The Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) application landscape available today, for engineering and manufacturing organizations, has evolved from the traditional CAx and PDM centric applications, extending to manufacturing, and enabling enterprise level collaboration and key cross functional processes. In most of the industries today, very significant business needs are global engineering -- teams involved in different stages of the product development are dispersed across the globe; regulatory compliance with large number of product variants; management of complex mix of mechanical, electrical and electronics elements; and standardization of manufacturing processes.
The way major PLM product companies have architected their new generation PLM suites, and the fact that these companies now work closely with the specialist PLM services providers and system integrators, presents a lot of interesting opportunities for both the CTO of the user enterprises as well as for the CIO, whose mandate is to provide an efficient and cost effective IT backbone. Let's look at the key aspects for the CTO in this article.
What PLM means to the CTO today?
Basic Engineering Data Management
Product R&D and design occurs in multiple countries, with teams spread across the time zones adopting concurrent engineering. To build a differentiation, organizations need to capture, manage, and leverage their global engineering data as intellectual assets. Much of these data repositories are deployed in the country of origin, where the other global teams find it difficult to effectively leverage due to synchronization issues, latency and from being unsure. The new age PLM systems bring in much needed maturity to enable consistent Engineering Data Management, collaboration and visualization of different CAD formats. This leads to a detailed examination of the way the enterprise is organized to work with engineering assets, and because it addresses data structures, it leads to questions about product structures. This in many ways is good, as it makes the enterprise address a series of complex, cross-functional and inter-related issues about products, processes, data, systems, workflows, procedures, and organizational structures. We have worked with CTO organizations to contain the complexity of PLM implementations, and see benefits in shorter cycles, by focusing on the Engineering Data Management requirements in the global scenario, with a view on the roadmap to leverage the PLM system for more process coverage.
Cross Functional Processes
New age PLM solutions today provide capabilities extending from the core functions of engineering data management, to process management applications, to cross functional process solutions. These enable the CTO organization to effectively leverage all domain teams and supply chain partners for both engineering and operational efficiency. The key cross functional process enablement through new age PLM that has the highest attention today from all stakeholders -- user enterprises, PLM product providers and system integrators, are probably quality management, systems engineering, and manufacturing process planning. These functionalities are available in leading PLM suites out-of-the-box or are enabled by the framework that the PLM platform provides.
Product Quality Management across global supply chains is clearly a key cross functional process and involves steps like QFD, FMEA, PPAP, CAPA and more that need to align with the new product development lifecycle, for diverse markets. So, we are talking about multiple functions -- marketing, requirements, product definition, product engineering, quality and manufacturing engineering.
While the NPD processes are well covered in PLM applications, the quality processes are still largely managed with standalone applications. An integrated quality management solution can easily be deployed on a PLM backbone, by linking the quality steps, and integrating the relevant quality processes with the corresponding NPD stage. The solution provides a collaborative framework for all functions to manage quality related processes across all phases of product development. We have helped customers to also build in templates to be compliant with any of standard quality systems like APQP, ISO, and QS on the PLM backbone.
Manufacturing Process Planning is a critical link between the virtual world of product engineering and the physical world of manufacturing. Process Planning, best defined as a systematic detailing of methods to be performed on the parts to be manufactured, to convert raw material into finished product, as per the design specifications in an economical and competitive manner, is another such cross functional process that PLM solutions can enable.
With the advances in CAD and PLM in the last decade, design and its integration with manufacturing has greatly been improved. However, there are still many white spaces in the way the design content is used to derive the manufacturing processes, and its associates like machines, tools and human resources. Also, linking the design objectives (i.e. requirements) to the manufacturing processes to determine the critical process parameters is also missing. We have leveraged the new age PLM platforms to define and deploy Integrated Process Planning solutions to address these gaps, using some very effective and proven in-house built technologies. We have worked with CTO organizations to bring in concurrent process planning along with detailed design and analysis through placeholders provided in leading PLM suites. Process planners are required to simply identify, and not judge, the critical processes and do appropriate planning. Providing the process planners with the design intent and quick access to context based historical information also brings in efficiencies through knowledge reuse.
Systems Engineering is probably where all the stakeholders -- major enterprises and their partner chains as the users, and the PLM product companies and systems integrators like us as providers - are working collaboratively to address a cross functional domain that according to published research, will see the highest growth in investment; and rightly so, with the electronics and software content and changes in 'mechanical' products increasing exponentially over the actual mechanical engineering changes.
PLM has driven the best practices in various mechanical engineering domains; and to bring in the next generation of efficiencies in product engineering, the industry is now keenly adopting holistic systems engineering driven product development. PLM applications bring in the best practices of product structure and data management, and are being tuned to the needs of the industry, including the latest mechatronics capabilities in PLM suites.
With increasing product complexity, CTOs should be looking at proven PLM platforms to enable multi-disciplinary systems engineering to manage the development of increasingly complex and varying software and electronics systems inside a product, while enabling a high fidelity for mechanical, electronics and software relationships. And it is for the provider's ecosystem to bring solutions for new integrations with the required domain tools, traceability across technology domains with different rates of change, interdependency for quality and testing, enabling manufacturing supply chain and the after sales channels.
PLM programs for such cross functional process coverage are more complex, and hence, have to be well thought of, need top management support, and can be programs extending over years. With the expanding scope and impact on the extended enterprise, new age PLM solutions should be viewed as strategic to improved business performance. CTOs can achieve effective ROI from a PLM strategy only when they combine the humble engineering data management with the challenging cross functional processes, on the enterprise PLM backbone. It is this change that is bringing in the C-level management -- CTOs, CIOs, CFOs, and CEOs to better understand PLM and review the investment decisions.
Vivek Kotru is director of Marketing, Global Operations, for Geometric Limited.