A Decade On – Has Our Understanding of PLM Changed?

How has our understanding of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) changed over the last decade? What are the stumbling blocks to adoption? These and other questions were debated by Michael Grieves, PLM author and professor at the Consortium of Universities for International Studies, last week on Design News radio. Here are some snippets:

How has our concept of PLM changed? Some of the early definitions of PLM were focused entirely around software applications with no real change in the way we thought about a product and its lifecycle, Grieves argues. Early PLM solutions were dismissed merely as toolkits. But today we understand that PLM is about product information and looking at the product across the entire lifecyle. “It’s not simply about technology, it’s about people and the processes and practices they engage in.” Grieves says.

This is not to say that the technology isn’t important. When PLM was first brought to the table over a decade ago, the definition was bold, and far beyond the technological capability of that time. But now the technology is catching up.

Today, product lifecycle is about more than engineering capability and 3D CAD drawings, we’ve moved into a new arena. But more important, Grieves argues, are the perceptions of industry and how people go about working with information. PLM is about understanding that we can no longer afford to silo information. Work environments in which engineering doesn’t talk to manufacturing, which doesn’t talk to services, are gradually being replaced with an entire-lifecycle approach whereby each and every department takes an active role in the continuous flow of product information.

The PLM promise has come full circle. Manufacturers and designers look at their products from a holistic perspective, Grieves says. Organizations gain valuable knowledge from the use phase of their products. They want to know if the product is doing what it’s supposed to do. And staying attached to the product for longer can not only improve next-generation designs, it can also earn additional revenue for a manufacturer (think Apple iPhone).

What are some common misconceptions about PLM? PLM is often thought of in terms of technology. It’s more than that, according the Grieves. It’s about rethinking product information and being able to share that.

The first step to adopting a PLM system, Grieves argues, is to assess whether different groups in your organization (engineering, manufacturing, services) talk to one another. If an organization has content silos then it may be time to start thinking about PLM.

Understanding where you fit in the supply chain and which PLM solution is right for you is crucial. Some smaller manufacturers might be able to make do with a 3D CAD system, others share the OEM’s PLM solution, still others need a comprehensive solution all of their own.

What are the obstacles to and benefits of adopting PLM? PLM systems do not fail. “Companies that put in PLM systems don’t go back to manual processes and blueprints,” Grieves says.

The biggest obstacle to implementation: Inertia. Senior management doesn’t always think it needs PLM. “And sometimes the numbers are so good they are unbelievable,” Grieves says. Middle management is afraid to go to their managers and say “we can save multimillion dollars in just a couple of months.” The payback on a project might simply seems too much. Grieves gives an example: “One auto company took the number of weld robots from 16 down to four by being able to simulate ahead of time how those robots would work.

“We did a survey at Purdue a few years back and the bulk of the respondents said they got better than 35% ROI [on their PLM investment]. A lot of these projects have fabulous returns and yet it’s tough to get people to believe that.”

Has your company recently adopted or is thinking about adopting a PLM solution? What benefits do you expect? Or have you seen?

Further Reading:

Defining PLM (White Papers)

PLM publications from Michael Grieves:

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