Product Lifecycle Management: Four Tips For Improving Design Processes

Richard Howells

How do you ensure that you bring the products your customers want to market – how and when they want them?

These are the questions that R&D and engineering executives ask every day.

A recent report by IndustryWeek and Machine Design clearly demonstrates that the most successful companies break down silos, both across departmental and company boundaries, to consistently innovate, design higher quality products through collaboration, and streamline processes to bring them to market faster. And they do this while retaining the knowledge and growing the talent within the business.

After reviewing the report, I see four main areas of focus to improve R&D and engineering processes for the future.

1. Break down the walls

When asked about the biggest limits to performance for engineering teams, “silos within the company” was the top pain point. In fact, the process to “hand over to manufacturing” was deemed the most desirable feature that the respondents looked for in a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution.

By their very nature, PLM solutions are designed to create a “single point of truth” across teams and enable communication and collaboration, not just across departments and teams but also among manufacturers, partners, and clients.

The improved communication and collaboration result in improved product quality and regulatory compliance and faster time to market.

2. Innovate or die

Innovation starts by knowing what to innovate. You need to know what the customer and market want, which starts with an accurate view of needs and desires. Are they looking for new features? Customized solutions? Lower price points? Or something else?

Capturing the “voice of the customer” means capturing both structured (orders, forecasts, customer service) and unstructured (sentiment analysis, social media, market research, etc.) data.

Once you have collected all the product requirements, you must manage and prioritize them against other opportunities.

Innovating to deliver new products and services profitably requires collaboration with internal and external participants. You need the tools to share information and ideas and to visualize, refine, analyze, and test out your ideas.

3. Streamline processes to reduce time to market

The report highlights that respondents not currently using a PLM solution report their R&D/engineering teams perform below projections. Alternatively, those with existing PLM solutions report a higher rate of meeting or exceeding performance projections.

Manufacturers need to improve efficiency and effectiveness, reduce time to market, and keep design projects on time and on-budget.

The results showed that PLM solutions drive measurable performance enhancements across the organization. While efficiency remains the top benefit of advanced PLM solutions, leaders also value higher-quality designs, improved project delivery, increased visibility into product data, and more.

The report states that “a cross-enterprise, digital PLM solution encourages innovation by supporting advanced BOM and workflow management. This allows a team to precisely calculate product costs and effectively manage the hand-over to manufacturing of new designs.”

4. Obtain and keep the best talent

Access to workforce (35%) and knowledge retention (31%) were two of the top three reasons respondents cited when asked: “what is the biggest limits to the performance of your engineering team?”

A PLM solution can help create an environment where top talent can thrive and work in a way that is more productive and enjoyable. It can help create environments that support innovative thinking and provide the tools employees need to turn that thinking into solutions.

The goal is to strengthen and expand communication, collaborate across teams, motivate them to explore new ideas, and capture critical information to help mentor a workforce that may span multiple generations. In doing so, a PLM processes and solutions free up the capacity, time, and expertise needed to focus on what matters most – innovation.

How can a PLM solution benefit you?

When asked this question, the top five responses were:

  • Improve development and engineering efficiency and effectiveness (31%)
  • Eliminate errors during engineering release processes (29%)
  • Reduce time to market (25%)
  • Improve project delivery (25%)
  • Higher quality design (23%)

The demand to consistently innovate and collaborate to design higher quality products and streamline processes to bring them to market faster will continue to increase. As will the need to recruit and retain the brightest and best talent.

The report shows that short design and product engineering cycles can help meet these demands. But only if we invest in the technology required to get there.

To learn more, watch the WebEx “How PLM Solutions Can Boost Innovation and Strengthen Engineering and R&D Teams, where Keith Zobott, global vice president of Digital Products & Projects, SAP, and Brent Robertson, co-founder, Fathom, and author of the research study. discuss the findings.

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About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.