How Cloud-Native PLM Flips Downstream Processes to Upstream

James White

VP of Product, Duro

March 2, 2022


By bringing downstream processes such as purchasing, upstream directly into engineering, disruptive hardware startups are launching revolutionary new hardware products much faster than thought possible before. Eliminating some processes entirely rather than just speeding up the existing ones, is now possible. This helps manufacturers to dramatically shorten time-to-market (TTM), lower cost, improve quality, design re-use, and product innovation.

Over decades, numerous studies correctly identify that mistakes made early in product design are very expensive to correct later when production starts. “Mistakes” range from poorly designed use cases to product unreliability to complete product failure. Manufacturers sometimes knowingly ship compromised products then make improvements in subsequent revisions. PLM promised seamless closed-loop, digital threads, connecting all stages of a product’s lifecycle to ensure that the highest product quality and fastest Time-to-Market (TTM) were virtually guaranteed. The reality is far different. Traditional PLM is still very hard to use and expensive to get working and to maintain. The original vision is rarely realized. What went wrong?

Traditional manufacturers built up organizational silos over decades, each focused on their own needs. IT systems were developed by solution vendors to support each silo. The combination of rigid organizational structures and unique IT systems perpetuated an “Over the Wall” mentality with inflexible processes. Radical change to up and downstream processing is essential because the globalization of product development, the supply chain dependency, and demand for more innovative products at lower prices, means the traditional structures can’t cope. Continuous improvement methods such as LEAN and Industry 4.0 make incremental improvements by reducing waste embedded in existing processes. Incremental improvements aren’t enough anymore.

When engineering releases a design to manufacture, many things happen. The procurement department consolidates requests for sourced standard components and subcontractor contracts, from across the company. Driven by commercial metrics, procurement seeks to consolidate sourced items into as few brands/models/styles/specifications as possible, to maximize their volume purchasing power. Unfortunately, this results in churn between engineering (who specified it) and procurement (who wants to change it). Churn causes friction because this usually happens well after engineering releases the design to manufacturing.

The benefits of PLM in the cloud are compelling and include the following:

  • Built-in PLM links to standard industry catalog sources flips downstream sourcing to upstream. If something changes, everyone knows.
  • Agile Git-like workflows enable engineering disciplines such as electronic, electrical, mechanical, and software, to collaborate closely and to “fail fast” digitally. Costly downstream catastrophes of physical products can be avoided.
  • A Cloud-Native PLM procurement platform frees up time for engineers to iterate freely on their designs, to make them better. Helps reduce things such as formal Corrective Action Preventative Action (CAPA) procedures.

“Top Performers” derive 36% of revenue & 31% of profit, from products 0-3 years old

Here are the key ways that PLM in the cloud flips downstream processes to upstream and accelerates new product development:

  • Cloud-Native PLM helps dissolve dated organizational structures which reduces the “Over the Wall” problem. This, combined with changing or even eliminating, rigid workflows/forms/templates, enables free-flowing collaboration between all team members. This allows all stakeholders to participate early in product development.
  • Failing fast, digitally, is the new best practice for hardware engineers. Cloud-Native PLM helps engineers test numerous design alternatives, upstream, by iterating fast and choosing the best design rather than the one that works first. This saves expensive downstream corrective actions e.g. CAPA
  • PLM in the cloud enables the agilization of hardware helping all engineering disciplines to collaborate efficiently. This can remove the need for formal checkpoint meetings and hand-offs to downstream roles/departments because all stakeholders are always involved, always on the same page.
  • Cloud-Native PLM with built-in sourcing to e-catalogs, brings procurement processes upstream, directly into the engineering design process. By combining engineering and procurement many downstream processes are eliminated which saves time and money. Alternate product variants may easily be configured to create families of products using a common engineering baseline.

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