Designing the Best Supply Chain

Manufacturers can gain competitive advantage within the supply chain through product design and lifecycle management strategies


Quite often a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) that is looking to gain a competitive advantage within its supply chain will do so by improving its products and streamlining operations. Decision makers often look toward product design technology such as product lifecycle management (PLM) to support these changes. By implementing a product lifecycle management system, companies can simplify and shorten each phase of the product development process. Selecting new technology is a challenge for any organization but can be especially difficult for the SMB, since most software (particularly PLM software) is designed to meet the needs of a large enterprise.

To begin the selection process the SMB first needs to understand what the PLM system should accomplish for its organization. PLM can provide key functionality to streamline each phase of a product's lifecycle, from product conception and design to manufacturing and support, while improving communication across both internal and external constituencies.

Case in Point

Fabric7 Systems, which designs and builds enterprise servers that integrate computer and networking technologies into a dynamic fabric of information technology resources for the core of the datacenter, implemented a PLM system to accelerate new product introduction, decrease product costs and reduce waste and rework.

Once a company determines that PLM software will address the challenges within its organization, the question then becomes which PLM software is best suited for the company. For Fabric7 Systems, the company needed a PLM system that would alleviate the challenges of its start-up environment of heavy workloads and limited resources. "We were a small team wearing many different hats," stated Wayne Firsty, vice president, Manufacturing Operations for Fabric7. "Putting a discipline in place to establish a single point of data for engineering releases and product builds across our internal and external sites was a crucial process."

Typically, since the SMB operates with a smaller cash flow, develops fewer products, and has a smaller customer and supplier base as compared to a large enterprise, the PLM system needs to be tailored for these distinct requirements. The increasing emphasis on outsourcing has dramatically changed the operational landscape of the SMB and must be a key consideration when choosing the correct PLM system. The SMB must select a solution that allows secure yet easy access to product data for its outsourcing partners. For Fabric7 Systems, a method to relieve the communication obstacle with its manufacturing partner was imperative. Since Fabric7 outsources its manufacturing to a contract manufacturer (CM) the company needed to ensure the CM no longer received inaccurate bills of materials (BOMs) and outdated product data that resulted in lengthy new product turnaround time.

Too often the SMB will select a PLM system that includes broad functionality but fails to drill down into the daily challenges of engineers and developers, and also embrace the need to share product data outside the SMB's four walls. Fabric7 Systems knew this challenge all too well, which is why the company sought out and purchased a solution that would allow its engineers and developers to manage product data in a single, secure location and could be easily accessed by multiple sites within Fabric7 and with external vendors and partners, particularly their CM. "The ability to manage our detailed BOMs, all engineering changes and vault documents in a single repository was a necessity," said Firsty.

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