PLM: don’t try to eat the elephant whole

Charlie Candy, PLM Lead EMEA at Autodesk, explains how PLM technology paves the way for leaner manufacturing.

Pioneered by Toyota in Japan almost 30 years ago, lean manufacturing is now a standard methodology used by manufacturers all over the world to remove waste from processes.

Charlie Candy, PLM Lead EMEA, Autodesk.
Charlie Candy, PLM Lead EMEA, Autodesk.

Perhaps less well known is that Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) has the potential to be a key enabler of lean, supporting manufacturers in implementing, tracking and optimising lean manufacturing processes.

PLM connects people, processes and technology to provide deeper data analysis enabling manufacturers to make better decisions, faster and utilising technology to remove waste in innovative ways.

Proving its worth overseas in the 1980s – reducing time to market and waste, improving product quality, and maximising supply chain collaboration – PLM technology was embraced by UK aerospace, defence and automotive manufacturers and slowly trickled into other industries, limited in its adoption to large OEMs that sit on the top of their supply chains.

These were the only companies with the stamina and resources to bear the significant investment required to achieve the benefits of PLM.

Despite the well documented rewards, PLM has not yet ‘clicked’ as an enterprise platform in the way ERP has.

It is also not widely recognised as a critical tool for supporting lean initiatives, with manufacturers often opting for manual or basic methods for implementing and tracking lean (Excel spreadsheets, whiteboards, Access databases).

This approach is prone to human error, resource intensive and results in manufacturers working for the data, rather than getting the data to work for them.

A big factor in the lack of uptake for PLM has been cost, despite respected industry analysts reporting significant benefits.

According to CIMdata, PLM can impact the overall product cost for a manufacturer by as much as 80%, in comparison to ERP which will only have an impact of around 20%.

The reason for this is that by the time the product data is in entered into an ERP system, the decisions about the development of that product have mostly been made and changing it at this stage becomes expensive.

Many manufacturers were (and still are) small businesses and the technology available at the time just wasn’t affordable.

Fast forward a few years and we have begun to see the tide turn.

Cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions have made PLM accessible to the broader manufacturing market by removing upfront infrastructure investment in servers, database licenses, networks, software licenses and IT resources (both internal & external).

The other key factor is time. PLM is now a viable option for manufacturers because they are able to quickly get a return on their investment, seeing payback in months rather than years.

Case Study: Best practice PLM

Plastic blending control system manufacturer TSM is an example of a new breed of SME manufacturers successfully exploiting PLM.

David Keeley, TSM’s engineering manager led the PLM initiative for the company and shared his progress; “Previously the company had basic lean principles in place on the manufacturing side of the business, such as the shop floor arrangement and consolidation of materials, but there were no controlled management processes in place besides ERP.

Autodesk PLM Nov 15 PQ“This meant that TSM had no way of easily managing key workflows or monitoring performance in all of the many processes not handled by an ERP system, which resulted in inefficiencies.

“TSM is now using Autodesk PLM 360 to define and implement key working practices for the engineering deliverables.

“For example, the company previously had no formal process in place for reviewing and confirming customer orders, but now PLM 360 ensures all the relevant stakeholders in the businesses can review the order.

“This includes categorising orders and flagging if there is any missing information which might cause delays.

This allows TSM to dynamically manage the process and identifying potential risks early, before they can become issues.

“Cloud also plays a big part in improving TSM’s development and delivery processes because it’s able to generate real time intelligence.

“For example, if there are bottlenecks in a procedure, PLM 360 provides a common view of the status of orders and requests, which helps engineers identify what’s going wrong so that they can quickly resolve the problem.

“This data is displayed live in the manufacturing facility on large LCD screens so that all employees have visibility and accountability on issue tracking.

“Being fully mobile means processes don’t stop in someone’s email inbox if they are out of the office, meaning employees can take part in processes and see data securely anytime and anywhere.

“Working this way has meant TSM has already experienced great results. The company has been able to deliver new solutions and products to its customers, without hiring more staff, and it’s helped actually increased its orders by 32% since last year.

“Delivery processes on the shop floor have also improved – the standard engineering release time has reduced from 25 days to four, a massive 84% reduction, so the company is now much better at meeting its delivery targets.”

Challenges in PLM adoption

PLM is a long way from reaching full potential within manufacturing and there are a few reasons why.

The initial implementation of PLM can seem like a daunting task for management teams, but they need to persevere.

As long as management teams take an agile approach and adjust their course when hitting a red flag, they will reach their goal of a successful PLM process.

Changing company culture can also be a barrier, but the essential thing to remember is change should be gradual, and keep employees in mind and active in the process.

Management teams need to ensure the whole business is aware of the process from the start, it can’t just be enforced from the top, down.

Additionally, companies will outline large complex goals for PLM, neglecting some of the simpler problems. But fixing these simple problems first can often be of higher value because they offer a fast return.

Alternatively, they should perform the project in small pieces, initially focusing on quick wins to get everyone on board.

This makes life easier for employees, improves productivity, increases morale and supports adoption. Once the basics are mastered, move on to more complicated projects.

Technology is key for future of manufacturing

We are entering a new era of manufacturing, with significant shifts in customer demand and expectations, the means of production and product complexity, creating both challenges and opportunities for manufacturers.

The UK has always been seen as a leader in manufacturing innovation and there are clear signs this will continue if we take advantage of this disruption.

According to KPMG, growing investment in new technologies and materials, as well as good tax rates and stable markets, are all creating a fertile ground for UK manufacturing to prosper.

Strengthening of output, new orders and employment are all pointing to growth in Irish manufacturing too.

TSM is a shining example of how working in such a way can bolster the manufacturing process and benefit the broader business and its revenue in the long run.

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