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7 Company-wide strategies you must not neglect in PLM

 

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) combines people, processes, product data & business systems to control the definition, development, creation, maintenance and disposal of products within a manufacturing company.

Consider which of your company-wide strategies affect the management of your product through its' entire lifecycle. Here are my top 7 you must consider when thinking about PLM.

 

1. Document Management

Product documentation can include customer contracts, requirements documents, regulatory specifications, change documents, technical documents and many more. There is a trend to transform documentation to meta-data to remove the need of actual files. Document Management is therefore an aging discipline in an ever-growing digital world but in the immediate future we still have a use for documents in our businesses.

One "document management" strategy to consider is the digitization of documents, but that is not always possible. It is important that we are consistent in document management across the company so that we are not transferring or keeping duplicates or using out of date or obsolete files across our different business systems. Document Management should then be considered part of PLM. Have you thought about your document management strategy? Have you included it as part of your PLM?

2. Configuration Management

Configuration management (CM) is the broad term for all the processes associated with maintaining the configuration of product information. A CM strategy includes naming and numbering, tracking versions and effectivity of usage, how to change a configuration and how to report and audit your product configuration over time. Firstly you must decide what are your configuration items. These could include virtual parts, cad documents, physical parts or process data. Often companies have a CM strategy that has grown organically without defining it explicitly. Have you defined and documented CM strategy in your company? Whatever your CM strategy you must consider it in PLM.

 

3. Data Management

Data management is a collection of processes to ensure where and when product data should exist within your company. To stop confusion and reduce noise in the organisation all data should not be available for all personnel at all times. One common example is when releasing engineering data to production. Purchasing and manufacturing departments should only get data from design engineering that is fully validated for use. Therefore we must ensure we have robust processes and procedures to ensure this data is correct at the point of use. What is your data management strategy? Is your data flow chaotic or have you got your data management under control? A data management strategy is vitally important in PLM.

 

4. Communication

Often overlooked in the context of product lifecycle management is communication. How do you communicate tasks, decisions, actions, feedback, project status, change requests... actually all intra-company communication? Do you use Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack, email, face-to-face meetings, remote meetings, paper-based communication or something else? Any communication that affects the product directly or indirectly could be considered as part of PLM. Have you considered the communication strategy as part of PLM?

 

5. Task Management

Task (and project management) are often how companies maintain focus on deadlines. How are tasks distributed in your company? How do you maintain the status of tasks and how are you communicating completion? Most tasks in product programs are work breakdown items in a project plan. What about ad-hoc tasks or change and production part approvals? Generally how a company delegates work is by a PM or management instructing others on what should be done but this is not always possible. All our business tasks are relevant to the product so therefore could be considered integral to PLM. What is your company's strategy for task and management and is this another strategy to consider in PLM?

6. Security

Security strategy or specifically IT security management, assuming we are no longer a paper-based company, is encompassing the tools, framework and procedures in place to protect your intellectual property. Do you want suppliers seeing each other's designs or costs? Or maybe R&D are developing a most secret design and it would present a commercial risk to share this too early (Think Apple secrecy where employees are fired for leaking information). Sensitive information such as cost data or product designs should remain within the company. Therefore a security strategy should exist to reduce this risk. This strategy definitely affects PLM! How secure are is your sensitive data?

 

7. IT

I already mentioned that companies are no longer paper-based, we have moved to computers and a digital world, so this means we need some kind of IT strategy. Have you considered what is the overall IT strategy for your business systems? Do you have on-premise or cloud? Do you have hosted application data? Do you have a consistent application stack i.e Microsoft; Office, Sharepoint, Onedrive...? Do you have an internal development team or external consultants? What is the IT budget? Are you getting value for money? All of these aspects contribute to deciding an overall company-wide IT strategy and PLM should be considered when deciding on your IT strategy.

 

Conclusion

I have given my top 7 company-wide strategies that I believe are often neglected when talking about PLM. Companies make the mistake of thinking PLM is just an application when it is about people, processes, product data & business systems. Decision-makers focus on the engineering tools and application itself and forget about the other aspects of the business that can influence developing, producing and supporting the product through its' entire lifecycle. I believe company-wide holistic thinking in these areas will enable greater efficiencies, reduction in costs, quicker time to market and happier employees.

 

Can you think of any more company-wide strategies that should be considered in PLM? Let me know in the comment section below. 

 

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About the author

Leigh Young

For more than 10 years, Leigh Young has used his vast experience as a system engineer to optimize business processes, workflows and tools used in the largest global manufacturing companies. He has worked extensively with the largest PLM and CAD systems and frequently shares his thoughts and opinions on the subject.

As a functional lead in Minerva, he represents the Solution Consultant function as part of a cross-functional team.

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