Five reasons why plant managers should care about PLM

Product lifecycle management technology provides the ability to share information across an enterprise, including product design and the manufacturing cycle, and should be utilized by all plant managers.

03/23/2012


Project lifecycle management provides plant managers with the ability to prepare for upcoming production runs and new products. Courtesy: Omnify SoftwareProduct lifecycle management (PLM) technology provides a central location to manage all of the information associated to a product, automates processes, and provides tracking capabilities to easily capture and resolve issues. With the ability to share information across the enterprise, PLM technology touches many phases of the product design and manufacturing cycle.

As PLM has evolved from managing core engineering data to encompass more information management downstream, the opportunity for plant managers to leverage this technology is apparent.

By offering a facility to identify process inefficiencies in a holistic manner (aggregation of data from various sources into a single database/reporting dashboard), PLM can better support the plant manager’s need to implement policies and procedures that maximize manufacturing and logistics efficiencies.

So here are five reasons for a plant manager to care about PLM:

1. Shop floor efficiencies

PLM contains the most current product bill of materials (BOM), engineering change orders (ECOs), and documentation information. Giving shop floor personnel access to the data within PLM helps to ensure that shop floor personnel are using correct revisions/documentation and can help reduce manufacturing errors, scrap, and rework as well as eliminate the need to print out paper copies.

PLM can also provide plant managers with reporting capabilities to better recognize inefficiencies. Constant improvement requires being able to aggregate data over a specified time frame and across multiple product lines and projects to identify areas where performance objects are not being met. Given that PLM contains all of this essential information, these reports are inherent in the system and automatically available for plant managers.

2. Project and process management

Project management within PLM ensures a smooth transition from product release to production. With PLM, plant managers can gain visibility into progress on upcoming production runs and new products. This gives plant managers a more accurate prediction of product completion/delivery and helps them make better resource allocation decisions.

Some PLM systems provide manufacturing process management (MPM) functionality. MPM provides manufacturers with an automated system for defining all of the operations and steps involved with assembling and testing products. Using the BOM as the backdrop, MPM can eliminate inventory surplus and significantly reduce costs. Having manufacturing processes managed in PLM systems provides shop floor personnel with direct access to all product and component records such as datasheets, specifications, procedures, and design drawings as well as graphical illustrations for assembly and test.

Providing instructions, graphical depictions, and history/conversation trails in a single, easily accessible environment can mitigate manufacturing obstacles such as time zone and language/translation challenges.

3. Closed-loop processes

With the ability to manage quality processes and tie this information directly to the product record, plant managers can leverage PLM to implement a closed-loop process for dealing with issues, RMAs, and nonconforming product materials. PLM can give plant managers visibility into issues such as non-conformance results from audits and customer feedback in order to more easily track and resolve issues.

By tracking quality issues across multiple facilities, departments, and product lines, plant managers will have instant access to trend and performance reports/metrics that will help identify areas of success and those in need of improvement.

4. Automated training processes

Plant managers must ensure that personnel are properly trained before performing a task. Implementing an automated system to facilitate training control helps plant managers keep their staff adequately trained and adhere to company and regulatory policies. Managing training within PLM can provide plant managers with a facility to track and document all training records, implement automated machine calibration processes, easily identify recurring training/test/calibration events, and most importantly, access automatic alerts on policy/SOP, product, and document changes to ensure training requirements are always up to date.

5. Simplified compliance

Meeting various internal and external compliance requirements is also a key role of plant managers. The automated tracking, alerting, reporting, and permission capabilities available in PLM simplify compliance processes for regulatory bodies such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) as well as for customer, vendor, and internal audits.

Case in point: Vergent Products

More and more manufacturers are extending their PLM initiatives to include the plant floor in order to create completely automated and streamlined processes. This was the case at a Vergent Products, a leading manufacturing services provider that often acts as a “virtual factory” for its customers.

The company designs and manufactures a diverse array of products, and its customers rely upon the company’s expertise to help them meet the growing market demands for products that are high-quality, cost-effective, and manufactured using the most modern, environmentally friendly processes.

With a focus on consistently producing quality products, on time, the company was looking for better methods to process ECOs, track releases of documents related to products, control document revisions with a repository for those documents, as well as a means to improve collaboration with its customers. Vergent implemented a PLM solution to improve its product development processes and meet its goals.

Initially the company was leveraging the core features of its PLM system to support controlled product design processes such as item and BOM creation, engineering changes, file management, revision control, approval history, task management, and document control. Because of the capabilities of its PLM solution, Vergent was able to expand its use of the system to incorporate quality management, project management, and training management with a vision to extend the accessibility onto the shop floor. Automating its former paper/manual process within the PLM system, the company realized a significant reduction in engineering change cycles, better control over product documentation, time and resource savings, as well as about a 96% reduction in incorrect material orders and scrap.

To broaden the efficiencies gained in product development, Vergent extended the accessibility of the PLM system to the plant. Access to the PLM database was made available on all of the thin clients on the manufacturing floor. This created an automated process where manufacturing personnel no longer accept paper copies with notes or verbal direction in order to improve accuracy and save time.

The manufacturing floor and plant managers are able to leverage the capabilities of the PLM system in order to quickly access accurate product documentation, gain insight into projects/timelines and quality issues, as well as ensure shop floor personnel are properly trained.

"With manufacturing having direct access to the PLM database, we have realized additional benefits and cost savings in manufacturing such as reduced errors, reduced scrap and rework, reduced paper and ink (color printouts) costs, and increased customer satisfaction due to reduced delays and quality issues,” said Caroline Lace, director of business systems at Vergent Products.

Summary

Due to its traditional focus on design and engineering, plant managers may not consider PLM as a tool to leverage in “their world.” With the capabilities available in today’s PLM solutions and the depth and breadth of information that plant managers can access within a central location, it only makes sense to take a closer look.

The more automated and streamlined an organization is, the more efficient. Key improvements such as eliminating paper printouts, guaranteeing plant personnel have accurate documentation, and accessing reports to properly identify bottlenecks and issues are just some of the benefits a plant manager can realize with PLM.

Cimalore is president and CTO at Omnify Software, a provider of business-ready, product lifecycle, and change management solutions for manufacturers. Visit www.omnifysoft.com for more information.



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