What Does the “M” in PLM Really Mean?

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In the two previous blog posts (What Does the “P” in PLM Really Mean? and What Does the “L” in PLM Really Mean?) I discussed the object being managed within the product lifecycle management (PLM) methodology. Now, it is the time to move on to the last word—“management.” Management is such a general term nowadays, that simply looking at it won’t give you much idea of what it is about in the PLM context. If your organization is looking for a PLM solution, investigating the functionality that various PLM solutions can provide will help you better understand what a PLM system should be handling. However, I’d suggest establishing some high-level ideas about what a PLM system should be able to manage before you are overwhelmed by the functionality flood.

Improving the Productivity Related to Product Definition

Product definition information determines what your offerings to your customers are, and how you will accomplish those offerings. As such, productivity in generating, distributing, and consuming product definition information is critical to today’s businesses. PLM tools such as computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer-aided engineering (CAE) are the most direct contributors to the productivity of generating product definition information. However, these are not enough. It is not rare to see a manufacturer send part drawings to a supplier through e-mails and for the latter have a hard time loading the files, or for a design engineer to spend one hour to find an existing drawing that he can simply re-create in half an hour. These two situations are examples demonstrating that the distribution and consumption processes of product definition information should be improved—especially when the generation has become so high-speed. Hence, one of the top priorities that a PLM system should have is making sure not only that product can be designed and developed in an efficient manner but also that product information can be retrieved whenever and wherever needed.

Maintaining the Integrity of Product Definition Information

If you have ever worked in an organization that relies on shared folders to store electronic documents, you may have experienced a situation where you were working on an old version of a document without noticing that it had been updated by one of your colleagues. Inconsistency issues can become unmanageable when an organization is working on a product with thousands of parts, hundreds of people, and many suppliers involved. Thus, maintaining a high-level integrity of product definition information is another priority of a PLM system. I am in favor of the slogan used by a product data management (PDM, generally considered to be the predecessor of PLM) vendor I worked for. The slogan says “we make sure that your product data are consistent, up-to-date, and secure.” Ten years later, I still believe that this should be the bottom line of a PLM system—in terms of the integrity of product definition information.

Facilitating Collaboration Throughout the Entire Product Lifecycle

In my earlier post about the “L” (lifecycle) in PLM, I discussed that the beauty of the PLM approach is the holistic view of the entire lifecycle. Today’s market requirements demand a shortened product lifecycle, but also a more complicated work distribution in order to bring a product to the market and serve the customers successfully. This means that high-quality collaboration amongst different parties becomes a winning factor. Certainly, the productivity and integrity factors I just mentioned are components of high-quality collaboration. Besides these, visibility and interoperability are also critical in facilitating collaboration. Simply speaking, visibility allows different parties to retrieve product information in the same interpretation as the creators’, and interoperability allows users to not only see the information but also operate it for collaboration purposes. Considering the complicated IT landscape that many enterprises have (e.g., multiple CAx [CAD/CAM/CAE] tools and management systems in use), global operation, and various IT systems on the partner side), achieving high visibility and interoperability is quite challenging.

Providing an Environment for Product Sustainability

Sustainability is now a big word in companies’ strategic planning. A simple rule: if a company wants to be in business forever, the products (and/or services) it provides should be accepted by the market forever. The PLM approach can support product sustainability in two ways. On the one hand, the development and delivery of a product should be history-conscious, which means all activities within a product lifecycle should be traceable in order to achieve continuous product improvement. On the other hand, the development and delivery of a product should be future-oriented, which means that the impact that a product imposes to the environment and the long-term profitability of a company should be taken into consideration as early as possible. For more information about PLM and sustainability, please read the blog post What Can PLM Do for Green?

The above four components are what I believe should be the top four considerations while writing this last issue of the “What Does…” series. However, I’m sure that you will discover more on your own. In fact, every organization has its specificities. While you are planning, implementing, or improving your PLM system, you should have a more precise understanding of what the “P”, “L,” and “M” really mean—specifically to your organization.
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