PLM and Mechatronics

Mechatronics
is a design philosophy that emphasizes multidisciplinary, model-based
communication, collaboration and integration from the start. Sustainability has
further challenged mechatronics to transform itself into a closed-loop,
cradle-to-cradle design approach. Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a
process of managing the entire engineering lifecycle of a product, along with
the software tools to synchronize information. Just as in mechatronics, this
lifecycle is now viewed as one that stretches from conception, through design
and manufacture, to service, disposal and recycling. Just as a key element in
mechatronics is human-centered design, PLM is becoming more human-centered, in
addition to being information-centered.

Recently, I was invited to talk about
Mechatronics and Innovation at the Product Lifecycle Management 2010 Conference
in Detroit. PLM is certainly not new, having been introduced 25 years ago, but
it was my first real exposure to the world of PLM and major companies from many
industries were there. With the need to manage increasingly complex designs,
along with the imperatives for energy-efficient, sustainable and
environmentally responsible design, PLM is clearly a subject of great interest
worldwide.

So how are Mechatronics and PLM related?
Does PLM take over when the Mechatronics effort ends or are they becoming
integrated so that both are enhanced? a euro STo better understand
the world of PLM today and in the future, I spent considerable time with John
Bayless, the director of strategy and program management for Mercury Marine and
the practice director for Mercury Marine PLM Services, a product lifecycle
management consulting business within Mercury Marine. Bayless is an Annapolis
graduate who served as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot. He holds an MBA from the
University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

In Bayless' view, the link between a
mechatronics approach and PLM is the need for collaboration during the product
development process. A mechatronics approach calls for a cross-functional team
to come together in a way that encourages specialists to make mutual design
adjustments such that the final design is optimized. Execution of a
mechatronics approach creates a need for PLM.

Part of the mechatronics need for PLM stems from the difficulty
specialists, often in disparate locations, have coming together with the latest
design information early and often enough to collaborate. A PLM system makes
collaboration easier by connecting engineers and cross-functional team members
(such as manufacturing, procurement, marketing, etc.) almost in real time. For
example, by creating one database which serves as the "single source of truth,"
PLM reduces re-work caused by confusion over erstwhile data from multiple
databases. When used to the fullest, PLM saves time - time put to better use
creating innovations for new products.

From my discussion with Bayless, I learned
the scope of PLM implementation varies by company. For example, some Mercury
PLM Services clients are considering their first investment in PLM and are
looking for reliable information. Other clients use PLM only to store CAD data
but are interested in deploying the tools in more value-added ways across the
enterprise. Mercury PLM Services provides best practices which bring PLM benefits
to the full organization, not just one discipline, which makes it ideal for
mechatronics.

Communication, collaboration and
integration are the key attributes of the mechatronic design process that lead
to innovation. PLM - managing all the information from the start of the design
process to the eventual disassembling and recycling of the product - can
facilitate that process. But the mechatronic design process must first be
defined for the organization and widely embraced. Ownership of the process, not
just a consensus, by each individual is essential to reap the full benefits of
PLM.

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