Engineers have a new buzzword to add to their collection: product life-cycle management (PLM). It's the big sibling to several other buzzwords engineers have heard over the years-product data management (PDM), concurrent engineering, collaboration-and, in fact, it incorporates some elements of all of them.
Software vendors are touting PLM as the next revolution in engineering processes, and promising that it will shorten design time as well as increase engineering's influence throughout a company.
Here's why: Fully implemented, PLM systems collect in one electronic space all the digital data that exists or will ever be created for a product. That data includes everything from the conceptual ideas and CAD/CAM/CAE models normally found in a PDM system, to purchasing's arrangements with vendors, marketing's research and positioning, maintenance and warranty records, and all other information on the product throughout its life. It's like a virtual storage room that anyone in the company can enter to get information on product design, manufacturing, and usage data, and then interact with the author of the data to find out what it means.
"With PLM, engineers will be able to get the information they need to make decisions quickly without spending the normal 60-70% of their time searching for it," says Bill Carrelli, president of marketing and portfolio management for EDS PLM Solutions (the former UGS and SDRC).
And, adds Tom Marnik, vice president of operations for PTC: "They can be confident that the data is accurate."
That information access and the ability to collaborate with others will speed up design reviews and possibly lessen last-minute change orders. It also can provide engineers with a higher level of knowledge. "For example," says Ed Petrozelli, general manager of IBM Product Lifecycle Management, "they can easily get feedback from the field on whether parts are failing, and then fix the problems in the next generation of the design."
Says Paul Giaconia, vice president at Eigner, "Engineers using PLM can more easily work with team members outside their organizations."
As for extending engineers' influence, the reason is this: PLM starts with engineering data. Engineers put their concepts into electronic form and everyone in the company now can deal with it. Everyone will be talking the engineers' language and basing all their work on a deeper understanding of design intent.
At least that's the promise. Will PLM lead to design by committee? No, insist proponents. And, while PLM will give others in the design and supply chains an inside look at an engineer's thinking, it will also give the engineer more opportunity to monitor what others do with their data, including vendors working on outsourced portions of a design.
"The benefits to engineers of faster and easier access to data that can cut design time far outweigh any false fears that people will be looking over engineers' shoulders," says PTC's Marnik.
Here are some examples of how engineers have been using PLM tools:
Form one team from 30 suppliers
Company: Lockheed Martin
Goal: Cut development, production, and assembly time and costs for the Joint Strike Fighter, to be used by the U.S. and the United Kingdom to replace the F-16, F-18, and Harrier fighter aircraft.
Computer-productivity tools: CATIA from Dassault Systems for CAD, Metaphase from EDS PLM Solutions for product data management, and Windchill from PTC for internet-based coordination of teams, data, and software.
Result: Work in progress, scheduled to be completed in 2008. During a prototype demonstration project in which Lockheed won the contract, in cooperation with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace), there was no lag time in information exchange.
Comments: About 30 subcontractors worked with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and BAE to create the prototypes that won the contract for the project. The partners cut assembly time by 66% and costs by 50% vs existing fighter planes. "We started with a single database and got it to work," says David Torchia, PDM practice manager for Northrop Grumman. "We needed to make sure no one got locked out if communications or computers went down. In the final product production stage, engineering management will use Metaphase for engineering releases. Windchill will make information available on a web site for managers and team leaders to view in real time, automating information gathering and integration."
Make collaboration easier
Goal: Connect its engineers around the world to accelerate product development at this world-wide company
Computer-productivity tools: Pro/ENGINEER for CAD and Windchill for product data management, both from PTC.
Results: Engineers were able to work more closely together despite the remoteness of their many physical locations. Additionally, engineers were able to use the tools to interface with an older engineering resources and planning program as they implemented a global PLM program.
User comments: For 130 years, Ingersoll-Rand operated as a build-to-stock manufacturer, says George Ashley, manager of engineering systems for Ingersoll's Air Solutions Group. "We wanted to be a solutions-based company focused on engineer-to-order, creating dynamic, flexible processes within old-line industries. Ingersoll reorganized its many semi-autonomous business groups into five units and implemented a single PLM system. Our new
Web-based tools enabled faster communication than would have been possible with our former server-based systems."
Track change orders
Company: The Celerra file server group of EMC Corp.
Goal: Monitor all stages of the design process and record all changes.
Computer-productivity tools: Pro/ENGINEER for CAD, Windchill for product management, and Pro/Intralink concurrent engineering software, all from PTC.
Results: Engineers were able to move seamlessly from one project to the next.
User comments: Celerra claims to be the largest manufacturer of computer storage devices in the world. In this age of Web-based collaboration and outsourcing, many businesses have trouble using their traditional servers to move all that data. So Celerra servers are optimized to share data over IP (Internet protocol) networks, while being flexible enough to handle fast-changing IT environments, and scalable enough to keep up with rapid growth. General-pupose file servers can run into I/O (input/output) bottlenecks trying to handle such high-performance tasks. But Celerra's Network Attached Storage (NAS) consolidates data into a centralized pool accessible by different types of clients across the network, instead of collecting data from scattered, overworked servers. Typical applications include CAD/CAM and CAE for manufacturing, Web pages and e-mail for e-business, and trading and forecasting for financial markets.
"Intralink has our actual CAD database, revisions, part names-everything about the design," says Larry Feroli, manager of mechanical engineering. "Engineers can bring up the design inside Intralink, so it works as our local product design development tool. If Purchasing or another department needs cost in-formation on a part, or similar information, they go to Windchill."
Company: Krebs Engineers
Goal: Track documents and revisions, and ensure that the right parts go on each machine where they're supposed to go.
Computer-productivity tools: CATIA CAD software from IBM/Dassault, and TeamPDM from SmarTeam (also owned by IBM).
Results: Implementation of the productivity tools was easy. Engineers started flowing legacy files into the PLM system on a Friday, and on Monday they simply checked out each CAD file from the new repository.
Comments: Krebs makes cyclonic separators to separate and classify huge quantities of solids and liquids. Companies use the machines for applications from mineral processing to coal classification and environmental cleanup. Ninety percent of the separators are custom. PLM has reduced design time by 90% in some instances, says Mark Holmberg, manager of engineering processes. Krebs engineers design a machine once in 2D and 3D, and tell the PLM system to propagate the information throughout the company.
When another engineer designs another machine, he follows a rules-based pro-cess to change the minimum number of variables. PLM automates the generation of bills of materials, then transfers them to drawings and into the ERP system. "SmarTeam manages the whole assembly," says Holmberg. "It knows which revision parts belong to. There's no manual upkeep."
Shrink design time
Company: Seagate Technologies
Goal: Shorten the design cycle
Computer-productivity tools: Metaphase from EDS PLM Solutions, for product data management.
Results: Cut time out by making it possible for engineers worldwide to have all product and process information at their fingertips in a Virtual Design Center. Now establishing a new configuration process to reduce time it takes to design to order for its biggest OEM customers.
Comments: "Storage density grows by 120% a year in disk drives, and price erodes at 1% a week," says Doug Speidel, of Seagate's IT department. "We had to shorten a design cycle that took eight to 12 months, the length of the product life span. Ultimately, we want to make it possible for every engineer to be able to work with anyone in the organization anywhere in the world as if they were sitting next to each other."