PLM fosters business agility, if you do it right

Jan 19, 2016 | Hot Topics

No business is static. Everything changes, all the time. The successful business adapts, figures out what to change in its offerings, in the technology it uses and in the way its people work. This means identifying the change and brainstorming ways to succeed in spite of and because of these outside influences. The best solutions require creativity and a willingness not to let prior boundaries influence early thinking; getting outside the box and staying there until forced back in.

Let’s take the impact of the price of oil, which I wrote about last week. As you know, it’s now under $30 per barrel and, with Iran signaling that it is stepping up production, likely to go even lower. This places huge stress on all parts of the oil and gas industry, including equipment suppliers. Suppliers are being pressured to lower their prices or face losing business; how can they do that for goods already in the warehouse? How can they do that for products being manufactured or in design? Clearly, it’s easier to adjust for products still on the drawing board — but many are taking far less profit than before in order to keep customers and empty warehouses of carrying costs.

How do you redesign a product, from the ground up, to cost less? By looking at every single aspect. Components used, assumptions about power availability and consumption, maintenance and repair processes and materials — everything is up for discussion until proven to be untenable. Unfortunately, in oil and gas as in many industries, lifecycle cost is often disregarded in favor of low installed cost, but we’ll cover that in another post. How can a manufacturer of a piece of equipment —a pump, say— lower the delivered cost of that pump?

And, for our PLMish world, how does engineering and design software technology help? By enabling designers and engineers to be insanely creative, trying out concepts that may initially seem ridiculous, at very low risk to see if the ideas make sense. Can a pump made out of cheaper materials can withstand the design temperatures and pressures? Can the flow characteristics in an existing design be reconfigured to suit new uses? Can the parts in inventory be repurposed for new designs, lowering their incremental unit cost? Can we pitch a new offering that includes the pump and a maintenance contract based on predictive services? … The possibilities are endless, and are made possible by PLM.

“PLM” stands for Product Lifecycle Management, but that term/definition is a bit outdated. Today, PLM manages part data for a product, yes, but also simulation processes and data, material information and tradeoff studies, maintenance processes and best practices and so on, either on its own or via ties into other enterprise systems. It’s actually a lot more than the “P + L + M” would have you believe. In any case …

How can you get in on all of this goodness? By taking a look at your PLM system’s flexibility and extensibility. Years ago, when you examined your design/engineering/manufacturing situation and workflows, you likely selected a PLM that met those needs and allowed for some expansion as your business needs evolved and your capabilities grew. I hope you looked at the PLM platform and its extensibility, its ability to grow with you. As you embraced simulation (and you did, right?), it was able to help you manage CAE workflows and make results available for future projects. As you embraced design reuse (you are, right?), it helped designers quickly find and take advantage of prior concepts — and if the PLM itself didn’t do those things, partner companies could serve the information out to you in innovative ways via APIs and toolkits.

I recently took a look at PLM ecosystems and discovered that the benefits of an open and extensible framework can’t be overestimated. Fast access to specific data, more targeted ways of seeing and using it, industry- and domain-specific applications that the main PLM platform maker can’t address are all reasons to take a long hard look at your infrastructure. You can discover 5 questions resulting from the research here, and read vignettes about how platform partners add significant value, too.

Bottom line: A strong and vibrant PLM ecosystem helps you leverage existing technology investments by letting you add on as needed, rather than ripping it out to start all over again. It maximizes flexibility and creates the opportunity to grow without restriction as your business evolves. And, of course, a good PLM system lets you quickly identify and explore many design alternatives by supplying you with data about what works, what doesn’t, and what you’ve tried before so that you can meet whatever challenges the world throws at you.

Many people only look at the pain involved in spinning up and using a PLM; it seems mostly to “take”, from that perspective. I’d argue that a PLM is crucial to business agility, if you look at what it can give, instead.