Globalization propels product lifecycle management

Product life-cycle management technologies that were once mainly used in engineering environments are increasingly being applied by manufacturers in areas such as collaborative development and management of product portfolios, specifications and production materials.

Driving the trend is the need for better product data management capabilities as manufacturers globalize operations and look for ways to cut operating costs, said IT managers and analysts at a user conference held by PLM software vendor MatrixOne.

For example, consumer products maker Johnson & Johnson last week launched the first phase of a PLM-based product-specification system that initially is being used in North America and is due to be deployed worldwide by the end of next month.

The system is designed to give Johnson & Johnson's engineering teams, development groups, procurement units and suppliers a single source of information about more than 250,000 detailed technical specifications. The specifications relate to all of the company's products as well as the raw materials and packaging materials it uses.

Santosh Jiwrajka, vice president of quality assurance for Johnson & Johnson's consumer and personal products group, said during a panel discussion at the MatrixOne conference that the new system will replace 25 other data repositories and have a total of about 4,000 users.

"We wanted to enable faster product development worldwide," Jiwrajka said. With the company's product development centers and supplier base becoming increasingly globalized, he said the PLM capabilities should "improve information visibility, specification standardization and communication in change management."

The system is also expected to make it easier for New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson to comply with regulatory reporting requirements worldwide, Jiwrajka said. He didn't address the expected cost of the system during the panel discussion.

Two years ago, The Procter & Gamble Co. completed the rollout of a similar specification management system using a mix of its own tools and PLM software from Westford, Mass.-based MatrixOne.

P&G's system contains more than 700,000 specifications and has helped the company save millions of dollars on supplies such as packaging materials and colorants, said Dan Blair, director of worldwide technology standards and systems.

Before that system was put in place, P&G was unable to take full advantage of economies of scale in areas such as raw materials purchasing, Blair said. He declined to comment about the system's cost in an interview.

The company plans to use the information stored in the specifications management system for new applications, Blair said. One example is a so-called country-of-sale application expected to improve P&G's ability to correctly match packaging materials and artwork to the products it sells in different countries.

"PLM has evolved from an engineering-centric concept to a strategic enterprise type of initiative," said Marc Halpern, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "In many ways, PLM today is where ERP was 10 years ago."

Just as ERP systems integrated disparate functions such as finance, inventory management and material requirements planning, PLM tools are being used to tie together tasks such as product design, authoring of engineering documents and management of product and configuration data, Halpern said.

Linde AG, a Weisbaden, Germany-based engineering and manufacturing company, is using a consolidated product data management system to enable collaboration among its distributed development teams. The company is evaluating the system to see if it can also be used for real-time project management, said Andre Scholtz, head of technical systems at Linde's materials handling group.

Trane, an air conditioning systems maker, is currently implementing PLM technology as part of a broader effort to improve its materials reuse and configuration management processes.

The company hopes to increase employee productivity and reduce the time it takes to bring products to market, said Trane CIO David Gregory. "It's really about getting smarter about how you do things," he said.