PLM solutions designed for the large enterprise often overlook the need to automate tasks and address challenges that the SMB faces early in the development/design process, such as with new part requests and design component selection. The PLM solution should also provide an environment that understands the dynamics of the prototyping phase. For the smaller business looking to improve products, the process must begin with the engineers who face issues with data management, obtaining the best design elements and easily accessing essential product data to ensure specifications are met. In order to manage complex hardware design and to share reliable information with its manufacturing partners, Fabric7 Systems selected a PLM product that could manage all of its BOMs, engineering changes and documentation, as well as offer secure access for its internal and external teams. "We now have an environment to capture engineering changes in a disciplined manner and ensure our CM has access to clean documentation," stated Firsty.
Another key factor to consider in today's compliance-driven market is the ability of the PLM solution to inherently support evolving regulatory compliance and quality standards. Compliance with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) mandate has become a major concern for all manufacturers shipping products into restricted regions. The impact is more profound on smaller manufacturers, who generally do not have the same amount of resources to dedicate to sourcing all of the required compliance data, and whose product costs will have a greater impact due to the volume and margins on which the SMB operates. Small companies need to rely on a PLM solution that can store complete part classification information and vendor-supplied documentation, provide full product analysis features, and allow users to easily extract the necessary data during audits.
A common misconception is that large PLM vendors with monolithic software systems are the only vendors that can address all product development needs. In reality, many of these large systems, which have been designed with large enterprises such as automobile manufacturers in mind, include functionality that is irrelevant to the development needs of a small organization. Further, the SMB, with its limited cash flow, is paying for functionality that will likely never apply to its product design process. "In our search for a PLM solution, we found that many offerings were too complex for the quick implementation and training required by a fast-paced company like Fabric7," added Firsty.
SMBs should be equally attentive when considering an on-demand or hosted PLM solution. Although on-demand solutions are an appealing option due to the "instant on" capability and attractive price point, the SMB should consider the functionality, scalability and security issues associated with on-demand solutions. Fabric7 Systems researched on-demand PLM solutions and found that they presented security risks to which the company did not want to expose its sensitive intellectual property.
According to an AMR report "Midmarket Manufacturing Needs PLM" by Kevin O’Marah, only 8 percent of mid-market companies now have a PLM system from a large enterprise software vendor. What this means is that many smaller companies are beginning to look toward implementing PLM software designed for their market segment.
Many large PLM and ERP vendors are attempting to "scale down" their products to address the PLM needs of the SMB. Unfortunately, because these systems are typically built on legacy foundations, their heredity does not allow them to adapt easily to the evolving needs of the smaller organization. Moreover, these systems still require lengthy (and costly) implementation phases. For Fabric7 Systems, constraints on time and resources demanded a PLM system that was easy-to-use, quick to implement and required a short learning curve. As a result of limited IT staff, they sought a PLM solution built on the Microsoft SQL Server platform for easy and cost-effective maintenance. "We require that our I/S solutions are best of breed and integrate with SQL, which is less cumbersome and expensive than Oracle," continued Firsty.
A flexible solution that can easily integrate with a small company's existing environments is essential. Most large vendors cannot share data "out-of-the-box" with the engineering tools and/or business systems that are already in place. This capability typically requires an additional product or consulting purchase that increases the acquisition price for the SMB.
Implementation time and costs are critical factors for the SMB to consider when selecting a PLM system. SMBs cannot afford to reassign their valuable resources to long PLM implementation projects. Most software designed for the large enterprises have considerably lengthy implementation processes of more than six months. Alternatively, software designed for the SMB has a quicker implementation process and can have the company up and running within days or weeks, depending upon the vendor and level of integration with other systems. Quick training and implementation time allowed Fabric7 engineers to continue designing product with minimal interruption in their work. "We selected a very intuitive PLM system that is easy to use and learn — new users were up and running with less than 30 minutes of training," continued Firsty.