Attaining Value with PLM: What a Ride!

22 Jul, 2007 By: Tom Shoemaker

PTC's Tom Shoemaker discusses the ups and downs of product development and how product lifecycle management keeps a company on track.

Editor's note: In this article, Tom Shoemaker, vice-president, Windchill Product Marketing at PTC, offers his perspective on product lifecycle management. Windchill is PTC's PLM solution.

I go to amusement parks for the roller coasters. Not the Ferris wheel, not the cotton candy, but the roller coasters.

"Huh?" you say. "Isn't this is an article about PLM?"

Bear with me, and I'll try to make the connection.

Roller coasters are a classic example of a fundamental physics concept: the transformation of energy. The motionless coaster at the top of the hill has all potential energy and no kinetic, or realized, energy. At the bottom of the hill, the coaster has the inverse. Similarly, one way to think about product development, and hence, PLM (product lifecycle management), is to think about how a company engages in a series of tasks to transform the potential energy, or opportunity, of its digital ideas into the kinetic energy, or realized opportunity, of its physical products.

But it's not easy, and the challenges faced by manufacturers -- operating at breakneck speed with ups, downs, and constant stress -- bear additional similarity to our favorite thrill ride. It's not enough for engineering to go off in isolation and dream up the next great idea. Sure, innovation and superior product are a necessity, but to be successful long-term, product development must be the work of a broad team conducted in alignment with the company's business goals.

PLM Comes to Play
For example, consider a fictional company, Roller Corporation, as it initiates a new product venture. Executives and shareholders direct Roller Corporation to sustain revenue by protecting its current position in the marketplace. The company is trying to hold competitors at bay while continuing to serve its existing customer base long-term. To support this corporate goal, Roller Corporation management focuses on a business initiative to reduce the time required between product iterations. Roller's rationale is that a continuous, frequent stream of product introductions will lock in current customers and bolster brand loyalty. Because cycle time is significantly influenced by the concept development and detailed design processes, and because Roller Corporation's current capabilities in those areas are lacking, management has made these processes high-priority targets for improvement.

At the onset of the concept development process, Roller Corporation's designers might begin by searching for existing knowledge to reuse, or they might start fresh with new ideas, concepts, and sketches that are informed by market requirements. Because this work is highly subjective and meant to spawn many radical new thoughts, it is best done in a freeform, exploratory way. PLM capabilities that allow easy 2D and 3D digital sketching and rough design conceptualizing prove useful for evaluating many new ideas quickly. Roller's early concepts form the initial set of digital product content and represent (unrealized, as yet) economic potential for the company.

As the team expands to include engineering, the concept matures and its potential value increases. Now, advanced by a detailed design process, the product information has evolved from just a concept to a set of detailed mechanical and electrical models influenced by the company's proprietary engineering knowledge. PLM accelerates this effort by providing rich 3D modeling and engineering calculation capabilities and a vault of previous designs, classified for easy searching by parameters or text string. PLM also accommodates the simultaneous nature of associated processes such as concept development and detailed design, enabling graceful hand-offs between them as well.

No One Left Behind
The worth of the product content quickly increases as it is vetted with the team, tested, refined, and improved. Other functional groups within Roller, such as software development and technical publishing, use and add to this expanding collection of intellectual property. Software source code is developed to drive electronics, and supporting documentation for service and marketing publications is written. Tool paths, manufacturing process plans, and assembly instructions are created, component part sources are identified, and partners are engaged. As this work is captured and incorporated, the aggregate value of the digital content skyrockets.

All the while, Roller Corporation's content is being supported by a PLM technology backbone that provides product data management (PDM) and optimization of key business processes. PLM, for example, ensures that version and access control is enacted, that the multiple required configurations of the product are developed, and that proper reviews and approvals are conducted. Furthermore, to help Roller's goal of faster throughput, standardization is enforced, and that automation is used to drive the efficient participation of the entire team and smooth execution of the design process.

By this point, Roller has addressed many key product development questions, including: Is there a market for the product? How will it look? How will it function? How will it be manufactured? Throughout these activities, the core components of Roller's PLM system, including CAD/CAM/CAE, product data and configuration management systems, and visual collaboration tools, have been instrumental in enhancing the potential value built into the digital product and its associated documentation. And PLM has been serving the purpose of unlocking the value from these digital designs, enabling Roller to produce them quickly (by enabling departments to work concurrently), completely (with all associated documentation), and with high quality (via detailed, accurate product models, NC machining sequences, and comprehensive manufacturing instructions).

It is here then, after the heavy lifting of PLM, that Roller releases the product to manufacturing to begin its transition to a physical good. To that end, PLM exchanges information with transactional systems to conduct the less collaborative, albeit important, next steps. As is true when you buy your ticket at the admission gate, other systems come into play at this stage of the product development process for record-keeping and executing transactions. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems help plan production and track inventory, while manufacturing execution systems (MES) distribute instructions to the factory floor.

Coming Full-Circle
Similarly to how a roller coaster transforms energy, manufacturing companies transform a load of potential opportunity in the form of ideas and digital content, shape it to meet customer needs, and realize that opportunity by bringing physical products to market.

This light-hearted analogy of how Roller sought to improve product throughput aims to illustrate the value of PLM. It's not enough to have a good point solution for CAD if it's not tightly connected to the PDM capability. It's not sufficient to have teams work in isolation, focused only on their pieces of the puzzle. And it's definitely not wise to think about product development as disconnected from the economics of the company. Instead, think about product development as a strategic lever used to improve the corporation. Consider the results when product development is supported by comprehensive PLM technology that offers not only great capabilities, but real improvement for key business process that are tightly aligned to the company's financial goals. When these things converge, the company is in for one sweet ride.

About the Author: Tom Shoemaker

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!