Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is the Cloud a Panacea for PLM Deployment?

I was following the recent announcement of Autodesk PLM 360. The announcement appears to include a host of good tools for any company to use that will help them deploy PLM. The solution is "insanely configurable" with more than 140 apps available. PLM applications such as Project Management, Change Management, Supplier Management, and Design Reviews were mentioned. These applications are templates that the customer can configure to match their business processes. A learning curve of  "3 days" was referenced, and ease of use is clearly one of the key benefits for this technology.

This all sounds great but one thing worries me: companies might get the mistaken notion that in order to start using PLM, all you need is new cloud technology: the cloud is mysterious, the cloud is awesome and powerful, it must have the answer!

We already have PLM technology literally coming out of our ears, yet most companies still struggle to deploy PLM. Why is that? We surely need PLM solutions that are easier to use, maintain, and deploy. Having a PLM solution based on the cloud can theoretically remove many of the challenges that face the average PLM customer: hardware upgrades, user support, software installation, maintenance, and a host of other potential challenges.

However, I hope Autodesk customers don't get the mistaken idea that all you need to do to implement PLM is sign up for Autodesk PLM 360, and Whalla! you have PLM. Implementing PLM properly at any company is a process that must be planned and approached properly to gain good results. I am always afraid someone might get the idea that PLM has just been made simple. All PLM vendors like to sell their technology as so simple even a caveman can do it (I think that's the wrong vendor). PLM is not simple! Implementing PLM properly is not simple! You can do small, simple parts of PLM, like data vaulting or visualization, and work on it step by step, but implementing PLM requires a good plan and a determination to follow that plan through to the end.

One of the challenges for Autodesk is that many of their users are familiar with 2D/3D CAD and basic CAD Vault data management, but they are less familiar with other important concepts of PLM, such as configuration mangement, structure management, classification mangement, DMU, and other PLM concepts that span the enterprise, like digital manufacturing. They will also need to raise the level of PLM understanding that currently exists within their partners who will ultimately sell this solution. So, what is to be done?

I believe the key to any PLM deployment is training. Before launching off into the PLM space, you and your team need to be trained about PLM. Training allows you to understand the importance and power of PLM to support innovation: not just product innovation, but process innovation as well. A company should always consider their business processes, industry, competitors, users, and company goals before choosing technology for PLM. If you choose technology first, automate out-dated, inefficient processes, and push information up to the cloud, that will not support innovation. Making process innovation changes that support the work you want your people to do first will allow the new technology included in the AutodekPLM360 solution to make a real difference in any business.

I know where to get PLM training, do you?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Who Needs Product Lifecycle Management?

People seemingly cannot agree on who really needs Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM.  What is my response? EVERY business needs PLM! Why, you ask, well, let me tell you.

Every business has a large pile of information that supports their products. It may be in the form of paper, but thankfully today, most businesses have a large amount of digital information that supports their business. Managing that virtual information is what allows the company to continue delivering products and support to their customers. PLM is all about managing virtual information to support physical products.

Some people believe that only companies with very large, or very complex products need PLM. Of course, these large companies need PLM because it is impossible for them to manage all the information that is required to build their products. However, with the increasing speed required for new product introductions, with the increasing pressure of global competitors, and with the increased complexity of all products, every business can be improved with the benefits of PLM.

PLM supports the virtual product, no matter what that product is. You may not have 3D CAD models of your product, but you do have a Bill of Information of some type that is used to create your product. Whether you have recipes, or formulas, or patterns, or unique process steps, or whatever, there is some type of information that must be managed. This is true whether you are a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. And, all businesses want to capture feedback from customers no matter what the products or deliverable.

For example, let’s say you run a cupcake business. Your final product is a tasty cupcake that customers will eat. Now, after the cupcake is eaten, you don’t wanna know what happens! But, your job is not done. You would like to capture a response from your customer about that cupcake, and then use that information to enhance your recipes, improve your processes, and develop new, innovative cupcakes. Your business has many recipes and processes that support the creation of your tasty cupcakes, these must be modified and continuously managed to deliver only the very best products to your customers;  that’s PLM.

There are also many new technologies that have the potential to change your business and improve your interactions with customers, suppliers, partners, and others. If your processes, recipes, and other information are not managed properly, it will be difficult, or impossible to take advantage of new innovation in your business.

For example, improvements in mobile technologies, and the capabilities within social networking tools provide a rich new playground that can add innovation to any business. But, it you don’t have your basic processes and products managed properly with PLM, you will struggle to take advantage of these new opportunities; Your competitors are taking advantage of them today!

So, what do you think! I am always interested in feedback, and I really want to eat a cupcake now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

One question I get from a lot of people is: What is Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM?

The simplest definition I can think of is that PLM is responsible for managing the virtual product. In comparison, solutions such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Manufacuring Execution Systems (MES), are mainly responsible for managing the physical product.

Managing the virtual product is important because product innovation is achieved during the early phases of product development. Once the physical product is being developed, it is very hard and very expensive to infuse any product innovation into the final product.

PLM employs many kinds of software technologies to provide support for the virtual product. Solutions such as 3D CAD modeling, Finite Element Analysis, 2D and 3D visualization tools, collaborative social platforms, and links to suppliers are all important parts of PLM. 

Increasingly, software, electronic systems, and 3D CAD models are being brought together with Systems Engineering tools to provide a comprehensive view of the entire product. This allows testing to be done on the virtual product, reducing or eliminating the need for expensive prototypes.

Not only does PLM support the early development of the virtual product, it continues to support the virtual product as the physical product is manufactured; keeping track of updates and changes throughout the life of the product. This means that once the product is manufactured, sold, and delivered to the customer, PLM is still there updating itself whenever there is a change. Once in the field, there might be warranty changes, or product updates, or other changes that impact the virtual product.

When the virtual product matches the real physical product out in the field, it becomes easy to create new derivative products, and it is much easier to develop innovative new products based on customer input. Improvements of this type lead to more successful new product introductions and a better ability to deliver a higher quality product, to the right market at the right time.