Commercial products, much like human beings, need to be guided through various stages of “life”—through a practice known as product life cycle management (PLM).
The PLM process is a business strategy that combines human innovation with machine-powered data sharing. The goal is to create products that can perform better in the market for a longer period of time, and generate greater customer satisfaction.
Here’s how a data-driven PLM system can extend a product's lifecycle and give your company a competitive advantage.
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What is a product life cycle?
A product life cycle refers to the stages of existence of a product. The four stages are usually considered to be the introduction of the product, its growth, its maturity, and its subsequent decline. These stages can take place in the course of a single year or over decades.
The product life cycle encompasses, but is larger than, the product development life cycle, which occurs before a product launches. Specifically, it covers the product development process, or designing and building products so that they can be sold.
What is product life cycle management?
Product life cycle management (PLM) is the process of managing a product through all of its stages of existence. Today, PLM relies on software that collects and disseminates data so that employees can have an easier time designing products and coming up with strategies to sell them.
The PLM process involves humans or computers sending large quantities of relevant, up-to-date data to employees in different departments—for example, to a supply chain manager or a marketing director. These employees then use the data to make business decisions. Supply chain managers could supervise a product in its growth stage with automated ordering and deliveries, and marketing directors could use PLM software to budget and plot their full campaigns.
Digital PLM solutions come from global vendors like Oracle, Netsuite, and SAP, as well as smaller providers like Teamcenter, Arena PLM, and Autodesk Fusion 360. These PLM systems allow companies to manage data and communications for tasks like product design, marketing, supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and customer relationship management (CRM).
How does a PLM system work?
A modern PLM system works in two main ways. First, it uses software to serve as a data and communications hub. PLM software archives and sorts company data, and then serves up-to-date information during all stages of the development process, production process, and sales process to employees in different departments. For instance, PLM systems can alert product design teams about real-time changes in raw material costs.
Second, PLM systems, through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), aid modern product management by digitizing work previously done by humans. For instance, a modern PLM software system can combine computer-aided design (CAD) data with an existing bill of materials (instructions on how to build a product) to help engineers design a product and mitigate engineering challenges.
In 1985, for example, American Motors Corporation began using CAD and a central engineering database to help product designers create the Jeep sport utility vehicle. Through these PLM tools, the company avoided slowdowns and design errors that might otherwise have held up the development process.
Over the course of the development process, PLM software works in lockstep with project managers, producing valuable engineering data that will hopefully result in higher-quality products. When these data-generating processes occur during the product development stage, it is known as product data management (PDM), a component of PLM.
Benefits of product life cycle management
Product life cycle management allows you to make decisions that increase the chances products will sell and generate customer satisfaction.
Benefits of PLM systems include:
- High-quality, up-to-date data
- The ability to improve processes through computer-aided design (CAD)
- Automation that provides teams with relevant information
- Faster time to market
- The capacity to identify and support well-performing products
High-quality, up-to-date data
PLM technology delivers the most up-to-date information to project managers, with higher data quality than they might get from an informal process without real-time updates.
The ability to improve processes through computer-aided design (CAD)
Thanks to machine learning, a PLM system can improve on processes like coding and engineering. Machine learning enables computers to learn skills and improve upon those skills. This potentially speeds up production times and improves quality control.
Automation that provides teams with relevant information
A PLM system houses company data and, via automation, sends it to the right teams when they need it. The system continually handles tasks like document management and quality management, and collects data and distributes it when needed.
Faster time to market
Because PLM adds so many efficiencies to a product development process, new items can reach the market faster.
The capacity to identify and support well-performing products
PLM solutions can help companies continue production of existing products that are selling well, plot marketing campaigns, respond to customer feedback, and expand product lines to capture new customers.
Challenges in product life cycle management
Product life cycle management can turbocharge a business, but this doesn’t happen overnight. There are two main challenges to implementing a PLM solution within a workplace.
Cost. The highest performing PLM systems run on sophisticated software, which can be prohibitively expensive, especially for startups.
Initial effort to set up the system. PLM software needs relevant data to provide useful information to employees. Humans have to initially program the software to collect data from the right sources. They also have to tell the software which employees need which types of data, which is usually based on their job title, their department, and their project portfolio. As such, it takes time and effort to get your PLM software system up and running.