PLM Heating Up in Engineering

Uponor Wirsbo turns to DecisionOne, Aras team for product lifecycle management.

When fuzzy slippers just wont do, a heated floor is the next best thing to keeping not only the floor but also the entire house warm in the winter. Heated flooring, also known as radiant heating, has been used for years in buildings and homes to offer a more uniform heating experience. But radiant heating, which calls for laying down hot water piping or electric wiring below a floors surface, can also slash energy bills, reduce human allergies and prevent electrostatic dust buildup.

Because of such positive returns, demand for the process is heating up. Consider Uponor Wirsbo, an Apple Valley, Minn., division of the Finland-based company. The division, which pioneered PEX, the chemically cross-linked polyethylene tubing widely used in radiant heating systems, is experiencing a 20 to 30 percent rise in the business annually.

The growth, while good for the companys radiant heating business—which joins two other Uponor Wirsbo units, municipal piping and fire sprinkler systems—was having a chilling effect of sorts on design workflow.

"The problems come in when you have an ECO—engineering change order," said Bob Wallick, IT director at Uponor Wirsbo. "What happens is, were constantly changing parts. So we have to send vendors drawings and revision levels. Its not easy to manage."

Without an adequate document management or PLM (product lifecycle management) system in place, engineers ended up "walking around, talking and wasting time trying to figure out who changed what [and when]," Wallick said.

But for Uponor Wirsbo, stung by the time and expense of past technology upgrades, bringing in a new suite of software, such as a PLM offering, wasnt a viable option. For example, the company had hoped to engage with a company called MSC Software Corp. for its SmarTeam PLM suite following an exhausting implementation of Oracle Corp.s E-Business Suite 11.03.

"As soon as we finished [the Oracle rollout], we talked to SmarTeam for PLM, but it was too big," said Wallick. "Everyone was wiped out. Coming off that huge Oracle implementation wouldve been too big. And, honestly, half of it we wouldnt have used."

Instead, the company shelved the plan for the time being. It wasnt until Uponor Wirsbo sought bidders for large-format printers that it stumbled on its future PLM supplier, DecisionOne, of Richfield, Minn. DecisionOne did an assessment of Uponor Wirsbo and determined the company didnt need to upgrade to higher-speed, wider-format printers used for engineering drawings.

"Our analysis was they didnt need to," said Ayrlahn Johnson, engineering solutions specialist at DecisionOne. "What they had sufficed."

What they did need, however, was a partner that had links to the kinds of software and services they lacked. Serendipitously, DecisionOne had just that connection, to a software developer called Aras Corp., which specializes in manufacturing PLM solutions.

One of the early attractions to Aras Aras Design Innovator, said Uponor Wirsbos Wallick, who had never heard of the 25-employee Aras, was the ability to purchase the software in segments.

"They sell it in little pieces, so to speak," Wallick said. "We can turn on as we go along. No one likes to buy software youre not going to use."

What was even more compelling for Wallick was the effort DecisionOne made to bring in the right players to assist. "The people at Aras knew how we did things."

But the DecisionOne/Aras connection was no accident. The former resells the latters software whenever it makes sense. And Aras understands it cant make the kind of headway it wants without a VAR connection.

"To be a viable software company, you have to be in three to four markets, but Im not an expert in those," said Peter Schroer, Aras founder. "But those local VARs, they understand."

The Aras PLM software took about six months to implement and has been up and running for several weeks.