PLM comes of age

Posted on 10 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

These days, few companies can’t benefit from PLM, writes Malcolm Wheatley

After spending two years extensively analysing the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software market, news comes this week that British sports car maker Aston Martin has plumped for PLM technology from Siemens PLM Software.

Going forward, Aston Martin will be standardizing its global sports car development process using Siemens NX and Siemens Teamcenter software, combining integrated computer aided design, manufacturing and engineering analysis with award-winning workflow, enterprise-wide information sharing, and rapid information dissemination.

“Luxury automotive manufacturers like Aston Martin must make their product decisions earlier and more efficiently in today’s marketplace,” says Chuck Grindstaff, president and chief technology officer at Siemens PLM Software. “This company wide deployment will enable Aston Martin to drive productivity improvements, create common processes and deliver enhanced global collaboration for product design and development.”

Even so, it’s a deployment which underscores several important lessons for British manufacturers contemplating the merits and advantages of PLM technology.

First, PLM is no longer a ‘big business’ investment. It might have been a decade ago—but these days, cost-effective and affordable solutions aimed at the mid-market are available.

“We’re actually getting a lot of traction with small and medium-sized businesses,” says Venkat Rajaji, PLM product manager at enterprise software vendor Infor. “The problem that PLM addresses is a problem for every company, and not just large ones.”

Second, the problem in question isn’t just an engineering problem, restricted to designers and CAD stations. Instead, it’s one that extends across the business—and further.

“PLM is a business imperative, not an engineering issue,” stresses B.K. Kumar, global head of IT services at consulting and system integration firm Mahindra Satyam. “Any company engaged in innovation needs PLM.”

And third, PLM isn’t about throwing technology at a problem. Technology is an enabler, to be sure, but experts insist that successful PLM is about changing the way that organisations actually manage the innovation process.

“We certainly don’t see PLM as just an IT issue: it’s an enterprise-wide executive-level issue,” says Anders Johansson, head of the technology and innovation management practice at global consulting firm Arthur D. Little. “It’s a cross-functional issue that should be owned by the whole senior executive team: quite simply, innovation cuts to the heart of the business and its relationship with customers, suppliers and partners.”

So what, then, is PLM all about? As at Aston Martin, the fundamental driver is to boost the productivity of the whole organisation—and its supply chain—by seamlessly sharing product-specific design data to a broad community of users. Users who might not now even know that the data in question exists, or that it could make their work easier and more productive.

“PLM represents the next natural step for any business with a CAD strategy of going beyond 3D,” says Paul Haimes, European vice-president of technical sales at PLM vendor PTC.

“In much the same way as the power of the personal computer has been multiplied by connectivity over networks and the Internet, you get the same kind of leverage when you open up the data on a CAD system to users in the rest of the business.”

And beyond, of course: users in the supply chain, too, can benefit from direct access to digital data previously denied them.

“PLM is about the efficiency of the entire innovation process,” sums up Keith Sherry, general manager of BT Supply Chain Solutions. From a CAD screen in one business, in other words, to a CAD screen in another.

Once just a dream, it’s now a practical reality—at least, it is for businesses running PLM.