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.: Product Life Cycle Management


Managing the product and information surrounding the product throughout it’s lifecycle from inception and concept through warranty, disposal and recyclability. Courtesy: Right Hemisphere, United Technologies

Product Lifecycle Management defined:

Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) in it’s broadest context should be defined as the tracking, support and management of a product throughout it’s entire lifecycle. this includes from inception of the idea or onceptualization through it’s retirement, disposal or breakdown and recycle. This would imply that we are responsibly capturing and maintaining information and documentation of the product at each phase of it’s lifecycle. This is the definition of product lifecycle management.

However, the engineering software companies are actually responsible and deserve credit for pioneering the vision of, and coining the phrase product lifecycle management. Therefore, you will find a great deal more information in the PLM realm relative to the development of a product vs. it’s complete lifecycle. As we have moved forward through the evolution of technology we have been able to store a great deal of information about how the product is to be designed, react, perform, be manufactured, documented, maintained, even disposed of. But generally spreaking all of this information is curently stired in the product development arena of the engineering organizations of the original manufacturing organization. To be clear it is a great deal of information, and getting extremely robust and thorough, and even spreading to more players, such as those supplying parts or equipment to manufacture products. however, it should be noted, that due to the nature of this chronological scenario, most of this data is predictive beyond delivery of the product. That is, as soon as a product leaves the manufacturer, most tracking and control is lost. There are exceptions in the larger more mature industries such as Automotive (warranties, dealerships, etc.), and Aerospace with the very stringent regulatory and maintenance compliance.

Over the last several decades there has been a great deal of progress made in regards to the storing of data of all sorts, including the math data that is the core of product development.  This data has not only gotten more robust, but also more efficient.  However, the industry also leverages this data for many things beyond what this data was traditionally utilized for.  The current state of this evolution is that the data is still very heavy and computationally draining on even the high end PCs being used in today’s common workplace.  This especially true for large assemblies, as it is not just the additional geometry of the assemblies, but also the complexity of relationships and BOMs, etc.  Part of the industries response to this in the past was to greatly reduce the size of these models my decreasing their accuracy and high-precision.  Although this was somewhat effective in allowing low-end user’s access to visualize a representation of the geometry, it was never acceptable for the kind of accuracy and additional information required for the product development processes. Because traditionally the only repository for maintaining this data was the CAD file itself, we still see a great deal of information stored inside/with the CAD files. Some of this is legitimate infoprmation such as weight, tolerances, material types, or manufacturing spcifications. Some of this information would be better suited to be stored in another area such as a business or logistics database(s), information such as piece cost, ordering/supplier information, shipping information, lots more….

The second part of this situation is that the PLM systems implemented today are exponentially more complex than the predecessors.  These systems are storing, managing, and maintaining a great deal more data and relationships than they were just a couple of years ago.  Therefore, the access time and delivery of much of this data has become sluggish, particularly over an extended network. this means that to pull information from a large PLM system it takes considerably more CPU intensive calculations, to make sure all of the surrounding criteria are being met or alerted to what is happening to the data. This not only includes delivering the large CAD files and assemblies, but alerting the system (which may potentially be distributed globally) that this data is being retrieved or checked out. The system then needs to find the latest revisions, authority, set proper permissions, constraints, alerts, a great deal of very complex interaction now takes place to check out an assembly.

There is a great deal of opportunity to make great strides on how we create, manage and leverage the engineering data that we have today! many industries and technologies have made huge advancements in some of the areas that we can take advantage of. We need to open our minds and this box we call PLM technology so that we can leverage the correct technology for hte correct processes, and come back to the realization that we manufacture products, and are customer driven!

Professor PLM’s VISION:

Make the correct data accessible to the correct people at the correct time.

Sounds simple and straight forward…. hopefully you will realize this is not as simple a proposition as it seems at first glance….

There is a lot more to this than first meets the eye, but in the interest of web page space, i will give you a quick overview of opportunity:

1. Correct Data – not everyone needs access to all data. We need only deliver the correct data in the correct format. This implies that ALL of the data surrounding that product (or components thereof) must be associated, robustly, consistently, and persistently.

2. Data – must be stored in such a way as to be not only controlled, associated, and managed, but also ba able to be parsed in such a way that the disciplines/organizations that need it can get just the necessary information they need. This is crucial in so many ways: storage, distribution, data management, architecture, security, supply chain, formats…

3. Data Formats – the data should be able to be delivered in the appropriate formats. For some this may be the complete assembly, others, may need light weight geometry, while other may simply need the correct text fields for a form!

4. Accessibility – the data needs to be readily available to those who need it. So although there is a great deal of information and necessary relationships within the database and the data itself, very few consumers of the data care about the complexity and associativity of this data. They are typically only interested in getting the information they need very quickly to perform their activities. There are many strategies and opinions on how to do this, and it is not straight forward, but with today’s technologies and the correct architecture and infrastructure, we can make great strides relative to just a few years ago. We can also learn a great deal from other seeming unrelated industries like banking, and telephone companies on how they handle data.

5. Security – we mustn’t forget that although we are a much more diverse, advanced, global, business-oriented and technological organization, there are even more opportunities for our data to end up in the wrong hands. This may be very obvious with industries such as defense, but there are plenty of professional industrial espionage organizations out there as well. Even organizations in foreign/emerging countries and cultures that don’t have the same value on intellectual properties as some of us do. Security and maintaining the control of access (as best as we can*) should be an inherent and fundamental part of any strategy.

This is only intended as a cursory introduction to some of the consideration that need to be contemplated as we move forward in our PLM pursuits and implementations.

Absolutely every product and product development environment is dynamic and unique, therefore, these can only taken as generalizations. The second aspect of this consideration is that these technologies can be applied towards process in a near infinite variety of ways. The unique processes and technology applications towards these processes are not only unique to the products being developed, but also realtive to the organization itself. If leveraged correctly, these philosophies can certainly be applied to achieve competitive advantage.

There is certainly business case considerations, and enterprise decision makers need to remember their core competencies and the fact that they manufacture components or products. In other words, buyinng into an idea, or technology fo the sake of technology…. this is not what we are after. There is always a trade off of prosuctivity and efficiency vs. constraining processes with technology. This is the reason that I feel it is important to have a flexible architecture and open formats to be utilized by all of these different aspects of product development throughout the life cycle.

.: UTILIZING your Engineering Assets and CAD Data = Effective PLM


Conceptualization – initial concepts, sketches, ideas, requirements, voice of customer, previous product information


Comparison – studies, A vs. B, analyses, cost vs. function, market studies, which products to take forward


Design Studies – analyses, systems engineering, interaction, which design works better, more aesthetically pleasing, etc.


BOM Configuration – Bill of Materials considerations, how to structure the sub-sectionas of a larger assembly, for design, packaging, manufacture, assembly, production, repair…. much more


Engineering Specifications – exact requirements regarding a component or assembly, may include material types, strengths, corrosion, coatings, tolerances, much more…


Configuration Management – how to configure a product in such a way as to offer options to the customer for differnt styles, options, features. Utilized in many industries to make the most of existing designs in offering a more vast and/or niche array of products and derivitaives.


Design Reviews – evaluating the current design, relative to milestones, design criteria, product functionality targets. Very often a great deal of decision making and evolution of the product happens in these forums.


Analysis – (can be used in a variety of contexts) here we will present the odea of determining things like strength, strain, elasticity, reliability, durability. This can be utilized to help make determinations on cost vs. durabilty, but in some industries it may be life and death determination such as aerospace or automotive.


BOM Conciliation often as a product design matures, the BOM may change and morph depending on configurations, or more importantly which group/discipline is leveraging the BOM. It may need to be configured diffently for manufacturing than for design and even differntly again for maintenance, packaging, etc. However, it is obviously extremely important that this BOM is maintained with the correct components in the assembly when the product gets delivered!


Quality Management – in order to deliver a robust product there needs to be specific quality policy and procedures in place. This can be from the raw material to the shiny finish on a vehicle.


Quality Assurance as components, tools, and materials are utilized through out the process, it is important for inspection to take place so that the proper quality is being maintained. It may be more obvious for things like tolerances and form, fit and functions, but also the purity of the materials and the calibration of machnery, even thhe climate control in which the storing or manufacture of the components takes place.


Inspection Documents – documents that are utilized to track the inspection of components, material, and tooling. Reporting deviation that may need attention.


Engineering Change – when there is a change in the design, or a required change because of a maunfacturing constraint or failuer in the field there needs to be a way to quickly communicate these requiremetns to the engineering organization so that they can respond quickly and diminsish any unecessary costs by continuing to manufacture a less than optimal design.


Supply Chain Interaction – it is absolutely crucial to share information with those that are supplying the material, parts or sub-assemblies that we utilize for our producs. This can be information from any one or many of these categories that I am presenting here.


Compliance Documentation – specific documentation showing that the product and processes are meeting specified standards. These can be internally developed or industry derived quality standards or even government organization documentation such as OSHA or EPA.


Drawings as much as we have touted getting away from drawings over the last couple of decades, they are still very much a part of our product development processes.


Technical  Illustrations – a specific type of documentation that typically shows detailed inforamtion about a product and how it is to be assembled or manufactured for instance.


Supply Chain Management – utilizing the supply chain to make sure we are receiveing quality parts, on time, and at a competitive price is very crucial to today’s gloabl environemnt. I could elaborate to a whole section on this topic, but not here…. there are other topics in this list that directly support supply chain management, such as JIT, RFQ, many others….


Work Instructions – specific documents that explain how to perform a task. This may be a specific task like cleaning a work area with solvent, or drilling a specific hole, etc.


Installation Plans – although simllar to Work Instructions, typically are more targeted at the product itself and the assembly or manufacture of the product. This may include how to bolt something together, or run a cable from one area to another.


Regulatory Documentation – specific documentation that is required by regulatory organizations. This portion of product development is often overlooked in the manufacure view, and can cause a great deal of delay and pain if it is not kept concurrent.


Service – documentation on how to repair a particular product or sub-assembly thereof. Could be extremely valuable to leverage our CAD/Engineering information in the serviec area. After all we already have installation planse telling us how to assemble the product.


Maintenance – although at first glance, similar to service, maintenance should bepreventative if we refer to it in it’s truest context. This means there is an opportunity to inform the customer when they need maintenacnce on their product. not only insuring better customer satisfaction and relationships with a longer lasting, higher quality ecperience, but also opening up an opportunity for service revenue as well, and imagine, even predictive service/maintenance revenue.


Packaging – how a product is broken into sub components will dictate our ability to package it in specific configurations. This can mean a great deal for managing the supply chain, inventory, and shipping costs.


Simulation – being able to simulate the motion and interaction of systems of a product is crucial for better understanding designs and quality. This technology is also a great asset in the manufacturability and assembly of a product, including robotics, machinging, and human factors.


ERP Integraion – as a manufacturing organization, being able to leverage your product data in your business decisions seems like it is absolutely mandatory, Yet if I have an opportunity to make any impact and legacy, it willbe in this area. traditionally, the disconnect betwee product data and business data has been a chasm! It is quite unbelievable that manufacturing organizations can make financial plans, product direction and sales/marketing decisions without leveraging their own product data. At least not in a robust or concurrent fashion.


Electrical Engineering Integration – in todays product development therre is more electronics integrated than ever before. Not only the cables, wires, and harnesses, but there is consideration of integrating chips and firmware like never before. This as pect of the product development process has often been neglected in the past, and the technology and particularly the integration thereof is still considerably behind the mechanical CAD.


CAD Integration – ability to leverage geometry from multiple applications allowing organizations the ability to utilize the best technology for the appropriate process. This interoperability also allows for collabpration across disciplines and organizations both internal to the enterprise and into the extended enterprise.


CAM Integration – leveraging the CAD geometry in the realm of Computer Aided Manufacturing is an example of where there has been a great deal of focus over the evolution of this technology to seamlessly utilize existing CAD assets in machining and other manufacturing operations.


CNC Integration – Computer Numeric Control of today can directly utilize the CAD geometry for programming machine tools for milling, drilling, lathe, welding, and many other macingin operations.


CMM Integration – Coordinate Measuring Machine’s and processes are utilized to inspect components/products to evaluate how close they are to the intended dimensionas and shape. By scanning a compnent/product with a very precise probe and robotic arm connected to a computer, technicians can get close to exact feedback for comparison to design intent.


Prototyping – an inherent process of manufacturing, creating and testing initial designs. Prototypes can be anything from simple cardboard models to complete working jumbo jets and automobiles.


Rapid Prototyping – a fairly recent technological development where the 3D mosel can be utilized to very qucikly generate a physical 3D model. This technology works in a variety of mediums including, resin, powder, paper and now even thins sheets of metal.


Machine Utilization – by planning on how machinery and machine tools will be utilized. The more we can keep macines busy, the more maney we can make with them, instead of them sitting stagnate.


Resource Planning – making the most of our resources including facilities, workers, machinery, etc. is the core of good business. By leveragin product data and understanding the resources necessary for manufacturing components, we can better plan for the oprimized utilization.


JIT – Just In Time is a philosophy of delivering the required material and components on an as needed basis, thereby, not tking up valuable warehouse and facilities space. Leveraging product data is a way to allow us to predict and manage these logistics.


RFQ/RFP – Request For Quote or Request For Proposal has traditionally been done with textual desciptions of a required component or system, wither perhas a drawing at best. Ideally we can leverage our 3D data and keep it real time/synchronous with the engineering, even out into the supply chain.


NOTE: Bills Of Material … and the discussion around them could be an entire weebsite by itself, and is a major undertaking in philosophy and technology. I hope to further evolve the website on thhis topic in the future. I expect trechnology to eveolve significantly in this area of PLM in the near future.

E-BOM Engineering Bills Of Material are broken down in the most logical and easiest way to design the product. Although manufacturing and service considerations are a oart of the design criteria, the data is usually structured relative to designing activities. There is also a considerable amount of intricate detail that is left out for time and data conservation purposes. Very often a single detail may be designed and then indicated that this detail is to be repeated in many locations/call outs. Certainly we will almost always leave out detail such as welding, fasteners, adhesives, etc.


M-BOM– Manufactrung Bill of Materials differs in content and structure from the eBOM in the fact that is is broken down and segregated differently for assembly and manufacturing purposes, also it contains the exact content of what is actually contained with in the product…. often things like adhesives, and coatings may not be in the eBOM but are certainly necessary in the mBOM


P-BOM– Production BOMs are necessarily different yet, depending on the product assembly requirements. Often because of systems, breakdown, supply considerations, etc. casues this PBOM to have different considerations.

Archival – although archiving completed product information is a good idea and practice. Some industries absolutely require that data is archivable and retrievable for some period of time for warranty, or replacement in automotive, aerospace, and defense, among others.

*This list is not meant to be all-inclusive….