Don't Be Scared. It's Just PLM. Part III: How to manage BOMs, data and processes like a NINJA.

Acuity Account Executive, Chris Trina sat down with our resident Teamcenter guru and Senior Application Engineer, Pat Kennedy recently for a little Q&A/Fireside Chat on the intrinsic value of a quality PLM system. It was a long conversation! I’ll be posting the highlights over the next few weeks. Here's Part III.

Click here for Part I and Part II.

PAT: So let’s talk about BOMs (Bill Of Materials), that's simply a list of all of those parts that that a manufacturer is going to create and assemble into your prototype part. When we release, it’s all of that "stuff." It could be hundreds of parts, which becomes a monumental task with something like  a folder on a file server or even in Dropbox. It’s a monumental task to grab all of that as a snapshot in time and yet be able to have people continue to work while the manufacturer is building your prototype. Something like Teamcenter is actually super easy, because you put it all through this release process and all of those through the entire BOM, all the way down,  all get released. You're assured that nothing is going to change.  Your engineers  get to continue to  do their work, while the parts are being built, or while  the product is going out into the hands  of your people that you want to do your testing.  


Also, while you're doing the shows, and the marketing, getting feedback--- as all that goes out, it's for  a purpose. It's so you can get feedback, right? And so then the engineers implement that feedback into the product again. That's going to generate yet another set of revisions and another release process. After a few iterations you get to the point where you're actually going to get your product 1.0, that the people are going to pay money for, out the door. 


When you're doing that early-on prototype release process, there's probably a few people that want to do some sign-off on that. Like the guy who is managing your cash flow, he probably wants to know how much this is going to cost. The head of engineering is probably going to want to put his stamp of approval on it as well because his name is on it. Then there's other releases, like as you get closer to actual production of your product 1.0, there's many more people involved. You have to have all your marketing materials, all of your packaging materials. The manufacturer may even be a different company by that point, and you have to have the logistics for shipping and delivery, all of that-- so lots of people have to be on board. So that's a different release. How do you get all those people on the same page? How do you get them all looking at the same data, saying: THIS BILL OF MATERIALS is what we are going to release? You do that with PLM. You take another snapshot, you have everybody LOOK at this snapshot. THIS IS THE STUFF.  


CHRIS: Everyone is clued in and on board. 


PAT: Yes and by that time it's a lot more than just CAD files too. With the release process you have multiple people, multiple departments of people, who are signing off saying, “Yes, we got all the images for the packaging. Yes, we've put together our marketing plan and we're ready to pull the trigger. Yes, we've figured out how we are going to do the shipping. We've got the logistics figured out,” and so on and so forth. All the different people have to be included in that sign off process. You don't do that with something like files on a server or dropbox or a home-grown system. 

"It's a lot of data and a lot of moving pieces all at the same time. It's almost like herding cats, you know? You're managing chaos, is what you're doing. "

Patrick Kennedy, Senior Application Engineer

PAT: In the news right now, is a major company struggling with ramping up their production levels, and it's because they wrote their own ERP system. ERP is different than PLM because it's used to actually DO the production. It manages making sure that all the parts are in the right place at the right time to actually build the thing. They initially said they spent three or four months creating their own ERP system. Which, in a way, is kinda cool. That's very innovative, they're smart people. They got that done pretty fast. But you know what? It's not getting the job done because they didn't go out and buy a system that already has 10, 20, 30 years worth of experience in the industry to meet all of those needs that are already known. There's a lot of manufacturers out there, but they all have to do kinda the same things. They really do. And this company went and did their own thing instead and they're struggling. They could have bought an off the shelf ERP system, and then tailored it to their needs. We have some of our own customers, they did that same thing with PDM. And it's like the story of popular PDM systems, it only goes so far, you reach the end, now what? Well, the “now what?” for product development is PLM.  


CHRIS: Yeah, I’ve heard of another company doing that. They wrote their own data management software and they've been struggling with it since day one. It's clumsy and -- 


PAT: And it can probably get  some  things done, but very quickly it's not going to be able to do everything they need to do. That's why we have software that we can go out and buy. It's so much more efficient for millions of people to go and buy the same software from one vendor because then that vendor has a ton of cash that they can spend on really smart programmers that make really good software. None of them individually can create the same software. There's no way, they don't have enough money. So when, collectively, you have everybody funneling money into  a vendor who can write really good software, that’s always going to be better software than what you can write for yourself. I'm sorry it doesn't matter how smart you are.  No one can pull that off. 


CHRIS: Even the smartest people in the country. 


PAT:  So, that's a great timeline for taking something from the first design. It's all about "getting that done.” Getting from concept to production, right? It's a lot of data and a lot of moving pieces all at the same time. It's almost like herding cats, you know? You're managing chaos, is what you're doing. But you’ve got this massive amount of data and you're trying to funnel it down  into a package that you can hand off to manufacturing and say, "This is it. This is what we want you to build.” Because if you don't, if you keep saying, "We want you to build this…oh wait! But with this change! And also this change and this change and this change!” That handicaps them and they can't get ANYTHING done. They can't actually build while they’re making changes to all the parts that are going to go into it.   


CHRIS: Yeah, there’s a comfort level sharing something that's locked down in Teamcenter versus sending something in a Dropbox folder, which is just a bunch of stuff you threw in there like—“Okay, I  thiiiink this is the final revision??”  


PAT: And  who really looked at it? Who really signed off on it? Do you have any traceability that the marketing manager really did  take a look at those images and make sure that they are ready to be posted? You don't know unless you have a system that actually asks the person for their John Hancock.  

CHRIS: That’s the preconfigured workflows that are in TC Rapid Start.

PAT: Yes, Exactly.

CHRIS: It’s somewhat basic but it gets the job done, for what you need. 


PAT: Yeah. With Rapid Start, Siemens is  figuring this is not Boeing or General Motors or Newport News Ship building. They're figuring that this is somebody who's come up with the next really cool Internet of Things device or you know, who knows? And so that's a smaller set of people but it's really not smaller problems. You still need all those different things to go into your product release. You need all those different people or departments to do their portion of the job necessary to get the product into the stores, sold and into the hands of the people who are going to ultimately  be the owners of what you built.  PLM is about managing data AND processes. 

Click here for Part I, Part II, Part IV and Part V.

Lindsay Trina