PLM Extends its Reach into Product Development

June 14, 2009
Expect the conversation around 'social product development' to grow.

What's on the horizon for product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions? Ask the experts and they say to expect a steady expansion of PLM's reach within product development and a continued recognition that manufacturers remain focused on the mantra of better, cheaper and faster. Social computing also is gaining greater attention.

By all accounts, interest in PLM solutions is expected to grow. A recent survey by Forrester Research indicated that more than three-quarters of respondents expected their PLM IT investments to remain the same or grow in 2009. Consulting firm CIMdata forecasts that PLM investments will continue to grow over the next five years, even as the economy likely will slow that growth in 2009 and 2010.

Indeed, according to CIM-data, today's economy has manufacturers focused on short-term priorities, but "long-term drivers for PLM continue to be focused on initiatives that are critical for business success, including harmonizing global processes, managing the increased complexity of products and value chains, and improving competitiveness and pricing structures by improving product quality and lowering costs."

The deployment of PLM also has begun to extend "beyond engineering design to a broader range of business functions," CIMdata points out in an April white paper, "PLM Growth in 2008," which also looks ahead to 2009. Those business functions span the early stages of product development strategy through to product maintenance. Indeed, "the impact of the PLM footprint expansion is that many diverse, previously isolated disciplines and pockets of automation are now being tightly integrated and efficiently coordinated through comprehensive PLM solutions," the firm notes.

The integration extends to the value chain, notes PLM solutions provider Infor. PLM providers are reacting to manufacturers' wishes to better collaborate with suppliers and vendors during the product development process, explains Rory Granros, Infor's director of marketing for process industries. Another trend he observes is closer integration of regulatory compliance and sourcing into product development.

PLM provider PTC, whose Pro/Engineer solution was used to design the KTM Motorsports 990 SuperDuke, says the emergence of social computing is a natural evolution in product development.

It's an observation backed by CIMdata statistics. Expenditures for collaborative product definition management, which includes strategic sourcing and compliance management, are the fastest-growing in PLM, the firm's data show.

Adds Andrew Wertkin, director, environmental products at PTC: "Environmental regulatory compliance is now singly important in many industries, including electronics and high tech. Faced with a growing set of standards and environmental compliance regulations for developing products including the European Union's RoHS and REACH, China's RoHS, as well as others, product development companies are looking for a scalable platform to support compliant design initiatives." PTC points to its InSight product as one example. Another example is the latest release of New Generation Computing's e-PLM solution, which includes a module to help manufacturers that are required to meet mandates of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Finally, given PLM providers' focus on the collaborative benefits of their solutions -- and given the growing prevalence of wikis, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social computing -- it's natural to question what influence, if any, these social technologies may have on the product development process, and on product lifecycle management.

"It's natural to see the evolution of social computing emerge in a product development environment," suggests PTC's Tom Shoemaker, vice president of solutions marketing for PTC. "Today's young engineers are entering the workforce with social computing habits as second nature and they expect to approach their work similarly. They'll employ such capabilities -- presence detection, instant messaging, blogs and wikis -- as ways to conceptualize, collaborate, design and introduce products to their global marketplace."

Shoemaker says PTC is "championing the concept of social product development and supporting its customers' needs by incorporating the power of Web 2.0 technologies into its PLM suite."

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About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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