This article is not about stopping a wide-spread, silent and dangerous disease as the title may suggest, but you’re here now so let’s talk about PLM, Product Lifecycle Management. To put it dryly, it’s an information management system that can integrate data, processes, business systems and, ultimately, people in an extended enterprise.  Most importantly, it’s a disciplined way to connect and supercharge a ridonkulous amount of information in your company to get a product to market faster, decrease redundant activities, and increase profits. To readers not operating “extended enterprises”, you can imagine PLM to be like the work of ecologists who study complex, living ecosystems.
As you likely know, ecologists examine habitats and all their inhabitants. Their first step is to check things out “as is”. They’re absorbing information, documenting it, and beginning to understand how various residents behave, how nutrients flow through a food web, or how certain populations of critters are affecting each other. It’s an unbiased audit meant to get a baseline for the “as is” prior to conceiving solutions to solve an issue in that habitat.
Similarly, the first step of optimizing an enterprise through PLM engagement is to survey the “as is” business processes, the flow of data and information, and how the residents of the company interact to produce products. PLM consultants look deep into the interconnectedness of the design, engineering, manufacturing, distribution, and disposal of a product. This could be a furniture manufacturer, an automotive supplier, or a kayak company or anywhere in between.
The next step in the process is to identify the gaps and inconsistencies in the system that are destructive to the overall health and prosperity of the system. It’s also important to note the opportunities that are vital for the health and longevity of the system.
An ecologist may be doing a study to determine the effects of a water usage policy or evaluate a pesticides risk to a local ecosystem. The goal of the ecologist is to protect and promote balance in the system. An organization fine-tuning through PLM integration is aiming to increase profits as any business should. PLM allows the company to understand the effects of an incredibly complex system and rewire them to produce better results.
Once the gaps and inconsistencies have been identified, the next step is designing new ways of interconnecting information and processes to maximize the health and efficiency of the system.
In the case of an ecologist, they may recognize that a coral reef is struggling to sustain bountiful growth and renewal. They’ve noticed that fish just aren’t hangin’ ’round as much as they used to in these parts. They know that fish and other sea creatures love a good hiding spot. Solution: put explosives on a boat, sink said boat with said explosives, and let the fish have a spot to kick it. It worked . This type of ecology is called “restorative ecology”  and there are countless projects past and present. I digress.
In the case of a PLM expert, they have noticed that the manufacturing floor isn’t really communicating with the design or marketing team which is causing a part in a flagship product to be extremely difficult to manufacture. The cycle times are terrible and further, it’s the most warrantied part. It’s evident that if this information was made instantly accessible to the design studio, changes could be made quickly upstream to improve the product. PLM software and architecture allows for the hot-wiring of information that will improve business results.
Through ecology, a natural neighborhood can thrive. Through PLM, a business can maximize profits and remain relevant in our extremely competitive landscape.
Although the specific goals of PLM and ecologists are quite different, the process and consequences of both activities are in the same boat. Both aim to understand, improve, and optimize infinitely complex systems. Both are fascinating. The systems studied are constantly evolving and consistently challenging us to understand how all the pieces fit together. They’re an unsolvable puzzle that reward along the way.
Industrial Designer and PLM Solutions Support Staff
Fredricks Design, Inc.
Fredricks Design, Inc. is a full-service design and engineering firm based in Grand Haven, Michigan. The firm specializes in working as an extension of the client studio and engineering team to identify the right problems and accelerate development of solutions from early ideation, feasibility, concept development and production of mock-ups, prototypes and show properties. Fredricks works with key Clients in the automotive interiors and seating industries, advanced rides and show action projects for themed attractions, furniture, and consumer products markets.