Technology | PLM

What is Product Lifecycle Management?

Words by Martin Kelman
What is Product Lifecycle Management?

There is PLM and there are Product Lifecycles.

What is a product lifecycle?

Product lifecycles are the process that every product we make goes through. From the smallest plastic widget to some of the most complex machines like the gas turbines or submarines.

To start with someone has to ask what do we want this thing to do? What is the product’s form, fit and function? Once we have an understanding of the basic requirements, you might want to create prototypes to test out your ideas before you spend time, effort and money on it.

What is product lifecycle management?

PLM is a computer application, or a collection of applications, that manage the ‘what to make’ and ‘how to make’. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) says ‘when to make’.

Other stages in the products lifecycle follow:

1. Design of the individual elements of the product.
2. Design of the manufacturing process
3. Record the ‘as built’ record.
4. Expensive products are maintained.
5. Finally, the product will be disposed of. It will come to the end of its lifecycle.

The cost of this process and the manufacturing or purchasing of the parts is closely monitored. As the value of the product increases throughout the lifecycle, so does the accumulative cost. Once the product is purchased, the cost of ownership is handed over to the purchaser for them to maintain.

Trigger’s Broom is a classic telling of this scenario from the UK sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’. During one scene Trigger proudly reveals that he has used the same road sweeping brush for his entire career. “This old broom”, he says “ has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles”. Soon after Sid points out “how the hell is it the same bloody broom then?”

Why is PLM important?

So here is my point, factories are making things at faster rates than ever. New products are introduced to the market quicker then ever. Yet once the product leaves the factory, only then do we know the true cost and the impact that product has on the world.

There is little attention paid to this impact because the market is not set up to make companies care about those deferred costs. If the market was set up in a way that just as much attention was given to the end of a products life compared to its birth, then we might have a more sustainable future.