Taking the fear out of PLM

Negative perceptions of Product Lifecycle Management and how to change them was the major theme to emerge from the recent Eureka PLM Round Table.

Discussion began with the presentation of the results of Eureka's PLM survey, which revealed a lack of widespread lack of knowledge of the technology. Indeed, 71% of respondents did not use PLM software, while 86% of those described their knowledge of it as 'needing improvement'. The most significant barriers to adoption were its cost, difficulty in learning a new package and not seeing the benefit. On a more positive note, 44% of those surveyed expressed an interest in learning more about PLM, while 16% of those surveyed anticipated adopting the technology at some point.

The low level of understanding did not come as a surprise to delegates, who confront these obstacles as a regular part of their daily work. Richard Allan gave his assessment of the situation as: "The biggest challenge is education through our engagement with customers … It's often not really a question of objections so much as a lack of understanding. Because, when people have a lack of understanding, they don't really know what to object about. So they will tend to object first on the grounds of cost."

According to Gavin Quinlan of Concurrent Engineering, there is also a difficulty in perception relating to PLM at the moment. "The perception is that PLM is a big company thing," he said, "so immediately cost comes to the fore in people's minds because they think 'well that's only for the big boys and not for me'."

Graham Foster felt that one of the difficulties was that many of those on the design side saw PLM as a threat rather than an opportunity. He said: "If the route through which we're talking to people is coming from our background in CAD systems, through CAD data management through to PLM, then the type of people we talk to are the sort of people who tend to think of PLM as something that is there to intrude in their lives and take control. They've got some CAD package that does everything that they want and they've got complete control of their lives and they've got lots of added functions that we keep piling in, so they see anything that's going to come in over the top of it almost as a threat to that. To the people who do the design work and interact with the CAD tools, they think it's going to ruin their lives ... If you think of it as an enterprise system that ties all the processes together, it becomes a lot easier to sell the benefits."

Allan concurred, saying: "It's a question of perception. When you talk to a designer and find out that they actually spend 25% of their time entering data into an ERP system and tell them that PLM's actually going to give them that time back and they can now be an engineer 90% of the time, rather than an administrator 35% of the time, their perception changes."

Backing this up, Quinlan said: "If people can be convinced that PLM is a tool that will actually free them up, rather than act as a limiter, then suddenly they're interested." On the other hand, Foster pointed to rather more base motives helping to convince people, saying: "The point is [PLM] can ensure that every time you get a new design standard or a new spec from the customer that you track these things. Otherwise you might lose the fact that you could charge extra for a change! Mention that and then suddenly people get a lot more interested."

However, delegates did agree that they were beginning to see a shift in perceptions amongst SMEs in particular. Neil Templeton believed that much of this was due to pressure from higher up the supply chain. "In the last 6 to 12 months, there's been a definite mindset change about PLM within SMEs in the sense that there is an increasing understanding that they need to engage with PLM from the point of view of making their business attractive to some of the bigger companies they want to supply."

In relation to the objection that PLM is solely for the larger company, Foster said: "If it's a very small company with two or three people, then maybe the benefits are questionable, unless that company is part of a supply chain that needs to interact with a number of other, larger companies."

Quinlan raised the example of Irish company Multihog, where PLM is being used by just two design engineers from a total team of 18. This has allowed it to develop an entirely new vehicle platform, through their design engineers, in less than six months using a PLM approach. Here, he says, PLM allows the company to work concurrently and collaboratively. He said: "Multihog just does the design part, but it has to plug into four or five other companies. Using PLM makes that possible."

Roger French felt that a change in perceptions was an inevitability, saying: "There will come a tipping point. Look at ERP: if you're talking about a serious manufacturer, you simply couldn't imagine them not having an ERP system, it's just a question of which one they choose. I suspect it's going to get that way with PLM."

Foster pointed to examples where this was already happening. "In the aerospace and defence industries, it's already being forced on them by the supply chain; mainly for the collaboration side of things, but also for the element of control you need to have over your suppliers in those industries. If the supplier doesn't have the proper tools and processes, then they won't get the contract."

Another major factor in influencing people to engage with PLM, according to Allan, is the gradual shift in generations. "You're seeing a change of generation. Our first generation of 3D CAD users is starting to retire, but our first generation of Web 2.0-type engineers, who are used to living in an electronic world, are becoming lead engineers. So the question is starting to arise of how you capture the knowledge from the heads of those older staff and make it available to the younger staff? PLM is the answer."

As far as problems with acceptance are concerned, Quinlan believes that much of the problem lies in the perception of PLM as a monolithic, all-encompassing entity. "There's a bite-sized way of introducing PLM to customers," he concluded. "You don't have to go straight in with a full enterprise PLM system; you eat the elephant in little pieces. It's not necessarily this huge idea that people have to absorb as one big project."

Gavin Quinlan, Managing Director, Concurrent Engineering
Roger French, Managing Director, Root Solutions
Paul Fanning, Editor, Eureka Magazine
Neil Templeton, UK Country Manager, PLM Sales INNEO Solutions
Richard Allan, Channel Business Development Director, PTC
Graham Foster, Global Services, VP PTC

Paul Fanning

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