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The End of the Black Box

The End of the Black Box

Has product lifecycle management (PLM)-the concept of marrying software and services to manage a product from conception to retirement-worked anywhere? What have been the benefits? Peter Schroer, who has been connected with PLM from the start, has some answers.

So what's the value proposition for PLM?

Well, there are lots of success stories. At the high end-large companies-users are getting better real-time product coordination. In the area of engineering change orders, companies using PLM now know what their product will look like before they manufacture it. When I worked at Data General several years ago, we commonly got 50 hardware change orders per week. It was a horrendous rate of change for the manufacturing group. Today, PLM can help companies work through that. And another area that has benefited is manufacturing quality. That's one of our focuses. There is a lot of data to gather from the factory floor. PLM has helped there.

But isn't PLM expensive-too expensive for mid-size companies?

Traditionally, PLM has been analogous to ERP-enterprise resource management. It's been enterprise oriented, and has taken two or three years before it's fully in production. It's been cost prohibitive for mid-size companies, which need deployments in 45 or 60 days.

So those mid-size companies have a difficult time seeing a return on investment for PLM?

Well, the Web and XML drive down the costs. And, customers today are starting to talk about total cost of ownership rather than return on investment.

Are any companies able to implement PLM in that 45-60-day timeframe?

Yes, Freudenberg, which manufactures seals, vibration technology, and some 300 major products, did it within 60 days.

What's in it for engineers?

PLM addresses non-value-added activities that engineers are interested in. With design teams being in multiple locations, engineers can lose time by working on engineering change orders already changed by someone else. PLM eliminates that, and it eliminates the added time meetings take away from design. Engineers need to know what's happening on the factory floor, but we never gave them the tools they needed for that. They had to rely on meetings. Now manufacturing data is in the PLM system, right next to design data.

Does PLM enable better designs?

Not directly. CAD does that. But, by eliminating meetings or cutting down on them, and giving engineers a glimpse at materials costs and supplier issues, it makes them more connected. It also helps them document designs, which can improve the designs themselves.

Does it give engineers more control?

No, it doesn't, it actually gives outsiders more visibility and control. It opens up the design process so that others can participate and give the engineer a broader view. Design becomes less of a black box.

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