One PLM deployment challenge is mapping data for the data migration effort, according to Jim Jacobus, engineering documentation specialist at the Atlanta-based business unit of Landis+Gyr, a global manufacturer of metering products for utilities.
"You need to be careful in mapping that data," said Jacobus, who oversees the operation of the company's PLM function, which is built around software and services from Arena Solutions Inc. "We found errors that were introduced into our migration by an accidental swapping of the data in the vendor code and vendor name field for every item the company handles."
Clean data key to successful PLM deployment
Crystal Technology Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif.-based business unit of EPCOS that manufactures oxide single crystals and optical components, spent months defining its PLM solution and mapping data for migration into Omnify Software's Empower PLM software to ensure that there were no problems. "We wanted to make sure we ended up with clean data," said Fred Garderes, director of supply chain management at Crystal Technology.
PLM software is an example of an application "that provides a lot of flexibility, allowing you to define data in different ways or establish all kinds of different workflows," said Mike Burkett, vice president of PLM research for Boston-based consulting firm AMR Research.
Don't underestimate time required for PLM implementation
But flexibility can be a double-edged sword. In fact, Burkett warns, one of the biggest pitfalls that can trip up a PLM deployment is that the project lead underestimates the complexity and time required for implementing PLM.
Furthermore, according to Burkett, some manufacturing organizations implementing PLM systems are tempted to try to use that flexibility to define overly sophisticated workflows for everything they do. "[But] that can lead to problems and frustration," he said, when the organization later realizes how much trouble it is to maintain those complex systems.
Baked-in PLM software best practices
For the manufacturing firm that plans ahead and makes prudent implementation choices, however, PLM software can be relatively painless to deploy, especially for the manufacturer that selects a PLM product that has industry best practices (such as the ability to automate processes) built into it, because that will mean eliminating the time and effort needed to laboriously define processes and workflows.
"Each PLM vendor will generally have people who are dedicated to research and defining best practices -- or at least standard practices specific to a given industry vertical," said Ken Versprille, PLM research director at CPD Associates, a research firm that helps organizations create roadmaps for deploying engineering and manufacturing technologies.
These researchers, he said, have worked with their clients in areas such as automotive, aerospace or consumer products and have documented the typical processes of those industries. That knowledge is often baked into the vendor's software. For example, automotive OEMs will often have created flow charts, giving each role within the organization a range of options that should be readily adaptable to their way of doing business.
In the aerospace industry, a Boeing procedure or best practice might not map exactly to practices at other companies like Bombardier or Airbus, according to Versprille. "But," he said, "it is quite likely that a variation of that practice could be shareable by all of them."
The fit may not be 100%. "You may not get the 'secret sauce,'" he said, "but because people move around within industries, probably 60% to 70% of any company's best practices are known and used elsewhere." When PLM vendors build in those best practices, there's no reason not to consider adopting them.
That's why the Landis+Gyr business unit is now considering additional pre-packaged features from its PLM software vendor, Arena Solutions, such as a project management capability as well as a function that automates data flow from Arena to SAP. "Arena offers an integration adapter that will allow us to map our existing custom fields so they will go to SAP, eliminating separate data entry," Jacobus said.
Versprille sums it up this way: "Simply trying to capture and maintain all the processes you have traditionally used can be a mistake, especially now, when there are good alternatives available."
About the author: Alan Earls had his first exposure to computer programming on one of Digital Equipment Corp.'s PDP-8 minicomputers. He went on to serve as editor of the newspaper Mass High Tech and is the author of the book Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech, a photographic essay on a key part of Massachusetts economic history. He currently is a freelance writer, covering many aspects of IT technology and writing regularly for SearchManufacturingERP.com.