Mid-sized manufacturers are getting serious about tackling product lifecycle management (PLM). They don't have much of a choice since time to market the time it takes to get an idea for a product from design, to manufacturing, through the supply chain system and around to after-sale services grows shorter and shorter if they want to compete with Fortune 500 companies. Mid-sized manufacturers also don't have much to choose from when it comes to integrated hardware and software systems that can help shorten development time involved in product lifecycle management until now.
IBM recently released a mid-market version of its PLM system. This is the first industry-specific "Express" solution that IBM has introduced since it started downsizing enterprise-class on-demand computing systems to include middleware for small and mid-sized businesses. While IBM's Express offerings to date consist of software products designed and priced to help small businesses evolve into on-demand enterprises, the company's PLM solution is designed specifically to allow mid-sized manufactures to compete with the big boys.
The first IBM PLM Express solutions are ideally suited to the product development needs of specific manufacturing segments including industrial components, tooling suppliers, industrial machinery, mobile equipment, plastics manufacturing and consumer goods. Debby Walker, SMB marketing manager for IBM PLM, explained what the system entails.
"IBM's Express portfolio is comprised of hardware, software, services and financing for medium-sized businesses," Walker said. "The offerings within the new IBM Express portfolio helps medium-sized businesses companies with between 100 and 1,000 employees transform into on-demand businesses using IBM's open standards-based technology. Think of IBM PLM as a collection of business applications that help a company go from concept to design, to manufacturing to delivery and to after-sale services," Walker said. "IBM PLM Express simplifies this process."
Sold and serviced through IBM and its PLM Business Partner network, PLM Express solutions consist of CATIA Version 5 software a leading collaborative product design system and SMARTEAM solutions for product data management developed by Dassault Systemes. The applications are available as part of a customizable total solutions package that includes IBM WebSphere Application Server Express middleware for a secure Web services delivery platform; IBM IntelliStation hardware that is optimized for top CATIA and graphics performance; and eServer storage systems to keep product designs updated and shared among those with access to the applications.
The package also includes options for systems management, enhanced user support, application training and low-rate financing deals to ensure a smooth implementation of IBM PLM Express. IBM's flexible financing programs allow mid-sized manufacturers to realize a rapid return on investment and deploying IBM PLM Express is quite an investment. Because five different versions are available, the software system alone will run between $12,000 to $18,000 USD. Add in the graphics-optimized hardware, training and Web services, and a complete implementation of IBM PLM Express could cost between $30,000 to $50,000 USD.
"It's not like deploying a big ERP system that takes two years to start to produce a return on investment," Walker said. "Mid-sized manufacturers will see a return in a matter of weeks or months, not years."
Jomico is a family-operated precision sheet metal shop based in St. Louis. Mike Saputo, Monico president, said the company had been looking for an affordable PLM system for a few months.
"Between software and implementation costs we couldn't justify it even with our customers urging us to do so," Saputo said. "With this new PLM Express offering everything is bundled to eliminate the high costs that can be detrimental to a small company like us. Now, PLM is a tangible goal instead of a long term vision."
New to the Market
IBM PLM Express can help companies more rapidly enter into new markets. For example, Solo Golf used to be a small defense contractor making bomb casings, but PLM software enabled the company to quickly take advantage of an opportunity to change industries by employing cutting-edge defense technology in a new golf club design. Now, Solo Golf is helping duffers drop more accurate shots on the fairway, and judging by the accolades Solo Golf has already received from the golf community, the upstart has won a place among larger, more established competitors.
Emak was established in 1992 from the merger of two Italian companies specializing in the production of machines for the gardening and forestry sectors Oleo-Mac and Efco. Fausto Bellamico, EMAK general director, said the mid-sized equipment manufacturer chose IBM PLM Express to support EMAK with big-company technology at a small-company price.
"As a mid-size enterprise with 400 employees, we need a full-scale IT solution, encompassing hardware, software and services that's sized and priced to fit. We supply outdoor maintenance equipment to customers around the world, and we can't afford any down time to install new systems," Bellamico said. "IBM delivered and installed a complete solution. We expect a quick return-on-investment through reduced engineering time, automated document production, and more efficient manufacturing processes."
A recent study from AMR Research indicates that 73 percent of mid-market manufacturers are likely to evaluate a complete PLM system soon. This should not be surprising, considering these companies are just as likely to feel the pressure to accelerate their product innovation processes as Fortune 500 companies do. Unlike the Fortune 500, however, mid-market companies tend to see their top PLM process problems less in terms of design collaboration and more in the bread-and-butter areas of cost estimation, propagating the bill of materials to manufacturing, and managing design change.
The bottom line is that mid-market manufacturers want and need PLM, but most high-end systems still emphasize the wrong things. IBM Express PLM has all the earmarks of providing mid-market manufacturers with just what they need an agile solution that excels at engineering change throughout the entire manufacturing process. While many small manufactures look to AutoDesk and Microsoft for accessible PLM solutions, IBM has come through with a PLM system that will fit the bill for about 60 percent of the mid-sized manufacturers in the global market.
Because product lifecycle solutions are complex, the sales and support process is equally mind-boggling. As part of IBM PLM Express launch, "Big Blue" has reinforced help desk support with a new "how to" hotline. All PLM customers have worldwide access to 150 dedicated PLM Express end-user support representatives, providing call center support in 20 languages during regular business hours and Web support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Walker said IBM is working hard to eliminate traditional barriers mid-market manufactures experience when developing a true PLM system.
"The best way to comprehend what IBM PLM can do for SMB customers is to experience it for themselves. You've got to see it in action," Walker said. "We offer a PLM diagnostic tool that can help manufacturers understand if they're a candidate for PLM. It takes about 15-minutes to complete. If we have a PLM module that suits the manufacturer, then a supplier will contact them and spend about two days gathering information in order to determine which processes the company needs to focus on. Our suppliers work with the company to determine only what they need to buy today, then the small business can upgrade as it grows."
IBM delivers its PLM technology through certified business partners in 160 countries. Together, with its global network of PLM professionals, IBM is removing the traditional barriers of expense and complexity to make its technology more accessible to medium-sized companies around the world.
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