Product Lifecycle Management in Manufacturing: Part 1

Many still think that a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system is only for the Engineering department. At one point that may have been true. However, I am starting to see a shift in that mind set. More companies every day are starting to see the benefit, and even the necessity, in giving manufacturing direct access to the appropriate engineering data through a robust PLM system.

In this two part series I am going to outline a fictional use case both with and without PLM. My intent is for this to highlight the benefit of PLM in manufacturing. Please realize the use cases are not all inclusive. There are many possible actions that need to be taken to start manufacturing of a new product. I am simplifying for purpose of maintaining a storyline that is easier to follow along.

In the first use case, engineering is working in a PLM system and Manufacturing is not. Engineering uses PLM for data management, process management, and controls their release process utilizing this system. However, only engineering has access to this PLM system.

When a new product is released to manufacturing, only the drawings associated to this product are printed on paper and put in a folder and then physically handed to manufacturing. Once manufacturing has this folder, they begin the required tasks to begin production of this product. I will outline below what a possible workflow might look like in manufacturing without a PLM system.

Part 1: Initial Manufacturing Product Release Tasks

The required parts are manually entered into the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. In many cases, the parts are entered into a manufacturing Excel file instead. Requests made to purchasing to procure parts and raw materials required, utilizing copies of the 2D prints to send to the suppliers. After that, a Bill of Materials (BoM) structure for the parts is manually created to support the required manufacturing processes.

Part 2: Process Planning

Manufacturing will then begin the layout of processes required to manufacture the product. In many cases, the layouts are also created in Excel.

Part 3: Tooling and Controls Design

The tooling designers recreate the required 3D models from the 2D prints. The designs are typically saved in an uncontrolled manner such as on a local drive on a user desktop. The machining paths and other controlling programs are generated from these uncontrolled tooling files as well.

Part 4: In Process Engineering Change

While the ramp up is happening, engineering has the ability to make last-minute changes. If a change is made, a new 2D print must be created and supplied to manufacturing. Manufacturing must attempt to replace all copies of the printed design with a new copy. When this happens, there is great risk associated with having two of these copies floating around. Designers are manually notified to make the required changes, as are the supplies to make the required changes to the new prints. Manufacturing planning must adjust processes based on these changes as well.

Part 5: Finish Ramp Up

Manufacturing ramp up continues leading into the initial manufacturing process.

Part 6: Begin Initial Manufacturing Run

During the initial manufacturing process, a manufacturing team member notices there is a clearance issue with the design. The manufacturing team member verbally notifies their cell leader of this issue. The cell leader will then make a phone call to the engineer whose name is on the print and explains the problem. The engineer tells him to grind down the part to allow the needed clearance. The cell lead marks by hand on the print how much the part must be grinded down. If the engineer remembers, he will also update the 3D design to match this. It’s unlikely they would request a formal change to be release. One thing to note here is that there is no history of this interaction anywhere but on the market up print on the manufacturing floor.

This happens many times during the initial manufacturing process. Typically, only major issues are formally documented which will drive a full change process in Engineering.

Part 7: Out-of-date Information on Manufacturing Floor

One sub-assembly was made using out-of-date information due to outdated prints being used. Rebuild of this sub-assembly was required.

Part 8: Product Release

The final product is released to the customer.

Most of the as-built documentation is saved on paper in a folder in the manufacturing offices.

One year later, they need to do a manufacturing run on this same product. However, they have a large turnover with their manufacturing employees. Only a few people are there that worked on the first production run of this product. They were not aware of the as-built mark-ups manufacturing had in their folders. So, many of the same issues were found and had to be corrected in this manufacturing run again.

I listed a few possible issues that could come from uncontrolled information used in manufacturing. I am sure you can imagine, or even experienced other possible issues.

Keep your eyes peeled for next weeks post where I review the same manufacturing process, but this time with manufacturing having direct access to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). If you would like to learn more about the benefits of PLM in manufacturing you can download our eBook, “Designing an Effective Change Control Process” here. This eBook discusses how following a change control process would likely improve productivity and reduce quality issues. The benefits of having a controlled process in place substantially outweigh the initial time and resources to get started.

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