By Marc Young, President, xLM Solutions

Any industry abounds with buzzwords and predictions about what the latest trend will be and how you have to prepare for it. I’m sure you are hearing about digital thread, digital twin, and digital transformation, as we have, for a few years. But we here at xLM Solutions want to reflect on the basics of product lifecycle management (PLM) that are critical considerations no matter what time brings us.

What companies need does often comes down to the basics:

  • Revision Control
  • Data Access
  • Document Management
  • BOM Management
  • Change Management

Revision Control

Simply put, revision control is making sure that every time you make a change to an object, whether it be a document or an item or a part master or a BOM, whatever it may be, that each revision is recorded – not only that the change was made, but who made it, and when, so you have a reliable history of the changes that were made.

As part of this, you want to be sure that the changes are not overwritten. For example, when two people need to work on something, you don’t have two copies on two computers or one copy in a shared location where one person could overwrite the change of the other person, or you have multiple copies where you no longer know which is the latest.

This also helps in error tracking back to a record of point-by-point changes. In certain industries, like Aerospace, for example, traceability is critical.

Even the nomenclature of changes versus revisions is important when deciding on a PLM system to help you retain proper record keeping. For some systems, there are versions (minor changes) and revisions (major release changes) so being clear on the level of traceability is critical.

Data Access

Each project has massive amounts of data that need to be managed. Data points may have multiple trees branching out to other data points branching off of them. Being able to grant access to the appropriate people to the right information is critical.

A report in by Tech-Clarity found that 23% of an engineer’s time is spent trying to find information. That’s non-value-added time. Add to that another 12% of the time taken up recreating data they couldn’t find ( and you have a lot of wasted productivity.

You want to provide search capabilities that make finding data easy—turning your non-value-added searching time into value-added time.

On top of that, you want to make sure the right people get to the right data. If you’re a part manufacturer you want to ensure you find the correctly approved piece of data to be manufactured. You don’t want to build something that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and realize you’re building to the wrong version, an old version or you are building to a version that is being changed but isn’t approved yet.

In addition to ensuring people find the right version of the right data are other concerns including intellectual property and security requirements of any clients you may be working with.

It may be as simple as ensuring the marketing person have access to the system but not have the schematics pop up nor should she be able to edit those.

Or it may be more complicated. If you’re dealing with the military and you have non-US citizens in your system you need to make sure that the non-US citizens can’t get access to the military level data.

In summary:

  1. Being able to easily search and find the data
  2. Making sure the correct people can access the data they are cleared for and only that

Document Management

Document management is a subset of revision management – it is managing your documents and making sure any changes to them are necessarily revision controlled and ensuring you have ways to view them. For example, if you are creating CAD data, non CAD users should still be able to view them and access them.

A lot of systems will allow you to redline and mark them up without affecting the actual data. Also, when we’re dealing with 3D CAD data there are complex links relating the different CAD files together so making sure those links are managed appropriately is important.

One example is, if you have an assembly in CAD that will reference three parts, and another user also creating an assembly that references some of the same parts you are using. If you make a change to one of the parts, such a change should reflect in all the subsequently linked files. Without a PLM system engineers may end up overriding data or having multiple copies of the same file on their hands – not knowing which is the most up-to-date or approved version. This is similar to the problems referenced under revision control above.

BOM Management

BOM management is maintaining the Bill of Materials. The BOM structure is a list of the raw materials, sub-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, parts, and the quantities of each needed to manufacture the end product. As that product is being designed, the Bill of Material structure may or most likely will change and it needs to be revision controlled to manage these changes.

There may be different ways to look at the BOM based on as-built vs. by design. But the Bill of Material reflects the product structure as designed normally. Just as previously stated above, being able to easily find and view the structure, and view related data to the BOM structure is all very important. So what does PLM do for that specific problem? It’s very similar to document management. It’s managing systems and access to those.

Change Management

Every time something changes the PLM system will record the change, who changed it, and when.  However, certain changes may require multiple reviews and sign-offs before they become an official change.   Hence there is the concept/mechanism of an engineering change.   Engineering change could be broken down into different sub change categories such as:

  • Engineering Change Request (ECR) – requesting that something should be changed
  • Engineering Change Order (ECO) – having someone make a change and possible approval of the change
  • Engineering Change Notice (ECN) – making sure the required people within the enterprise get notified of the change

For many customers, a combination of such change processes is being used.  Change management allows companies to electronically manage and track their change processes which makes them more efficient.

Worst Case Scenario without a PLM System

What’s the worst-case scenario without a PLM system in place? While engineers may find that using a PLM system may be a little bit more of a headache for them starting out—now they have to check-in, check out, log into the PLM system before they make a change, can’t approve or release documents on their own, etc.— it prevents a lot of wasted time, effort, and money.

But beyond the money wasted, you may even get into more dire circumstances like a part failure, possible fatal crashes, or other systems failures that result because people didn’t have the right access to approve the change affecting other systems. There are downstream effects that need to be considered if you’re not properly managing that data. PLM is a major quality tool. Without one, quality rates could go down.

This has never been more important than now – when most people are working remotely and engineers can’t just call out to one another over the cube. So, if you don’t have a centralized system where all that data is, especially when people are remote, it’s much harder to get access to it – collaborate with it, and if you make a change, making sure that it is communicated to everyone else.

Want to learn about how we can customize a PLM system to your exact needs? Contact xLM Solutions now.

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