When I was new to reading in PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) it was very difficult to find something easy and simple. It is very commonly confused with PDM (Product Data Management). Also there are lot of clutter due to lots of jargons and buzz words. Different words to express same thing. I always wanted to look at something simple but yet powerful to get into the main concept. This is my attempt to make it simple to understand PLM.
I am sure all of you know how a restaurant works… In a good restaurant there is always a “Menu “. In industry they call it a “Product portfolio” – quite a heavy word ! isn’t it. The menu is what the owner or management of restaurant decides to offer to its customers. A group of cooks (Engineers) led by a head cook or The Chef will decide how each of the menu item is prepared and they will make a recipe for each. We call that recipe a “design” or “product definition” or “how to make” information. If this recipe is wrong then the end product is wrong no matter how successfully you market it or how efficiently you make it. In PLM this recipe is in two forms. First is making of new recipe (new product development process) which essentially makes a sample to test and comes into menu only when approved for sale and second is the actual large scale production process when recipe is approved ( sales to retirement process). The first process is interested in making new recipe (product) out in market quickly and test. The second one is interested in how we can improve the mass production (industrial output from start to end. The recipe has a list of ingredients (Bill of Material or BOM) and instructions (work instructions, how to procedures) and everything you need to know to make that tasty menu item. Based on this list of ingredients the purchasing department has already made some stock based on forecast or demand. Sometimes they purchase pure raw materials like salt , paper, oil etc. or sometimes they can buy some sub-products like ice-cream, canned food, sauce mix etc. which has more than one raw material and is processed by another vendor. Similarly in manufacturing industry purchasing can buy raw materials like pipes, rods, wires etc. or they can buy some standard parts like bolts ,screws, washers etc. or they can buy finished assembled parts like pumps, sensors etc. These categories differs for the end product like for pharmaceutical companies the raw material can be some chemicals or for Foundry it can be sand or electrodes etc. Any way all need some list of ingredients as per bill of material of the recipe. Now we know what to make and how to make and we have all the ingredients.
Can we now make anything in menu tonight?
I guess not. We still haven’t planned how exactly we will make them i.e. who, when, where, what sequence etc. If we serve only handful customers then we might not need them but imagine a big restaurant serving hundreds of guests at the same time, you cannot avoid chaos without planning. We need to plan in advance how we can prepare 50-100 dishes at the same time. How many cells or areas can we create. All orders won’t be same. So depending on frequency or likelihood we need to assign cells to type of dish. For example a cell specialized for Chinese food might have expert cooks and supporting staff and likely ingredients in that area. A cell for Italian food might need pizza oven and other instruments nearby to make it. In this way we have to plan for capacity , load , skills etc. Imagine someone is sick and a suitable replacement is needed. All this planning needs to be carefully done. The result of this planning might be some production plans, work cards, flow lines or routings, picking and packing plans etc. in PLM terminology, assuming we also send home deliveries. So once our planning is ready then we are ready to open for dinner tonight.
Guests started to come as this is a famous restaurant. Many have pre-booked tables. Kitchen started rolling in full form as per the plans. But not everything goes smoothly. There is always some problems. They can be handled by following a Non-conformance process which is nothing but the troubleshooting part. I forgot to mention that we also send home deliveries. Let’s see , how’s that going. Well, some customers are not so easy. They have sent food back and asked for replacement or money back. Our customer care dept. is handling that. It is also called service or aftermarket department. For food industry this might be a small business but for a car industry this might be the real money maker. They earn more in selling spare parts than selling cars, who knows. Or a printer company might earn more selling ink than printer, who knows. Any ways when our product is consumed, digested and retired then we say congratulations. You have completed the Lifecycle of your Product successfully from sales to retirement.
Whatever is the product from soap or shampoo to cars and airplanes there is always this lifecycle. Sometime short like few hours to sometimes very long for 30 years. The concept is same. You have to go through these phases of lifecycle viz. Sales-Engineering-Planning-Procurement-Manufacturing-Service and sometimes more and doing this efficiently is what is called PLM (Product Lifecycle Management). In doing this PLM you might need some highly sophisticated software/systems specialized for each phase or you might do with excel or pen or paper.
But as your complexity and volume increase then you have to use specialised systems to produce your product at competitive cost. So all that PLM helps you is to be competitive in market . The level of PLM depends on your product and industry. First step is to define a PLM process across company and map how each system will participate and how data, people and process are interacting from start to end.
Now for completeness the formal definitions:
Product lifecycle management (PLM) process is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) system is an information management system that can integrate data, processes, business systems and ultimately people in an extended enterprise.