Do you really need PLM?
Given the goals of PLM, and the complexity of the technology, how can you tell if you even need PLM? AMR's O'Marah says PLM is best suited for companies selling physical products such as consumer packaged goods and electronics, particularly merchandise that requires complex manufacturing processes. So if you're primarily a service company, then you probably don't need PLM. "It's so much easier for nonphysical product companies to keep data organized because for them it's all just text files," says O'Marah. "For product companies, it's a whole series of different kinds of information, from mechanical geometry to circuitry design to software code to branded artwork."
Also, says O'Marah, companies that are based in one location and don't rely on outside contractors probably don't need PLM. "If you are a single site, you can do a lot of this stuff with spreadsheets, Access databases and other kinds of simple-minded tools like a CAD vault, because a single-site location has its designers and engineers in the same place as its manufacturing people."
But companies that deal with contract manufacturers and third-party suppliers are another story. Steve Norton, head of hardware development at Acme Packet, a Woburn, Mass.-based manufacturer of hardware components for Voice over IP, says they moved from Microsoft Access to a PLM database from Omnify Software because they needed to keep track of more than 300 parts, and a simple spreadsheet wasn't doing the trick. "Access was extremely clumsy, and we ended up having to change our template on a daily basis as we learned more about what information we wanted to include," he says.
And the spreadsheet provided no way for his team to know if the company's contract manufacturers were working with the right specifications. "Even if the data is pristine when it leaves here, you are always going to run into this problem where spreadsheets are out of date, or the engineer isn't going to be real religious about forwarding schematic changes to the factory on a timely basis."
With the PLM system, however, Acme Packet's manufacturers connect to a portal that lets them view the necessary design information, while e-mail updates let Acme designers know that its manufacturers have reviewed the changes. Norton says that's helped Acme to reduce manufacturing errors from about 10 percent to zero. And with each product containing thousands of dollars' worth of equipment, says Norton, the savings are significant, especially for a small company like Acme.
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