Summary: The cost of PLM software is constantly dropping, so more organizations can leverage these tools to improve their project lifecycles. The best PLM software delivers collaboration between people and software, less project risk, more efficient systems, and ultimately, a faster and more effective product lifecycle.
Historically, product lifecycle management (PLM) software has been priced out of range for most of the value chain.
But that’s changing. Cloud PLM is disrupting the industry by driving down the cost of PLM software, bringing the benefits to hundreds of organizations and their product lifecycle.
Here’s how PLM makes product lifecycles better and how it might help you if you don’t have one yet.
1. Better CAD/BOM integration
Building or changing a CAD file should automatically generate or change a corresponding bill of materials (BOM). This ensures that there’s a clear link between what’s being designed and what’s actually needed to build it and keeps everyone on the same page.
But often, that’s not the case. BOMs are generated later, updated manually, or exist only as a spreadsheet.
PLM software helps keep these two critical documents united and in sync automatically.
2. Reduce revision errors
Design is a fundamentally iterative process. That means for every project, there are multiple versions of the same thing. Plus, as designs naturally evolve over time, there becomes a backlog of what you’ve produced previously. It’s a lot to keep straight, and you don’t want to send the wrong version to production, a costly and time-consuming mistake.
PLM software reduces this risk by creating a shared record of all file versions automatically, so the production-ready file goes to the production floor.
3. Improved document tracking & handling
Just like there are multiple versions of the same thing, complex manufacturing processes can generate hundreds of documents ove the course of a product lifecylce. Even a simple engineering change might generate:
- Picture files of the original problem
- Text files explaining the problem
- An official ECR
- An approval of the ECR
- The original CAD drawing
- The new CAD drawing
- The original BOM
- The new BOM
- Various cost, timeline, and production impact spreadsheets and files.
- Once you start to think about it, the volume of paperwork starts to truly cascade.
PLM software automatically tracks and organizes these files in a shared environment that can be accessed from anywhere by any relevant team member.
4. Simple version control
Incorrect versions being sent to the shop floor is one problem with using the wrong version of a design. But inadequate version control has far-reaching costs and risks beyond the sending the wrong specs to the plant:
- Multiple people work and contribute to the same project. PLM software makes sure they’re all working on the same thing.
- Check-in / check-out file systems ensure that only one person/team is making changes at a time and guarantees compliance with ISO 9000 for consistent, high-quality production.
- A clear view of file history lets designers and engineers see what’s been changed previously, providing instant access to valuable insights about the design process.
But mostly, simple, visible, and shared version control makes it easier to collaborate and work together as a team. Complex problems are solved faster, iteration is more rapid, and the time taken to get out of engineering and design departments and into production goes down.
5. Remove human error
Human error is a tremendous cost to production and is a surefire way to stretch out a product lifecycle. Without PLM software, there are thousands and thousands of micro-risks that can cause production to either grind to a halt or (worse!) produce products that are not up to spec.
For example, even a small typo in a manually-generated BOM can cause serious issues down the line. PLM software automates many of these mundane and repetitive manual tasks, make mistakes less likely (and making staff happier).
6. PLM software improves communication
Collaboration across the globe is challenging at the best of times. And if you’re only using email and VoIP, it’s really difficult to build cohesion across global work groups.
PLM software facilitates a single version of the truth throughout the product lifecycle. It also creates a shared repository for files, comments issues, and feedback rather than spreading it around multiple email accounts that are only accessible to the people copied on them. Granular privacy controls allow team leaders to restrict or allow access as needed, and role assignments allow team members to know exactly what they’re working on at any given time.
7. Flexible workflows
Hard-coding a workflow into a custom solution will inevitably result in those steps being out of date and eventually, staff developing process workarounds (which implicitly increase project risk). On the other hand, weak or nonexistent workflows will translate into inconsistent production quality.
PLM software makes it simple for robust and automated workflows to be created and (most importantly) changed and adapted over time as needed.
8. Faster oversight & approvals
Oversight and approvals are a major sticking point for producers in the production chain. Engineers and designers resent their being “reviewed” and get cranky because they often get squeezed when reviews take a long time to come back, requesting multiple changes on a now-compressed timeline.
But the truth is, oversight and approvals are critical both from a process perspective and to control production quality. Senior managers have lots of experience to add and are looking at projects holistically, rather than solving just one small problem. They’re much more likely to spot cascading problems than the designer and engineering teams. PLM software makes these necessary steps much simpler. They automate when the approval requests are sent, centralize a record in one spot (no more sending emails and then uploading the email to a shared folder called “approvals”) and mostly, allow managers to review and approve directly from their email.
With cloud PLM software, there’s less time waiting for approvals and the actual approval process is faster, which make a big difference to overall project timelines.
9. Product lifecycle automation
Even the more refined and elegant manual workflow won’t stand up to the efficiencies of even minor process automation. PLM software automates dozens of micro-steps in the product lifecycle process. Steps like:
- Keeping files up to date an organized
- Keeping parts correctly labeled and tracked
- Sending files to the correct person for approval
- Tracking team members’ workloads and assigning new work correctly
- Meeting and maintaining project timelines (and expediting at-risk projects)
The list goes on and on, but the point is each of these micro-steps helps production run more smoothly. Time-to-market goes down, and staff spends more of their time doing high-value tasks like solving engineering problems rather than chasing senior manager approvals.
10. Better error recovery
Even the best-laid plans are prone to error and mistake. That’s why one of the most important things a PLM offers is rapid and easy error recovery.
For instance, imagine that an ECR was put through but it affected a different part of production. With PLM software, the engineering and design teams could quickly look at what was changed, restore a previous (functional) version, get the reversion approved, and get the restored specs to production in literally 10 minutes.
In contrast, it might take half a day to trawl through spreadsheets, emails, and attachments to get the same result without a PLM system.
There’s a reason OEMs like Ford or GM and huge brands like Apple or Cervelo use PLM software — it works. The only difference is, now it’s available to much, much smaller organizations for hundreds of dollars a year, not millions. It might come with short-term challenges, but a new PLM program keeps organizations on the right path to long-term success.
Thinking about PLM but not 100% sure where to start? Get in touch to see if our cloud PLM is right for you.
Image credit: Helloquence via Unsplash