We've been talking lately about designing in the cloud. It can be a nice productivity enhancer, especially for a geographically dispersed design team. Taking this concept one step beyond simply designing in the cloud, I'm now looking at cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) software.
The advantages of a cloud-based product are obvious. Information is available at any time. Depending on the software that you choose -- and there are a few variants -- it could be available on any type of device. And depending on how you choose to manage that software, it could be available to anyone in the organization (or whomever management chooses).
PLM software has been with us for a long time. If you include the old manual methods, PLM has been around as long as manufacturing has been around. But the PLM that we are familiar with today dates back about 25 years. That's the software that's used to guide products through their lives and to build value around those products. The roots of PLM go back to the aerospace and automotive OEM industries -- the large Boeing-type companies of that generation.
Though many improvements have come to PLM software over the years, the overall framework hasn't changed much. Cloud-based PLM offers a significant change. Autodesk entered the market with its PLM 360 product because it felt the traditional model was too limiting and unattainable to many companies that should be benefitting from PLM.
"Before we introduced the product, we spoke to more than 300 manufacturing companies of various sizes, but all with some sort of PLM system in place," Richard Blatcher, senior industry marketing manager for PLM/PDM at Autodesk, told us. "We asked them what capabilities were being used within their system, and we found that most companies with a traditional PLM system were using it for the management of CAD documents and data, engineering bill of materials, and change management. We felt we could enhance that experience."
The alternatives to traditional PLM aren't very pretty. In most cases where the specialized software is not deployed, a manual approach is in place. Some places use conventional Microsoft Office tools, like Outlook, Excel, or Project. This is certainly one way to manage data and processes and to try and get people to collaborate. But as you might expect, it's quite difficult to implement across multiple departments, disciplines, and/or geographies. Unless it's a single person who doesn't need any collaboration, this method is generally not recommended.
In general, a manufacturer of any size that needs to conceive, engineer, manufacture, sell, maintain, renew, etc. would benefit from PLM software, whether it's cloud-based or not. The parties that really need access to information include engineering, research and development, operational management, quality compliance, supply management, sales, field service, manufacturing, and maintenance. In some cases, that information needs to flow externally to suppliers and customers.
The bottom line is -- and I'm not really going out on a limb here -- cloud-based PLM is here to stay and will have a significant impact in the market.