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How PLM inside Dynamics 365&AX benefits ETO manufacturers

In the past decades, manufacturing had been constantly shifting from mass production towards an engineer-to-order (ETO) approach, creating mass customized and one-off products. Making products customizable, while also meeting traditional customer expectations such as high quality and affordability, made such manufacturers face new challenges, such as managing a wider product range in smaller production batches, with their corresponding documentation. 

Dealing with more complex products and more frequent changes throughout the development phase elongates the time it takes to finalize products and increases the number of specialists involved in a single product’s lifecycle.  

Furthermore, when some of the ever-changing customer requests are missed due to misplacement, engineers are enforced to make corrections in a short period of time. To counterbalance the higher expenses, while keeping the end product’s price at a reasonable level, manufacturers must aim to optimize their internal processes and streamline the product data flow. 

Top challenges in ETO 

For ETO manufacturers there are many complaints and challenges they experience on a day-to-day basis which vastly impacts business performance. Here are the main ones: 

  • Information sharing between sales, engineering and manufacturing: ETO manufacturing requires constant information sharing between sales, engineering and manufacturing teams to meet and follow the customers’ requirements. This level of collaboration requires a common IT platform to ensure fast and reliable data exchange; otherwise, overseeing such projects can be problematic. 
  • Tracing single products: When dealing with one-off custom parts and products, manufacturers cannot afford not to document these changes, both in terms of 3D models and support documentation. Without proper documentations, the servicing and replacement of the products will be impossible in the span of a couple of years. 
  • Handling customer requests: Within companies without a proper data management or product lifecycle software, crucial details of the custom product are not received, but also stored in emails, saved to shared drives or they only exist as notes on printed out documents and drawings. This can easily pose a risk of simply forgetting one of the requests or updates on a product, which lowers customer satisfaction and depending on when the misinformation is realized, can force the manufacturer to re-design and produce whole batches. 
  • Higher need for engineering work: ETO manufacturers have to repeat design and engineering steps more often than non-ETO manufacturers due to having a more diverse variety of products. One-off, or small batch production requires active engineering involvement in finalizing the custom end products. 
  • Managing and utilizing existing product data: Working with a high number of custom or one-off products leads to a massive item database, with connecting documentation, which can force companies not to spend too many resources on managing individual items. The improper management of such data can easily result in data loss or creating duplicates, making data management even more challenging. 

Challenges’ negative impact on the business 

  • Constant information sharing between sales, engineering and manufacturing can create bottlenecks, that are slowing down or completely stopping the development processes  
  • Collaboration between departments or sites can be problematic without a shared business system 
  • Wasting valuable resources on redesigning already produced components or products due to the awareness of their existence 
  • Engineers are often obligated to spend time on non-engineering tasks, that could have been spent on designing new products and R&D 
  • The mismanagement of documentation can lead to missing crucial customer requests 
  • ETO manufacturers have to manage a bigger engineering team as more engineering resources have to be spent on meeting the customers’ requirements 

How CAD+PLM+ERP embedded in Microsoft D365&AX can solve the problem 

In order to optimize the data flow between sales, engineering and manufacturing, ETO manufacturers have to align their data and data related processes.  

Bluestar PLM – being embedded in Microsoft Dynamics 365/AX ERP and integrated with the market-leading CAD and PDM systems. This solution allows engineers to utilize existing ERP and PLM data when designing new, or custom products, then transferring the updated engineering data seamlessly back to the management systems.  

Abolishing the need for manual data re-entry not only saves valuable time, but also increases the overall data quality and integrity. Bluestar PLM’s reuse function within the CAD systems can further assist engineers to find and make use of existing components. 

With cutting down the non-value adding processes, engineers can focus on designing new or customizing existing products. The engineering and manufacturing managers get a clear overview of the product lifecycle, while the centralized master data grants the sales team access to up-to-date engineering data. 

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How to Empower Collaboration between Mechanical and Electrical Design teams

Bridging the gap between electrical and mechanical engineering 

In a perfect world, suggestions and iterations should be exchanged between design teams consistently, so problems can be caught up-front and not dealt with last minute. When the problems are addressed up front virtually – in a shared development environment – they can be resolved before costly physical prototyping is initiated.  

When MCAD and ECAD are integrated, the information sharing is seamless, fast and require no to little manual work. Engineers can then easily exchange ideas and design intentions. When changes are explicit, and information is streamlined, multiple disciplines will better understand the potential change impact of design changes and optimize designs. 

How ERP-based PLM can facilitate multi-domain collaboration 

PLM embedded in Microsoft Dynamics 365 (D365) For Finance and Operations & AX provides the highest level of system and data integration. This helps address the challenge of facilitating multi-disciplinary collaboration by offering a single environment for cross functional visibility to get all disciplines involved from the get-go of the development process. 

ERP-based PLM provides the missing link between Engineering and Manufacturing in D365/AX. The system is integrated with multiple CAD (both MCAD and ECAD) solutions, providing a transparent and collaborative electromechanical design process.  

With centralized data in a single repository, CAD+PLM+ERP provides a single definition for each product, from start to finish of a lifecycle through development, manufacturing and service. With a holistic view of mechatronic data, engineers can design product with a shared goal in mind. 

Learn how Bluestar PLM supports multi-domain product engineering and the development of electromechanical products here! 

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Bluestar eCAD Integration

The logical and the physical representation of the electrical system 

A key challenge when designing electrical systems, is that they have both logical and physical representations, which often can require more than one CAD design tool to be visualized 

The logical representation is the netlist, typically built in an ECAD applicationIt entails the critical information on what cables carry what signal, connected to which endpoints. The physical representation on the other hand, visualizes how wires are routed through the 3D assembly model. 

These two representations are essentially two ways of expressing the same thing. They are based on the same netlist which is just manifested in different ways. For this reason, it is crucial that they are synchronized. 

The complexity of modern product development 

In most companies, mechanical design and engineering drives the electrical. The form and shape of the product design is proposed by mechanical, while engineering is expected to make changes at the very end of development. 

The problem is that when the wiring schematic and the from-to-information (which defines where wires are supposed to wire from and to) have been developed this netlist needs to be manually exported and imported as a DX file into a 3D model, which is sent back and forth between mCAD and eCAD. 

The manual work is not the worst part, however. If you have imported your netlist once and there is another iteration, you have to export/import the iteration as a whole package, instead of just a small iteration with the actual change, which might just be the change of single wire. This can make it extremely hard for CAD users to determine what the exact change is! 

Athe development process progresses, and changes keep occurring, the need for manually accomplished processes result in files are onlever exchanged at the end of development; collaboration only ever occurs late and infrequently. 

This approach implies a high amount of risk. By its nature, manual work requires management and planning. When electrical engineers do not have much opportunity to provide valuable input early in the process, the engineers will be very constrained in what kind of design changes can be madeDesign issues will not be discovered until late in development, when changes are costly and time consuming.  

Exchanging data between MCAD and ECAD  

Mechanical enclosures often drive the electrical component design and schematics. The form and shape of the product design is proposed by mechanical, while electrical engineering is expected to make changes at the very end of development. collaboration only ever occurs late and infrequently. 

This approach implies a high amount of risk. By its nature, manual work requires management and planning. When electrical engineers do not have much opportunity to provide valuable input early in the process, the engineers will be very constrained in what kind of design changes can be made. Design issues will not be discovered until late in development, when changes are costly and time consuming to rework.  

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How Combining ERP and PLM can Lead to a Brighter Future

2020 was for many companies set to be an amazing year, building on the global economic growth of the latest past years. Now, as a result of the global economic decline, reality looks completely different. While the current crisis affects everyone, the manufacturing and supply chainin particular have faced severe disruptions.  

Our habits and norms of the ways we do business has changed, and it will leave an impact in years to come as well. Manufacturers will have to adapt to a new normal, as going back to business as usual for most companies, is simply not an option.  

To this end, companies that implement solutions that combine Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems in the cloud will face a brighter future and stay operational even during a global crisis.

A unique opportunity to assess your current business 

The aftermath of the crisis will be felt for a long time, so it is important to make the most of it and figure out how to stay competitive during a time of turmoil. Right now, the market is fluctuating, and there are a lot of uncertainties for both the nearby and long-term future. Accordingly, planned investments and strategies for 2020 will for many be put on hold, and many manufacturers will try to whether the storm by focusing on ensuring the continuity of critical-business operationsto be as cost-beneficial as possible  

However, while we are slowed down by a market in stagnation, this opens up an opportunity for you to spend your time assessing how your existing IT solutions and day-to-day operations can run better and fasterA crisis can be exactly what is needed to innovatemake you move faster and help you figure out how to solve your problems in new ways.  

Now is a great time to put the fear of disruption aside and instead embrace new solutions so you can be ahead of competition as a first mover when things eventually turn to normality 

The New Normal

As a result of less physical interaction in the wake of the crisis, people are more connected than ever through digital means. Although we have had access to this technology for a long time, the current crisis shows us the true benefits of the technology now. Up to this point much of this technology is taken for granted.  

One of the immediate challenges in the current business climate is maintaining collaboration and communication, when many people are forced to work remotely. In discrete manufacturing and engineering this is especially the case. Engineers from multiple sites, disciplines and countries must consistently coordinate co-development, production and serviceThey use different design applications and managcomplex CAD files that cannot simply be shared in an excel sheet format. In many companies, IT and old PLM and legacy systems cannot handle this kind of remote work.  

 Working remotely, complicates exchanging ideas and information stored in source and work files for engineering, operations and manufacturing teams. They need the proper digital communication and data managing tools to support that. 

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How a global crisis impacts engineering and manufacturing

Here are some of the most significant ways the current crisis impacts the business of engineers and discrete manufacturers: 

  • Scattered information and missing files: Production and engineering files online in formats such as Excel, Word and PDF attachments, are stored in different databases or on-premise legacy applications, poorly integrated with each otherThis makes it difficult to share file locations and desktop software run only on designated workstations using VPNs.
  • A lack of system integration: Using siloed solutions is a pitfall; without a tight integration, disjointed systems will slow down data traceability and the management of end-to-end business workflows.
  • Sharing information up and downstream the supply chain: If there is no visibility in existing processes and essential data, sharing critical project and product information without making costly mistakes becomes near impossible
  • Exchanging engineering change requests: CAD files are often too big and complex to be shared online in on-premise solutions. When engineers work remotely, communicating the latest incremental design changes is a cumbersome and error-prone process.
  • Miscommunication: Leads to extremely costly mistakes that can delay production for months. 
  • Managing engineering, manufacturing and service operations dispersed across the globe: With a globally dispersed supply chain network, connecting and sharing information with internal and external partners, suppliers and customers globally dispersed is difficult

Achieve the competitive edge with ERP-based PLM – now and for the future to come  

In a fluctuating business climate, manufacturers will be looking for solutions that gives quick wins and a fast ROI. Companies don’t know what to expect from customers, suppliers and partners when things eventually start turning around, so a big priority are quick wins that can make an immediate impact on bottom line results. 

Connection is the new normal – staying connected virtually allows people to work and communicate even during a crisis. Cloud infrastructure can simplify many integration challenges and connect your enterprise by unlocking PLM functionality.  

When taking connectivity to its full extend, PLM is integrated with an ERP system. This offers your engineering, operational and manufacturing teams the means to extend their work into a single virtual environment in the cloud. Here they can seamlessly share information, collaborate and connect anytime and anywhere. 

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Bluestar PLM – Unparalleled levels of connection between engineering and manufacturing – in the cloud 

As a PLM embedded in Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations and AX, Bluestar PLM is a solution that provides a complete integration between CAD, PLM and ERP running in a single system – D365/AX. Bluestar PLM is the missing link that connects engineers with operations and manufacturing in D365, by bringing them all onboard the D365/AX platform. As Bluestar is a cloud-based platform, users can access it from any desktop, giving them access to critical product related data from any location. 

With Bluestar you will be able to:   

  • Work in a shared digital environment with a single source of product truth. Files and documents are accessible online – even complex CAD files that are stored in a local vault are synchronized with the cloud. 
  • Achieve a complete integration of a variety of design tools both MCAD and ECAD for seamless co-development and collaboration between disciplines   
  • Run your global operations with dispersed teams in a single workspace in the cloud. This will be a must have in the future: run everything, irrespective of location, office and site in real-time. CAD,PLM and ERP working together in one system
  • Learn how to use Bluestar PLM in a virtual training environmentthe Bluestar Academy e-learning platform, allows for faster implementation for users, teaching them step-by-step the best practice use of the Bluestar PLM application 
  • Save the efforts and costs of looking for scattered information through a seamless re-use of original data, in turn shrinking the time to market 

Pivoting the business in this way, when things starts turning back to normality, can really give you a head start and give you the competitive edge. You will experience a faster time to market, lower costs and have the means to be more innovative. 

With both a fast ROI, a quick and scalable implementation and operational improvements, you will stay competitive both short-term and in the long run.  

Limitless connection and collaboration is the future of business, so why not start right now? 

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How to Implement a PLM | 7-Step Guide

It is not a surprise that implementing a PLM software has high time, effort and financial resource needs. Therefore these projects require advanced project management and leadership. However, some companies tend to be more afraid of PLM implementation than they should be: it is certainly not easy and can affect the company’s routine both in the short and long term. By following this simple 7-step guideyou can ensure that the implementation process is as successful as it can be: 

1. Set the goals for you PLM

No company wants to implement a PLM without having any reasons for it. Each PLM implementation should start with defining those reasons; as these reasons help set a directionIt is important to involve the stakeholders in this phase, as they can play an important role in the project kick-off, by supporting the identification of the goals. 

The phase is finished when basic system requirements are defined. However, following a lean management approach, the project’s target should not be fixed but aligned throughout the whole process. 

2. Assemble the team

It is crucial to take project management seriously for implementing a PLM, as it is a complete and complex system that affects the everyday work of the whole company. Furthermore, if an automated system is not implemented correctly, it can cause more issues than it intended to solve. 

This phase should contain selecting a senior project manager with excessive experience in leadership and assembling the team. It is advised not to have a homogenous team, as people from different departments and positions can contribute with different aspects to the team. With the project manager’s lead and management, the team should construct the project plan, including the budget and time frame estimates. 

3. Map the production data and business processes

As described before, a PLM automates given business processes and keeps product data in a single environment. This indicates, that PLM implementation is only possible if the current state of the available data and processes is known. Do not be surprised when your vendor’s first questions aim towards theseEnsure, that the data you have is reliable, up-to-date and complete, and your processes are well-mapped. 

A PLM will definitely require changes to be made in the setup, thus in the well-known business processes. These changes are not only challenging for the management, but also for the people working with the system. They will be required to change their routine and learn to use a new system. Because of this, it is important to include, inform and support them during and after the implementation. People might fight against change – ensure them, that these changes will have a positive effect on their everyday work too, as their role is critical in such a project. For better information exchange, you should find the perfect balance in the frequency of the meetings and announcements:

  • Having too few could make it hard for the stakeholders to track the progress. This can lower their confidence and increases general uncertainty; 
  • Making it too frequently means that there is smaller progress in between two meetings, which can make employees lose interest in the change and raise concerns instead. Allocating more time on meetings means spending less on production.

4. Settle on the ideal PLM solution

This can be easily the most demanding phase of the project, as deciding upon a solution can affect the company’s life for years. However, this investment can pay off easily by finding the ideal solution. When searching for a PLM, bear in mind the resources allocated, and the requirements set towards the ideal system. Various factors can play a role in deciding a system, such as:

  • your  current ERP and CAD system(s); 
  • The number of sites and users you have;
  • The costs of implementation and maintenance;
  • Market specialization (some PLMs are for generic usage, while others are specialized in a given industry);
  • Provided support by the vendor;
  • On-premise or cloud-based system;
  • Level of integration with other business apps. 

Furthermore, implementing a PLM usually comes with long-term commitment towards the PLM vendor. It is important to find a reliable and trustworthy vendor: look for feedbacks and reviews about them online or participate in their webinar or demo. Finding a solution that fulfills everything is hard, but not impossible. 

It has been proven before that implementing a PLM can save money and resources for manufacturing companies, but only if implemented correctly. Read a more in-depth description of this step at How to Choose the Ideal PLM Solution?.

5. Shape the selected PLM

Selecting a PLM vendor and its solution gives an image of the final system. However, that image is still blurry. What makes it crystal clear is configuring the PLMThis configuration can include system scaling, setting up country, region or industry-specific settings, selecting the modules or add-ons that are required for the ideal PLM. Mapping the possibilities for integrating the PLM with the customer’s other business tools is also often started at this stage.

The configuration of the PLM is done by the vendor in close collaboration with the customer company to ensure that the final system meets all customer requirements. Different vendors have different ways of gathering the needed information used for configuring and customizing the PLM. These can include one or more of the following: 

  • Filling out detailed and long data gathering forms 
  • Using web conferencing tools such as Skype for Business, GoToMeeting or TeamViewer 
  • Having face-to-face meetings on the customer’s site. 

6. Train the stakeholders

PLM solutions are not self-explanatory. Not even the ones embedded into an ERP – where the user interface might be familiar, but the group of new functions is definitely not. To be able to confidently use these complex systems, stakeholders should be properly trained first. Fortunately, most PLM vendors provide some sort of training for their customers. Usually, they train the super users, who will train the other members of the company. The forms of training can vary:

  • Giving access to written or video user guides;
  • More complex: web-based e-learning system;
  • Classroom training.

The training often takes place in parallel with the system testing and deployment, to shorten the projects. 

Formula-1 cars might be the fastest race cars in the world, but in the hands of an untrained driverit can be both slow and dangerous. The same stands for PLM. It does not matter that you just implemented absolutely the best PLM on the market if your employees cannot use it at its fullest. Our advice: do not try to save money or resources on training the user! 

7. Close the project and Measure the results

PLMs are configured and customized for individual companies. This means that throughout the system development and implementation, multiple tests need to be run to ensure the system’s correctness and optimization. This also includes step-by-step testing of data migration, to minimize the risk of losing or corrupting data in the final, master data migration. In most cases, this is the last phase to request and apply minor changes in the system. When all the test results are verified, the master data is safely migrated to the final system, all super users receive training, and the after-sales services are clarified. Then the PLM is ready for deployment. 

However, the PLM implementation does not end at the point when the PLM vendor hands over the final system to the customer. It is recommended having a closure meeting at the company, where the project can be summarized, and the first reports can be presented. This can also include the first comparison of the desired and the finalized system (if all the goalsrequirements, budget and time frame was met or if not, then why not). Of course, the real effects are only visible in the long run, which can be measured using both quantitative (KPIs and ROI) and qualitative (stakeholder feedback) methods. 

Afterword

The process of implementing an ideal PLM solution might be a tough and stressful process. However, PLM is beneficial for optimizing the product lifecycle by automating the non-value adding processes, increases productivity by lowering product-related costs via a centralized database. It is definitely worth the investment. If you would like to aim for a smooth PLM implementation, fully embedded within your Microsoft Dynamics ERP system integrated with the market-leading CAD systems, you should take a look at Bluestar PLM, by Microsoft partner vendor PDM technology.

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How to Choose the Ideal PLM Solution?

This implies that selecting the ideal PLM requires preliminary activities. Before you can settle on the final solution, you must do intense research on the possible systems and find the ones that meet the pre-set group of requirements. It is important to emphasize, that as each enterprise and PLM software are different. There are generally better PLMs, but no such thing exists as “the best PLM”. A PLM solution might be the best for a given enterprise, while could not meet the requirements of another one. This is the reason why some companies tend to hire specialists for this task. 

However, you can also do this yourself by setting up some directives to guide you through selecting a feasible solution, while also saving some money on not paying external consultants. Here are 5 things to consider when selecting a PLM: 

1. Budget

First things first: what can you spend on the software and its implementation? The final prince range of PLMs can vary on a wide range, depending on different several aspects, such as: 

  • system’s base functions and features; 
  • selected additional PLM modules or add-ons;
  • number of active users in the system;
  • amount of support provided by the vendor;
  • system deployment (on-premise, cloud-based or hybrid); 
  • on the vendor itself.

It is important to decide upon the project budget early in the project, so you are not wasting time on analyzing possible solutions that the company cannot afford. Furthermore, bear in mind that most PLM implementation projects tend to exceed the estimated budget, so do not forget to calculate with some surplus when selecting and configuring the system. The same can be said about the project’s timeframe. When talking about costs, one cannot skip mentioning the difference between on-premise and cloud-based PLM solutions: 

  • For on-premise PLM software, you have to buy the software license from the vendor, then install and use it in your own system environment. This means that the user company has to invest in IT infrastructures such as servers to run. IT specialists are required too in order to maintain these software solutions. This results in high up-front and maintenance costs, but can worth it if used for 10+ years. 
  • Cloud-based PLM requires a smaller startup investment, as you do not have to buy the software license and the hardware to run it. However,  you only have to pay a monthly or annual subscription fee, depending on the used resources, such as the number of users. It is easier to plan the running cost for a cloud-based PLMs.

2. Integration Specification

One of the key features of PLM systems is the ability to be integrated with other business apps, such as ERP and CAD. This integration can allow the creation of seamless data flow from design through sales to service. However, not all PLMs are compatible with all ERP and CAD systems. It is crucial to make sure that the selected PLM supports your ERP and CAD if you want to avoid implementing a new ERP system as well. Furthermore, there are different levels of system compatibility

  • PLM software can be only connected to the ERP system with a separated connector tool;
  • Other PLM solutions are built to be compatible with most ERPs; 
  • PLMs are embedded within an ERP, meaning that they only work in that environment. You can read more about these possibilities in the whitepaper 10 Reasons Why You Need ERP-Based PLM paper. 

3. Industry Specification

Can the same PLM be a feasible solution for the food and the aerospace industry? Actually, yes: while some PLMs are specialized in a single industry, such as fashion, pharmaceutical or defense, most PLMs are rather generic solutions that are suitable for a wide range of applications. This does not mean, that these cannot be configured to fit a given industry more, but you might have to invest in different modules for that. It is still advised to ensure that the particular PLM is applicable to your company to prevent later compatibility issues.

4. Must-have functions

After excluding PLMs based on expenses, integration, and industry-specification, it is time to have a look at the functions. Although most PLMs share the same basic functions, they are scalable and modular solutions, which allows the customers to have a rather simple or a more complex system. However, more functions, modules, and add-ons mean higher system and maintenance requirements, and higher costs; thus, try to find a solution that can be customized to meet your requirementsThe more is not always the merrier: selecting a system that even exceeds your needs might not be a better solution, as having unused functions do not add value to the solution but can increase its resource needs. 

5. The Vendor itself

It was mentioned before multiple timesthat implementing in a PLM is a resource-intense investment that has high time and financial needs. Thus, when you select a PLM vendor for a long time, it is essential to find one that you can work with and which provides sufficient support during and after the project. Nowadays it is easy to find reviews and user feedbacks about nearly every vendor online. You can also get in contact with one of their partners or previous customers. However, as firsthand experience is beneficial, it is also recommended to participate in webinars or requests a demo before the decision. 

Nobody is born knowing how to use a PLM, so do not forget about the training. When selecting a vendor, do not forget to gather information about the training provided by them: some of them only provide basic material for self-training, while others might have a full e-learning system or classroom training possibilities. Furthermore, keep in mind that the system handover is not always the end of the PLM project. The contact with the vendor may be followed by after-sales servicesThese services are either provided by the vendor as a base-service (for a couple of months) or are available as an extra. Nevertheless, always be informed about your possibilities. 

Afterword

Choosing the ideal PLM solution might be a tough and stressful project. However, as PLMs are optimizing the product lifecycle by automating the non-value adding processes and increasing productivity while lowering product-related costs by providing a centralized database, it is definitely worth the investment. If you would like to work together with a PLM vendor that ensures a smooth and well-planned implementation, while also receiving a PLM solution fully embedded within your Microsoft Dynamics ERP system that also provides integration with the market-leading CAD systems, you should take a look at Bluestar PLM, by Microsoft partner vendor PDM technology.