the jokes from my early days involvement into manufacturing software. So, we have product data management, manufacturing resource management, supply chain management, customer relationships management…. After many years, I found it is really the same, which makes very hard to understand what does it do.

The idea to apply black box concept to manage things isn’t new. Programming is using this paradigm for many years. Abstractions changed – we moved from procedures to functions, from functions to classes, etc., but black box abstraction mechanism remained the same. You put whatever you want in a black box and think about input / output.

Black box abstraction paradigm can be applied to production and process management. First time I’ve heard about it was maybe 20 years ago when I was first time read Andy Grove book – High Output Management. Think about any process as a black box with input, output and labor. You can model anything this way. Even PLM, but here is where things are getting a bit tricky.

I’ve been trying to apply the same principle to different pieces of engineering and manufacturing software. Think about CAD. It takes the idea and sketches, applies designer’s work and gives you design files (or data) as an output. Procurement system – it takes information about product (usually in a form of bill of materials) and makes orders to bring right parts and components to the shop floor.

After making analysis of different PLM implementations I’ve seen for the last year, I came to conclusion that the successful ones has one thing in common – the clear articulation of an output. Any time company set a material goal as an output of PLM, it led to the success of PLM initiative. So, what are those typical inputs and outputs that can make PLM implementation successful?

The design is arbitrary input. To bring multi-disciplinary design information is the right way to start PLM implementation. It doesn’t matter how you do so, but this is a starting point. What is the output? It took me a moment to think about it even now… It depends on the company and how it works. In my view, the output of PLM system is a complete information about the product ready to be manufactured. The “completeness” is a tricky thing and it depends on the processes. But this is the only way to make PLM implementation easy. I can give you few examples of an output. It can be a storage of all CAD files with all revisions. It can be engineering bill of materials. It can be ECO database with all changes applied to product information. It cam be manufacturing BoM ready to be transferred to ERP system.

The last think to think about is what activities need to applied to make it happen and who should be involved. This is how you identify the group of people that will use PLM system in your company. Each person in this group is contributing to the result – output. What about management function? It is included too. Think about it as a set of indicators that help you to monitor the process of translating input into output. These parameters will help to convert “black box” into manageable process.

What is my conclusion? To make PLM implementation successful, ask yourself a simple question – what does it do? When you can answer in a material form, you are ready to start implementing PLM. Until you can call an output by name, keep thinking and making analysis about how your manufacturing company works and what is a process of converting ideas into products. You can say, the last one is all about PLM… Yes, but to implement it is like boiling the ocean. It never works. At least never worked for all places I visited. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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