From Cradle To Grave

In the past, companies have often been hampered by the fragmented nature of existing systems and processes. Islands of automation hindered the flow and use of accurate product information throughout an organization, particularly between engineering and manufacturing. The negative results – such as high costs of constant engineering changes, and the failure to introduce new products in a timely fashion – could be devastating.

Advances in software technology now provide the capabilities to unify interrelated processes and facilitate collaboration throughout the extended enterprise. Market-leading companies, therefore, are directing fresh attention to unifying all product life-cycle processes.

What Is UPLM?

Unified Product Lifecycle Management (UPLM) is the means to ensure control over a product’s performance, and its functional and physical attributes. It includes the planning and coordination of all activities in the product lifecycle, and accurate documentation in sufficient detail to support the product’s planned lifecycle for all users of the data.

‘Product Lifecycle’ is the entire life span of a product, encompassing: Conception, Definition, Production, Delivery, Operation, and Disposal. The span of time varies, depending on the planned life of the product. Some product lifecycles are measured in months – others in years.

‘Unified’ encompasses all terms describing the flow of product data through the company’s total enterprise, such as “integration,” ” interfacing,” “embedding,” “accessing,” and “extraction.” “Seamless” is also a pertinent term, describing the ease of smoothly using more than one IT application system at the same time.

Challenges and Strategies

To develop an appropriate company vision for an effective UPLM process, the first step is to identify the challenges – threats to survival and growth. These challenges should drive the precise identification of the most appropriate strategies, leading to the specific UPLM elements needed by a company to support and drive its vision to reality.

A few challenges pertinent to product lifecycle management are:

    Customer expectations for products with higher quality, customized configurations, faster delivery, and better service – at lower prices;
    Competitors qualifying for ISO 9000 certification as a competitive differentiator;
    More rapid product obsolescence caused by unexpected shifts in buyer preferences, technology advances, or actions of competitors;
    Inability of current supply chains to cope with the demands for reduced product lifecycles.

To meet these challenges, leading-edge companies are diligently responding by rapidly embracing numerous strategic approaches, such as: globalization (locating facilities throughout the world); extended enterprise (developing networks of partnerships with both customers and suppliers for collaborative product definition); workforce empowerment; knowledge management; and capitalizing on recent IT advances and using a “best-of-breed” approach.

To implement any or all of the above strategies may mandate major improvements to a company’s existing product lifecycle management. A salient example is the virtual enterprise model that requires a host of software capabilities – particularly the Web – to facilitate collaborative product definition through rapid dissemination and use of product data.

Benefits of UPLM

The substantial benefits of UPLM include shortening the “time- to-market” cycle; reducing on-going operational costs; and facilitating continuous product improvements after the initial product launch – all leading to increased profitability and higher customer satisfaction.

To secure these benefits, some companies have mounted aggressive initiatives to gain an edge over their competitors. They are doing so by focusing on unifying the many IT elements of UPLM with a “best-of-breed” strategy, selecting the most appropriate software tools for the needs of the company.

An effective UPLM process eliminates the legendary problems caused by non-unified IT systems. A complete list of the problems would overwhelm this article. A few examples are: unacceptably long delays and errors when incorporating engineering changes; rework of both inconsistent documentation and mismatching parts and assemblies; and the painful and costly embarrassment of a customer discovering product configuration errors at time of receipt.

Information Technology Elements

A UPLM process is supported by three major IT elements: ‘Product Definition’, ‘Planning and Control’, and ‘Infrastructure Support’. Each element, with its set of tools, serves a distinct and essential purpose.1

Realizing the potential of these software tools requires the vigorous support of newer IT capabilities. Among them are interoperability, componentization, and the Web.

Interoperability, through the use of middleware, provides the necessary capabilities to unify the numerous IT elements in a “best-of-breed” strategy. With componentization (described below), interoperability is a required functionality – it is not an option.

There are many choices for “middle-ware” software, each with a wide range of capabilities. The primary consideration is to ensure that the appropriate software package is selected – one that is consistent with company objectives and strategy. For instance, some middleware software is optimized around a specific software product. Such a choice would be acceptable if a company has standardized on that product, but not acceptable if the environment is more heterogeneous.

An IT companion to interoperability is the methodology of componentization

applied to application software. Here, “componentization” refers to software modules, not to parts.

With componentization, application logic is contained in small software modules of information with explicit descriptions of procedures and instructions to manipulate information. Importantly, the modules can be reused, thus shortening new application development time or modifying existing applications.

The benefits of componentization include:

    Improving application systems agility and flexibility;Allowing a company to choose the best fit of software choices;Avoiding “big bang” implementations when systems must be upgraded with new software releases;Facilitating gradual, not overnight, systems changes.

In the context of UPLM, a sterling example of the strategic use of the Web is the ability of virtual product definition collaboration across multiple locations, time zones, and heterogeneous systems.

Web-enabling of product definition, and planning and control directly contributes to a company’s “time-to-market” objectives. Additionally, at an operational level, two major benefits of Web use are: (1) reducing the total cost of ownership of PC-based IT architectures, and (2) increasing the use and value of the data in all IT systems in a virtual environment by allowing access to a broader range of users.

Because the Web should play a central role in achieving an effective UPLM, some essential guidelines to consider are:

    Defining the roles of Web users – power vs. casual – and expectations regarding essential information that adds value to their participation in the UPLM process;Establishing security policies;Budgeting for adequate hardware and systems software technical support, such as the ability of the network to transmit large amounts of data and to respond to user processing needs.

Need For Flexibility

To reap the substantial benefits of UPLM, industry experience has proven that a company’s IT capabilities must accommodate heterogeneous and virtual environments. They must also enable great flexibility in the face of constant changes in the competitive scene. Because of these essential criteria, a “best-of-breed” software strategy provides the capabilities to forge an innovative solution for a company’s specific needs.

But one thing is clear. Even with the potential provided by IT tools to ‘enable’, enlightened management leadership often proves the difference in optimizing the wealth of benefits provided by Unified Product Lifecycle Management.

1 For a detailed description of the three major IT elements and related tools, please see the whitepaper entitled “Unified Product Lifecycle Management” at

Richard W. Bourke is the principal consultant of Bourke-Arnold Enterprises, of Pasadena, CA. His extensive consulting experience encompasses a wide range of manufacturing systems planning and implementation assignments in a variety of industry sectors.