Taking care of business with a defined strategy

The rapid evolution of product lifecycle management (PLM) is making the development of new products visible to top management, along with supporting products throughout their service lives all the way to replacement or obsolesce. This is a rare and vital example of an engineering technology evolving into an enterprise-level business strategy, writes Peter A. Bilello, president of CIMdata Inc.


CIMdata defines PLM as a strategic business approach that applies a consistent set of collaborative solutions to support the creation, management, dissemination and use of product definition information. PLM spans the extended enterprise from product concept to end of life. By integrating people, processes, business systems and information, PLM forms the product information backbone for a company and its extended enterprise.

Getting a tighter grip on product definition information in all its forms, throughout the product’s lifecycle, is the key business advantage of PLM, along with the ability to provide product definition information that is clear, concise and valid at all times. This is why so many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are turning to PLM. 

For original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their key suppliers, product development and field-service units operate not only around the world, but around the clock.  Examples abound in turbine blades, electro-mechanical components and sub-assemblies for automakers, industrial machinery of all types, control systems, printed circuit boards, medical devices, consumer goods and many others.

Big benefits from PLM include lower costs, better use of resources and more competitive products launched sooner

Amid the push into digital technologies for engineering and business processes, business unit managers, and even managing directors, are gaining unprecedented new insights into the breadth and depth of their operations. Big benefits from PLM include lower costs and better use of resources, more competitive products launched sooner and, once out in the market, they are better optimised for their users. 

In the 21st century’s tsunami of digital data, these PLM enabling solutions are necessary to keep abreast of the constant changes in product requirements. Moreover, these requirements must be kept aligned with corporate objectives, all while fostering closer collaboration through the enterprise. Geometry-centric, engineers-only approaches to product lifecycle management are succumbing to the digital revolution

Product development and virtually every other phase in a product’s life are today considered multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary. These eye-glazing labels describe the ways enterprises comply with dozens of stringent sets of rules on safety and environmental sustainability.

Three other marketplace forces are pushing for PLM:

•   The exploding use of social media for anywhere-anytime collaboration;

•   Pressure from large customers who have already implemented PLM – OEMs have always insisted that suppliers keep up;

•   Accelerating demands for regulatory compliance – to keep pace, some product development, manufacturing and in-service support teams include solicitors, which was unthinkable not long ago.

For SMBs, getting started with PLM need not mean an enormous information technology (IT) project. Many PLM solutions are pre-configured to reach from design concept to end of lifecycle, with functionality tailored to business size and industry. For the smallest firms with uncomplicated workflows, PLM solutions are offered on a “subscription” basis paid for by user and transaction fees. This means no up-front investment in software or computer servers. All that’s needed to start is an internet browser.

Capabilities of many of today’s PLM solutions, in whatever form, include best-practice templates, search and retrieval with analytics, version management and revision control, flexible data structures, security for intellectual property, and interfaces to other management-level solutions, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM).

These PLM solutions are robust to accommodate multi-dimensional product lifecycles and a myriad of workflows. The solutions are also highly scalable, as they must be to keep pace with rapid growth that often follows a successful PLM implementation. For SMBs with small engineering and IT staffs, systems integrators offer affordable plans to configure and implement PLM. To help sort it all out, vendor-neutral consulting firms, such as CIMdata, have decades of experience on six continents.

For those business leaders still unconvinced, let me offer a paradigm similar to PLM. Office copying machines have been transformed into “3D printers”. They are the core technology of rapid prototyping, something never foreseen by the former giants of copying.

In 21st-century product development, this kind of upheaval is the norm. 

Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the United States, Peter Bilello has more than 22 years’ experience in the development of information technology solutions for research, engineering and manufacturing organisations worldwide. He has held various positions in PLM strategic direction, analysis, selection and computer-aided implementation, synchronous and lean manufacturing consulting, and software engineering.