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A Guide to PLM for Small Business

Almost any broad-based PLM solution that can support your small or medium business (SMB) will be better than the manual process you have now.

What is PLM?

In industry, product lifecycle management is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.

Benefits of PLM Software for Small Business

PLM is a good investment. Usually when you see the word ‘investment’ you think about money. However, that is not the case with a PLM software application. It’s not a matter of being able to write a big enough check for the software. The real investment is in time. The time you will save is invaluable and should be considered an investment in your company. For example, a software tool can help you determine a part number in less than 10 seconds that would take your entire staff half a day to find. Your experienced staff members are capable of doing several tasks in a day, saving a lot of time. However, the value of that time is much greater than your hourly or yearly salary. By using a software tool to spend less time on non-value-added activities, you can focus on more important things like growing the business.

A small business (and larger businesses, for that matter) don’t need feature-rich applications to run a PLM program. They need usable solutions. Software companies often add unrelated features to their product to distinguish it from the competition. However, often the extra features are not really useful to the target audience. Software with less than 10-12 features is ideal for PLM.

Some of the more important features include:

  • Task Relevant Information in One View
  • Data Discovery and Retrieval
  • IP Protection
  • Project / Program Management (as relevant)

Examples include:

  • Knowledge Capture / Authoring (including multimedia)
  • Knowledge Exchange
  • Version and Configuration Management
  • Change Management
  • Risk Management
  • Performance Management
  • Issue Tracking
  • Dashboards and Reporting
  • Training
  • Governance
  • Network Integration / Data Synchronization

“Less is more” – the KISS principle – is an expression that means that “functioning is better than dysfunction. Less complexity is better than complicated solutions.”

Rob Martens, Konica Minolta

There are a number of technical things that need to be considered when deciding on a software solution. These range from development environment to offline or online architecture. Like any technology selection, it’s important to evaluate these factors early in the process, or you may regret it later.

PLM solutions can be categorized three ways: On-Premises, Hosted, and Software as a Service.

  • On-premises solutions are installed on your IT servers. This is the safest option for your data.
  • Hosted solutions are running in a data center owned by the vendor. This option is somewhat safer for your data than an on-premises solution.
  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are hosted by the vendor. This is generally the safest option for your data as well.

Many SMBs prefer to avoid risk of hosting their own software in a data center by utilizing the software as a service (SaaS) method.

As a solution is implemented, additional work may be required. That’s where professional services might be helpful.

PLM has a major role to play in the future of many manufacturing companies. Company productivity is increased by utilizing PLM software to replace the manual, time-consuming methods being used today.

We’re at a point today where it is usually faster to just look something up than to try to recover it.

In today’s world, poor impression management leads to a lack of trust and a breakdown of communication, which ultimately leads to a loss of customers. The key to impression management is documenting actions and decisions taken on a daily basis.

Keeping a reliable and structured record of all steps allows all of your employees to track the progress of every job. Any incompleteness or inconsistencies show up early, allowing your customer to be aware of any problems. Most importantly, all steps can be repeated and duplicated if necessary should the employee moving on to something new be unavailable.

It also gives you a set of specifications that can be referred to in the future if mistakes are made. The jobs created are tracked and monitored, so that you can measure your own progress.

The Global Information Technology Report 2014 (GITR2014), sponsored by Cisco and conducted by IDC predicts that manufacturing will use PLM to integrate real-time, collaborative management of 3D printing. New business opportunities will be enabled by cloud-based PLM through predictive analytics and better management of the use of big data.

The application of PLM helps a company to improve quality and reduce costs. It’s not a matter of simply throwing technology at a problem. The adoption of PLM requires careful planning and a hard look at current processes, which may require an overhaul. This process takes time, but the results are often unmistakable. A great ROI (return-on-investment) is typically realized in about one year for most companies, but this varies depending on the industry, company size, culture, and implementation approach.

A PLM solution that integrates other working environments such as marketing, sales and customer services has proved to be successful in improving efficiency between internal departments. For instance, sales and service data can be fed straight into the production department, reducing the number of back and forth iterations, improving on-time delivery.

Most small and large facilities want to go paperless for environmental reasons, but that’s not possible without a PLM solution.

It can take a long time to design a product with a manual process. Every time a design change is made, the entire file has to be restated. With a PLM solution, one part number could be used for 20 different configurations. It would allow all users to access the same information, thus making design changes quicker and less prone to mistakes. Minor changes could be done at one station. With each change, the design would automatically update everywhere else. This would reduce time to market for an improved product as the design would be current.

One solution that differentiates itself from the competition is a feature called Dynamic Bill of Materials (DBOMs). A DBOM is a structured representation of material relationships in any given product. It enables the product to change its representation visually as well as materially. This provides a powerful means to create a dynamic relationship between materials and Bill of Materials (BOM) calculations (configurable by the user) that can leverage an unlimited number of relationships.

Technological advances are currently driving organizations to respond more quickly to changing customer needs and industry standards. The move to flexible, multi-site and multi-channel production is creating transparency between a supply entity and its customers. The objective is to provide a comprehensive view of the supply chain for the management of the entire supply chain from purchase to disposal.

PLM provides a structured solution that covers every step of the business. It is made up of three inter-dependent part – a unified modeling, a data management with the ability to capture, store and track data from various sources and a web-service solution with an integrated search engine and reporting tool.

The common thread here is the ability of a PLM solution to help a company become more competitive. As technology advances, we will see more and more tools to help us improve efficiency and reduce costs. Every company needs to find a solution that is right for them and their business process. If the benefits are understood, then that will drive the selection process.

One area where PLM has been helpful to companies is in the area of issue tracking. There are many companies that have struggled to find the right way to track issues effectively. In some cases, a separate system has been needed. Issue tracking is an essential component of PLM.

PLM has digital and digitized plans that can’t be lost or altered. A company can run reports on the issue tracking and decide exactly where the problems are.

For the general public, the stand out benefit of using PLM is the ability to have digital drawing files instead of using paper documents. This allows for the sharing and updating of a single drawing file rather using classic methods.

Manufacturing companies are already enjoying the benefits of a PLM solution. They are utilizing the software to increase collaboration and communicate more effectively with each other to save money and increase production on time. The tech trend in PLM is to use it as a support system that enhances operations – and not to use PLM to replace people doing a job. The goal should be to free people up to focus on the high-value jobs.

PLM is a technology that is quickly enhancing the way most companies use computers. The way we engage with the technology is beneficial to the company and our customers. The features we take for granted in other applications are now available in PLM.

PLM is able to provide a single repository for all a company’s design information.

The implementation of PLM was typically done by a top executive, a board of directors or supported by top management. The reason for the support was because of the software integration with other processes in the company, and the fact it would only be effective if planning, marketing and operations worked together. PLM implementations are not one-time software installations, they are a long-term change in the way a company works.

A PLM solution can be implemented using a number of methods. A typical implementation involves setting up a server that can run all the functions. The server should be able to store all the files and attachments that could be required, and at the same time also be able to carry out the functions of Product Information Management (PIM). The software should also have the ability to centralize all data, so that everybody could access it from various locations. This could be done in a main office or from laptops in the field.

A PLM solution has typically been adopted by smaller companies that were in need of a tool to help them work more effectively in the virtualized world of manufacturing today. The advantages of a PLM implementation are the ones that are most relevant to the specific business – whether it be improving your service to a customer, lowering production costs, or improving efficiencies. A PLM solution is typically easy to implement, it only requires a commitment from top management. The workload of an implementation can be easily justified because of how it will have an impact on your business in the future.

The company should consider the length it would take to implement PLM. A new implementation could require between three months and a year. This will vary depending on the type of implementation. Typically during the process, the project manager would be putting in about 60% of his/her time on the implementation. The remaining time would be spent on communicating with the stakeholders involved.

Another importance of the implementation is that it should not be done by the IT department, it should be done by a business consultant. The IT department will have to support the process, but they are not responsible for the outcome.

Running the project is not the easiest task, it is the running of the processes in the business that will have an impact on sales, marketing and operations. The implementation of PLM is not just an IT project; it is a business project. It is important for the business managers to work together with the IT team for an effective project.

The implementation of a PLM solution requires a commitment from top management, a dedicated project manager and a motivated IT team.

Guide to implementation of a PLM solution at a Small Business

PLM implementation should be a long-term process. Surprisingly many PLM implementation are actually short-term in nature. There are many obstacles that come into play when doing a PLM implementation but foremost of them is the relevant business goals and metrics that the PLM should provide.

But before a PLM implementation one has to consider what the PLM should aim to achieve. You can break it down to the following list:

1. Compliance with standards (ISO9001, FDA regulation, Sarbanes oxley, 21 CFR 11, FSSC 22000)

2. Optimization of planning and execution of strategies.

3. Realization of new product innovations.

4. Realization of product registration and patents.

5. Development of strategic business profile.

6. Managing the corporate vision.

7. Impact of PLM in continuous improvement (process, product, service)

8. Contribution to the improvement of profitability through the re-negotiation of the product supply chain and the reduction of costs.

9. Centralized data system for archiving.

10. Sales force and the improvement of inventory management.

11. Management of consistent requirements, specifications.

12. Management and documentation of operational processes

13. Management of sources and suppliers.

14. Management of the product life cycle.

15. Planning, tracking and managing of the product innovation process.

16. Management of the quality of end-to-end processes in all stages.

17. Creation of a community of common vocabularies.

18. Management of the search engine.

A PLM implementation project can be done either by doing an external project or within an organization. For doing it within an organization, one has to decide the following three:

  • How the whole PLM system is going to be implemented?
  • Who will be involved in the implementation project?
  • How the PLM will be managed?

In doing a PLM implementation project externally, two execution tools are available:

1. Manage the implementation in an external company.

2. Hire an external PLM consultant.

Execute the PLM implementation project with the external participation of a company that has already implemented PLM systems to start with PLM implementation. Co-ordination and cooperation of the various groups involved in the implementation is a prerequisite for success.

When an external company is involved, there are many tasks that have to be performed. The external company has to help you in the following:

  • Identify the business users of the PLM and the business process to be applied.
  • Determining the market potential and competitiveness of the PLM.
  • Conducting a competitive analysis of the PLM system.
  • Prepare the specification of the PLM.
  • Develop the investment and ROI report.
  • Help in adopting a decision on the PLM system.
  • Selection of the software/solution.
  • Help in performing an operational audit.
  • Train the users.
  • Make sure the users adopt the PLM
  • Ensure an adequate turnover in the user community.
  • Manage and continuously expand the content of the PLM.

It is very important to understand whether the implementation of a PLM should be done externally or internally. Some of the main challenges that an organization has to face before implementing PLM is that:

Software systems that integrate with business processes or software integration that the company uses for producing products is a prerequisite for an effective PLM system.

It is urgent for the company to adopt an effective PLM system.

Companies that are in the initial phases of the introduction of the PLM should take into account the importance of the following aspects:

A critical component of the implementation project is the formulation of the specification, especially if this is a new project. This can be done in several ways:

· Develop and documentation of the implantation plan, in accordance with the timing, commitments and the level of details requirements.

· The definition of the PLM functionality to be implemented.

· The analysis of available and likely improvements to be introduced in the PLM after its effective date.

· The definition of the process map.

· Specify the technical, telecommunications, coordination of the processes.

· Development of equipment, development of testing, verification of the elements of the equipment and then the whole system.

· Control of the process of organisation of the user instructions and the establishment of training courses.

It is also a very important aspect to define clearly the requirements for the software or the integration of software that is not compatible with the other software or the integration of systems that are available or are likely to be available.

Define the standards that have been approved by the company and that can be used as a pre-requisites for the effective implementation of the PLM.

If a configuration control system software cannot provide a complete configuration control system, then add the whole functionality so that it can complete the configuration control system.

Unfortunately the cost of a PLM implementation project is quite high. In fact it is not the price of the license or the purchase of the software that makes it most expensive, but rather the cost of the integration and customization of software that is on-line hardware sites and connectivity.

So it is important to minimize the integration and customization of software in order to make it effective and efficient.

The necessary information that is relevant to the effective implementation of a PLM should be obtained in a document that should include the following aspects:

· Identification of the business users of the PLM.

· All the documents needed for integration and testing.

· Stakeholders and their requirements.

· Management of the operational procedures.

· Maintenance of processes.

· Enhancement of data collection.

· Work flow management.

· Back-up plans.

· Definitions.

· Data structures.

· Work breakdown structure.

· List of user tasks.

· Task matrix.

· Define hardware, software, peripheral equipment.

· Identification of the data to be collected.

· Data type.

· Data need.

· Data sources.

· Data providers.

· Data suppliers.

· Recommendations and agreements.

· Summary of the modules of the system.

· The targets to be achieved with the support of the new PLM system.

· The methods to be used to document the implementation project.

· The action plan.

· The format of documents.

· Evaluation of risks.

· The schedule project.

· The resources used and the allocation of the tasks.

· The acceptance plans.

· The description of the tests and quality audit plans.

· Documents generated during the project.

· Performance reporting.

· Corrective, preventive and improvement plans.

· Risk register.

· Implementation files.

· Coverage measures.

· Summary of the originators.

· Teams, dates, resources assigned, tasks to be implemented, meetings.

· Communication documents.

· Technical documents.

· Meetings summaries.

· Evaluation of the activities.

· Status report.

· Communications matrix.

· Documents, meetings and coordination.

· Status of the quality management.

· Development of the project.

· Status of the implementation project.

· The allocation of activities.

· Expected approval date.

· Scope management plan.

· Status of the documents.

· Status of the studies.

· Define the project

· List of milestones

· List of action plans.

· List of deliverables.

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