Achieving Faster Product Development with Integrated PLM

Getting new products to market faster is typically a top priority for manufacturing firms, and the companies that respond more quickly to the latest market trends and demands usually come out on top.

But accelerating time to market is not so easy when companies are developing increasingly complex products, such as those featuring embedded software. This is especially true when new product development requires global collaboration across dispersed design and development teams as well as a heavy reliance on supply chain partners for critical components.

In this context, managing fast-changing requirements is a key determinant of time to market. For example, if an automotive design team decides to use a different battery midway through the design of a new model, someone needs to determine how that change impacts everything else in the product development process and make other adjustments, as necessary.

This is an onerous task fraught with numerous opportunities for oversight. Multiple engineering disciplines are involved and the change impacts data in numerous areas. The change has to be communicated to globally dispersed stakeholders, many of whom are using disparate, disconnected tools to manage their particular piece of the project. In such a complex environment, it’s incredibly challenging to keep track of and assess the impact of a single change in any direction.

The pitfalls of disconnected tools. In fact, it’s difficult simply generating status reports. Often, the data from these reports, pulled from multiple sources, doesn’t line up, leading to confusion and uncertainty about design status. Many companies turn to data mining tools and data analysts to mash together reports for their executives. One company reported it took 10 days to generate such reports. By the time the reports are produced, the data is out of date because the design process has continued in the meantime.

Without real-time status and metrics around design, it’s difficult to adjust and make incremental changes to product design quickly. Instead, organizations often pile up demands for multiple small changes and wait to make a larger overall set of changes at once. If the goal is to remedy problems that emerge as the development process proceeds, companies often lose money and/or delay the whole process while they wait to make the necessary changes.

Even worse, if the product is released in the field and fails, the company has to work through multiple tools and databases to determine the source of the defect. Inevitably, this slows down the whole process of understanding what requirements drove the issue, what needs to change to fix the issue, and what tests are required to ensure the new requirements will indeed solve the problem.

Integrated PLM enables efficiency and alignment. Many manufacturers realize that improving the requirements management process is a key to accelerating time to market. Unfortunately, many of them are trying to do this by building integrations across a diverse set of currently disconnected software applications used by the different engineering and manufacturing groups as well as supply chain partners. This certainly can be done, but typically not without enormous expenditures of time and money, and often a great deal of custom code development that makes future change more challenging still.

The better way is implementation of an integrated PLM solution that brings together all the relevant data in a single, globally accessible database. An integrated PLM solution captures all related information and makes it easily accessible to all stakeholders, with full traceability to allow for complete transparency, feedback, and review of any and all changes. With this, organizations can generate reports quickly and easily, rapidly assess the impact of a change, and make informed decisions about how to proceed.

There’s an ancillary benefit too: Shared data fosters better communications between engineering disciplines for a more efficient design cycle. Engineers can enter changes and generate reports from one place with confidence that the system provides real-time notification up- and downstream. With everyone able to respond quickly and appropriately to any changes in requirements, the company is far more capable of keeping the entire development process on time and in alignment.

Photo: Jigsaw 1 by annnie on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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