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Turning RFA PLM on its head

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In Mark Harrop’s latest article he breaks down his views on PLM for our industry, and what the term really means.

When speaking at events, evaluating software solution providers, visiting universities to speak on the subjects of PLM, Extended-PLM, Enterprise 3D, and the Internet of Things, I always begin my presentations in the same manner: by first explaining exactly what PLM means to the team at WhichPLM.

So, if PLM is not just a software platform, as many sales teams refer to it, then what is it?

At WhichPLM, we believe that Product Lifecycle Management is far more than just a software platform. PLM’s true potential is as a holistic all-encompassing ideology, ecosystem and methodology.

What do we mean by PLM as an ideology? A system of ideas and ideals, especially ones that form the basis of economic or business policy that help to change the business processes for the better as part of re-engineering existing processes and NPI (New Process Introduction) based upon lean methodology. A system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity that examines the current (As-Is) processes and the new improved processes (To-Be), based upon a combination of improved methods of handling, re-engineered machinery, improved software processes, new materials and new solutions that operating together help to transform the extended supply-chain.

What comes next is list of milestones and tasks that are proposed and, after proving a clear benefits case, are adopted by an organisation as part of the transformation (PLM) project. What is commonly known in manufacturing as Method-Study and Time Management and in retail/brand as Change Management. Change Management on its own is a fairly complex process that is related more to the changes that go on in computer systems, the controlled identification, communication and implementation of required changes within a business’s computer ecosystem.

In general terms, an ecosystem is a complex network or interconnected set of software solutions. The RFA ecosystem is extremely complex, made up of literally hundreds of software solutions that help retailers, brands, wholesalers, agents, manufacturers and their sub suppliers of raw materials, trims, labels, packaging, testing and sub-components to design, develop and execute their own solution processes.

Today’s reality is that the RFA ecosystems are very much fragmented, unstructured, disconnected and operate on a manual and semi-automated basis, that in the future should all come together to (eventually) create a product that is sharing the joint value-loop.  Like I said, the sad fact is that today the RFA ecosystem is indeed unstructured, and is made up of hundreds of different solution providers that are all critical to the end-to-end Retail, Footwear and Apparel extended-supply-chain.

In the early part of the millennium a new acronym came to the RFA sector: PLM. Product Lifecycle Management is based upon a systematic approach to managing each of the operations of a product’s status, changes a product goes through, from its original conceptual ideation, planning, creative design, development, manufacture, and eventually delivery to the end consumer and then finally to its ultimate retirement or disposal, Put simply, from cradle to grave.

At WhichPLM, we often refer to the 3 Ps when we talk about PLM that integrates people, products, processes and systems and provides a rich data backbone for the extended enterprise. As a trained work-study engineer, I know from my own hands-on experience that the best architects of change are the process owners themselves; they know the existing challenges of their processes far better than anyone else and once you take the time to educate them on the potential benefits of NPIs (alternatives) in the form of smart, connected lean software processes and solutions they quickly come on-board with the project. Having said that, there will always be those people that simply don’t like change for many reasons – often the fear of learning a new software solution, especially if the process is moving from the current manual, paper-based process to a software process, or if it enforces more work on that individual for the greater good of the rest of the organisation. It’s a careful balance of selling people on change rather than forcing change, which in most cases will be detrimental to a PLM project.

When it comes to talking about PLM as a software solution, again I will always make it crystal clear that PLM as a methodology is all about creating software platform(s) that, ideally, should operate together. And let’s keep in mind that there is no one PLM solution on the market today that can say that they can deliver the end-to-end solution – a phrase that we often hear from the marketers. It’s simply not possible for them to manage the many hundreds of solutions on a single PLM platform and therefore we, at WhichPLM, use the term E-PLM (Extended PLM) as a means of encompassing the network, or as we put it the RFA universe, of software solutions that is ever expanding. Those of you that have seen my PLM presentation, “PLM now and in the future” will recognise the analogy of the universe background to help explain that vast array of software solutions that exist in the RFA ecosystem, including: Trend Solutions, Planning Systems,  Creative Design CAD, 2D Pattern CAD, 3D Virtual CAD, 2D CAM, Colour Management & Testing, Textile CAD, Knitting Systems, PLM, Product Data Management, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), Machines to Machines, Spreaders, Cutting Systems, Engineering Tooling, Moulds, Handling Systems, 3D Printers, Digital Printers, Image Management. The list goes on and on, relative to the thousands of different product types.

Everything I’ve referred to so far lives in what I call the ‘non-transactional world’ and is a very small part of the PLM universe; once products are complete in the sense that they are approved to be made in bulk then we share the approved PLM data with the ERP (transactional) universe of systems that are far more complex than that of our own PLM & E-PLM landscape!

Hopefully you will agree with me when I say that PLM is more of a methodology and ideology than just piece of software; it is critical in helping to bridge each of the solutions enabling digital transform, from the creative design and development process all the way to the eventual disposal of a product.

Mark sig

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.