According to IDC Insights, 50% of manufacturing facilities will generate business value through the integration of plant operations and product and service lifecycle management with the overall supply chain.
Sounds promising, but what exactly does this mean?
Well, manufacturing plants are complex ecosystems. They receive raw materials, transport semi-completed materials within the warehouse, and ship completed materials to customers.
Accurately capturing information like vendor data, SKU information, customer data, and bills of materials are an essential part of keeping their warehouse activities running smoothly. Missing a key communication or change could mean significant delays in the manufacturing plant’s workflow.
This is where product master data management, sometimes simply referred to as product data management (PDM), comes into play.
A final product may be greater than the sum of its parts, but it’s still just that - the sum of various parts! Product data management is the sum of everything involved with tracking all of the data and metadata related to a product. It’s a system that helps a warehouse or manufacturing plant successfully operate within the larger supply chain.
Here’s what you need to know about PDM.
What is Product Master Data Management?
Product data management is the use of systems and software to track specific data related to a product. A PDM module tracks any number of data points. Some of the most commonly tracked variables in a product master data system are:
- brand name
- part number and part description
- supplier or vendor
- unit of measurement
- unit cost
- schematics and data sheets
The objective of product data management is to systematically document and account for different changes to a product or a product’s information. Product data management presents a number of benefits to the business, including:
- A detailed record of all changes to a product’s data
- Reduced time spent backtracking to build a data chain-of-custody after the fact
- Streamlined manufacturing process by reusing product designs and schematics
- Improved collaboration between business units or functions through easy information sharing
- Secured data that travels outside of the business, which helps protect intellectual property
Essentially, PDM plays an important role in overall product lifecycle management.
What is Product Lifecycle Management?
Not to be confused with product lifecycle management (PLM) for marketing, this kind of PLM encompasses everything that happens from a product’s inception to disposal. And it goes without saying that a lot happens in between. From an IT perspective, PLM is considered one of the key pillars in a business’s information management architecture along with customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), and enterprise resource planning (ERP).
Different entities use different product life cycle models. Generally speaking, the product life cycle consists of these distinct phases:
- Realization (Manufacturing and Selling)
Formal product life cycle management was pioneered by American Motors Corporation. In an effort to keep up with competitors with larger budgets, American Motors Corporation focused on optimizing their existing processes. They accelerated the product development of the Jeep Grand Cherokee by using CAD tools to introduce accuracy to traditional drafting and then storing those CAD models in a central database.
Easy access to models made updates and improvements smooth, speeding up the overall production process. This original form of product master data management worked so well that Chrysler kept it going after it bought American Motors Corporation.
For manufacturing plant owners and warehouse operators, the design and realization stages of product lifecycle management are most applicable. At this stage in the cycle, engineers create the product’s computer-aided design (CAD) models. CAD files are large, data-rich files. Precise models also help teams source appropriate sub-parts ahead of time to avoid delays from stock-outs.
How Does Product Master Data Management Support the Product Life Cycle?
Proper version control is essential to avoid moving forward with the wrong model or needing to re-do work. With so many people accessing and tweaking files, it’s difficult to establish a single source of truth without a centralized system. A product master data management system creates a centralized database of a project’s CAD files.
With this product master data system, there’s typically a “check-in” and “check-out” protocol for files to help maintain version control. In other words, when a file has been checked out by a team member, no one else can else can make edits until it is checked back in, which prevents the headache of numerous versions floating around.
In addition, a PDM system makes it easy to keep track of previous versions of every file since every old version is archived.
Product development is an expensive process with ample risk and it requires highly skilled workers. As a result, optimizing the process and eliminating redundancies is a big deal in terms of reducing the time spent working and the dollars paid for specialized workers.
That said, many product teams struggle with managing their product master data. According to a survey by Engineering.com, product development professionals report that they perform poorly in these areas of product master data management:
- Getting new users quickly up-to-speed on how to access product data
- Documenting the workflow of product developments
- Managing change orders
- Maintaining visibility and control over product data that travels outside the core product team
- Avoiding redundant work like redesigning the same component several times
Not surprisingly, of the 151 professionals who were surveyed, 49 percent reported that they had no formal system for product master data management. By and large, they were chugging along through a combination of email, spreadsheets, and shared folders.
In today’s world, this approach is the equivalent of using chewing gum to plug a hole in a dam. It’s working now, but it sure won’t hold up when there’s a little extra pressure.
For example, there’s one particular wrench that’s often thrown into the best laid plans, but it’s such a common part of doing business that manufacturers and warehouses must deal with them superbly or risk losing business.
That wrench is the change order.
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How Does Product Master Data Management Make Change Orders Less Painful?
Imagine going through the entire manufacturing process for a client, only to realize halfway through production that you built the wrong thing.
The client sent a change order, but somehow the right information wasn’t communicated. So, you’ve been working off the wrong schematics from the design team. Technically, the client sent in their change order, and someone within the business confirmed receipt, so the fault rests with the company.
As one technical product expert at SOLIDWORKS, the well-known CAD software company, explains, when you’re working with paper or Microsoft Word documents, you wind up with an editable schematic being sent to several people. Each person can download and make changes to their individual version of the file.
This decentralization leads to potential mismatches in data between the design team and the production team.
With a product master data management system, there are workflows in place to ensure the right information is shared between marketing, operations, or customers.
Changes are inevitable, and manufacturing plants that properly manage changes make a positive impact on their customers. On the other hand, those that allow changes to unnecessarily disrupt the process, fail to document changes, or use resources inefficiently run the risk of raising operational costs and causing delays that upset customers.
The Change Order Process Within Manufacturing Facilities
A change request can come from either a customer or the manufacturing facility. If the customer wants to tweak its deliverables, it may put in a change request. If the manufacturing facility notices an issue, it may put in a change request.
Whether a customer or a manufacturer makes a change request, a few things must happen:
- Analysis to determine the impact the change would have on the current process, including cost and time considerations
- A proposal outlining the change
- Authorization by the organization’s leaders and managers
- Supporting documentation: The change order should include schematics and any other spec documents on the nature of the change. This is so that all relevant parties understand exactly what the change entails. If the change is initiated due to specific issues, documentation related to that (e.g., damaged equipment, substandard designs) should also be included.
- Change implementation plan: This details how exactly the change will be executed. What’s the change to the timeline? What will happen with the existing inventory of finished materials? Do they need to be modified or will they be abandoned altogether?
Once all of this is reviewed and approved, a change order goes through.
As you can see, if this information isn’t properly shared with the appropriate parties, it can take an already-complex change order process and turn it into a nightmarish scenario of miscommunications and unnecessary effort.
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How Does Product Master Data Management Help 3PL Warehouses Meet Service Levels and Remain Compliant?
Customers increasingly expect higher levels of service from their vendors. They also expect real-time information about their products. A product master data management system allows warehouses and manufacturing plants to keep track of their product development and report on progress.
While this sounds relatively straightforward (“Who’s working on what and where are we at?”), it becomes more complicated in larger companies with complex ecosystems. There could be several steps, sometimes hundreds, happening simultaneously. In this case, manual systems like spreadsheets, emails, or a shared drive are no longer enough.
In addition, product master data management helps warehouses and manufacturing plants remain compliant. With regulators tightening their grip, it’s important for companies to account for where a product was made, who or what made it, and what its “chain of custody” was before arriving in a customer’s hands.
Things To Think About When Setting Up A Product Master Data Management System
No matter which formal product master data management system you choose, there are a few best practices that will determine the tool’s success:
- Encouraging your workers to use the tool and follow defined protocols
- Integrating the system with your CAD tool so that it’s easy for new employees (and even existing employees) to learn the system and follow the process
- Directing all employees to access files through the system rather than sharing and updating them through local drives
- Enforce file naming and meta-data conventions to add standardization to the process
Once you’ve committed to these changes, it’s time to start thinking about software. Managing product master data that’s constantly in flux is nearly impossible without a digital system.
Here are a few features to consider when drawing up your wishlist for product master data management software providers:
- A CAD viewer that enables internal collaborators or external business partners to view models without downloading CAD software or paying for licenses
- A Bill of Materials (BOM) manager that allows a user to compare a BOM against the CAD model to ensure the correct project is being manufactured
- Check-in and check-out functionality to secure data and eliminate confusion and data loss during collaborations
- Easy search functionality based on CAD model metadata
- Scalability that allows you to manage a high volume and variety of SKUs
- Dynamic user interface that allows you to use different language settings for a global supply chain, change data formats, change currencies, and more
Your specific requirements will depend on your specific business needs. If your product master data management challenges lean heavily toward the manufacturing side, then you’ll want a system that focuses on CAD files and version control. If your challenges rest more on the order management side, then you’ll want a system with easy data sharing between your warehouse and your retail customers.
Product Master Data Management Helps Increase Efficiency and Accelerate Time-to-Market
Product master data management helps manufacturing plants and warehouse facilities remain competitive in an increasingly complex and global supply chain environment. Keeping data in a controlled, managed environment allows businesses to streamline processes and use resources effectively throughout the product lifecycle.
Additionally, paying close attention to data management allows businesses to react to change orders in a measured, controlled, and strategic manner. Altogether, this helps companies to get their products to customers in the most efficient way possible.
Written by Ruthie Bowles
Ruthie is a content marketing consultant for Logiwa. Her specialties include small business development and inventory management.