April 08, 2021

What Is PLM and What Does it Do?

A fashion designer working on computer PLM

WHAT DOES PLM STAND FOR?

The first use of PLM, or PDM as it was once called, was in the aviation and automotive manufacturing industries. It was in these fields that the development of new products first necessitated a tool to manage the collaboration of its many resources, and for good reason. A new Airbus A380, for instance, contains approximately 4 million parts, which are themselves, sourced from more than 1,500 manufacturers. One could imagine the difficulty of manufacturing a product without a firm set of processes for each stage of its production.

PLM is no longer limited to the aviation or automotive industries, as the processes for developing, producing and finally releasing most products today can be just as time-consuming and complex. In fact, the use of PLM in other industries, such as apparel and fashion, is now essential to compete with today’s market pressures to lower costs, improve quality and increase speed to market. It requires the coordination of many internal people, departments and external resources that are often stretched across disparate geographic locations. Importantly, improper management of these complex processes can waste resources. Therefore, for the sake of efficiency, the development of a new product is divided into major phases, the sum of which encompasses all the processes associated with a product’s life span. The term for the management of these phases for developing a new product is PLM.

PLM stands for Product Lifecycle Management. The primary goal of PLM is to coordinate the information, processes and people associated with the lifecycle of a product. Doing so entails many benefits such as fewer production errors, reduced cycle iterations and, ultimately, increased speed to market. As PLM focuses itself primarily with the entire lifecycle of a product, from concept to consumer, it is first important to understand the concept of the product lifecycle and the typical processes found within.

Fashion suits on a clothes rack

THE FOUR PHASES OF A PRODUCT LIFECYCLE

Broadly, the product lifecycle has four phases. It begins at a product’s conception and ends with the final plan for its distribution and maintenance. Following a structure of workflows and processes for each of these phases is key to reducing spoilage and ensuring the product’s overall success. That is the foundational principle of PLM software.

1. Product Concept

The product lifecycle begins with a key concept or idea for a new product. In this phase of the product lifecycle, much research is done to manufacture the product that people will actually want to use. Typically, it arises with respect to both a certain market and with a certain problem it attempts to solve. For example, from the perspective of a fashion company, the conception phase of a new article of clothing includes searching for ideas among fashion trends and cataloging various pieces of inspiration. A good PLM system will be able to allow designers to easily track the evolution of a new product, even at this point in the product lifecycle.

2. Product Design

Once the initial idea for a product is decided, it can then be designed and prototyped. In this design phase, designers work to turn the product concept into reality. It involves creating mock-ups, prototypes and finally testing to complete a product that is ready for consumers. For example, a garment’s design cycle consists of drawing, sample production and fitting.

Today’s PLM solutions integrate with third-party vendors to streamline the design process. For example, an Adobe Illustrator plugin allows designers to work directly in Adobe while being seamlessly connected to the PLM. This allows designers to access product information located in the PLM and build a Bill of Materials directly in Adobe. 3D integrations allow companies to pull in three-dimensional data to streamline design, fit and tech pack creation.

A PLM software’s centralized product information and document management hub are often used to keep track of all the information created during this phase. This ensures that teams are always working with the file that is most up to date. Furthermore, PLM software coordinates those involved in the development of the product with built-in project management tools. The result is a design process that is completely connected and documented.

3. Production

Using data from the previous stage, the product enters the manufacturing phase. The final design is shipped off to the production environment where a different set of key performance indicators (KPI) must be monitored. A business must account for a host of new components, such as the sourcing of materials, costs, countries of origin, productivity quotas, timelines and more. As the amount of information used in the production of a new product multiplies, it is important that a business’s PLM system can account for each of the variables at play during production. Otherwise, it will face unexpected costs, delays and inaccurate forecasts.

4. Product Distribution and Maintenance

The last phase of the product lifecycle includes the proper distribution and maintenance of the final product. This includes the warehousing of the final product, distribution to its various sales channels and understanding its overall performance using sales and customer support data. Before the cycle begins again with a new product, it is important that information about the performance of the product is collected so it can be accurately understood how it can be improved upon. Again, PLM software is typically used to keep track of this information as the product enters the market. This allows an apparel company to manage the retailers, distributors and marketplaces it distributes to, while gaining data on whether that particular piece will become a repeat style based on sales.

THE ADVANTAGES OF USING PLM SOFTWARE

One of the main things to consider when understanding the product lifecycle is that each phase of the process is iterative. Therefore, information visibility and sharing is extremely important. The right PLM software offers this visibility and accountability. For a more in-depth look at PLM, you can deliver your products on-trend, on-time and on-cost using BlueCherry PLM.


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Topics

Fashion, apparel and footwear supply chain trends report