Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

PLM Strategies-Do You Need PLM?

28 Feb, 2005 By: Arnie Williams

As MCAD programs embed more intelligence into models, figuring out how to organize and reuse this intelligence becomes crucial.

If you're on a multiyear product design team in aerospace and automotive engineering, then you likely have little choice in the matter—the enterprise often dictates that internal departments take part in a company's PLM (product lifecycle management) process. Moreover, the enterprise leaders usually prescribe which PLM technologies the company will support. Sometimes that decision is based on history and long-term relationships with software vendors. Acquisitions can also play a role, but in most cases, an engineer's opinion doesn't enter into the equation.

But what about second-and third-tier design and manufacturing companies or independent firms that have grown beyond the capabilities of rudimentary filing systems? What PLM options are available to such companies for smarter and more efficient data management?

Midrange Modelers and PLM

Most major mechanical CAD software developers offer some type of interdepartmental data management built into their design software.

Autodesk, for example, through its acquisition of vaulting technology, now offers as part of its Autodesk Inventor series file check-in and check-out modeled on the Windows Explorer file tree. That, in combination with its ProductStream software and its extension of Buzzsaw technology to include mechanical CAD-level management, provides Autodesk customers with an entry-level, albeit constrained, form of PLM.

Solid Edge from UGS extends the capabilities of the engineering department with its Design with Insight technology. The level of collaboration and data management built into its standard Solid Edge product moves beyond just basic design and manual data management toward PLM.

In the past, SolidWorks has gone on record stating that it doesn't view itself as a PLM company or a player in that arena, although at the same time its products such as SolidWorks Office Professional are embedded with data management, collaboration, and Internet viewing and markup capabilities through such features as eDrawings and Instant Website.

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In general, these built-in tools are sufficient to get an engineering workgroup started on data management. If your office wants to move beyond the tools built in to its design tools, or if your company now senses the need for a more focused product-lifecycle strategy, how do you select the options that are right for your company? I spoke with Kendall Pond of Dassault Systèmes for more insight. With a background in industrial machinery, consumer goods, electrical and electronics, Pond now focuses on the life sciences and consumer packaged goods industries for Dassault. He notes that PLM is not just a "go to the store and buy a box" proposition, but rather a process that should be approached mindfully and carefully.

The PLM Process

"The most important realization is that PLM is a journey," says Pond. "PLM involves people, processes and resources. Unfortunately, it's not something a company can go out and buy—it's much more complex than that. The good news is that the benefits at the end of this complex rainbow can be significant and can make the journey worthwhile."

The first step for PLM consultants from Dassault Systèmes, according to Pond, is to meet with company representatives who are looking at PLM and "listen, listen, listen." The consultant's job is to help create a PLM roadmap that works for a particular company and can roll out over a two- to four-year period, he says.

Though PLM consultants don't go into a company with a preconceived starting point in mind, it often makes sense to first look at the authoring CAD engine and investigate ways to capture and reuse that knowledge, notes Pond. For other customers, the authoring tool may be sufficient, but they may have business problems as the process moves into manufacturing.

Pond recommends that any company considering a move to PLM begin by hiring consultants. The tools and technical capabilities are advancing at such a rapid rate, he cautions, that companies need to address today's needs with the future very much in mind. Gone are the days when, as with early CAD, you could choose a vendor that addressed your short-term needs. "With PLM," says Pond, "you need to consider how well the vendor's vision matches up with your company's vision—with your goals and objectives."

The end target isn't rocket science. Any PLM consultant with a company's interests in mind will help the company mitigate risks and minimize leaps of faith. The consultants Pond works with attempt to help a company establish priorities for what needs to be accomplished when, what ROI (return on investment) can be realized and what detailed success criteria look like.

After Consultation, Then What?

As did PTC in last month's column (, Dassault Systèmes' Pond also highly recommends that your first step be to establish a product and process roadmap. And as we saw with PTC and its modular approach to the numerous and complex areas of PLM, Pond says that Dassault Systèmes has developed an array of solutions during the past 18-24 months that draw on industry experience of realized ROI.

"After listening to our customer's priorities and working together on an agreeable roadmap," he says, "we can oftentimes propose off-the-shelf solutions, or in some cases, such solutions with modest customizations." Pond also notes that while it might not seem so at first glance, a solution that worked well with an aerospace company might also apply to a company focused on the consumer packaged goods industry.

As technology advances to allow more embedded intelligence in design data while it's created, it's natural that companies ask how to leverage this data intelligence more efficiently throughout a product's lifecycle.

The need to do so is not going away, and the companies who remain standing as market competition continues to be a global contest will most likely be the companies that do the best job of managing their data.

Though improving CAD authoring tools and harnessing data intelligence still seem to be logical places to start, engineering departments and other related departments in even the smallest companies need to match their departmental business processes with the company's enterprise-level processes and long-range goals as a whole.

PLM, from the most basic start-up level to larger scale and more complex approaches, promises to be an inevitable step toward addressing these business needs.

Next month, we'll take an in-depth look at PLM options from UGS.

Arnie Williams, former editor-in-chief of Cadence magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail him at

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