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Product lifecycle management's goal: simplicity in product development

Product lifecycle management's goal: simplicity in product development

Chuck Grindstaff joined EDS in 1996 to assist in product and strategic planning. He became manager of the Unigraphics product business unit in 1997, and took over his present position in 2000. Before joining Unigraphics, he founded and was president and CEO of Waveframe Corp., which manufactured high-end digital-signal processing systems for the entertainment industry. Before that, he had spent 10 years in development and management within the Unigraphics product line for McDonnell-Douglas. His present job involves running the group responsible for software product creation and for ensuring product competitiveness and quality. Grindstaff has a BA in chemistry.

PLM unites data spread out across a manufacturing company in several different applications, says Grindstaff. And while engineering is at its core, PLM is not really engineering centric. It includes all kinds of other data.

Design News: What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)? Is it a product in a box, or a general philosophy?

Grindstaff: It's an umbrella suite of applications for everything about the product and process. Those applications may be in boxes, but they're not always implemented in a holistic way. In fact, most companies have a form of PLM they're using now. But it's different for every user, since the cadence of new product design and complexity is different in every industry. It unites data spread out on different computers, in e-mails, various versions, in paper files, etc. It includes tools like revision management and change control, which many companies have already been using, plus new tools, like collaborative services that allow you to create a virtual community. It's PDM services with a collaboration and visualization backbone, plus specific applications like authoring tools (CAD, CAM, CAE), portfolio management, requirements management, and project management. So it's not just engineering-centric, but includes other applications.

Q: Is PLM appropriate for small companies?

A: The question "Can you roll it in out of the box, without a 20,000-person IT group?" is in the forefront of our development efforts. Today, we've built templates that you can implement out of the box for certain industries, such as automotive, aerospace, defense, or high-tech electronics. Another important point is scalability. It doesn't just mean jamming thousands and thousands of users through a single server, but we also mean it the other way around-scaling things down to run a smaller operation on a single computer.

Q: What are the goals of PLM?

A: There are two basic goals: to expand the scope of what's captured in modeling; and to decrease overall organizational complexity. For example, we could add integrated requirements management, and still take complexity out through UI (user interface) convergence, so you'd navigate a web page form in the same way as a business process form. That will also reduce the number of clicks, drags, operations, gestures, standing on your head, and whatever else. We do that by helping to automate common functions, to package the lower-level functions you had to do yourself. If you're designing a complex part like a door or a hood, while you're talking about the overall design, it's been rolling out the parts libraries, getting prices, and doing it all under the covers. That way we can implement knowledge-based engineering, capture connections and interrelationships, so you find rules you can capture and replay and paste them together again. Then, you don't have to restart every project with a lessons-learned notebook. Knowledge is generic and robust and adaptable to new situations.

Q: Will PLM make the average engineer work in a new way?

A: During the day, the average engineer spends a lot of time in finding information like vendor specs. We want to not simply provide tools that lets him do it a little faster, but to completely remove those manual steps. So while he's interacting with his design, it can figure out the questions that need to be asked, and send XML queries to various databases. As far as you're concerned, it looks like a single operation, but behind that, our PLM integrator is capturing protocols and making heterogenous data appear homogenous. We've designed PLM as a modular system, so you can add requirements. That way, you can fit modules together like legos(R).

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