Back in 2005, Lifetime Products – a leading manufacturer of blow-molded polyethylene consumer products such as folding chairs, picnic tables, sheds, and kayaks -- found that it was growing very rapidly. The team was creating a lot of new product data and designs and this fast growth was making it very apparent that its product development process had some issues that, if left unchecked, would have a serious impact on the organization’s ability to grow profitably and continue producing high-end quality products. One major problem was the organization’s reliance on a paper-based development process instead of a digital product lifecycle management (PLM) system.
“Lifetime Products has always been driven by innovative products and we needed to put the same effort in developing innovative processes,” Brady Buchanan, Director PLM at Lifetime Products explains. Rather than do a complete overhaul of its product development process, the Utah-based manufacturer broke its digitalization journey into manageable, easy-to-achieve steps.
Step #1: Product Data Management
Aside from hard-copy drawings stored in three-ringed binders in the R&D department, engineering data was not available outside of the engineering department. While Lifetime Products, at the time, was fairly small, it still was spread out over multiple buildings in an industrial park. “In order for employees to get a drawing, they would have to leave their workstation and -- in some cases -- leave the building, get in their car, drive over, download or photocopy a drawing, put the original back in the book [where they found it], and head back to their workstation,” explains Buchanan. “This was a tremendous waste of time and it allowed for out-of-date, stale information to be sitting on a production floor – sometimes resulting in quality defects.”
In fact, a fair amount of the engineering team’s time was spent managing the three-ringed binders that housed product data and drawings. As a first step, Lifetime decided to move to PTC Pro/Intralink, a predecessor to PTC’s current Product Data Management solution. Pro/Intralink enabled Lifetime to move its data from hundreds of directories to a single, consolidated database. The organization now had digital revision control of CAD data and data release procedures that included electronic sign-on. Now any stakeholder could access drawings straight from their workstation – no need to go hunt down the 3-ring binder where it was stored.
Step #2: NPI Management
Lifetime Products places a huge emphasis on innovation and producing new products so focusing on product realization was the next step on its digitalization journey. Because it was too difficult to access product data, the enterprise was unengaged with the product development cycle – rather relying on engineering to manage projects. The organization was looking to become ISO certificated and, as a requirement for certification, needed to adopt standardized documented processes.
“We recognized a need for process control beyond Intralink,” explains Buchanan. “So we migrated from Intralink to [PTC] PDMLink.” In particular use was the ProjectLink capability of PDMLink which enabled Lifetime to standardize its project templates. Today, Lifetime Products has over 130 new product projects running that are managed by a mere four project managers. How did they achieve this? “Part of the power of the software is we were able to empower our people and the process,” explains Buchanan. “Responsibilities were spread throughout the organization. The whole organization was now engaged in the standardized process, so all of the pressure and work didn’t fall on engineering shoulders.”
Step #3: EBOM Management
At this point, Lifetime Products was really only using PDMLink for its ProjectLink capabilities. However, PDMLink also offered the ability to create and manage engineering Bills of Material (eBOMs). Previously, Lifetime had been manually managing the dissemination of its EBOM to downstream teams: the EBOM was sent to the configuration management department via Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was then implemented into Lifetime’s ERP system as a manufacturing BOM (MBOM). “This inherently caused issues,” admits Buchanan. “We missed stuff. We put the wrong quantities in. There were a number of issues we made. So we decided that PDMLink’s controlled system was the right direction to go.”
This move made it possible for engineers to build their EBOM directly from the CAD data – a significant timesaver. The EBOM was stored in the “design” view of PDMLink. Through the “design” view, the configuration management team was able to convert the EBOM into an MBOM. This reduced data entry errors by the team and had the added bonus of giving the configuration management team some control over changes: “The EBOM or MBOM could not be changed unless configuration management was notified.”
Step #4: MBOM Management
The next goal the team tackled was figuring out how to manage the EBOM and MBOM individually. Because the team was converting the EBOM into an MBOM, the EBOM no longer existed in PDMLink. Lifetime decided the best course of action would be to add an additional view to PDMLink.
In addition to creating a “manufacturing” view that would store the MBOMs (while the “design” view maintained the EBOMs), the team introduced document association to both views. In the “design” view for example, all parts were linked with their associated CAD drawings while all manufacturing documents were associated to their related parts in the “manufacturing” view.
Step #5: Change Management
At this point, Lifetime turned its attention to change management. Its change management system was paper-based and was still outside of its PLM system. Things were changing and stakeholders who were using the PLM system couldn’t see if there were pending changes or what the change history was. Instead, changes were approved during two-hour long team meetings of over 45 stakeholders. Each change approval required a physical signature from all stakeholders, forcing everyone to stay for the entire lengthy meeting. Because all changes had to be approved in these meetings, they were being implemented into the development process in weekly batches. “Which means if you had to get something done before next Wednesday, somebody had to personally walk a document around the whole organization,” explains Buchanan.
To address this, Lifetime implemented a change management system for both EBOM and MBOM inside of PDMLink to standardize the process. This enabled the change management system to execute electronically. Digital signatures could now be completed by the owner at their workstation on their own schedule – no two-hour meetings required. Changes were now also associated directly to the affected data and could happen in real-time instead of waiting for the weekly implementation batch to go through.
This digitalization journey had major effects on the organization. By standardizing over 400 PLM users and 50+ CAD users on Windchill, Lifetime Products was able to reduce their product databases from 16 to just one and improved enterprise collaboration for over 15 teams from the product development lifecycle.
But they did not stop there. The organization continued their PLM digitialization journey by improving product structure, integrating their ERP solution, and parts classification. To learn more on how Lifetime went from paper-based to full digitalization, tune into the webcast replay, “From Paper-Based to Electronic BOMs”.