Process Management is the very heart of product lifecycle management (PLM). It automates and accelerates repeatable manufacturing business processes like design change requests, approvals, engineering change orders, and all other product workflows. Process management brings a systematic approach to activities performed by either humans or systems. If it is a repeatable process with an established logic in the organization, it can be improved with PLM-based process management.

Processes may cross departments, locations, and companies. They may extend between software platforms. In the big picture, PLM process management ties together people, systems, and content to execute repeatable processes efficiently. Razorleaf works closely with all the leading vendors of PLM software for the benefit of its clients, to make sure all product processes are brought into the system in the most efficient and straightforward way possible.

Process management differs from program management in one key aspect: program management is about managing a group of interdependent or interrelated projects. Process management is for specific project workflows. In essence, process management is a subset of program management.

Workflow or Lifecycle?

In the logic of PLM, there is a difference between “workflow” and “lifecycle.” Workflow describes the processes that accomplish defined actions. Workflow is a logic model of the things people and systems do in the engineering/manufacturing process. Lifecycle is a sequence involving a state of existence for an item. Any particular item can only be in one state at a time. A transition from one state to another triggers an event governed by a particular business rule.

Companies can significantly reduce time-to-manufacturing and drive down production costs by automating both the rules of workflow and the management of lifecycle states. An enterprise approach to process management can unify the major elements of design, manufacturing planning, and resources into a common system. Configuration-specific processes become easier to launch and manage, and manufacturing processes are more easily aligned with their related engineering tasks.

The Route to Process Management Efficiency

The specifics of automating process management vary with the PLM vendor, but all systems share the common goal of creating a single accessible system to design, plan production, and synchronize with related platforms like enterprise resource planning (ERP). Most PLM vendors extend process management to the control of Numeric Control data for computer-aided machining (CAM).

When process management extends all the way to the shop floor for CAM, the data that runs the milling machines is on a two-way path. This eliminates the need for a separate shop-floor database and provides process accountability by documenting the entire production process. User rights and roles can be assigned, including appropriate uploading and downloading permissions. It becomes easy to audit CAM-related tasks and to import legacy production data for more complete record-keeping.

When Software Meets Hardware

Process management becomes even more important when creating products that include software and electronics as embedded elements. Most products today are software-driven, and require the integration of software application processes with hardware manufacturing processes.

Embedded software is by nature interdependent with both the electronics hardware and the manufactured parts. Integrating both software application processes with product management processes, it becomes possible to link, manage, trace, and audit cross-domain relationships and dependencies. The software lifecycle becomes a managed asset the same way product lifecycle data is managed.

Managing software and hardware in one environment allows your company to adopt a continuous delivery workflow. This allows for iterative software builds, scheduling of test procedures, tracking of defects, and deployment all within an agile development environment. Continuous delivery can be extended to become a multi-domain product workflow process. Change and compatibility can be extended so that software used in multiple products is managed uniformly, reducing design-to-delivery cycles and higher quality results in less time.

Improving Existing Processes

One issue that comes up with installation of new PLM systems is deciding how to configure and manage for processes. Does the company modify to match existing processes, or use the out-of-the-box processes provided by the vendor? It does not do much good to configure the PLM software to your existing engineering change process if the process is currently inefficient. Improvement will come by comparing your existing processes to the electronic change management being offered by your new PLM system.

PLM vendors constantly work to improve their products, and are specialists in manufacturing processes. But your company is the specialist when it comes to your internal processes. The best process management software comes from a three-player team: the manufacturer, the software vendor, and the implementation specialist. With Razorleaf as your implementation specialist you have the support of a team of dedicated specialists, not aligned with any specific vendors. You can be sure you will get the ideal workflow guidance. For many businesses, the out-of-the-box solutions are a significant improvement over existing processes. But not everything is fixed by new software. Razorleaf can help you decide how to best automate your process management system.