"The biggest single benefit is having one common storage of information about the product. So you're not looking in a lot of places for all the pieces." - John Crary, Lear Corp.
Originally, the term described the computer technology needed to store product information, such as engineering data. But the definition has evolved.
John Crary, Lear Corp.'s vice president of information technology, discussed the evolution with Staff Reporter Ralph Kisiel.
How do you define product lifecycle management?
In the early days, it was merely a way to use some computer technology to store all of the engineering data, or (computer-aided design) data, in one place so you would have universal access to it.
That's where everybody got started a few years ago.
How about today?
Product lifecycle management is about the interaction of all the data about a product and the people that have to work with it.
In its most robust form, it's all the data - the CAD data, engineering information, test data, end-of-life data and maybe even some history on all the manufacturing of that product.
So it's really everything having to do with the product.
Are all Tier 1 suppliers moving toward product lifecycle management?
I would say they have all got it in one form or another, and they are more in the process of making it more robust than they are actually starting from scratch.
So this is becoming a mature technology?
Yes. We first started talking about PLM three years ago at the (Management Briefing Seminars), and suppliers had already been working on it for a couple of years.
I'd say at this point there isn't a supplier in automotive that doesn't have some aspect of PLM that they are using, whether it's just on the engineering and CAD sides or perhaps in some of their other business systems where they are tying the two together.
The (automakers) probably have been working on it for 10 years, so we're quite a ways down the path.
Why are the automakers further along?
Because of their greater resources or the evolution of the complexity of their products.
They've had some PLM systems under other names for a long time - 15 or 20 years.
They might have called it their product database. They might have called it their engineering database.
But essentially what they were doing was PLM.
Isn't product lifecycle management really geared for the Tier 1 suppliers?
Anyone can use it. It's just that a lot of times the lower tiers won't take the time and spend the money to do those more robust systems.
What are the key benefits?
The biggest single benefit is having one common storage of information about the product. So you're not looking in a lot of places for all the pieces.
To have your engineers have one common way to do things, one common place for sign-offs to be stored, one common place to go find the data, that's really the key benefit.
Who are the technology vendors? Are they keeping up with the technology you need?
There have been some improvements in making the PLM systems a little easier to use. When the engineer signs on in the morning, he can move around the system a little easier. They've added some screen intuitiveness to make it easier.
It's still pretty much the same players, though - UGS, MatrixOne, Dassault. And SAP is still a player. They all have a pretty good installed base. I think they've been working hard to develop the base that they have.
Are North American suppliers further along in their use of product lifecycle management than European suppliers?
In the course of 2006 and 2007, we'll be moving some of our PLM processors to Europe so that we can be a little more consistent globally.
We have a little bit of involvement in Europe already, and we're going to expand that so that we're consistent across the globe.