Does a Company of My Size Need a PLM System?

There are a number of people out there who believe that comprehensive PLM systems and suites of PLM software are only for very large companies. This myth comes from years of focus (by the vendors) on the gains achieved by their leading (large) customers. The origin of the myth is logical. Sure, Boeing has to use a large software system to manage thousands of people collaborating on machines with millions of parts – but you don’t make airplanes, and your company isn’t that size.

But do you really believe that a small business or less complex product line would not benefit from a PLM system?

PLM Helps Small Companies Too

I would argue that in some cases, a PLM system is more critical to a small business than a large one. Let me explain why.

Let’s take a different example than Boeing. Let’s say you make forklifts. With an engineering department of forty people, you sell 100,000 “vehicles” per year. You are nowhere near the size of Boeing, and your product is certainly less complex. However, let’s take a look at the different roles you have to fill, just inside of engineering, to bring your product to market:

  • Mechanical CAD design for the chassis, body, powertrain, and lifting elementsIcon of people and gears
  • Mechanical engineering for overall sizing and mechanical performance
  • Structural simulation for structural integrity and failure analysis
  • Multi-mode simulation for analysis of dynamic effects
  • Electrical CAD design for custom printed circuit boards and vehicle wiring
  • Electrical engineering for power/propulsion systems
  • Electrical engineering for control systems
  • Component engineering for defining approved components and suppliers
  • Software development for controls
  • Systems design and engineering for product architecture
  • Systems simulation for performance validation
  • Change control and change routing
  • Regulatory compliance for submitting documentation to appropriate authorities
  • Product configuration for defining variants and options
  • Requirements engineering for tracking customer needs and mapping to the product roadmap
  • Manufacturing process design for the assembly process
  • Project management for coordinating new product launch
  • Product management for updating product lines and product refresh roadmaps

The list goes on, and there are probably more than twenty or thirty roles to fill just within engineering. So how can you do this when you need five or six people doing certain tasks like project management or mechanical design? The obvious answer is that every member of the engineering group wears multiple hats. At Boeing, there could be one person solely responsible for structural simulation of a wing flap on a specific aircraft (one person playing one role). But at your forklift business, it’s more likely that a “chassis engineer” will be responsible for mechanical CAD design, mechanical engineering, structural simulation, requirements engineering, and product configuration for the specific product line to which she is assigned (one person playing five roles).

Size Doesn’t Matter

What I’m getting at is that the size of the company has little bearing on the complexity of the product development process. But the complexity of the product does correlate to the number of distinct roles required to develop the product. That means that managing the lifecycle of your product (PLM) is challenging, like it is for Boeing. But the forklift maker has an additional challenge.

The wing flap simulation expert at a large company has one job and can focus on doing it well. The chassis engineer at a smaller company needs to seamlessly shift from performing load calculations to making drawings to editing requirements spreadsheets to running FEA software, all in the same day. To be efficient, the chassis engineer has to be really good at task-switching and managing all of the information they are juggling.

In this scenario, who needs the help of PLM software more, Boeing or the forklift manufacturer?

PLM Provides Collaboration Tools

Collaborate Agreement Cooperation Partners Concept

I am leaving out one key reason why PLM systems are critical for large companies, and that is because systems enable collaboration for large groups. But frankly, collaboration tools are important once functional groups grow larger than four or five people, so the forklift manufacturer might need PLM software for this reason too.

So there you have it, my explanation for why a PLM system can be more important for a small company than it is for a Fortune 1000 business. This doesn’t mean that every manufacturer needs a PLM system, but it does mean that it isn’t valid to believe that PLM systems are only for the biggest companies with the most complex products.

Give Us a Call

If you want to understand more about how a PLM system could help improve your company’s PLM processes, or whether there’s really value in a PLM system for you, please reach out to us. We’ve helped hundreds of companies bridge the gap between PLM technologies and business problems, and we’d love to help you do the same.

This post is Part 5  in a 5-part series titled “Achieveble PLM”. View the other related articles published: