Eight ideas for improving product lifecycle management

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) has been described as an information strategy that allows organizations to work as a single team to design, produce, support and retire the products they make, while capturing best practices and lessons learned along the way. Its goal is to improve the quality of products and processes. Here are some suggestions for selecting and using PLM systems:

1. Don't let tools dictate process. Project teams implementing PLM can get lost in the weeds. Have clear results and improvement goals in mind. Don't let the tools dictate your process; get your process defined first, with any known gaps resolved. Then look at tools and map them to your requirements. It's not a bad idea to look at tool features to begin with, to make sure that you are aware of best practices and capabilities that can be leveraged, but don't let a tool dictate a process.

2. Fostering collaboration. The most important function of a PLM system is to foster collaboration among people with different functional responsibilities. It allows them to work in a parallel rather than linear fashion by creating a shared information resource of product and process knowledge. This can encourage innovation, improve quality and shorten time to market for new products.

3. Lifecycle costs. When evaluating equipment options, always include lifecycle costs in the equation. In most capital equipment situations, the up-front cost of the equipment is 2-5 percent of the lifecycle costs, while the rest is the cost to run and maintain the equipment.

4. Keep it basic. Remember that hardware and software designs have a direct impact on industrial productivity. The most elegant and complex system design does not help a customer unless it is faster, easier to maintain, uses less energy and, above all, can be understood by plant maintenance personnel. Sometimes it is better to sacrifice elegant and complex for basic and simple if the result is a faster, easier-to-maintain manufacturing line. Those who care about manufacturing productivity will appreciate it.

5. Validation essential. Choose PLM software that is able to validate the production system in a simulated three-dimensional environment. This allows the risks of failure to be identified in different parts of the process or equipment. The software can also be used to determine the best way to lay out production lines in order to move material through the factory floor.

6. Is there a payback? Don't be afraid to tell others when a system is at its end of life. Just because an outdated system is running today is no guarantee it will be running tomorrow. Strive to educate operations and management that it's important to upgrade as needed. But don't upgrade just to have the latest technology if there is no real payback.

7. Track equipment. If you are looking at new maintenance software, make sure that downtime, maintenance hours and material costs can be easily tracked to each major piece of equipment. This will help you make informed decisions about whether to replace, upgrade or leave alone each piece. It is also possible with some software providers to use the information to evaluate your techs.

8. Digital manufacturing. One element of PLM is digital manufacturing, an integrated, computer-based system comprised of simulation, three-dimensional visualization, analytics and collaboration tools. It's used to create product and manufacturing process definitions simultaneously. By enabling product-related information to be shared between design and manufacturing groups, it can reduce the expensive changes often experienced when faulty product designs reach the manufacturing stage.

Modernizing manufacturing

To learn more about the digital manufacturing initiative sponsored by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences and other resources for modernizing American manufacturing, visit http://awgo.to/024
Source: National Center for Manufacturing Sciences

Working with PLM software

For more information about using PLM software to facilitate collaborative work, download an ARC white paper at http://awgo.to/023
Source: Siemens

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