When a company starts thinking about PLM there is nothing more important than to wrap your head around the idea of PLM, why is it important, and how to make your steps into this process. The greatest PLM failures are coming from people that are unable to understand the idea and make them happen in the organization. The technology should help them to make it easy, but when I hear from a company things like – we tried to organize ourselves, but PLM was such a complex idea, then we decided to stay not-organized, it hurts me to think about the failures of technology and the powerful idea as PLM.
Why is PLM still hard? I can see multiple reasons. It is hard to organize product development and manufacturing processes. PLM is naturally complex. At the same time, it is somewhat popular to blame people. However, I can see what is happening more as PLM sin. Instead of blaming people, the industry should focus on how to simplify the technology and make it easier for companies and people to understand PLM disciplines.
Today, I want to focus on helping to identify why “type of PLM” you need or how to classify if PLM technologies or products can help you to support product development and manufacturing operations. Having such criteria will help you to get prepared and organized. PLM can come in different forms and one size doesn’t fit all. To define your PLM strategy and choose the optimal solution, you need to focus on two dimensions of selection – industry, and process. They will define if the tools are optimal for your case.
PLM traditional industries are aerospace, automotive, defense, and complex industrial machinery. This is where you can find the most mature implementations of PLM technologies, products, and vision. And this is where the market share of major PLM providers. Electronics is probably the next for popularity and because these days all products are a combination of mechanical, electronic, and software, PLM vendors are paying a great deal of attention to this work.
The easy way to classify PLM industry support is to go with two large groups – discrete and process manufacturing classification. You can find differences in product structures and specific features to support them. Also, systems used in these two industries can be somewhat different, which will help you to identify the needs for integrations.
The process is the most important characteristic to see if the PLM technology and products do fit your requirements. While manufacturing companies often say, the process can be unique for each company, the common characteristics of production and manufacturing processes are similar for the following 3 groups.
1- Build to stock. This is a typical scenario of the mass production of standard products. The company might have a set of configurations and build them based on demand from customers. The process is usually characterized by a very stable bill of materials, minimum changes once production level is achieved and a high level of optimizations for components suppliers, and operation cost.
2- Configure to order. This process is typical for companies building mass customized products, which build for specific customers. The most typical example in the past was custom machinery, but these days, there is an increased demand for mass customization, and configure to order processes are highly demanded in all industries. The typical requirement is a highly configured Bill of Materials and tight integration between sales and manufacturing processes.
3- Engineer to order. The products developed using this process are typically project-specific. It includes a variety of things such as unique or specific equipment, large plants, unique assembly lines, and many others. Such projects require design and engineering work to be done as part of the manufacturing and it requires a deep integration of processes from very early design stages to production. The bill of materials for such products is changing all the time. Such products have a unique need to perform early-stage sourcing and purchasing for long-lead items while the design is even not in a final stage.
4- Service and Maintenance. Companies are more than any time are looking into service and maintenance. The usual suspects for such products are large defense and aerospace products, plants, and equipment. The number of products joining this type of PLM work is growing as manufacturing companies are moving into new business models of selling services instead of selling products.
PLM Flavors and Best Practices
PLM vendors are typically providing special treatment to industries. So-called “best practices” usually targeting specific industrial scenarios, data models, templates, and processes. These are marketing envelopes and you can see them a lot. Still, I found less focus on specific process needs as well as the packaging of such processes supports PLM tools. If you’re familiar with such an offering, please share it in the comments.
What is my conclusion?
Your PLM implementation will turn into a disaster if the specific characteristics of the business process and product development model cannot be covered. It will lead to failures in data management, inability to run processes, and integration with specific design, engineering, and manufacturing tools. Unless you work with a new business or startup company, the company already has some tools and processes in place. They can be implemented using CAD/PDM tools, ERP tools, or even Excel and Google Spreadsheets. Checking current processes and matching it to what tool can do is extremely important. The time when the only way to learn about PLM was by watching vendors’ slide deck presentation is gone. Modern SaaS PLM is changing the way planning is done. There are things only SaaS PLM can do and it is to allow you to register online to create accounts, to start a free trial, and to experiment with the tool. By itself, it is an opportunity to learn about what you can do and how you can transform the entire process to make it more efficient. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks.