PLM: The Means of Production
Product lifecycle management is being touted as the next great enterprise software cure-all. But implementing the software isn't as easy as you've been told. Here's a detiled overview and guide for managing the management.Heavily hyped by vendors and consultants alike, PLM technology is no sure thing.
Product lifecycle management means different things to different people.
In early 2003, Loewen, a Canadian specialty wood window manufacturer based in Steinbach, Manitoba, committed to an initiative to upgrade from a two- to a three-dimensional CAD system. The goal was to speed up design and production of its standard productswhich, when combined with special features and designs, totaled more than 4.3 trillion potential options, not to mention the specialty orders that accounted for up to 20 percent of Loewens business. But company officials soon realized that speeding up the process hinged upon finding a better way to manage its vast amounts of product data. "Part of our growth strategy involves constantly introducing new products to the market," says Stephen Segal, CIO at Loewen, "and one of the issues we face is not just how we design the products, but how to manage the information associated with them." What if there were a way to determine automatically the feasibility of a new products design, a process that could take weeks to determine? What if multiple designers could work on the same project simultaneously and be able to share design information with potential customers throughout the process? If all this were possible, Loewen executives estimated they could knock off nearly 30 percent in production time. Enter product lifecycle management, a concept that has been touted lately as the next cure-all for your company-wide ills. PLM means many different things to many different people, but at its most basic level, it is "a process for guiding products from concept through retirement to deliver the greatest business value to an enterprise and its trading partners," says Marc Halpern, an analyst at Gartner Inc. That can include research, development and design as well as product launches, the servicing of products once theyve reached the market, and their eventual retirement. While companies from Nike Inc. to Harley-Davidson Inc. to Ford Motor Co. to Boeing Co. have all made use of PLM in one form or another, the concept is only beginning to be hawked to midsize companies. The goal: to create a company-wide work-flow and analytic tool to help track and wring the most value from the products you make and sell.
Although its meant to manage product data, not transactional processes, Halpern says PLM as a concept is not much different from ERP. "Ten years ago, there was no ERP. There was general ledger software, there was inventory management software, and so on. The challenge was to share the data in a process-centric way. The same thing is happening with PLM today. You already have engineering applications, product data-management applications and big demand for project management functionality."