Overview of Global Collaboration in PLM

Written by: Jeff Zemsky

Read Time: 5 min

What is global collaboration?

Recent pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and the current geopolitical situation have stimulated a well-needed resurgence in strategic domestic onshoring. However, overall, global manufacturing is not going away any time soon. This requires effective global collaboration across all stakeholders—regardless of physical location, time zone, and/or language or cultural differences—so they can work together seamlessly and frictionless toward common business objectives by sharing a common workspace, practices, systems, and work processes. While challenging to achieve, collaborative product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions can help.

Why is global collaboration important?

Without effective collaboration, global manufacturers will find themselves at a significant competitive disadvantage. To compete effectively and succeed in today’s business environment, global manufacturers need frictionless collaboration among their geographically distributed internal design and engineering, planning, sourcing, manufacturing, and customer service organizations.

Collaboration takes many shapes. In addition to close collaboration between a company’s own geographically dispersed functions and organizations, global manufacturing requires collaboration with external suppliers, partners, and customers. Collaboration-related challenges include sourcing and supply chain; regulatory compliance; sustainability; product localization; managing product data and traceability and ensuring consistent quality across national and regional borders. Potential language-related miscommunication and collaborating effectively across multiple time zones are additional hurdles to effective global collaboration.

When developing today’s smart products, for example, engineering groups located in different global regions must collaborate to design, engineer, and document the multiple component assemblies that will ultimately come together to compose the final, as-designed product. A similar degree of collaboration is required for the various manufacturing groups responsible for producing the individual components, sub-assemblies, and ultimately, the final as-built product for shipment to customers.

Global sourcing groups must collaborate by establishing joint purchase agreements with reliable, high-quality vendors and by coordinating their efforts to ensure that the right components are available to the dispersed manufacturing groups when and where needed, even when faced with unpredictable regional or global supply chain disruptions. And, increasingly, as products get both more complex and customized, global customer service organizations and centers of excellence must collaborate to share often-strained resources and ensure that the right experts are available, either in-person or virtually, 24/7 across multiple time zones.

What are the benefits of collaboration?

Whether deployed on premises or in the cloud, today’s multi-enterprise PLM solutions can help manufacturers collaborate globally.

In recent decades, PLM software solutions have expanded significantly in scope, scalability, and interoperability. In the best cases, this enables a digital thread across the global product design and development, engineering, manufacturing and quality assurance, and customer support continuum.

These expanded PLM capabilities include distributed multi-CAD design and engineering tools, dynamic visualization, unified bills of materials (BOM) and product data management (PDM), plus real-time visibility into connected products. These capabilities empower global manufacturers to address numerous collaborative friction points and connect their physical, digital, and human assets to create a highly productive, globally cohesive, and quality-focused work environment.

What are examples of global collaboration?

Certainly, today’s PLM solutions offer significant potential to help all global manufacturers integrate their various systems and workflows to achieve effective collaboration and traceability across their distributed product development, manufacturing, and quality assurance operations. But due to industry-specific validation, quality assurance, environmental, and safety requirements, it can be particularly challenging to integrate newer digital collaborative technologies into existing processes in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing. And as with any established organization, cultural resistance to new technologies and work processes is another hurdle these manufacturers must overcome.

Integrating systems and workflows at Fresenius Medical Products

Fresenius Medical Products provides an example of a global medical device manufacturer that is succeeding with PLM-enabled global collaboration.

Fresenius, a leading supplier of dialysis systems and associated products and services for kidney care, has 44 different heterogeneous manufacturing sites and more than half a dozen engineering sites spread around the world. Using a phased implementation approach that takes full advantage of the modularity and scalability of modern PLM technology, Fresenius is well along on a path to overcoming its collaboration-related challenges. By using a conservative, phased approach to implement Windchill, PTC’s collaborative PLM solution, Fresenius has evolved from paper-based operations to part-centric PLM-based product development to improve cross-discipline collaboration and further improve the quality of its products and services globally.

To gain the support of the global product teams, the company started simply with product data management (PDM), implementing digital signatures with an electronic product workflow. According to Oliver Paul, Senior Director of System Lifecycle, this was a relatively easy step “…where everyone could see the benefit of working in a global context right away. We also started with MCAD data management to connect all our mechanical CAD systems into a new global PLM solution.”

From this foundation, Fresenius built in more advanced PLM capabilities, gradually evolving to today’s system-wide digital twin with built-in engineering intelligence. Listen to this excerpt from the full interview with Fresenius:

What is the future of global PLM collaboration?

Modern technology suppliers continue to roll out new features and enhancements for their already highly capable and feature-rich software and other solutions. But it’s well-known that many users rarely, if ever, actually take advantage of a significant portion of these capabilities. This is due to a combination of factors, not least of which are the solutions’ inherent complexity and the time and resources required for upfront customization and to train already time-strapped end users. And while most technology suppliers today tout their “openness,” in fact, it can be difficult to get their solutions to integrate seamlessly with legacy technology and/or adjacent solutions (ERP, CAD/CAM, etc.).

For these reasons, the future of global PLM collaboration will focus on reducing overall complexity. This will be achieved through easier configuration, increased out-of-the-box functionality, more intuitive features, improved visualization capabilities (including enhanced and virtual reality), and expanded self-service access to traceable product data for engineers, planners, quality and safety managers, and others.

As PLM cybersecurity matures further, suppliers will also do more to web-enable their collaboration solutions and make better use of the cloud. This will further reduce the cost and complexity of connecting people, applications, and factories across the globe.

Finally, future PLM solutions will also likely increase use of embedded machine learning and other artificial intelligence technology to help humans make better decisions, faster.

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Tags: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Windchill Windchill+ Enterprise Collaboration

About the Author

Jeff Zemsky

Jeff is the VP for Windchill Digital Thread. His team leads Navigate, Visualization, Windchill UI and Digital Product Traceability. Prior to joining PTC, Jeff spent 16 years implementing and using PLM, CAD and CAE at Industrial, High Tech & Consumer Products companies including leading the first Windchill PDMLink implementation in 2002. He was active in the PTC/USER community serving as Chair for the Windchill Solutions committee and on the Board of Directors for PTC/USER helping to bring voice of customer input together and create a community where people could network for tools and processes. Jeff attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Lehigh University.