Design Engineering

CAD Beat: Engineer Workflows to Manage the Product Lifecycle

By Caleb Funk   


With a cloud-based PLM system, global access to product information becomes possible.

Do your design engineers spend time waiting for replies from other departments? Do they create the bill of materials (BOM) manually? Do they track change requests using a spreadsheet?

Manufacturers answering “yes” to any of the above questions could save time and money by integrating a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system with sales, design and ERP systems. PLM streamlines operations by linking people, processes, data and products together to realize substantial efficiencies and improve product quality. Moreover, with PLM costs coming down significantly, it is no longer only within the financial reach of large companies.

CADBeat PLM workflowTo get started with implementing an effective PLM solution, manufacturers should not begin with a software search. It makes more sense to look at processes first. Find out where bottlenecks exist in workflows. Determine at what points in the process communications break down, then look at where and how information is being stored and shared.

Start at the front end with sales, following the entire workflow through design, purchasing and production – tracking the flow of data along the way. This method will quickly identify process gaps and data flow problems. Once the gaps and bottlenecks are identified, take steps to address them by engineering a new workflow.


Ideally, all processes and systems flow seamlessly from one step to the next. Anyone from sales to shop floor should have access to the current state of the project lifecycle and any changes to that lifecycle. With a cloud-based PLM system, global access to product information becomes possible. Companies can even extend product information to smartphones or tablets for true anytime, anywhere access.

Behlen Building Systems provides a case in point. This building system manufacturer stored important engineering information in multiple locations and multiple formats. Team members struggled to locate and access information both for themselves and for customers. The sales and engineering teams kept documents and checklists in paper project folders. Digital files were not any easier to locate, since some were stored in a document management system while others were uploaded to a network drive. Poor customer service and declining productivity compelled the company to try PLM.

Behlen’s customer service team had difficulty tracking the status of customer orders and dealing with warranty issues. Customer service representatives couldn’t tell if a customer inquiry had received attention, nor how close it was to resolution. Now, with a centralized PLM system, Behlen is in control of their customer service workflows.

Employees across all departments can easily access and validate where customer service issues are occurring and what steps have been taken to resolve them. Having everyone on the same page has resulted in greater efficiencies in the company’s customer service processes as well as happier customers.

In this example, a product lifecycle management solution allowed the staff to respond rapidly and accurately to each and every customer request, no matter how urgent. By providing excellent customer service in terms of re-orders, replacement parts and further product customization, manufacturers stand a better chance of keeping existing business.

Originally, feature-laden PLM applications created for big, complicated manufacturers were extremely costly. Now there are affordable PLM applications for everyone. Autodesk PLM 360 is a complete PLM solution that can scale to meet the needs of small to mid-size manufacturing organizations – and, it won’t break the bank to get up and running in any organization.

Caleb Funk is the manufacturing solutions team manager at IMAGINiT Technologies with a focus on data management and product lifecycle management solutions.


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