PLM and Global Product Development Strategy

December 13, 2011

Manufacturing business become global even for very small companies these days. It is not unusual to see a company of 100-150 employees having multiple locations using suppliers world wide. How these businesses can survive globally and what systems they need to use? What solutions are available today to support global product development? I decided to put some thoughts about that as well as share some articles related to this topic I had a chance to read earlier this week.

Global PLM system deployment

To support global product development is one imperative objectives for every PLM software provider. Obviously, PLM mindshare vendors are thinking about that. Navigate your browser to the article in Cadalyst few days ago – Break Down the barrier to Global Product Development written by Brian Shepherdof PTC. Brian’s view on global product development and role of PLM can be summarized in the following passage from the article:

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a key component of GPD. PLM enables geographically dispersed individuals and groups to work collaboratively on products and product development processes through a seamless, integrated information flow.

I found the notion of "integrated information flow" interesting. Later in the article Brian is talking about 5 challenges to achieve global product development – distributed design, collaboration across the enterprise, share data securely, manage complex programs, manage change and achieve scalable performance. The approach PLM mindshare vendors are proposing (and PTC is clearly one of them) is to organize a single environment for people to work collaboratively.

The question I wanted to raise and discuss is how to drive global deployment of such a complicated system as PLM across multiple locations, divisions and departments. This is can be a multi-year complicated and expensive project. None of the challenges mentioned in Cadalyst article are covering this topic, and it surprised me a bit. One of the main problems I see is related to a nature of heterogeneous environment in every global organization.

The Reality of Heterogeneous environments

The global organization is normally heterogeneous. The reason for that is related to the fact how most of global organizations were created. I can see two typical cases – establishment of remote manufacturing facility or acquisition of another company, which includes both engineering and manufacturing functions. In both situations, the biggest problem is to integrate multiple heterogeneous systems into a single one. Alternative is to keep working systems for some time and establish a new system gradually. This process can be complicated and expensive. In many situations, companies are leaving with existing systems for a very long period of time.

Global Part Numbers and Global Development Strategy

Thinking about how organization can shift successfully to a global model, I’m coming with my 3 elements of potential global development strategy:

1 – share data across locations;
2 – establish global identification for items and documents
3 – integrated engineering and manufacturing environments

Steve Amman of Zero-Wait State wrote about why use of intelligent part numbers is a wrong way to think about when you want to establish a global environment. Here is an interesting passage from Steve’s post – What is so difficult about product development strategy? Let’s start from Part Numbers…

The old way is to try to create or use an existing divisions “intelligent” part numbering scheme that was set up before we had modern PDM, PLM and ERP systems. Part numbers can be coded with prefixes and suffixes to represent different part types, product lines, and commodity codes and a whole bunch of other translations for the numbers so they can be organized mostly on a spreadsheet. The more information you are trying to code into the part numbers, the more you trap yourself into this old methodology.

As an alternative, Steve is proposing to use the power of PLM meta data to classify information instead of intelligent part numbers. This is can be a complicated goal if your global PLM environment is not established yet. An alternative to this approach can be the establishment of sharing network with the information resided into existing systems.

What is my conclusion? I think, global product development startegy is hard. I can see companies are working years to achieve that. Even very well organized companies are crashing to deliver the results in a short period of time. Taking steps into sharing data, create an overall identification and integrate two most complicated systems – engineering and manufacturing can take a company in the right direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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