10/1/2009 | 7 MINUTE READ

PLM & The Importance Of Process

Sure, PLM is tech. But if you're looking for a competitive edge, it is in process. And the software vendors may have the process capability you can use to your advantage.
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It seems remarkable.


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It seems remarkable. Many things do. But when asked about PLM—as in "product lifecycle management"—Twila Osborn, Lean Manufacturing and PLM, Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC; csc.com), remarks, "There is still confusion in the market between PLM and PDM." That last-named is "product data management." Osborn continues, "There are a lot of people thinking 'PDM' but call it 'PLM.'" Which can be troublesome for a variety of reasons, especially since many of those PDM systems, which have seemingly morphed into PLM systems, oftentimes have homegrown elements attached to them, and the developers who are responsible for those elements have left home long ago.

The central term in both of those descriptors is essential: lifecycle; data. Think of it this way, if you're managing the lifecycle, you're managing the data, but if you're managing the data, you aren't necessarily managing the lifecycle.

Or, as the people at CIMdata (cimdata.com) put it, "PLM is not just a technology, but is an approach in which processes are as important, or more important, than data." In their view, PLM, beyond data, is "a business approach to solving the problem of managing the complete set of product definition information—creating that information, managing it through its life, and disseminating and using it throughout the lifecycle of the product."

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with data. It's just insufficient.

Which brings us to Ms. Osborn's colleague, Michael Bauer, who is the executive director of North American Automotive for CSC. He points out, "There is a corporate decision that needs to be made early: Who owns the BOM?" The bill of materials. "The BOM is a corporate asset, not an engineering asset." And he points out that in an automotive program, there are multiple BOMs, ranging from the conceptual BOMs to the aftermarket BOMs. Given this breadth and corporate positioning, it follows,

in Bauer's words, "A PLM system is an ideal construct for BOMs."

So as you can see, a PLM system is more than some software that you buy and use to perform a particular function (Osborn: "The mindset needs to change; it is not just CAD data."). Rather, it is a way of doing business, or a way of running a business.

But wait. Isn't it the case that essentially all OEMs and Tier One suppliers have PLM? And the CSC people answer "yes." And then there is the "but," which in this case is more like the "buts," as in: "It might be very old, out of date. It might not have an integrated BOM. Some have BOMs based on proprietary technology, built from scratch. They might have a PLM system but they're using it as a PDM system." A lot of "buts."

"CSC has an interesting perspective," Bauer claims, then explains, "We have a business perspective and an integrator's perspective. We know the trials and tribulations of getting all this stuff to work together. You don't just put in a PLM system. It becomes part of your corporate ecosystem. It has to be delivered to desktops and servers across the world. It has to take input from purchasing and output to MES systems. It has to . . ."

It has to do a lot. And, remarkably, they have a recommendation that might strike some people as nothing short of astonishing: Implement the PLM system as it has been architected. That's right: Stock. Used right out of the box. Sure, there might be some necessary configuration for the needs of your operation. But it is the customization that gets companies in a fix in the long run. And in the short run, too, as customization means that implementation can be greatly impeded, because if you customize, say, the interfaces to the MES system, then you've got to customize the receptors to the MES system. And then you've got to . . .

The argument they make is that companies like Dassault Systèmes and Siemens PLM have made tremendous investments in their PLM systems. They have, says Bauer, "done a marvelous job of implementing really good design processes in their tools. They have worked with hundreds of companies and the stuff really works." Which, at the end of the day—as well as at the start of the day—is what really matters.

PLM is a process enabler. And what makes the real difference in competitiveness is processes. "Too often we run into companies that are trying to use the technology for competitive advantage, but it is really the process that makes the difference, Bauer says. If you have best practices in your organization, then PLM can help amplify the results. If you don't have best practices in your organization, then PLM—at least the newly developed PLM products that encompass the learnings from multitudinous companies—can help you get much further ahead than you are.

But there is that whole issue of using an "out-of-the-box " implementation. After all, doesn't every company think that it is different than every other company, and therefore needs its own special spins? Osborn admits that it is a "challenge" for companies to do so. But she goes on to say that this is an opportunity for there to be some significant savings for companies, not only in terms of getting the PLM systems up and running, but in terms of gaining the benefits of the built-in functions without starting down the complex road of customization.


Siemens PLM Teamcenter 8
There are three areas that the developers of Teamcenter 8, the latest release of the PLM system from Siemens PLM Software (siemens.com/plm) focused on:

  • Individual productivity
  • Application productivity
  • IT productivity

As for the first, they've interfaced with software tools that are commonly used: Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office 2007. There is a "Teamcenter To Do List" embedded within Outlook, so there can be simpler scheduling performed. Outlook, Word, and Excel can be used as interfaces to the PLM system. There is also inte-grated functionality with various layout and software tools.

Application productivity enhancements include Content and Document Management (facilitated by the Microsoft Office 2007 integration), with support for templates, embedded menus, and automatic rendering. In addition to which, there is Formula, Package, and Brand Management functionality. The first provides such things as formula authoring tools and information consolidation; the packaging provides traceability and visibility for consistency and adherence to requirements; and the last-named helps provide consistency in branding and improves communication.

IT productivity is simplified via the Platform Extensibility Services. These include configuration services for tailoring the product; connection services, for integration with other enterprise applications; and customization services. There is a four-tier service-oriented architecture that now includes support of IBM middlewear. Siemens PLM and IBM recently announced that Teamcenter will ship pre-configured with IBM DB2 Information Manager and WebSphere Application services.

Dassault V6RR2010

"PLM 2.0 is an enterprise-wide business transformation catalyst integrating both industrial business processes and dedicated applications. V6's lifelike experience, IP collaboration, modeling, simulation, and manufacturing solutions provide customers an agnostic and federating platform that truly accelerates PLM 2.0 transformations. V6R2010 delivers the promise of our virtual universes through our unified open architecture and our deep understanding of collaborative and social innovation needs." So says Dominique Florack, senior executive vice president, Products, Research and Development, Dassault Systèmes (3ds.com).

V6R2010 is the latest release of the V6 platform. It includes 42 new products, including V6 PLM Express, which is suited for mid-market businesses or small teams within larger organizations. The shared interface and data model used throughout the V6 offerings permit collaboration and integration with OEMs and others. It offers direct modeling capabilities and realistic simulations.

V6 has been developed such that it can be used by experts or casual users, with the goal that all parties can be comfortable with the software. The concept of "PLM 2.0" is one where there is social integration analogous to Web 2.0, which includes participation from various concerns.

PTC Windchill Product Point
According to PTC (ptc.com), its Windchill solution is the only PLM that was "designed from the ground up to work in an Internet-based, distributed design environment." It is, to put it mildly, big on the notion of collaboration, to the extent that beyond fundamental PLM functionality, the system, which avails itself of Microsoft SharePoint functionality, permits "social product development."

Developed so that even smaller companies can have—and use—PLM software (although it can be deployed by companies of any size), it facilitates the creation and deployment of workflow, controls lifecycle phases and gates, provides systematic configuration, management and reuse of product structures and associates them with related content; provides security via access control at multiple levels; and has an architecture that because

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of its Internet base, provides the ability to communicate both internally at an organization and externally with suppliers.

The SharePoint Web 2.0 functionality provides the social computing capabilities, including blogs, wikis, and on-line presence detection.


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