Wikipedia defines product lifecycle management (PLM) as the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal.
A product’s life begins with an idea and it moves through design, manufacture, customer support and stops with an end of life declaration. This is the most complex [expensive] process that exists in any manufacturing company. The entire process may not be well defined, but Engineering’s piece, the engineering change process, will be.
For years, the engineering change process was a paper based process. Today, a large number of companies have embraced PLM software to manage that change process. And a terrific return on investment easily justifies the expenditures.
However, a product lifecycle encompasses more than just engineering.
A typical cycle could start with a customer asking a sales person for a special part or some new part. The sales person will present the request to marketing. If marketing thinks this is a good idea, they will talk with engineering to determine if the new part can be engineered. I would expect 2 other signoffs – manufacturing to agree that it is manufacturable and finance to confirm that they can make money on the new part. Assuming that everyone agrees, a change request will be written. With the engineering change process well defined, the bill of materials and any supporting documentation will be made available to manufacturing. The product gets manufactured and goes to shipping. Finance will do the billing and customer service now owns the responsibility for the product. A customer complaint may start a new change request.
Most companies are not managing their product lifecycle beyond the engineering department.
If your company already has PLM software in place, the marginal cost of extending its use to manage more of a product’s lifecycle can be easily cost justified. Just having visibility into the product lifecycle will provide huge advantages to your company.
Does your company use PLM software to manage their product lifecycles? If so, what was your experience? Have you extended it to more than just engineering?