PLM isn’t just for big companies anymore

By Ed Miller, president, CIMdata Inc. February 24, 2009

Historically, product life-cycle management (PLM) was practical mostly for large, distributed enterprises with the extensive resources needed to invest in and deploy the systems, understand the approach, improve the technologies, validate benefits, and establish organizational practices to make PLM effective. Companies that originally invested in PLM often were the big OEMs in industries such as automotive and aerospace, with complex global facilities and far-reaching supply chains.
For the most part, PLM solutions for these large organizations are all-encompassing enterprise systems focused on issues that affect multiple domains such as program management, engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, asset management, and quality. Typical functionality includes program management; CAD file management, CAD integrations, bill-of-material (BOM) and bill-of-information (BOI) creation and management, document management, visualization, strategic sourcing, and extensive workflow management capabilities to automate various complex processes.
Recognizing a tremendous market potential, PLM suppliers have and are continuing to adapt these same capabilities for small and midsize companies that aren’t content to let PLM remain the domain of industry behemoths. These smaller companies desire the same support for global collaboration and creation of innovative approaches to their own product development problems.
Although these companies have many of the same requirements for PLM as their larger counterparts, they also have these differing characteristics:
• Limited information technology (IT) resources;
• Limited process improvement resources;
• Demand for low total cost of ownership;
• Demand for fast business impact; and
• Demand for minimized risk.
As a result, PLM for small and midsize companies must be provided in the form of:
• Cost-effective solutions (software and services) with low initial cost, and low ongoing costs;
• Limited installation/implementation support requirements to reach production operation; and
• Packaged solutions with pre-configured processes to provide templates and guidance in achieving best practices with the solutions.
For small and mid-sized companies that design or engineer simple parts or components, configuration management support typically isn’t a critical PLM requirement. As a result, with these types of companies PLM solutions are implemented to support data vault management, workflow automation, and applications that sustain specific needs in the engineering or manufacturing process—e.g., change management, engineering release and quality assurance.
For companies that design or engineer medium to highly complex products such as engines, turbines or machine tools, these capabilities often are supplemented with configuration management support.
PLM solutions for small and midsize companies are delivered to such companies from various suppliers. Major PLM players all have such systems, generally licensed and supported by networks of value added resellers (VAR). In addition, smaller niche PLM providers and regional suppliers often are aimed primarily at small and midsize companies, frequently in certain industries.
Key factors for small and midsize enterprises to consider include the ability to deliver out-of-the-box applications and easily tailored solutions based on best practices that support the organization’s product and process related information creation and management requirements.
Above all, the PLM solution must be simple enough to be clearly and easily understood. If not, companies should keep looking for a solution that meets their basic requirements. Such a search takes time and effort, but the work soon pays off in benefits that give competitive advantage to forward-looking companies of all sizes that implement PLM.