PLM maturity

Posted on 6 Jul 2011 by The Manufacturer

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software has been promising to make product development and ‘design for x’ integration easier for years. Uptake across manufacturing sectors however, has reflected scepticism among potential users. TM takes a look at PLM maturity.

Future perfect

It’s taken a while, but the PLM dream of simultaneous engineering is finally here. Malcolm Wheatley reports

A few short years makes a lot of difference. Not so long ago, the buzz in new product development was simultaneous engineering—the idea of different functions in the business working on new products in parallel, rather than sequentially.

The goal: not just shorter times to market, but less waste, too.

Manufacturing engineering, for instance, should not have to recreate a design from a production perspective in order to boost yields or reduce costs. Quality shouldn’t have to make further changes in order to produce a product that can be tested. And issues like packaging, spare parts and instruction manuals are considered at the outset, rather than left until it is almost too late.

These days, one hears less of simultaneous engineering as an objective, and a lot more of simultaneous engineering in the context of an attainable best practice. And the goal, too, has changed: doing it faster, rather than simply doing it at all.

Much of the credit should not go the management consultants with their redrawn organisation charts and fancy project management theories. These gurus were supposed to herald the era of simultaneous engineering, but in the end it has been software advances that have enabled the realisation of the PLM dream.

It may be boring, it may lack charisma, but there’s little doubt that PLM technology has delivered the design technologies, workflow and shared crossfunctional repositories of data that have made simultaneous engineering a reality.

Granted, each of the major players has made that journey in a different way. For instance, while PTC is guided by its mantra of ‘a single version of the truth’ and a pick-and choose minimalism to match user needs, Autodesk has taken a more discovery driven approach in which diversity capability is the key to making the impossible possible.

These differences in attitude extend into the future with different vendors showcasing a variety of technology roadmaps. But the overall extent of the journey taken—and its future direction—is unarguable.

Simultaneous engineering is a reality and one still waiting to be leveraged by many.

Software or a state of mind?

Brian Davies focuses on the most recent release of PTC’s PLM offering; Windchill 10.0 to create a snapshot of the technology behind a philosophy of product development.

New product development is getting harder.

There’s increasing complexity at all levels – within products themselves, and as manufacture, design and test is outsourced globally.

Collaboration must now be carried out in extended supply chains, with constant need for innovation and regulatory compliance. At the same time, costs are being forced down and time-to-market shrunk.

It’s a big challenge, but Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) promises to resolve many of these issues. The idea, as software vendors PTC express it, is to have “one version of the truth” with an information management backbone, from concept, through planning, manufacture, test and in-service support, to end-of-life.

A few hundred users and resellers were invited to Sutton Coldfield to see how PLM vendor PTC is tackling these issues in Windchill 10.0. PTC demonstrator Martin Greenhalgh claimed: “The latest version has a vastly improved user interface which is easier to use and tailored to individual needs for the casual and professional users.” Which begs the question – how difficult are earlier versions to configure! Windchill 10.00 offers dynamic web-based searching as a fast, powerful tool for seeking particular design and engineering content, requirements and documentation. New features include improved business process support for detailed design (for mechanical CAD and electronic CAD in a unified experience) and variant design, change and configuration management, requirements management and manufacturing process management.

Business process optimisation
The key to PLM is improved information management. But unlike conventional product data management (PDM) which is mostly used within an enterprise, PLM offers a broader perspective; sharing knowledge across the entire lifecycle of a product. For example, PLM is particularly effective for handling compliance with safety and environmental regulations like WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances).

“People want lower product and lifecycle cost, improved asset utilisation and to realise a price premium for their products,” says PTC business development manager Phil Fellows. The goal is to optimise every aspect of the product development process, from strategic management, through sales and marketing, engineering, sourcing and manufacture, through to service.

Fellows suggests companies need to think strategically about PLM deployment. “You have to understand your business processes and workflows and plan for the future.” It’s a bad idea to simply think of transferring legacy systems to a new PLM system.

Experts will state that PLM should be thought of as philosophy before being considered as a technology and will advise significant business process re-engineering and change management before technology adoption.

Indeed, PLM deployment can cover everything from document management, distributed collaboration, workflows, heterogeneous CAD data management, business reporting, embedded visualisation of all documents, communities of practice, and the complete BOM management, with change and configuration management.

“It’s a big vision, and you need to understand your current processes and where you want to be as a business,” says Fellows. Nobody suggests going for a big bang approach. “You need a clear roadmap and must prioritise bite sized chunks.” The PLM initiative must have board level buy-in with champions throughout the organisation to leverage success. “This is a scaleable model and all the necessary tools are available. But you have to keep re-evaluating where you are and where you want to go,” he says.

Do you need deep pockets? PTC is very coy about the cost, but suggests solutions can be tailored to different needs. PTC reckons that 80% of their new customers (4000 + a year) are in the SMB space.

The recent introduction of Creo, which allows users to purchase products previously sold under brands like ProEngineer, CoCreate, in the manner of apps also represents a sea change for the way modelling in the multi-CAD environment is sold.

Furthermore, it provides an interesting strategic contrast to the Autodesk ‘suite’ approach.

What users think
Companies like General Dynamics and Cummins Engines are enthusiastic about the benefits of PLM. Chris MacAslan, director of global PLM at Cummins said: “We didn’t just look at the technology but the processes we wanted to move across. Windchill will allow us to best achieve our compliance and productivity goals, and to extend our global competitive advantage.” Dr Peter Rayson, associate dean at Birmingham City University, is one of the world’s most experienced PLM implementers, working closely with Rolls-Royce on electronic data definition, and subsequently with Airbus on the A340 programme, and Hughes Aircraft Corporation.

The key issue for Airbus was how to share engineering data in a secure collaborative environment between plants in Filton, Toulouse, Hamburg and Spain. At the time, Dr Rayson worked with Jim Heppleman, who recently became CEO of PTC, to develop Windchill as a PLM solution to manage the Airbus environment and its complex supply chain.

Rayson considers that “The cost implications of good data sharing are enormous, because a single change in an aerospace part can cost millions of dollars.” Furthermore, as companies like Rolls-Royce realised that they weren’t in a product business but a service business, with ‘power by the hour’ contracts, PLM helps facilitate more effective use of data throughout the product lifecycle, including maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). Rayson believes many other companies will follow this service model.

“The key thing is to see your data as an asset which must be leveraged to take costs out, or used as a source of revenue for all sorts of opportunities using the PLM environment.” He recommends using the Pereto 80:20 rule, starting with a couple of silos then rolling out PLM more broadly, as the early users become ambassadors for change.

PLM for special vehicle development
Defence contractor General Dynamics UK, which employs 1600 people in the UK, took the bull by the horns in 2010 when it was bidding for the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) specialist vehicle contract, which has 14 variants based on a single vehicle platform. The company is physically dispersed around the UK and needed to collaborate with partners in Spain and Italy.

The vehicle was particularly complex and there was a need for concurrent design and engineering with the Madrid plant. The legacy PDM system was a repository for workflows but couldn’t scale up.

Investment in PTC Windchill has brought significant benefits “that are many multiples of the cost,” says Chris Hunt, Engineering IS strategy manager at General Dynamics. The programme is being delivered in four over-lapping phases over 24 months, and has involved re-developing all business processes.

The key guiding principles are: need for a common solution for all General Dynamics UK plants, a single source of the truth, use of best practice, and realisation that “to optimise the whole it will be necessary to sub-optimise some of the parts.” Hunt admits, “Some of this process is painful and configuration is certainly not out-of-the-box!” Estimated ROI is in excess of 10 times PLM investment but Hunt suggests it is vital to win people’s hearts and minds in order to implement the software effectively. “PLM is like a three-legged stool, if one leg fails – it all collapses.”