In today’s world, global product development is an inevitable and essential part of both product engineering and manufacturing, but it’s often a complicated business with many moving parts. In this article, Brian Shepherd, EVP of product development at PTC, shares his thoughts on how PLM connects processes with technology to make successful GPD a reality.
Global product development (GPD), with its worldwide networks of employees, partners, and suppliers throughout the design chain, is a dynamic initiative that today’s manufacturers must seek to leverage. When implemented successfully, GPD strategies promise compelling business benefits, so it’s no wonder that organizations are scrutinizing how to improve product design and manufacturing on a global scale.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a key component of GPD. PLM enables geographically dispersed individuals and groups to work collaboratively on products and product development processes through a seamless, integrated information flow. Manufacturers are reaping PLM business value on many fronts: accelerating time to market and process cycle times, reducing product development costs, maximizing productivity, enhancing product quality, driving innovation, and optimizing operational efficiencies.
And yet, it’s not as easy as it sounds. What is the key to making PLM work on a global scale? It involves connecting product development processes with PLM technologies to master the following six challenges.
1. Make Distributed Design Work
When design teams are located around the globe, it’s difficult to disperse and manage product development activities to deliver an accurate, workable, complete product definition. Organizations must architect the product in a way that enables greater design collaboration. Using PLM, the product data can be separated into manageable modules that have well-defined interfaces to foster efficient product development distribution and integration. When this is done correctly, managing the evolving product definition, including change management, eliminates costly surprises during integration. For example, take a designer working with outdated specifications. If the designer distributes components that are incompatible with the final product, it can result in design revisions and product delays.
2. Extend Collaboration Across the Enterprise
Collaboration is probably the most critical element in a successful global PLM strategy. Manufacturing customers report that using unreliable or outmoded communications methods — such as manually transferring data between disconnected, disparate systems — impedes information flow and, consequently, collaboration. How does PLM enable collaboration? It offers a single data source for quickly and accurately sharing design data. Leveraging a scalable, digital backbone infrastructure allows stakeholders throughout the company, no matter where they are located, to access the right information at the right time, and it keeps projects on schedule. For example, distributed teams representing multiple disciplines can provide continuous feedback to identify potential errors early in the design process, streamlining review cycles and avoiding costly and time-consuming delays downstream in the production phase.
3. Share Data Securely
The risk of inappropriate use or theft of intellectual property (IP) is greatly heightened in globally dispersed design environments. PLM helps companies institute IP protection controls to ensure that user access to data is tightly monitored and controlled. One military customer, which has thousands of users involved throughout the design lifecycle, uses PLM to safeguard its IP in defense-related product development. PLM capabilities control access to sensitive information, meaning design data is delivered only to clearly designated and previously authorized users.
4. Manage Complex Programs
Complex, geographically dispersed product development programs generate huge volumes of data. To ensure success, managers need a reliable way to continuously monitor project status and activities, including tracking milestones, identifying issues, and measuring performance against defined objectives. PLM helps manufacturers define and implement uniform methodologies for driving product development processes. When projects with clear performance expectations are implemented consistently, team members are able to focus on quality assurance, key performance expectations, and risk mitigation.
5. Manage Change throughout the Lifecycle
Change is inevitable in product development and can occur at any stage of the lifecycle. The results are typical and problematic: increased rework, cost overruns, delayed product launches, and possible loss of customers. How does PLM address change? It can enable fast and accurate communication via a reliable, repeatable, and web-based change and configuration management process to control how changes are proposed, analyzed, planned, implemented, and released. As a result, engineering and manufacturing change activities are synchronized and connected to product configuration data to ensure overall process integrity.
6. Leverage Scalable Performance
If your team members have to contend with limitations in IT infrastructure functionality such as being stranded behind a slow wide-area network (WAN), then their ability to access or share timely, accurate information can be severely compromised. Those limits can result in delays for design development and the time to market. Organizations need to adopt a PLM technology for data replication and WAN acceleration.
It’s no secret that increased globalization and competition have converged to drive fundamental changes in the way manufacturers address GPD initiatives. PLM provides the ideal infrastructure for GPD and enables a host of collaboration, productivity, cost-saving, and time-to-market benefits that only a well-conceived strategy can deliver.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the 2011 issue of Advantage for the Product Lifecycle magazine and republished on cadalyst.com.