A complete guide to product lifecycle management (PLM)
Product lifecycle management is utilized from product inception to the eventual retirement and end of life of a product.
Without PLM, the product development and manufacturing processes followed throughout the life of a product would be nearly impossible to manage. It’s through the use of a well-defined PLM process and an accompanying PLM software tool that hardware product organizations are going to achieve the results they desire.
Read on for a complete rundown of the PLM process: its phases, benefits, use cases, challenges, and more.
What is product lifecycle management (PLM)?
PLM is a process, built and supported by software, for managing products through the different stages of their lifecycle. The PLM process begins with the conceptual phase of the product and continues through to the product’s retirement.
This process has grown over time: from a mechanical design and engineering-focused philosophy to a discipline applied to many different verticals that focus on product development and launching new products into the market..
Product lifecycle management software helps improve the effectiveness and efficiency of bringing a product to market. PLM platforms are used to centralize bills of materials (BOM), sourcing, and documentation, as well as to improve workflows used for managing change and the evolution of a product.
The 6 stages of a hardware product lifecycle
A typical hardware product goes through six main lifecycle stages:
1) Product Requirements Documentation
The product requirements document (PRD), usually authored by the Product Manager, lays out all of the product’s nitty gritty details. This document should be detailed, and go beyond dimensions and weight. At the bare minimum, a PRD should include:
- List of features (and performance metrics for each)
- Estimated production volume
- Product release timeline (anticipated)
- Product roadmap
Once the PRD gets approved by all relevant team leads, the product is clear to move onto the next stage.
2) Engineering Validation and Testing
During engineering validation and testing (EVT), or “prototyping,” Engineering works to identify any potential risks carried by the product requirements outlined in the PRD. Here, the focus is functionality: Engineering’s objective is to prove that the product can be built to meet the requirements listed in the PRD.
Engineers perform rigorous testing to ensure that each product feature meets its predetermined performance metrics. The goal of this stage in the product development process is to eliminate (or significantly reduce) these issues — which can take weeks or months of research and development. The product cannot move onto the design stage without meeting all of its functional requirements.
3) Design Validation and Testing
Once functionality is nailed down, the focus is on the end product’s look and feel. In the design validation and testing (DVT) stage you’ll select the materials and mechanical components that align with the aesthetic laid out in the PRD.
Getting feedback from potential customers is highly valuable at this stage. This helps assess the product-market fit, and allows you to adjust critical design elements (form, fit, materials) before greenlighting the product for final production.
4) Production Validation and Testing
The production validation and testing (PVT) stage’s goal is to ensure that your product can, in fact, be manufactured at the volume (and cost) stated in the PRD. This entails discussions with suppliers and manufacturers, and gaining their feedback regarding your design and its production feasibility. This may occasionally result in (hopefully minor) design tweaks
During this stage you’ll also begin establishing the supply chain — usually with a pre-production run. This can help identify any potential bottlenecks or weaknesses in your production process that could result in serious problems during high-volume output.
5) Mass Production
Finally, the product reaches mass production. During this stage, you monitor product quality and demand while the manufacturer handles part procurement, assembly, and testing. Here, you and the manufacturer communicate and work closely to ensure supply chain availability and low production costs.
6) End of Life
Once a product reaches the end of its life (EOL), you have some decisions to make regarding product disposition. If there are finished goods sitting in warehouses, what should happen to them? Is there a way to reclaim their raw materials? Can the products be used for future projects? Do they simply need to be destroyed? While some loss is unavoidable during this stage, the goal of sound EOL planning is to minimize waste as much as possible.
How a PLM System Works
A PLM system allows engineers and all other product stakeholders to access critical data throughout all stages of a product’s lifecycle. It helps to streamline product management by centralizing important product data (like the BOM and component data) into a single interface. Then, product data can then be revision managed and merged with manufacturing-related information. This enhances the product development and manufacturing processes and enables continuous improvement.
Benefits of PLM
PLM software has specialized value drivers. Here are a few of the key benefits that make PLM software so valuable to hardware product development companies.
Improves collaboration between engineering teams
A PLM platform can be used to help engineers communicate with each other more effectively. They can share their designs, feedback and changes with each other in real time via the platform. For example, mechanical and electrical engineers may be using different CAD tools. Each team will need a way to publish new designs and revisions and alert other team members when there’s a new design or change. Improving collaboration on this level leads to fewer miscommunications, which leads to better product quality — ultimately requiring less rework.
Duro’s Product Lifecycle Management system incorporates best practices for collaboration and change management. Schedule a demo to learn more about Duro.
Having better access to product data improves team performance and enables engineers to share knowledge with each other. This helps speed up decisions and provides streamlined project management.
Mitigates miscues and errors
A PLM software system also helps to reduce human errors and mistakes in product development. Manual data entry increases the potential for human error and duplicate entries. By automating this process and checking for duplicate component data, PLM ensures your product data remains accurate.
PLM also enables anyone involved in the hardware development process to understand which is the most recent design and what’s been changed. It incorporates streamlined processes for managing change. This ensures that all design revisions and changes are approved or reviewed by relevant stakeholders in a timely manner and that everyone is on the same page about progress.
Not only does this encourage efficiency among teams but it can also save companies money by preventing product development delays — or worse, product failure.
Reduces time to market
When you are slow in getting to market, you run the risk of competitors releasing similar products before you. With a PLM system in place, you can reduce time to market in several ways.
First of all, PLM systems increase engineering and operational efficiency by introducing automation (e.g. automatic data entry for components). Thus reducing the amount of manual work required by employees and speeding up the product development process.
Some PLM systems can also make it easy for engineers to source off-the-shelf parts for new designs. This allows them to assess cost and availability constraints as well as adapt designs earlier on than they typically would. This enables better communication with procurement and operations team members as designs mature and helps mature designs a bit more rapidly.
When every member of a team (including engineering, operations, and manufacturing) works from the same PLM platform, they have the same source of truth. This gives everyone access to the most accurate, up-to-date information at all times and reduces cross-department miscommunications and prevents time-to-market delays.
Industry use cases for PLM software
It’s important to note that PLM software is about more than just managing the lifecycle of a product; it’s also about helping your company to attain its business goals.
Some PLM systems like Duro, a cloud-native PLM, are specifically designed to help fast-paced, disruptive hardware companies test new solutions to quickly adapt and evolve. Cloud-native PLM can be beneficial in many different scenarios, including:
- Companies with team members in different locations working on the same project. They need fast access to real-time data and efficient ways to collaborate across functions.
- Small businesses trying to get a minimum viable product (MVP) to market. They need fast feedback and a way to adapt their designs before getting to production.
- Agile businesses focused on speed to market. They need streamlined processes and the ability to make fast decisions without compromising quality or detailed documentation.
Here are a few industries that can greatly benefit from PLM platforms, with examples of companies that are using PLM software to improve their product and business operations.
Aerospace and defense
The aerospace and defense industry uses PLM software to help manage the creation of essential components and lower the costs of bringing these parts and their associated products to market. Using PLM to ensure well-documented change management processes is essential for this highly regulated industry.
Gilmour Space, located in Australia, has used PLM technology to develop rockets and satellites and place them into orbit, all while developing hybrid propulsion systems that bring down costs. With Duro’s help, Gilmour Space was able to manage their design states and change control processes.
Automotive and transportation
Another industry greatly benefiting from PLM software is the automotive industry. There’s been a slew of innovation in developing autonomous vehicles. For example, Kodiak uses Duro PLM to help manage the designs for its autonomous trucking and freight delivery solutions.
Similarly, Merlin Labs is creating new technology in the autonomous aviation space. Its innovative software is designed to fit into any aircraft to power future autonomous flights. Software, mechanical, and electrical engineers need a way to better collaborate without worrying about managing complex platforms as they design this advanced technology.
The consumer electronics industry is one of the major users of PLM software. In fact, many PLM solutions were originally designed with an electronics design focus. This industry now includes a wide array of tools, from robotics to IoT devices, infotainment systems, mechatronic machines, and more.
Sphero develops programmable robots and educational tools to encourage children to learn about coding, science, and the arts. The company uses Duro as its system of record to review what’s going to be made and track changes over time.
PLM software helps improve operational and design practices for industrial automation companies.
Centralizing product data helps companies like Rapid Robotics, an industrial robotics company which automates repetitive processes for manufacturers . Rapid Robotics uses Duro to manage its core product configuration and adapt that design based on new customer requirements.
Wellness and medical devices
As equipment for health tracking and medical devices becomes more complex, these organizations need strict product data monitoring. Additionally, they must carefully manage quality and ensure regulatory compliance.
Carecubes is developing a patient isolation device for hospitals. The team relies on Duro to help consolidate and manage their product data and BOMs as well as to control documentation for compliance.
Common PLM software challenges and solutions
PLM platforms are great for preventing product development and manufacturing-related issues within hardware organizations. However, there are some common challenges that come up. From ineffective change management, to addressing data silos, here are some suggested solutions to help solve these problems.
Ineffective change management processes
A common challenge with PLM is an ineffective change management process that can occur if the approval routing rules are poorly defined or convoluted. Without specific rules for how changes are approved, recorded, and implemented, or clear instructions about who needs to be involved, organizations might propagate miscommunications into production. This can also drastically protract the timeframe for obtaining change approval and lengthen the development timeframe.
Solution: Keep change order approval routing simple and streamlined, particularly at first
A change order approval system can quickly become overly complicated and difficult to navigate. This often occurs when leadership tries to over-optimize aspects of the ECO system. It’s best for companies that are just starting out to work with a new PLM platform to keep their approval routing workflows simple. Avoid layering on different stages of approval or rules that have the potential for inadvertently slowing the approval process down later.
Lack of access to information to make decisions
PLM software deals with complex data management. In some PLM systems, the complexity is amplified because data access is limited for team members, departments or external stakeholders. The reasons may be due to limited integration support, access control policies, or a non-intuitive interface. This can lead to certain team members not knowing what’s the latest design release or whether data in the PLM matches data in the CAD tools or the ERP tool. Without a centralized platform that easily integrates with other business tools, teams throughout an organization can quickly become misaligned and decision making will be impaired.
Solution: Empower all team members with the right data and the right time
A flexible cloud-native PLM platform that is easily accessible by all stakeholders and supports integrations with other important business tools will serve hardware product companies well in making sure all critical information is available anywhere and anytime. An easily navigable interface, with alerts and visual cues showing changes to design revisions, team members can more easily understand changes that have occurred as well as make decisions about adapting designs.
Disparate data across your software platforms
A data silo refers to the isolation of information across branches, teams, or departments in an organization. Hardware teams typically have many different sources of data stored across systems. This includes designs from CAD, requirements from requirements management systems, sourced content from various different parts suppliers and information about resources and workflows in ERP systems. This isolation leads to:
- Information that is inaccessible to certain teams
- Significant time delays between getting approval or feedback
- Miscommunications that can lead to errors that go undetected
Data silos make it challenging to know which data is the latest. They can also cause issues for product development companies after a product goes into production. Silos reduce the ability to send feedback from the manufacturing teams back to the engineering and design teams, which prevents continuous improvement.
Other potential issues may include errors in part data, information duplication, and issues related to a design’s manufacturability.
Solution: Achieve data continuity by integrating separate data sources to your PLM
PLM software is key to reducing the effects of data silos. When you centralize your product data and workflows, you create a single source of truth that everyone can access and use as their foundation. This centralization can be orchestrated and supported through the integration between disparate tool sets that may also contain critical product or manufacturing data.
For example, you can achieve better BOM and data continuity by integrating CAD tools (like SolidWorks and Altium) with your PLM system. Similarly, integrating your ERP and PLM systems allows teams to achieve data continuity between the “as-designed” data in the PLM and the business and manufacturing data in the ERP.
Slow implementation time
While PLM systems provide many benefits, a slow implementation timeframe can really detract from the value that a PLM tool provides and inhibit ROI. This is especially true as operational speed becomes critical for organizations to stay competitive. It’s no longer acceptable for it to take several months to onboard and implement a PLM.
Solution: Select a PLM tool that can support rapid implementation
A PLM system that provides out-of-the-box functionality, has a quick implementation timeframe and is user-friendly will serve organizations well in an increasingly competitive market. Duro PLM is designed to help companies quickly get up and running in a matter of days, if not hours. With its intuitive interface, onboarding is fast and straightforward. Overall, teams can rapidly get past the implementation phase and begin to realize some of the benefits described above.
The future of product lifecycle management
Product lifecycle management platforms are evolving. In today’s fast-paced hardware development environment it’s even more important to rely on a modern PLM system that will help you adapt to new conditions, including:
- Shorter product life cycle, especially for hardware and electronics
- Reliance on global suppliers and adapting to market fluctuations and component shortages (increasing the need for automation and data transparency)
- Greater competition and pressure to get to market quickly
- Changing workforce that is distributed and relies on cloud communications and software platforms to share information
Hardware product organizations need to be able to quickly access the latest supplier data, find revisions, adapt designs, reuse components, and evolve their products with PLM software. As a result PLM platforms are evolving to incorporate greater flexibility and enable even faster decision making. Here are a few trends that are altering the PLM landscape.
Ecosystem of interconnected vendors
Many different are required to help bring products to market faster. As a result we’re seeing the development of an ecosystem of cloud-native vendors that bridge data sources.
PLM software helps centralize and manage product data by connecting with computer-aided design (CAD) tools, requirement management systems, and enterprise resource planning (ERP).
Over the next few years, even better data transparency and openness among these vendors will make it easier to share data across the platforms. This will enable every relevant stakeholder has access to what they need and facilitate communication between design engineers and third-party suppliers and manufacturers.
Tracking the environmental impact of products
As businesses become environmentally conscientious, they’ll be looking for ways to track their products’ environmental impact and carbon footprint.
PLM platforms will include options for measuring and understanding how design decisions can impact a product’s carbon footprint. This will be especially important as businesses become more accountable for sourcing and reporting on their impact.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming commonplace in many industries. PLM platforms already incorporate some aspects of automation. In the near term, they’ll become more intelligent, with machine learning capabilities that provide alerts and suggestions to help people make more informed decisions around design and profitability. That might mean automatically suggesting the best part from among numerous suppliers, or alerting someone when an existing design meets their needs and can be reused.
Smart analytics tools in PLM software will allow managers to more easily:
- Review the full impact of changes.
- Browse the entire product genealogy to spot trends.
- Use data from across the product lifecycle to invent new products and plan for market trends.
Experience intuitive PLM with Duro
PLM software makes it easy for engineers and product leaders to make smarter decisions about their products. Without a PLM system, organizations might struggle to effectively design products, bring them to market, and manage information across different systems.
To learn how Duro can help you improve your operations and make the PLM experience easy, schedule a discovery call to see for yourself. The Duro platform can take your business to the next level and provide the PLM system you need to create better processes for your product development and manufacturing operations.