Self Serve Environment with PLM

Self Serve Environment with PLM

plmCustomers want self service; therefore, business owners must explore the idea of a Self Serve Environment with PLM…

Did you know that PLM tools can be used to create self serve environments, since they have the ability to capture, control and serve up all of the data required to produce products? To fully understand the potential impact of a PLM system, organizations need to understand all of the data components required to produce products…

The Drawing Comes First

self serve environment with plmYou cannot proceed without a drawing. Since many companies still rely on 2D drawings to communicate information, access to the correct drawings is critical. It often means asking engineering for assistance. The drawing provides instructions on how to produce, inspect and service a product.

Example: Assembly requires a drawing to see how components go together and what operations are required once the components are assembled.

Manufacturing to the wrong (version, pending changes) drawing may lead to scrap, rework and/or missed shipped dates. To avoid this, departments ask engineering for the correct version of the drawing.

engineer drawing

When in doubt, ask someone in Engineering!

It only takes a few errors before people start asking Engineering to check if their drawing is the latest. These requests create an additional burden that is difficult to quantify since the requests are usually considered distractions versus major efforts.

Example: A product designer may be asked to walk out to the shop floor to validate if the drawing is correct. The entire event may take only 15 minutes but the distraction can cause design inconsistencies, missed dimensions, incomplete drawings etc.

If the product designer is not familiar with the design, then the designer will need to review additional engineering data, such as customer correspondence and change requests. This will take additional time if the data sits on local hard drives or is dispersed across the organization.

Additional Engineering Data

During the drawing creation process, the engineering department, captures and generates data. As an example, design intent (customer specs, performance limits), calculations (material requirements, maximum weight) and analysis (stress, thermal).

This data also needs to be captured and controlled to ensure that people have the ability to see the entire picture when trying to resolve internal and external problems, use the design as a base for a new design, and for design reviews. As an example, the component drawing in the shop may not be the latest because the customer did not want to implement the change on this repeat order.  If you are not the project/program manager or the component designer, then you will need to review all this additional data to make an informed decision.

Engineering Data

Production Data

During the production planning process, manufacturing generates data in the form of CAM programs, tooling design, fixture design and manufacturing routings. Supporting functions such as Quality and Purchasing generate documentation such as inspection reports, lessons learned and vendor agreements that are critical to on-time delivery, regulatory compliance and certifications.

Production data often resides on local file systems or in personal mailboxes with no link to the component drawing. Capturing and controlling production data as well as engineering data will ensure that the impact of a product change is fully understood and that all production drawings and tools are revised.

Example: A final tolerance change may require a change in machine tooling (CAM program change), may add an additional manufacturing operation (routing change) and may require a new inspection gauge. 

Production data

What is so Special about a PLM System?

A PLM system creates the foundation for capturing and controlling a product’s entire definition. This includes drawings, engineering data and production data. The following is a list of core PLM functionality that differentiates it from most homegrown systems as well as systems that only control 3D CAD data.

  • Enterprise functionality – User roles and permissions, installation guides, support
  • Ability to link any document type – Office documents, ECAD, MCAD, CAE
  • Ability to create product structures – Foundation for multi-discipline engineering boms
  • Ability to control heterogeneous CAD data – Legacy data, business acquisitions
  • Ability to configure user interfaces – Based on roles and permissions, no programming knowledge required
  • Ability to connect to other key business systems that are not easy to rip and replace
  • Ability to deploy globally – data transfer speeds, security, file replication
  • Training that can be deployed virtually – no one has time to create and maintain training material
  • Scalable to meet business needs – user, functionality, training

PLM system

A PLM System Enables a Self Serve Environment

If we focus only on drawings and require that the enterprise has access to the latest version, then any homegrown application can be developed that serves up a PDF drawing. Capturing, controlling and serving up the additional data requires a robust enterprise application.

The following is a list of core PLM abilities that enable a Self Serve Environment with PLM:

  • Partial drawing releases – Ability to release component and subassembly drawings as they are completed.
  • Track history of changes – Critical for capturing lessons learned and design reuse.
  • Provide links to additional items that help describe the part – drawings, specs, requirements.
  • Provide links to items that help with component disposition – inspection reports, contracts

Example: Manufacturing will be able to see all of the components required and their status. They will then have the ability to start pulling long lead items from engineering. The result is a self-serve drawing release process.

self serve

Advantages of a Self Serve Environment

A self serve environment implies that all data required to produce a product is available to everybody within the organization. Having controlled and linked data ensures that an employee can easily find all the pieces of data required to make an informed decision.

Having access to required data and the ability to make informed decisions will improve on time delivery by reducing machine and employee down time and reducing scrap and rework.

Example: In an ETO company where 70-90% of the components are standards (catalogue items), a manufacturing process change may impact many drawings. Since engineering cannot process the entire change at once (capacity constraints), a PLM system will allow them to flag all of the drawings (documents) impacted by the change. This ensures that anyone searching for a document will have the ability of determining if it has a pending change (reduce scrap and rework). In this scenario, the engineering department will only be asked to update the specific drawing required for immediate production.           


A PLM system can improve an organizations efficiency by creating a self serve environment. Most organizations do not realize the different types of data required to produce a product, the advantages of linking all of the data, and the interactions required to make a knowledgeable decision. An ideal first step would be to investigate all the data that is generated and where it is stored. The benefits of creating a self serve environment will become evident.

Guest Article: Gino Colonico, Engineering Management Expert with a focus on Global Product Development, Process Improvements, and Knowledge Management

Leave a Reply