New wave of PLM hits the plant floor

Product lifecycle management solutions has emerged as a solution to challenges due to recession, find out how it will continue to grow.
By Plant Engineering Staff July 8, 2011

Product Lifecycle Management solutions are in increased demand as companies combat business challenges brought on post-recession. According to CIMdata, a leading global PLM management consulting and research firm, not only did the PLM market return to overall growth in 2010, many segments grew back to the levels achieved in 2008. And according to a recent forecast by TechNavio, the global PLM software market is going to continue to grow and will reach $20.6 billion in 2014.

Plant Engineering spoke with Venkat Rajaji, global PLM product manager at Infor, to discuss the emerging use of PLM as a plant floor management tool, and how it will continue to grow in use.

Plant Engineering: Most people see PLM as a product design tool. How has PLM evolved into a plant floor resource as well?

Venkat Rajaji: PLM is not just a product design tool; it’s continually evolving into a plant floor resource to help manufacturers get more information and additional integration. However, many companies are lacking in their abilities to bring PLM across the enterprise. Infor, on the other hand, has had a lot of success in this regard, primarily due to the tight integration to its ERP systems.

Now, PLM systems have the ability to notify engineering that a change has been made to the bill of material from manufacturing when historically this information may have gotten lost or tucked away. This function keeps all parties informed at all times. Collaboration across the extended enterprise from Engineering to manufacturing to procurement to sales to marketing, etc. is critical when developing products.

PLM’s evolution into a plant floor resource has increase enterprise collaboration. ERP also has access to product documentation in PLM through bi-directional integration. Sometimes during routing steps a particular part is not in stock, but no one ever knows about that – through bi-directional communication between PLM and ERP you can take advantage of the information at hand all the way through to manufacturing, saving time and money.

Finally, PLM systems are able to bring manufacturing into the change process, allowing them to initiate modifications. In the past this hasn’t always been an option, and was an unmanaged offline process. By giving the manufacturing organization access PLM they are now part of the process, not just end consumers.

PE: How can manufacturers effectively use PLM to manage their production costs?

Rajaji: Manufacturers need to understand that they can utilize their PLM systems to gather, analyze and manage data to their advantage.

For example, one aspect unique to Infor is the ability to employ PLM to bring in information from the ERP system for a particular item and compare between two different options. This helps to effectively manage production costs by giving engineers the insight to make informed decisions on the lowest cost part available to optimize product development.

Today, PLM has evolved into product lifecycle intelligence – not just managing product data. It helps companies make better decisions about products through the ability to manage data and provide better integration across the organization. Product Lifecycle Intelligence also provides analytics and intelligence capabilities to make better decisions about products that can immediately give you impact on margins, product costs and overall profitability for your company.

Engineers don’t necessarily understand the costs in creating a product, or have access to that information at the ready, so PLM can effectively be used to manage these costs up front in the engineering process thereby reducing the impact downstream in manufacturing.

PE: Where are the productivity gains in PLM?

Rajaji: PLM enables efficiency in a company in a number of different ways. If a company isn’t operating with a PLM system, time to market will be very long because a majority of critical processes are handled manually. PLM immediately shrinks this time down by offering an automated process that manages the entire development process and increases collaboration between departments. Now, engineers, manufacturing, sales, marketing, service and quality departments are all working from a single system, allowing them to make faster, better decisions.

PE: What’s the next horizon for PLM? What are some of the innovative ways manufacturers are using PLM that show some promise?

Rajaji: There are a few different waves of PLM on the horizon. The first is increased product lifecycle intelligence which is giving people across the organization better tools to make decisions regarding products. Right now PLM is really used to manage documents, data, etc., but soon it will be heavily relied upon to enable companies to make better decision based on configuration history, warehouse location, part cost, and inventory.

By allowing engineers and manufacturing to think about these things early on and having that information up front, companies can always build products that are working, make better decisions and become more profitable.

In addition, taking advantage of social collaboration will be important. Think, for example, of a Twitter or Facebook feed. People can comment and take a look at designs in product development via social collaboration. It’s an informal means of connecting on an idea through a PLM system.

PE: Sustainability is a huge issue right now. How can PLM help manufacturers address energy costs?

Rajaji: PLM can help to some extent from making sure that products that are built are sustainable, environmentally conscious and meet government regulations as it relates to environmental, health and safety standards. Product Lifecycle Intelligence can enable companies to more effectively design for sustainability by considering environmental consciousness, government regulations, and corporate sustainability as it relates to manufacturing capacity and electricity utilization.