Ed Miller: Manufacturers leverage the expanding footprint of PLM

Once predominately focused on engineering design, product life-cycle management (PLM) is extending its reach to a broader range of activities, from early-stage product strategy development and planning to product engineering and manufacturing engineering, and on through to product maintenance and support.


Once predominately focused on engineering design, product life-cycle management (PLM) is extending its reach to a broader range of activities, from early-stage product strategy development and planning to product engineering and manufacturing engineering, and on through to product maintenance and support.

Expansion into these areas is not unexpected. The overall vision of PLM has traditionally included the ability to leverage product definition information across the extended enterprise from concept to end of life. In fact, the philosophy and theory of this all-encompassing role throughout the full product life cycle has been evolving and maturing for years.

A key element in this expanded view of PLM is the tremendous opportunity to facilitate cross-disciplinary synergy through a two-way exchange of information between different parts of the organization across the entire product life cycle. Such a holistic view enables companies to eliminate barriers, knock down traditional organizational silos, and dissolve the walls that traditionally block the free flow of information between groups. For the vendor community and industrial companies alike, the exciting news is that this vision is becoming a reality in a growing number of implementations, and expansion is accelerating on numerous fronts.

PLM linked to digital manufacturing enables product design and production workflow simulation to be developed collaboratively instead of in isolation. Further, tight integration of PLM with factory automation systems creates a more seamless flow of information between virtual product and process designs and the physical world of PLCs and transfer lines on the shop floor. Focused on another aspect of product development, PLM is increasingly being used to manage engineering analysis results and related processes. Work also is under way using PLM as a framework for product portfolio management—i.e., strategic product planning—requirements management, and other customer-facing systems. Further downstream in the life cycle, companies are starting to use PLM to leverage product definition information in service-after-sales activities such as maintenance, support, and logistics.

The impact of this expansion is that many diverse, previously isolated disciplines and pockets of automation will be tightly integrated and efficiently coordinated through unified PLM solutions. The tremendous business value in such an integrated, end-to-end approach is that processes are optimized not for individual departments or groups but for the entire enterprise and across the full product life cycle—planning for products that fit into the company's business, and developing product designs that meet those plans and can be effectively built and supported.

With this broad view and overall optimization of processes, companies operate more efficiently, get to volume production faster, improve quality and product performance, and have the ability to design more innovative products.

Because of these significant corporate benefits and the broad reach of PLM solutions, involvement of top management in these implementations is critical. The acceleration of PLM expansion is driven principally by C-level executives who function as the impetus for initiatives that propel companies past competitors. Manufacturing industries are fast approaching when competitive edge doesn't go to companies deploying a limited view of PLM, but rather in an integrated manner across the enterprise and full product life cycle.

Author Information

Ed Miller is president of CIMdata Inc. (

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