PLM is vital for today’s systems engineering

Developing highly complex products requires contributions from specialists in multiple technical disciplines. This report tells how state-of-the-art product life-cycle management (PLM) software helps diverse engineering teams focus on the single goal of developing the best possible product in the shortest amount of time.


Developing highly complex products often requires contributions from diverse technical disciplines including mechanical engineering, electronics, software-based control, fluid mechanics, hydraulics, and pneumatics. In aircraft design, for example, engine designers concentrate on the propulsion system while aerodynamicists work on flight surfaces, mechanical engineers on landing gears, and other specialists on seating, lighting and acoustics.
Ensuring the overall product design is complete and that the various subsystems all work together properly is the objective of systems engineering, a traditional holistic approach to product development that is receiving much more attention recently due to the increasing complexity of many products.
Systems engineering is closely tied to customer requirements management in meeting the many user, business, technical, and functional requirements in product development. So systems engineering solutions from various suppliers often include requirements management as a fundamental capability. Requirements management is all about ensuring that the “voice of the customer” is captured and managed throughout the product life cycle. Consequently, well-documented requirements must be managed from the customer’s point of view, shared with diverse groups, tightly linked to product deliverables, and strictly controlled to analyze the impact of changes.
Systems engineering is certainly not a new concept. Indeed, the approach has been used for decades in the aerospace, defense and automotive industries–mostly with in-house database management programs, spreadsheets, file folders, PERT charts, requirements listings, and other manual methods. These were slow, cumbersome, and often barely adequate in handling myriad details in highly complex product development programs that can last for years andinvolve hundreds–sometimes thousands–of individual groups, facilities, departments, and suppliers in global extended enterprises.
Today such limitations can be overcome by performing systems engineering with the help of product life-cycle management (PLM) solutions that support the collaborative creation, management, dissemination, and use of product definition information across the product lifecycle and throughout the extended enterprise.
Systems engineering solutions are offered by several PLM suppliers. Using a combination of technologies, the approach is much faster than manual methods and better able to manage the complex multitude of details for multidisciplinary relationships, product configurations, workflows, information-sharing, and decision-making. This radically increases the efficiency and effectiveness of systems engineering programs and helps avoid noncompliance issues and other problems by meeting these requirements with balanced designs early in the development cycle instead of spending time and resources hurriedly making changes later in the cycle.
Because of the size and growth potential of this market, systems engineering solutions are receiving higher priority from PLM providers, with solutions especially targeted at automotive, aerospace, defense, and other industries.
The good news for the general user community is that the lessons learned and best practices developed for these systems can now be leveraged by companies of all sizes across a broad range of industries including consumer products, electronics, home appliances, ship building, heavy machinery, medical equipment and many others.
With the newer commercial solutions being made available, an expanding range of companies can implement systems engineering for balancing the numerous interrelated requirements that absolutely must be met for manufacturers to survive in today’s turbulent markets and economic downturns.
About the author:
Ed Miller is president of CIMdata, an independent worldwide firm providing strategic consulting to maximize an enterprise's ability

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