Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

More Bang for Your Truck (PLM Strategies)

31 Aug, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Manufacturer of vehicle performance adjusters gets a boost from Omnify's Empower PLM system.

Gerrit Kruitbosch, vice-president of engineering at Edge Products, drives a 2008 Chevy Silverado 2500HD, a 6.6-liter LLM diesel truck. Like his customers, he wants to squeeze as much horsepower out of the vehicle as possible, even beyond Chevy's factory settings. So he equips his Silverado with one of his company's two best-selling performance adjusters: Evolution and Juice with Attitude (figure 1).

Figure 1.  Edge Products' aftermarket devices — such as Juice with Attitude (top) and Evolution — are configured to yield more performance than vehicle makers factory setups. The company uses Omnify s PLM system to keep track of the parts and attributes for each product line.
Figure 1. Edge Products' aftermarket devices — such as Juice with Attitude (top) and Evolution — are configured to yield more performance than vehicle makers factory setups. The company uses Omnify s PLM system to keep track of the parts and attributes for each product line.

Juice with Attitude, according to Edge, "modifies fueling and timing parameters to increase power. . . . Once [engine temperature] reaches 130°, the module begins modifying timing and delivering fuel at 50% of the calculated additional fuel, and the percentage increases as the engine temperature increases, until at full engine temperature the Juice delivers 100% of the calculated additional fuel." Evolution is an external programmer that modifies the same parameters as Juice within a vehicle's stock engine unit. It can "remove/adjust your vehicle's factory rev and speed limiter."

The Silverado's default setup yields 595 foot-pounds of torque at 305 horsepower (HP), according to Edge. With Evolution and Juice with Attitude, Kruitbosch can push the truck to deliver as much as an additional 250 foot-pounds of torque and 130 HP. But aftermarket products usually are not blessed by car manufacturers. Consequently, every time Kruitbosch brings his Silverado to a Chevy-authorized service center for checkup or maintenance, Edge's software-controlled configurations are overwritten by the manufacturer's updates, and his truck loses its performance edge.

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Juice with Attitude, Evolution, and other Edge gadgets — the A2, EZ, Insight, Mileage Max, and Trail Jammer — are configured for popular Chevy, Dodge, Ford, Jeep, and recreational vehicle models. Without official support from the vehicle makers, Edge relies on its own resources to monitor the manufacturers' software updates and issue its own to keep its aftermarket devices operational. So managing a database with nearly 100 top-level stock-keeping units and more than 2,000 parts and all their configurations becomes a critical part of its business. Edge uses Omnify Empower, a product lifecycle management (PLM) suite, to keep its product lines in order.

Discovering Omnify

Before installing Omnify, Edge had what Kruitbosch remembered as "a very cavalier" change order–management process. "We had a paper-based process," he said. "We weren't very careful with the hierarchy of our bills of materials (BOMs). When we had an engineering change order, we didn't specify the changes in all levels of the products. We didn't really have a part database either, so when one engineering team was coming up with a new design, it wasn't reusing compatible parts we were already using, which would make our contract manufacturer's job easier."

In the hunt for a new system, Kruitbosch and his colleagues took a serious look at roughly 10 products. Omnify and others demonstrated their products over the Internet using WebEx and other remote networking tools. As they sat in their offices and watched Omnify's demonstration, Kruitbosch and his colleagues were impressed by how Omnify managed the hierarchy of changes.

"As Omnify took a certain change order through the process, we saw the part statuses and check-in logs updating," he recalled. "It just seemed much more full-featured, intuitive, and comprehensive than the others."

To convince Edge that the software was a worthwhile investment, Omnify imported a chunk of Edge's database into Omnify Empower, the fourth incarnation of Omnify's flagship PLM system, to show how it would look. Soon afterward, Empower became Edge's PLM system.

According to Omnify's product sheet, Empower is "based on the Microsoft .NET Framework. [It] leverages Web services, enhancing Omnify Software's existing open platform for third-party integrations and enabling easy customization of user interfaces and reports. New functionality such as project management, quality management, and training-records management extends the capability of the PLM system to capture additional data such as manufacturing, quality, and customer information and tie it back to the product record, improving visibility to all aspects of product development."

Setup Options

With the emergence of PLM providers who offer products under the software-as-a-service (SaaS) licensing model (see Arena Solutions, for example), buyers have the option to have the database hosted and maintained off-site by the PLM provider for a fee or have it installed on their premises. Edge chose the latter.

"The installation and integration process was roughly three months, relatively painless," said Kruitbosch. "Mostly, it involved importing the existing data into the new system. We used an automated process for importing our parts and a manual process for the BOMs." The company manually imported the BOMs to get the cleaner, customized look it wanted, he explained.

Edge no longer has individual employees devoted solely to change-order management. "Now, everybody contributes to it. And everybody can see the changes taking place," Kruitbosch observed. "Engineers initiate a change, then other responsible parties pick it up and enter their information. We even route it to tech support and validation to make sure their documentations are up to date and the products are retested."

Launching Empower

Edge uses an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that is, in Kruitbosch's observation, an accounting system, and therefore not ideal for tracking the attributes associated with electronics parts. With Empower, Edge can associate each part with relevant parameters, such as tolerance, temperature rating, and package size.

"Temperature rating is extremely important to our products," Kruitbosch pointed out. The Juice product line, for example, is installed in the engine compartment and is subject to extreme environmental requirements.

Now that the parts database is remotely accessible, Edge's approval process includes not only engineering but also sourcing, manufacturing, and quality control. In addition, when Edge sends instructions to its contract manufacturers, it's now able to send a digital package with all relevant part attributes and requirements.

Previously, whenever Kruitbosch needed a schematic, he'd have to personally track down the person responsible for the part to request the document. The turnaround time for retrieval was usually a few hours to a day. "Now, anyone can go find it in Empower," he reflected. "We put all the data sheets for the parts in the system, so anyone can pull those up too."

Better Customer Support

A former Navy officer, Kruitbosch recalled the story he'd heard about an incident where, because the officer responsible for ordering a replacement valve accidentally transposed a digit in data entry, the staff received an aircraft carrier propeller instead. For all Kruitbosch knew, it could just be an apocryphal story, growing more outrageous each time it was retold. Nevertheless, he's glad Edge's automatic data transfer from PLM to ERP is set up to prevent such costly errors. With each product release, Empower executes an automatic script to automatically populate Edge's ERP system with the new part numbers and BOMs.

Because of Omnify Empower's Web service interface, Edge is able to populate its Web-based customer support application with BOMs directly from the Omnify database. Therefore, customer service representatives are able to keep a record of the specific materials or parts they're authorizing the customers to return.

"These BOMs get updated whenever we change a product," Kruitbosch said, "so our customer support system automatically receives these updates and is able to display the correct BOM revision."

A Closer Look at Omnify

Omnify markets its PLM products to the electronics, mechanical, medical, and defense industries. Sold either as a term or perpetual license, Empower is priced beginning at $10,000. The underlying technology in Empower came from a universal BOM system, OmniBOM, developed by Omnify's founders in 1998. The technology eventually evolved into a PLM system (with OmniBOM remaining as a key module). The company began selling it publicly in January 2002.

At the moment, Omnify seems to operate under the radar, escaping the notice of industry watchers and analysts. The company's name and products have yet to be mentioned in the frequently cited annual PLM market reports. But this anonymity may change soon.

Ken Amann, CIMdata's director of research, said, "We are tracking them and have talked with them. We estimated their PLM revenues to be approximately $34 million in 2007. Omnify is providing good foundational PLM functionality for small and mid-size enterprises and is expanding to provide focused solutions for specific business problems. They continue to grow their customer base and expand their product solution offerings."

About the Author: Kenneth Wong