Copyright © Scott Cleveland, PLM Consulting. 
​All rights reserved.

An Overview of PLM…

PLM [product lifecycle management] has been around for more than 25 years and companies are still trying to determine if it has been worth their efforts.  PLM [product lifecycle management] is a very complex topic that requires a lot of education.  The entire process of choosing and implementing PLM software is very complex – the more you know, the better decisions you can make.

What is PLM?

Product Lifecycle Management begins by managing the documentation of an idea for a product or service and follows through all of the documentation supporting design, product [service] development, sales, support until your company decides to end of life the product [or service].

Some of the Major Components of PLM

Document Management – You need a way to securely store all of the documentation that is created and consumed throughout your product/service lifecycle.  It is important to implement version controls and to make sure that 2 people can’t change the same document at the same time. 

Process Management – All documents go through some kind of process.  Documents are written, edited and released even if all of these steps are performed by the same person.  For compliance reasons, you need to make sure that processes are followed.  The most expensive process in any manufacturing company is engineering change control – this is a good place to start.

Configuration Management – Many of your documents have parent child relationships with other documents.  You need to be able to navigate those relationships.  A good example is a bill of materials.

PLM Expansion - PLM isn’t just about engineering information; it can manage all of the information related to a product or service that is created or consume in any department in your company.

Ultimately, PLM is about Control and Visibility of all the information supporting your product or service through its lifecycle.

Document Management…

Document management is where PLM [product lifecycle management] started.

About 25 years ago, I was speaking with an engineering manager of a major defense contractor.  We were talking about managing engineering drawings.  They had a vault [in concept].

Their vault consisted of a room full of file cabinets and a document control department with several people working there.  It was the responsibility of document control people to make sure that engineers were working on the correct files.  Even though they did have CAD stations back then, they still printed paper to store in the file cabinets.

Engineers were supposed to go to document control to get the latest version of the file that they were going to work on.  When they completed their activity, they were supposed to print a copy and return it to document control.  With proper discipline, this can work successfully.

They showed me a large table with multiple CAD drawings covering it.  I asked how they knew that they were working on the latest released drawing.  They thumbed through the drawings until they found the one with the largest version number.  I then asked, are you sure that is the latest version?

To make a long story short, they ended up sending the wrong drawing to the factory floor.  This error cost them about $300k.

What was lacking here was ‘discipline’.

In order to ensure ‘discipline’ they purchased a copy of my software [not called PLM at the time] and we implemented a solution for them. 

Document Management Provides

A Vault - The vault is a secure place to store documentation that can be accessed by anyone with proper permissions.  A vault will not allow you to ‘overwrite’ a file – a user can look at all of the versions but will see the latest released version by default.

Access Controls - Access to the vault is controlled by roles – a user is assigned a role.  Further, access is controlled by where the documentation is within its process.  If it is early in the design [authoring] process, you may not have access even though you do have access to the released version.

Control - Without PLM software there are many reasons that discipline may not be followed.  With PLM software, the computer prevents discipline errors.  It also prevents ‘back door’ shortcuts.  It can make sure that 2 people can’t work on the same file at the same time.

Visibility - Users can see the history of a design.  They can see who is working on the document at any moment in time.  They can quickly see what the latest version is.

Process Management…

Early on, PLM [product lifecycle management] software companies learned from their customers that some kind of rules based process management was a necessary component for their software to be a real solution.

Years ago, all aspects of engineering change control happened on paper.

The change request forms were on paper.  Engineers typically hand wrote the change request and passed it to document control.  In the paper world, the document control department was responsible for distributing the ECR to the right person.  Toward the end of this process, there was a CCB [change control board] meeting to approve or reject the request. 

A paper based change control system had some basic problems:

It could take as long as 2 or 3 months to approve a change request.
The manpower of document control is an overhead expense.
Collaboration was cumbersome.  Often, engineers were unaware that a change was already pending against a drawing they were to work on.
CCB meetings took engineers away from their tasks for hours – usually every other week.
It could take days to find out the status of a change request.
Since the process was manual and on paper, mistakes happened.  Mistakes can be expensive in real time and hurt your company for future business.

Add together all of these issues and you can see why the engineering change control process is the most expensive process for any manufacturing company.

Process Management Provides

Control – The process management component of PLM ensures that your engineering change process is followed.  The software moves the ECR to the right person at the right time.  It ensures compliance so that ISO audits are a breeze.  It prevents ‘back door’ shortcuts from happening – or at a minimum documents them.  The software can make sure that 2 people can’t work on the same file at the same time.

Visibility - Users can quickly see the status of a change request.  They can see who is working on the request at any moment in time.  If an engineer wants to make a change to a drawing that is being worked on, they can see who has it and call them.  They can quickly see what the latest version is. 

PLM software can ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time resulting in much shorter turnaround times for your change requests.

Configuration Management…

Early on, PLM [product lifecycle management] software companies learned from their customers that they needed to be able to manage configurations – like a bill of materials.

Years ago, we had a marketing guy that thought we ought to configure our software so that it was ready to go.  We had many conversations with our customer base and determined that even though a company was similar to another, the way they worked was different. 

One such way was how they handled their bills of materials.

Today, the CAD systems will automatically generate a bill of materials [BoM] but that wasn’t true 20 or so years ago.  The CAD drawings were separate from the BoM.  Most often, someone would type the BoM into a spreadsheet.

Some of the problems this could cause include:

There was no link between the BoM and the drawings leaving room for errors.
A BoM had to be manually extracted from the drawings.
Some companies change the BoM before changing any drawings and some change the drawings first – They must be linked either way.
Keeping the drawings and the BoM synchronized was troublesome.
Collaboration was difficult.  Often, engineers were unaware that a change was already pending against a drawing they were to work on.
When viewing a BoM, engineers must be able to traverse the BoM in either direction [up to the parent or down to the children].
When viewing a BoM, finding the associated drawing was not a simple task.

As you might imagine, these issues show up in unplanned engineering expenses.

Configuration Management Provides

Control – The BoM and the associated drawings are linked.  One can’t change without changing the other.  The software can make sure that 2 people can’t work on the same file at the same time. 

Visibility - Users can quickly see that a change is pending or that someone is already working on a drawing or a BoM.  They can call that person and collaborate.  They can quickly see what the latest version is. 

Ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time.

PLM Expansion…

Typically, a PLM implementation begins in engineering.  Some reasons include:

There are a lot of files to manage.  Those files include engineering requirements, engineering designs, bills of materials, work instruction packages and so on.

The engineering change control process is the most expensive process within a manufacturing company [according to many studies].  PLM software can reduce the cost of managing changes by an order of magnitude.

The must manage the bill of materials.  They have to make sure that manufacturing has only the latest released bill of materials.  Working off the wrong bill can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are lots of other departments that need to manage information and PLM software can improve their situation.

A good example would be NPI [new product introduction].  Their files include managing all of the information associated with the product, the pricing, the promotion and determining where and how they will sell the product [or service].  The actual process of introducing a new product may be a complex as the engineering design process. 

Today, these activities are managed manually – activities that need to come together to meet a deadline.  Information that includes:

A Marketing Plan

Product – Marketing requirements, Product name, Product description, Market research, etc.

Pricing - Market research, Profitability analysis, Manufacturability, etc.

Promotion – Ad campaigns, Social media marketing, Flyers, Brochures, YouTube videos, Demonstrations, Presentations, Trade Shows, etc.

Place – Sales plan, Sales training, Roll out plans, etc.

The NPI process can be very complex, but a well planned PLM implementation can simplify it greatly.

PLM and the Bill of Materials…

Who owns the bill of materials?  Engineering [PLM] or Manufacturing [ERP]?

This is a topic that has been debated for years.  I have talked to many companies over the years and when I asked them where they go for the latest bill of materials, their overwhelming answer was always their ERP [enterprise resource planning] software.

There is no doubt that the latest released bill of materials should reside in the ERP software.  If your company has both PLM [product lifecycle management] software and ERP software, then there needs to be a mechanism to copy the latest released bill of materials into the ERP software.

PLM is the change manager

PLM is engineering software – it manages engineering designs [generating a bill of materials] and it manages engineering changes to the bill of materials.  When those changes are approved and released, that becomes the latest released bill of materials and it should be published to the ERP software.

I look at PLM software as the change manager.  Require that all changes be routed through the PLM software [with its engineering change process rules].  Engineers and others in the process will perform all of the required tasks and when complete [released], the PLM software will publish the revised bill of materials to the ERP software.

This strategy works well if you make sure that all changes go through the PLM software and the related change process.

Follow this strategy and PLM software can ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time.