Volvo drives design efficiency with PLM tools

TORONTO — A panel of Canadian companies Thursday discussed how their operations run more efficiently after implementing product lifecycle management technologies.

PLM is “”about people, process and technology. It’s not about managing technology anymore,”” explained Joanne Friedman, CEO of

ConneKted Minds Inc., a consultancy in Richmond Hill, Ont.

PLM, which may involve software, hardware and technical support, allows manufacturing companies to share product data across all functions, customers and suppliers. Friedman predicted the North American market for the technology could grow to $90-billion by the end of the decade.

In the past, the decision about introducing PLM was made by an organization’s engineers, until it gravitated to the domain of an executive team, and is now handled by C-level executives because it’s considered a business decision, she said.

In North America, 28 per cent to 32 per cent of mid- to large enterprises use some version of PLM, and the number will grow substantially over the next few years, Friedman estimated.

Just recently, Volvo Motor Graders, part of Volvo AB in Sweden, rolled out IBM’s PLM technologies in its Goderich, Ont. operation. (IBM is working with Dassault Systèmes of Paris to provide PLM solutions.) One of the incentives for the purchase was a problem organizing workflow, said Dave Ross, vice-president of engineering at Volvo Motor Graders.

“”The pressure we had was trying to make the engineering change notice process more efficient and try to free up designer time to do design, as opposed to keystrokes to make change notes.”” He said the latter process is onerous and open to mistakes because of the transcribing and typing that’s involved. “”If that can be more automated, or more part of a PDM system, then you make fewer mistakes.””

Volvo Motor Graders believes it will ultimately save soft costs by imposing a PLM system. “”It’s not like we’ve let 20 people go, “” explained Ross. “”What we did is we became more efficient so that we can go faster and get more things done.””

Smaller businesses not considered multinationals are starting to play in the PLM arena because “”they see the value of time to market, cost efficiency, increased cash flow,”” said Friedman. She said that these companies have a broader strategic perspective but shun the “”big bang of cost,”” preferring instead to add pieces of the PLM system over time in a tactical approach.

Smaller players can expect to pay anywhere from $150,000 to $2 million for a PLM solution, whereas large multinationals will fork over $10 million to $20 million, Friedman said.

The benefits also vary. Bigger companies gain cost advantages of three per cent to four per cent of net income, and small organizations achieve savings of 12 per cent to 15 per cent of net income, she added.

But “”in every situation, it’s never all roses,”” cautioned one panel member. Volvo Motor Graders found that experts on different topics, like CAD or PDM, had to be at the site at the same time to help with PLM’s implementation or there were hitches in the process, admitted Ross.

Another problem surfaced as the company consulted with experts, mainly from the Dassault group, prompting Ross’s warning: “”If you do have an expert, make sure he is. Or she is. We ran across that a couple of times, where they came in and they were like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.'””


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