Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

The Democratization of Manufacturing — and PLM Software

1 Oct, 2014 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

At the first-ever Accelerate 2014, innovative product developers discuss a new landscape where SMBs are thriving — and how the cloud-based Autodesk PLM 360 is playing a key role.

As the tools, funding, and know-how required for manufacturing success become increasingly accessible to even the smallest organizations, so has the software that supports product development. Just a few years ago, manufacturing success required extensive understanding of complex processes and markets, as well as significant time and funding to get a new venture off the ground. And until recently, product lifecycle management (PLM) software was typically complex and costly as well — placing its benefits beyond reach of most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Today, everything is turning upside down.

The smallest of companies — even individuals — now have access to tools such as free and low-cost cloud-based modeling software, as well as 3D printers that can drastically reduce manufacturing costs, not to mention time to market. With not much more than a great idea, inventors can receive product-development expertise from online services such as Quirky, and entrepreneurs can secure startup funding from sources such as Kickstarter. As for PLM software, new flexibility and affordability via the cloud are bringing it into the realm of the SMB and delivering a valuable boost in a very competitive market.

These manufacturing market turnabouts were front and center at Accelerate 2014, the first-ever Autodesk conference devoted to Autodesk PLM 360, the company’s cloud-based product lifecycle management solution. The free two-day event featured presentations from Autodesk customers and partners including NetSuite, Quirky, Accenture, and Dragon Innovation.

Heart of PLM

Accelerate 2014 convened September 15–16 at the new Boston District Hall, a civic space in the redeveloping South Boston waterfront dedicated to fostering innovation. Two hundred attendees gathered for the event, a capacity crowd for the facility; approximately half were Autodesk customers and prospective customers, and the other half was composed of Autodesk channel partners, PLM deployment experts, and a dozen PLM analysts and media representatives.

Ron Locklin, director of Autodesk PLM 360, kicked off the event by pointing out that Boston, specifically the Highway 128 corridor, is a hub for PLM, home not only to Autodesk’s PLM arm but also major PLM developers PTC, Siemens PLM Software, and Dassault Systemes. The event theme, Locklin said, would be “moving things along faster, reaching new markets” — making things happen. Indeed, Accelerate 2014 focused much more on the changing landscape of the manufacturing industry and the evolution of PLM than it did on Autodesk PLM 360. 

A lineup of insightful and even entertaining manufacturing experts filled the agenda, sharing stories, advice, and perspectives on PLM.

Dragon Innovation “helps small companies navigate successfully in manufacturing,” said CEO Scott Miller, offering assistance with crowdfunding and the manufacturing process. He noted how the traditional manufacturing approach of first building a product, then selling it — often to see it fail in the marketplace — is being replaced by a “sell, then build” approach facilitated by crowdfunding. The latter approach has proved “wildly successful,” Miller said, even though many product concepts — he cited Kickstarter’s Coolest cooler as one example — might never have gotten off the ground in the traditional manufacturing environment.

Miller said the greatest challenge in manufacturing is communication — specifically, disseminating design intent to those who manufacture and assemble the product. “The companies that have the sharpest tools to shorten time to market, increase product quality, and understand [costs of goods sold] ... will see the most success,” Miller concluded.

Mark Principe, head of program management at Quirky, said the company brings new consumer products to life each week by enabling collaboration between a global community of inventors and an in-house team of designers and engineers. At Quirky, Principe said, “We have one simple goal: to make invention accessible” by commercializing it and propelling it forward. “We’re all inventors,” he added.

Quirky also is striving to shake up traditional product development, Principe continued. “We want our products to be the fastest to market.” And even the largest manufacturers are taking notice. Quirky and GE have partnered to create new products in GE’s connected home product line, in part so GE can gain insight into Quirky’s product development process and fast time to market. The partnership initially resulted in four new products developed from scratch and brought to market in four months, Principe said. The companies will codevelop and launch 30 products total over the next five years.

Quirky is a user of PLM 360 and other Autodesk products. Principe shared several reasons that Quirky uses PLM 360, including:

  • Scalability. Having grown to 250 employees and developed more than 350 products since the company launched in 2009, “we’ve outgrown quick-fix solutions” for process support, such as Google Drive, Principe said. “We need a system that will help us grow, keep us on track ... and give us visibility into all aspects of product development.” Today, Quirky is developing hundreds of products at one time and requires a system that can track all resources without sacrificing time to market.
  • Accessibility. “[We require a system that supports] clear communication across three offices and with partners worldwide.”
  • Flexibility. PLM 360 allows Quirky to adapt to changing processes and fine-tune existing ones, so the company can remain agile. In addition, it supports integration with other systems the company relies on.

Oyo Sportstoys: New Manufacturing MVP

Martin Hanssmann, CEO of Oyo Sportstoys, delivered a presentation titled, “Leveraging PLM 360 in a Fast-Paced World.” Fast-paced doesn’t sufficiently describe Oyo Sportstoys, which creates miniature, moveable figurines that convey the characteristics of the athletes they portray: The company has reduced the product design and manufacturing process to a single day.

The company responds to events, such as a player’s transfer to a new team, to capitalize on fans’ fleeting enthusiasm. “The market is flooded with less-expensive versions of our products. So our differentiation is our engagement with the customer, capturing them in the moment, while they’re excited,” Hanssmann explained.

Manufacturing within a player’s lifecycle of opportunity is a challenge, Hannsmann continued. “The [product-development] cycle would take weeks or months traditionally; we need to create products in days or hours.” This reality demanded that Oyo automate processes including product design, bill of materials (BOM) creation, packaging design, and content and media creation. Using Autodesk PLM 360, Hanssmann said, the company is able to leverage assets in the system for these and other needs.

PLM 360 also helps the company manage all the licensing associated with reproducing sports figures: Some products have more than one license, say, for the sports league and the individual. “It’s fairly complicated to understand when licenses are valid,” Hanssmann explained. “ERP [engineering resource planning] was not enough to manage it all. We needed a solution that offered more control of licenses.”

Oyo does some of its own molding in-house to gain more efficiency, Hanssmann said. “One product represents 25 to 40 molds. We use PLM 360 in traditional ways to manage mold making as well as for document management.” However, he noted, “we don’t do revision control in traditional ways. We might have 24 versions of Derek Jeter.”

The company typically delivers a product to market within two days. First runs are usually 1,000–3,000 units — fabricated near its Boston-area headquarters — and the first shipment off the line will ship to a stadium the same day it is produced. Hanssmann cited an example where a new team roster was released the morning of Day 1, and new figurines were manufactured and shipped to the stadium for sales on Day 2.

“We need to be efficient, first and foremost,” Hanssmann said. “We needed a solution that would allow us to configure and develop new products. We couldn’t have done this with traditional [PLM] solutions.”

Autodesk Responds to New Paradigm

Andrew Anagnost, senior vice-president in charge of industry strategy at Autodesk, talked about the turnabouts in the manufacturing world and what the company is doing to provide the software that supports the evolving needs of manufacturers.

“We’re seeing big shifts in the world of built products,” he said. “The little guys are exploiting these trends, which are allowing them to succeed in the market. ... And we’re seeing these trends across all the industries we serve — AEC, civil, manufacturing, and yes, movies. It’s not isolated. It’s a big deal.”

Those shifts include:

1. Change in the means of production

  • Workforces are becoming increasingly distributed and nomadic, working with one another virtually, even sharing intellectual property.
  • Cloud-based technologies facilitate collaboration and processes that previously were difficult or impossible.  
  • 3D printing “is hugely impactful on the way people think about how products are made. 3D printers are the plotters of the future,” Anagnost said.
  • New means of acquiring funding, such as crowdfunding, are becoming readily accessible.

2. Changing modes of consumption

  • Customers care about where and how a product was made and are willing to pay a premium for locally sourced, environmentally friendly products.
  • “It’s not emerging markets vs. mature markets,” Anagnost said. “It’s about fragmentation of buying expectations between baby boomers and younger generations.”

3. Changing notions of what a product is

  • “Every product now has the expectation that it is connected to the Internet,” Anagnost said, so the question becomes, How does Autodesk help its customers connect products? “This blending of hardware and software is a pretty significant trend.”
  • Manufacturers themselves are changing consumer expectations, Anagnost said. For example, Tesla Motors, a manufacturer of premium electric vehicles, is telling buyers to keep a car eight to ten years. It has abandoned the conventional messaging that you need a new car every three years. “The little guys are exploiting the weaknesses of the big guys. The big guys cannot afford to ignore these disruptive trends.”

Anagnost concluded, “This is the era of connection. We very much intend to be part of this disruption. We are very serious about this; we need to build new tools to support it. It’s a huge initiative for us. ... We’re investing a lot.”

Moving Forward

Manufacturing is becoming faster, more agile, and increasingly accessible to organizations of any size or level of expertise. And PLM software is following suit, delivering simplicity, flexibility, and affordability that brings it within reach of SMBs and allows them to tap the benefits of a technology that previously was too complex, too rigid, and too expensive for their needs. Just like the progressive companies that are shaking up the manufacturing industry today, cloud-based PLM is nimble and fast — and changing the game.

Accelerate 2015 is scheduled for September 23–24, 2015, in Boston.

About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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