What is product lifecycle management?

Red plastic cap components with sprues on conveyor belt

Most original equipment manufacturer (OEMs) companies recognize that upgrading processes with the right digital technologies is key to staying competitive. According to the Manufacturing Leadership Council “A key component in all the trends and challenges is data, like reliable data on environmental sustainability, traceability throughout the value chain and product life cycle, and real-time data to detect supply chain disruptions. For manufacturing companies, emerging technologies help expand the opportunities to become a data-driven factory of the future”. Modern product lifecycle management (PLM) software is one of these and brings together different business processes on a single platform. This helps to unify product value chains and drive faster innovations and improvements in product design, manufacturing, maintenance and service. The effectiveness of PLM means the technology is starting to play a significant role for OEMs. For example, in automotive OEMs providing specialized parts. This article will explain why, what benefits PLM can bring and how OEMs can overcome the common challenges of introducing it.

What does PLM mean in the product lifecycle?
Understanding product lifecycle management
Why is PLM important?
What are the PLM challenges for OEMs?
How can suppliers support OEMs?

What does PLM mean in the product lifecycle?

PLM covers the methods used to oversee and organize each stage of a product’s life. From its initial conception to manufacturing, applied usage and end-of-life disposal, product lifecycle management procedures analyse and improve every step of product development. Specifically, a typical product lifecycle runs as follows:

Product lifecycle infographic

• Initial concept research and design
• Product development and manufacture services. Historically, PLM has significantly accelerated the product development process, exemplified by companies like American Motors Corporation.
• Launch and growth in the market
• Maturity, feedback and improvement
• Decline and end-of-life

Warehouse staff in Essentra’s Nettetal Distribution Center in Germany

Why is PLM important?

PLM is important because it helps manufacturers continuously improve their entire business operations.
By getting PLM right, OEMs can enjoy the following advantages:
•    Quicker time to market: as product development processes become more efficient, the time from concept to manufacture and sales reduces, meaning OEMs can deliver new products at greater speed
•    Increased innovation: more data means more insights to inform new concepts. This includes real-time feedback from customers and suppliers used to iterate products quickly without risking quality, even by remote teams. Leveraging customer feedback through PLM solutions is crucial for OEMs to ensure product iteration aligns with market needs and quality standards.
•    Reduced costs: monitoring machinery performance and using data to adapt manufacturing processes will maximize value and minimize errors across the whole lifecycle, cutting down on wasted expenditure
•    Minimizing environmental impact: PLM gives businesses a complete overview of their sustainability. For example, managers can see how much energy is being used across all operations and look for ways to reduce it from a single platform. These platforms can also be used to track key environmental metrics. 
•    Competitive advantage: from increasing production capacity to developing products that better meet customer needs, having the right PLM system in place helps manufacturers stay agile and resilient even in challenging markets
However, to gain all these benefits, OEMs need to implement the right PLM technologies and processes effectively.

What are the PLM challenges for OEMs? 

Having PLM in place can bring huge advantages to manufacturers. However, there are particular difficulties OEMs need to overcome to enjoy maximum benefit usually outside of the manufacturing process. One such challenge is integrating document management systems within PLM software to streamline operations, ensuring that all aspects of product lifecycle management, from design to disposal, are efficiently managed. 
Furthermore, the importance of choosing the right PLM software cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to product data management. This aspect is crucial for managing all product-related data, such as designs, specifications, bills of materials, and engineering change orders, streamlining collaboration between different departments and ensuring the effective management and distribution of large CAD files throughout the product lifecycle.

How to implement PLM systems 

Choosing the equipment and software that meets their specific needs is the first step for any manufacturer. As more businesses have adopted PLM processes, there has been a huge increase in the number and capabilities of platforms and technologies available. So, researching and building the most effective tech stack is the initial task for any OEM.
Alongside the right machinery, sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) hardware, manufacturers need PLM software that can analyse and track whole business operations, including the integration of computer-aided design (CAD) data. 
PLM platforms collect data from all sources and use machine learning to review information from customers, factories, IoT sensors and operations in real time. To maximize the value of the PLM system as quickly as possible, investment and integration plans need to be put in place.

Product data management: Data sharing and analysis

Powerful, cyber-secure data systems are essential for businesses to process, store and analyse all the information from across a business. Enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions (these can include enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems) are third-party tools that enable managers, engineers and teams to analyse data and make informed decisions. 
To ensure effective PLM, these technologies need to be connected to the data sources of customers and suppliers. Without risking the cyber security or privacy rights of individuals or businesses, the system needs to collect, share and analyse the information in real time. This helps OEMs leverage the most value, such as creating digital twins to test new product concepts.

Workforce skills and support

For PLM systems to be most effective, each business department needs to understand why they’re being introduced, the best practices for using them and how they can benefit their work. If these messages aren’t communicated correctly, then the technologies won’t be efficiently adopted across the whole business, meaning there’ll be gaps in enterprise data. 
Training teams on how to leverage enterprise data for their specific decision-making purposes is key to maximizing PLM value. This may involve teaching individuals how to use the equipment, software and systems alongside data analysis and interpretation. It’s important to take any staff upskilling into account when building integration plans and budgets.

Two colleagues using a digital tablet in Essentra’s plastic components factory in Kidlington, UK

How can Essentra Components support OEMs? 

OEMs focus on business-to-business sales, with suppliers playing a crucial role in this context by providing high-quality parts and managing raw materials effectively. 
At Essentra, we work closely with our customers to help them achieve their sustainability goals. We are transparent with our data around carbon emissions and the recycled content used in our components and set ambitious targets to develop more sustainable solutions for our customers.
In 2023, we achieved 20.7% sustainable materials in our polymer range and have set a target that 50% of the polymers used in the manufacture of new products will be sustainable by 2030, with 100% for our general protection and security seals ranges.  Product carbon footprints for a vast and diverse range of products including general protection and electronics ranges were also established in 2023. 
Investment in material innovation is a key part of our strategy and in 2023, we launched our Centre of Excellence where we are trialing new materials with improved environmental impact. With standard and custom solutions available, we help customers to find products which meet their needs and support their PLM systems.
The Centre will build on the initial success of 29 new product trials that have led to recycled polymer making up 10.8% of total polymer materials used – all part of our plan to use 20% recycled materials by 2025. 
Most low-density polyethylene (LPDE) products manufactured in our Kidlington site now use 50% recycled content and many are 98%, helping our customers reduce their own product emissions and avoid Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in their supply chain.
Recently, we worked with Iracroft to find an alternative to the PVC caps its customer was using to protect hydraulic pipes and tubes.
They were looking for a component to lend the following benefits to their product lifecycle:
•    Reduced environmental impact, with minimal plastic waste entering landfill and effective sourcing and management of raw materials
•    More efficient processes, with the new caps being just as durable while also easier and quicker to extract from pipework
•    Faster time to market with an off-the-shelf solution that could still meet their needs effectively
By working closely with the Iracroft team and listening closely to their needs, we were able to find a solution. LDPE tear tab caps were easier to extract, had a standard design and could be chipped and recycled into Iracroft’s customer supply chain. This helped it achieve its PLM objectives and improve their overall operations.