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Oracle's Agile Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Jessica Keyes

Oracle's Agile Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) enables the organization to manage the complete life cycle of a product: from the ideation phase through to recycling and retirement. Most importantly, Agile Product Lifecycle Management focuses on process efficiency, rapid innovation, cross-functional collaboration, closed-loop quality control, risk mitigation, and cost effectiveness. As shown in Figure 1, Oracle's PLM product line consists of four components.

Figure 1. Agile PLM Product Line.

The core of Oracle's Agile Product Lifecycle Management solution for the complete product value chain, Oracle's Agile Product Collaboration, enables the organization to connect globally dispersed product teams, suppliers, and customers in a collaborative environment to accelerate product launches, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Oracle's Agile Product Collaboration enables clear and concise tracking of items in review, products in transition, and issues in resolution.

Its functionality includes the ability to:

  • Provide secure access to preliminary and released information about any product, part, or document
  • Gain visibility into pending and released changes and items affected by these changes
  • Establish automated and streamlined change-management processes with intelligent workflow
  • Drive efficient product management across global, multi-tiered supply chains
  • Create an environment to manage and control manufacturers and their product content
  • Synchronize manufacturing systems with the current product record
  • Simplify project and product management with a single integrated view
  • Establish best-practice project and resource management capabilities
  • Enhance decision support with cross-project, multi-enterprise executive dashboards and portfolio analytics
  • Accelerate throughput with automated task completion based on product deliverable life cycles

What is PLM?

In industry, product life-cycle management (PLM) is the process of managing the entire life cycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products. PLM integrates people, data, processes, and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.

The inspiration for the burgeoning business process now known as PLM came from American Motors Corporation (AMC). The automaker was looking for a way to speed up its product development process to better compete. After introducing its compact Jeep Cherokee (XJ), the vehicle that launched the modern sport utility vehicle (SUV) market, AMC began development of a new model that later came out as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The first part in its quest for faster product development was a computer-aided design (CAD) software system that made engineers more productive. The second part in this effort was a new communication system that allowed conflicts to be resolved faster while also reducing costly engineering changes, because all drawings and documents were in a central database. The product data management was so effective that after AMC was purchased by Chrysler, the system was expanded throughout the enterprise, connecting everyone involved in designing and building products. By being an early adopter of PLM technology, Chrysler was able to become the auto industry's lowest-cost producer, recording development costs that were half of the industry average by the mid-1990s.

PLM systems help organizations in coping with the increasing complexity and engineering challenges of developing new products for the global competitive markets. However, product life-cycle management (PLM) should be distinguished from product life-cycle management (marketing) (PLCM). PLM describes the engineering aspect of a product, from managing descriptions and properties of a product through its development and useful life, whereas PLCM refers to the commercial management of the life of a product in the business market with respect to costs and sales measures. Product life-cycle management can be considered as one of the four cornerstones of a manufacturing corporation's information technology (IT) structure. All companies need to manage communications and information with their customers (i.e., CRM, customer relationship management), their suppliers and fulfillment (i.e., SCM, supply chain management), their resources within the enterprise (i.e., ERP, enterprise resource planning), and their product planning and development (PLM).

One form of PLM is called people-centric PLM. While traditional PLM tools have been deployed only upon release or during the release phase, people-centric PLM targets the design phase. The benefits of people-centric PLM include:

  • Reduced time to market
  • Increase in full-price sales
  • Improved product quality and reliability
  • Reduced prototyping costs
  • More accurate and timely requests for quote generation
  • Ability to quickly identify potential sales opportunities and revenue contributions
  • Savings through the reuse of original data
  • A framework for product optimization
  • Reduced waste
  • Savings through the complete integration of engineering workflows
  • Ability to provide contract manufacturers with access to a centralized product record
  • Seasonal fluctuation management, with improved forecasting to reduce material costs
  • Maximized supply chain collaboration
Within PLM there are five primary areas:

  1. Systems engineering (SE)
  2. Product and portfolio management (PPM)
  3. Product design (computer-aided technologies, CAx)
  4. Manufacturing process management (MPM)
  5. Product data management (PDM)

Systems engineering is focused on meeting all requirements, primarily meeting customer needs, and coordinating the systems-design process by involving all relevant disciplines. An important aspect of lifecycle management involves a subset within systems engineering called reliability engineering. Product and portfolio management is focused on managing resource allocation, tracking progress vs. plan for new product development projects that are in process (or in a holding status). Portfolio management is a tool that assists management in tracking progress on new products and making trade-off decisions when allocating scarce resources. Product design is the process of creating a new product to be sold by a business to its customers. Manufacturing process management is a collection of technologies and methods used to define how products are to be manufactured. PDM is focused on capturing and maintaining information on products and/or services through their development and useful life. Change management is an important part of PDM/PLM.

The core of PLM is in the creation and central management of all product data and the technology used to access this information and knowledge. PLM as a discipline emerged from tools such as CAD, CAM (computeraided manufacturing), and PDM, but it can be viewed as the integration of these tools with methods, people, and the processes through all stages of a product's life. It is not just about software technology but is also a business strategy.

The exact order of event and tasks will vary according to the product and industry in question, but the main processes are:

  1. Conceive
    1. Specification
    2. Concept design
  2. Design
    1. Detailed design
    2. Validation and analysis (simulation)
    3. Tool design
  3. Realize
    1. Plan manufacturing
    2. Manufacture
    3. Build/Assemble
    4. Test (quality check)
  4. Service
    1. Sell and deliver
    2. Use
    3. Maintain and support
    4. Dispose

The major key-point events are:

  1. Order
  2. Idea
  3. Kickoff
  4. Design freeze
  5. Launch

However, the reality is more complex. People and departments cannot perform their tasks in isolation, and one activity cannot simply finish and the next activity start. Design is an iterative process, and designs often need to be modified due to manufacturing constraints or conflicting requirements. Where a customer order fits into the time line depends on the industry type and whether the products are, for example, built to order, engineered to order, or assembled to order.

Phases of Product Life Cycle

Many software solutions have developed to organize and integrate the different phases of a product's life cycle. PLM should not be seen as a single software product, but as a collection of software tools and working methods integrated to address single stages of the life cycle, to connect different tasks, or to manage the whole process. Some software providers cover the whole PLM range, while others address a single niche application. Some applications can span many fields of PLM with different modules within the same data model. An overview of the fields within PLM is covered here. It should be noted, however, that the simple classifications do not always fit exactly. Many areas overlap, and many software products cover more than one area or do not fit easily into one category. It should also not be forgotten that one of the main goals of PLM is to collect knowledge that can be reused for other projects and to coordinate simultaneous concurrent development of many products. It is about business processes, people, and methods as much as software application solutions. Although PLM is mainly associated with engineering tasks, it also involves marketing activities such as product portfolio management (PPM), particularly with regards to new product development (NPD) .

There are several life-cycle models in industry to consider, but most are rather similar. The following discussion presents one possible life-cycle model. While it emphasizes hardware-oriented products, similar phases would describe any form of product or service, including nontechnical or software-based products:

Phase 1: Conceive—Imagine, Specify, Plan, Innovate

The first stage is the definition of the product requirements based on customer, company, market, and regulatory bodies' viewpoints. From this specification, the product's major technical parameters can be defined. In parallel, the initial concept design work is performed defining the aesthetics of the product together with its main functional aspects. Many different media are used for these processes, from pencil and paper to clay models to 3-D CAID (computer-aided industrial design) software.

In some concepts, the investment of resources into research or the analysis of options may be included in the conception phase, e.g., bringing the technology to a level of maturity sufficient to move to the next phase. However, life-cycle engineering is iterative. It is always possible that something doesn't work well enough in any one phase to back up into a prior phase—perhaps all the way back to conception or research. There are many examples to draw from.

Phase 2: Design—Describe, Define, Develop, Test, Analyze, and Validate

This is where the detailed design and development of the product's form starts, progressing to prototype testing, through pilot release, to full product launch. It can also involve redesign and ramping for improvement to existing products as well as planned obsolescence. The main tool used for design and development is CAD. This can be simple 2-D drawing/drafting or 3-D parametric feature-based solid/surface modeling. Such software includes technology such as hybrid modeling, reverse engineering, KBE (knowledge-based engineering), NDT (nondestructive testing), and assembly construction.

This step covers many engineering disciplines, including mechanical, electrical, electronic, and software (embedded) as well as domain specific disciplines such as architecture, aerospace, automotive, etc. Along with the actual creation of geometry, there is the analysis of the components and product assemblies. Simulation, validation, and optimization tasks are carried out using CAE (computer-aided engineering) software either integrated in the CAD package or as standalone applications. These are used to perform tasks such as stress analysis, FEA (finite-element analysis), kinematics, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and mechanical event simulation (MES). CAQ (computer-aided quality) is used for tasks such as dimensional tolerance (engineering) analysis. Another task performed at this stage is the sourcing of bought-out components, possibly with the aid of procurement systems.

Phase 3: Realize—Manufacture, Make, Build, Procure, Produce, Sell, and Deliver

Once the design of the product's components is complete, the method of manufacturing is defined. This includes CAD tasks such as tool design, creation of CNC (computer numerical control) machining instructions for the product's parts—as well as tools to manufacture those parts—using integrated or separate CAM software. This will also involve analysis tools for process simulation of operations such as casting, molding, and die-press forming. Once the manufacturing method has been identified, CPM (critical path management) comes into play. This involves CAPE (computer-aided production engineering) or CAP/CAPP (production planning) tools for carrying out factory, plant, and facility layout and production simulation, e.g., press-line simulation, industrial ergonomics, and tool selection management. Once components are manufactured, their geometrical form and size can be checked against the original CAD data with the use of computer-aided inspection equipment and software. Parallel to the engineering tasks, the work of sales product configuration and marketing documentation takes place. This could include transferring engineering data (geometry and part list data) to a web-based sales configurator and other desktop publishing systems.

Phase 4: Service—Use, Operate, Maintain, Support, Sustain, Phase Out, Retire, Recycle, and Dispose

The final phase of the life cycle involves managing of in-service information, providing customers and service engineers with support information for repair and maintenance as well as waste management/recycling information. This involves using tools such as maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) management software.

There is an end of life to every product. Whether it be disposal or destruction of material objects or information, this needs to be considered, because it may not be free from ramifications.

Cross Phases

None of the previous four phases can be seen in isolation. In reality, a project does not run sequentially or in isolation of other product-development projects. Information is flowing between different people and systems. A major part of PLM is the coordination and management of product-definition data. This includes managing engineering changes and release status of components, configuration of product variations, document management, planning project resources and time scale, and risk assessment.

For these tasks, graphics, text, and metadata such as product bills of materials (BOMs) needs to be managed. At the engineering-departments level, this is the domain of PDM software, and at the corporate level, it is the domain of EDM (enterprise data management) software. Although these two definitions tend to blur, it is typical to see two or more data management systems within an organization. These systems are also linked to other corporate systems such as SCM, CRM, and ERP. Associated with these system are project-management systems for project/program planning.

This central role is covered by numerous collaborative product development tools that run throughout the whole life cycle and across organizations. This requires many technology tools in the areas of conferencing, data sharing, and data translation. The field of product visualization includes technologies such as DMU (digital mock-up), immersive virtual digital prototyping (virtual reality), and photorealistic imaging.

User Skills

The broad array of solutions that make up the tools used within a PLM solution set (e.g., CAD, CAM, CAx) were initially used by dedicated practitioners who invested time and effort to gain the required skills. Designers and engineers worked wonders with CAD systems; manufacturing engineers became highly skilled CAM users; and analysts, administrators, and managers fully mastered their support technologies. However, achieving the full advantages of PLM requires the participation of many people of various skills throughout an extended enterprise, each requiring the ability to access and operate on the inputs and output of other participants.

Despite the increased ease of use of PLM tools, cross-training all personnel on the entire PLM tool set has not proven to be practical. Now, however, advances are being made to address ease of use for all participants within the PLM arena. One such advance is the availability of role-specific user interfaces. Through tailorable user interfaces, the commands that are presented to users are appropriate to their function and expertise.

These techniques include:

  • Concurrent engineering workflow
  • Industrial design
  • Bottom-up design
  • Top-down design
  • Front-loading design workflow
  • Design in context
  • Modular design
  • NPD new product development
  • DFSS design for Six Sigma
  • DFMA design for manufacture/assembly
  • Digital simulation engineering
  • Requirement-driven design
  • Specification-managed validation
  • Configuration management

Concurrent Engineering

Concurrent engineering (British English: simultaneous engineering) is a workflow that, instead of working sequentially through stages, carries out a number of tasks in parallel. For example, it might involve starting tool design as soon as the detailed design has started, even before the detailed designs of the product are finished; or it might entail starting on detailed design of solid models before the concept design of surface models is complete. Although this does not necessarily reduce the amount of manpower required for a project, as more changes are required due to the incomplete and changing information, it does drastically reduce lead times and thus time to market.

Feature-based CAD systems have for many years allowed the simultaneous work on 3-D solid models and the 2-D drawings by means of two separate files, with the drawing looking at the data in the solid model; when the model changes, the drawing will associatively update. Some CAD packages also allow associative copying of geometry between files. This allows, for example, the copying of a part design into the files used by the tooling designer. The manufacturing engineer can then start work on tools before the final design freeze; up to that point, when a design changes size or shape, the tool geometry will then update. Concurrent engineering also has the added benefit of providing better and more immediate communication between departments, reducing the chance of costly, late design changes. It adopts a problem-prevention method as compared to the problem-solving and redesigning method of traditional sequential engineering.

Bottom-Up Design

Bottom-up design occurs where the definition of 3-D models of a product starts with the construction of individual components. These are then virtually brought together in subassemblies of more than one level until the full product is digitally defined. This is sometimes known as the review structure showing what the product will look like. The BOM contains all of the physical (solid) components; it may (but not necessarily) contain other items required for the final-product BOM such as paint, glue, oil, and other materials commonly described as bulk items. Bulk items typically have mass and quantities, but they are not usually modeled with geometry.

Bottom-up design tends to focus on the capabilities of available real-world physical technology, implementing those solutions that this technology is most suited to. When these bottom-up solutions have real-world value, bottom-up design can be much more efficient than top-down design. The risk of bottom-up design is that it very efficiently provides solutions to low-value problems. The focus of bottom-up design is "What can we most efficiently do with this technology?" rather than the focus of top-down, which is "What is the most valuable thing to do?"

Top-Down Design

Top-down design is focused on high-level functional requirements, with relatively less focus on existing implementation technology. A top-level spec is decomposed into lower and lower-level structures and specifications, until the physical implementation layer is reached. The risk of a top-down design is that it will not take advantage of the most efficient applications of current physical technology, especially with respect to hardware implementation. Top-down design sometimes results in excessive layers of lower-level abstraction and inefficient performance when the top–down model has followed an abstraction path that does not efficiently fit available physical-level technology. The positive value of top-down design is that it preserves a focus on the optimum solution requirements.

A parts-centric top-down design may eliminate some of the risks of top-down design. This starts with a layout model, often a simple 2-D sketch defining basic sizes and some major defining parameters. Industrial design brings creative ideas to product development. Geometry from this is associatively copied down to the next level, which represents different subsystems of the product. The geometry in the subsystems is then used to define more detail in the levels below. Depending on the complexity of the product, a number of levels of this assembly are created until the basic definition of components can be identified, such as position and principal dimensions. This information is then associatively copied to component files. It is in these files that the components are detailed, and this is where the classic bottom-up assembly starts.

The top-down assembly is sometime known as a control structure. If a single file is used to define the layout and parameters for the review structure, it is often known as a skeleton file.

Defense engineering traditionally develops the product structure from the top down. The system engineering process prescribes a functional decomposition of requirements and then physical allocation of product structure to the functions. This top-down approach would normally have lower levels of the product structure developed from CAD data as a bottom-up structure or design.

Both-Ends-against-the-Middle Design

Both-ends-against-the-middle (BEATM) design is a design process that endeavors to combine the best features of top-down design and bottom-up design into one process. A BEATM design process f low may begin with an emergent technology which suggests solutions that may have value, or it may begin with a top-down view of an important problem that needs a solution. In either case, the key attribute of BEATM design methodology is to immediately focus at both ends of the design process f low: a top-down view of the solution requirements, and a bottom-up view of the available technology that may offer promise of an efficient solution. The BEATM design process proceeds from both ends in search of an optimum merging somewhere between the top-down requirements and the bottom-up approach that leads to efficient implementation. In this fashion, BEATM has been shown to genuinely offer the best of both methodologies. Indeed some of the best success stories from either top-down or bottom-up have been successful because of an intuitive, yet unconscious use of the BEATM methodology. When employed consciously, BEATM offers even more powerful advantages.

Front Loading

Front loading is taking top-down design to the next stage. The complete control structure and review structure, as well as downstream data such as drawings, tooling development, and CAM models, are constructed before the product has been defined or a project kickoff has been authorized. These assemblies of files constitute a template from which a family of products can be constructed. When the decision has been made to go with a new product, the parameters of the product are entered into the template model, and all the associated data is updated. Obviously, predefined associative models will not be able to predict all possibilities and will require additional work. The main principle is that a lot of the experimental/investigative work has already been completed. A lot of knowledge is built into these templates to be reused on new products. This does require additional resources up front but can drastically reduce the time between project kickoff and launch. Such methods do, however, require organizational changes, as considerable engineering efforts are moved into off-line development departments. It can be seen as an analogy to creating a concept car to test new technology for future products, but in this case the work is directly used for the next product generation.

Design in Context

Individual components cannot be constructed in isolation. CAD and CAID models of components are designed within the context of part or all of the product being developed. This is achieved using assembly-modeling techniques. Other components' geometry can be seen and referenced within the CAD tool being used. The other components within the subassembly may or may not have been constructed in the same system, their geometry being translated from other collaborative product-development (CPD) formats. Some assembly checking such as DMU is also carried out using product-visualization software.

Product and Process Life-Cycle Management

Product and process life-cycle management (PPLM) is an alternate genre of PLM in which the process by which the product is made is just as important as the product itself. Typically, this is the life sciences and advanced specialty chemicals markets. The process behind the manufacture of a given compound is a key element of the regulatory filing for a new drug application. As such, PPLM seeks to manage information around the development of the process in a similar fashion that baseline PLM talks about managing information around development of the product.

One variant of PPLM implementations involves the use of process development execution systems (PDESs). These typically implement the whole development cycle of high-tech manufacturing technology developments, from initial conception through development and into manufacture. PDESs integrate people with different backgrounds from potentially different legal entities as well as from different data, information and knowledge, and business processes.

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This article is an excerpt from:

From operating systems to the cloud, Oracle's products and services are everywhere, and it has the market share to prove it. Given the share diversity of the Oracle product line, and the level of complexity of integration, management can be quite a daunting task.

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Providing an overview of the suite of Oracle technologies and solutions, the book covers the heart of the Oracle products set, including Oracle analytics, enterprise performance management, Oracle cloud, data management, application development, social business, and fusion. It examines compliance and security issues and includes metrics to help you evaluate potential solutions.

The book also provides readers with access to a set of helpful resources on the book's page at, including cloud procurement best practices, cloud migration tips, a sample project procurement plan template, and various glossaries.

About the Author

Jessica Keyes is president of New Art Technologies, Inc., a high-technology and management consultancy and development firm started in New York in 1989.