Thursday, March 28, 2013

Time for Some PLM Spring Cleaning

I finally think spring is here! I could be hallucinating, but I don't think so. I am starting to see flowers, and blossoms, and people on the driving range, so spring must be here. Just thinking about spring makes me feel happy and all warm inside! If you're like me, it's time for some spring cleaning as well. If you need some tips to help with your spring cleaning, you can look here. If you need some tips to help with your PLM spring cleaning, keep reading:


First, take a look at how your Engineers communicate among themselves and with others: Do they use email only? Do they yell over the cubicle walls? Can they chat easily with others, especially with remote users? Is there a way for people to share information easily? Maybe it's time to look at better ways of communicating in your company. There are many tools today that allow information to be shared just as you would with social media. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Youtube are all ways that people share information when not at work. There should be some similar kinds of internal tools that allow people to communicate better. Putting in place a more robust framework for communication will have all kinds of positive benefits.

Finding Information

Next, think about how people search for information in your company: Can people go to one place and find everything they need to do their job? Is your company filled with multiple disconnected databases that require multiple searches from various systems to actually find information? Are there still people inputting manual data into your systems? Do you still rely on MS Excel spreadsheets for important product information? Do people still have important information stored on their personal laptops or other devices?

All of these challenges can be reduced with a strong integration plan. Manual data entry should be the first activity to vanish. Manually entering information will lead to mistakes and impact product development. There should also be some very serious rules about keeping important information on personal disk drives; this should never be allowed. Getting rid of Excel spreadsheets should also be a top goal of any business. Working on these areas will provide a much more efficient environment for information sharing and tracking.

Managing Change

Finally, you should look at how people manage change in your organization: Do your engineers kick off a custom ad-hoc workflow whenever there is a change? Do they keep all changes until the very end, and then release them in a lethal flow of paperwork? Do you have too many change processes? Can you track your change processes easily (and, by that I don't mean on a spreadsheet)? Can you see at any time how a change will effect your product requirements? All of these challenges may be sucking the efficiency out of your business.

Implementing good configuration management processes in your company can have a powerful affect on everything you do. Don't try to do everything at once, but take one step at a time and you will soon see some powerful benefits. Keeping an eye on change processes will allow more changes to be processed more quickly, and will ultimately lead to better, more innovative products, with higher quality, that get to market faster with greater customer satisfaction; and who doesn't want that?

So, keep working on that spring cleaning, and in no time at all you will have your house in order.

What do you think?



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Autodesk 2014: How Will the Cloud Affect PLM?

Today, Autodesk presented a look at their 2014 portfolio along with a preview of their offerings for building, plant, product, and factory design. If you missed any of the information, you can check out the CIMdata write-up: Autodesk 2014 Design and Creation Suites Give Flexibility to Innovate More. Or you can look at more information on the Autodesk website.

Autodesk has also introduced a re-branding for all of their suites. You can see the new logo above. Don't be confused, it's not the logo for Google Drive; that wouldn't be right. Along with this new logo comes new capabilities that seek to leverage the advantages of the cloud, and tie these suites together in a way that will benefit customers. How this works in the future and in practice is still an open question. Autodesk said there are already millions of people taking advantage of their 2014 solutions.

This started me thinking about PLM in the cloud and how Autodesk might leverage this technology to make PLM more robust and ubiquitous throughout major corporations. I think Autodesk is taking the lead in this area as they roll out solutions that feature a cloud model, without making the cloud a big deal. Subscriptions to these kinds of tools are not new; Aras PLM and Arena Solutions have been PLM pioneers in this area. But, with Autodesk there is a considerable user base and a large breadth of solutions that makes this an interesting experiment to watch.

I want to see how large corporations will adopt PLM cloud technology to support their global organizations. Larger companies will likely already have some type of private cloud that they use for many activities. However, having the ability to use PLM applications that are designed to take advantage of the cloud could be a real payoff for PLM. These new tools would be smart enough to know when to use the cloud and when to use local resources. The user should never have to tell the application that they want to use "the cloud"; the applications should be smart enough to know about the available resources, and use them efficiently.

I am looking forward to seeing smarter PLM solutions that will take advantage of the could and any other available resources automatically. But, I think we shouldn't be continually talking about the cloud. That's like talking about what types of disk drives are used by IT, and where they are located. The bottom line is: we don't care! IT cares, but the PLM user doesn't care. Just give us all the resources we need and get us what we want when we want it. To PLM solutions providers: give us intelligent tools that anticipate what we will do, and make sure we have as much resource as we need to get our jobs done. I don't want to worry about the cloud, or federations, or multi-tenants, or anybody else living in my cloud.

I think the less we talk about the cloud the better. The cloud is often nothing more than a Red Herring. We get hung up on what it's all about, when all we really want is efficient, easy to use PLM. I hope the cloud is part of that equation, but let's move on.

What do you think?


Friday, March 15, 2013

PLM vs. ERP: Can't We All Just Get Along?

Recently I've read several posts about PLM vs ERP. First, one from Oleg Shilovitsky about the differences, and one from Arena Solutions about how they might work together. We often hear this as a big challenge in our PLM certificate classes from many students. This is an important topic, and one that can cause a lot of contention in any business. I want to address some basic issues and see what you think.

PLM - ERP - What's the difference?

The most basic way that I can think to categorize the difference between PLM and ERP is this: PLM manages the virtual product and ERP manages the physical product. The virtual product must ALWAYS match the physical product, and thus the two must be seamlessly connected. This requires integrated systems that include sophisticated configuration management tools to accommodate changes and updates.

Choosing the right tools

Given the complex nature of keeping PLM and ERP synchronized at all times, we must decide which tools are best suited to do this. ERP tools tend to be very transaction oriented. Their goal is to move a product from one step to another until it is complete. ERP systems must keep track of parts inventories, resources needed to manufacture the product, available tools and processes, along with costs and scheduling of all activities. ERP tools are great at making sure all the steps for manufacturing happen on time and under budget.

PLM on the other hand is usually tied to 3D CAD models and accommodates changes, options, modifications, and frequent updates to models parts and products. PLM is also a very visual environment, with  many people looking at models, exchanging ideas, and viewing the product as it is designed. PLM is also very collaborative: a group of people must often review any updates or changes as they happen. Engineering review often happens across the globe and around the clock as many engineers and designers are involved. Understanding changes requires sophisticated visualization tools that allow models, parts, documents, and other information to be shared in real time.

PLM must also manage changes and links to CAD files, assemblies, docs, test data, software, EDA files, and more. PLM  must always provide an updated view of the As-Planned, As-Designed, As-Manufactured, As-Maintained, and other views of the product information. Product information must also be connected to the product requirements documents so there is always a link to the original specifications.

When we look at the tools needed to manage all the permutations of products throughout the product lifecycle, it is clear that PLM is much more suited to this task. PLM can always track the changes to the products out in the field, and then easily use that information to start creating the next version of the product; ERP has no such tools.

Who owns the data?

There is always a big argument about where the data should be mastered, and who should own it. The truth is, ultimately, the company owns the data; ownership changes as the product moves from one state to the next. While the product is in Design, the data is owned by the PLM system; while the data is being manufactured, the data is owned by ERP. Once the product is out the door and in the field, it is owned by the Service group, or Warranty, or whatever you want to call it. It does not really matter who owns the data as long as the most up to date version is always tracked very carefully, in PLM.

Start at the beginning

To me, it makes sense for most businesses to carefully master their data in PLM at the beginning of the product lifecycle. PLM is where the product starts, and any mistakes made here will eventually find their way into ERP. Over the years many companies have gotten use to fixing problems with unclear, incomplete, or incorrect information coming from ineffective PLM systems during the manufacturing process. Companies have also invested almost nothing in PLM when compared with the millions upon millions of dollars invested in ERP. Is it any wonder that most PLM implementations leave a lot to be desired?

PLM supports product innovation

ERP does not readily support product innovation. ERP supports innovation in manufacturing processes and technologies, but not product innovation. Innovative products are imagined and created during the PLM design activities, and not in ERP. By the time you get to ERP it is too late to add much product innovation. Commitments to product innovation are locked in during the PLM phases of product development. This supports the need to invest in more and better PLM technology to support the goal of creating more innovative products.


There are certainly exceptions to what I have said here. Many process industries, like CPG, food and beverage, chemicals, and others will be much more ERP-centric. Also, those companies without the goal of creating new and creative products, but only cheaper "knock-offs" will want to invest more in ERP. Products without much 3D CAD and those that have little engineering IP may not need a ton of PLM.

In my experience, most companies have under-invested in PLM. With PLM you can create innovative, higher quality products that get to market faster. If you are a manufacturing company that wants to create innovative products that delight your customers, and if your products require strong engineering design with 3D CAD models, you will want to invest more in PLM than you do in ERP.

What do you think? Have you invested enough in PLM?



Monday, March 11, 2013

Is PLM a Dirty Word?

The other day I met a lady who is in charge of a new PLM selection activity at her company. She told me they are not calling it PLM this time; they are calling it Product Innovation Initiative, or something like that. She said they had tried PLM at least 4 times before and it never worked. Now, if they use the name PLM no one will take it seriously; PLM is a dirty word.

Is PLM a dirty word in your company? Have you tried to implement some kind of PLM technology, only to fail time after time? With a sound approach to PLM you can avoid the problems that prevent your company from realizing the many benefits of PLM. The following ideas will assure PLM success:

PLM education for everyone 

Start with the executives. Educate them so they know the basic premise of PLM, and the value. Then, get the rest of the people on the bus with education that helps them understand how PLM will help them with their jobs. No one can ever do too much education!

Do a cost benefits analysis

This allows you to understand where your business is today so that you can compare the results after PLM. This also provides an excellent tool to convince management to invest in PLM. Without these numbers, no one will have any ideas of what benefits can be expected from PLM, and how they compare to your initial status. This will also result in metrics that can be used to measure future PLM activities.

Use a proven, repeatable methodology for PLM selection

When it comes to a PLM selection methodology, most people just wing-it; or they use a methodology provided by their favorite vendor; or, they use a methodology from a VAR with a bunch of people looking for implementation work. None of these is the optimal way to evaluate PLM. You need a methodology from a trusted neutral partner that can help you through all the challenges of PLM selection. If you cannot find such a partner, take a look here!

Adequate implementation planning 

Often, once the PLM solution is seceted, the roll-out happens with little planning. Many aspects of PLM are affected by the implementation steps. The best solution selection activity can be derailed by a poorly planned implementation. Without proper planning you might forget some important items: data migration, user acceptance testing, pilot testing, timely education, cultural change management and other items. These items can cause PLM to fail, and give users a negative perception of PLM.

By following these steps you will have a greater chance of success with PLM. Don't just take my word for it. There are many examples of companies today that are enjoying the benefits of a successful PLM implementation; why not join that club.

How has PLM been accepted in your company? Let me know, and perhaps share your success!


- Jim