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Using PCB Design Data Management Systems to Drive the PLM Process

Key Takeaways

  • How the product lifecycle management (PLM) process affects your company.
  • Problems with traditional electronic design data entry into PLM systems.
  • An automated PDM will give your corporation’s PLM system the data it needs.

A successful PLM process is built on electronic design data

Automated PCB design data management is the foundation for a corporation's PLM process

To stay competitive in today’s markets, products must be manufactured efficiently and quickly adapt to changing market conditions. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) typically rely on product life management systems to provide them with the information they need. These systems organize and distribute the data and metrics needed for OEMs to get the highest ROI on the products they produce.

The products produced by electronic OEMs typically undergo changes in their life cycles in ways that were not projected when the initial prototypes were created. It is not unusual for electronic devices to be altered and enhanced in their scope and function to meet the demands of changing markets as well as the needs of their users. To accommodate these changes, product lifecycle management, or PLM, was invented to manage and share product information cross-functionally throughout the manufacturing organization.

PLM is the management of data and information gathered during the life cycle of a product from its initial design through the end of its usable life. This data and information allow OEMs to maximize the service of their products throughout their life cycle by managing cost-effective updates, enhancements, and production. While product lifecycle management has traditionally been associated with manufacturing, and more recently design, it is now extending into many other associated areas of organizations. These other areas include supply chain management, sales and marketing, and technical support or service.

However, for a product lifecycle management system to successfully work, it requires the accurate collection, processing, and distribution of design data. Without this necessary data and information, the PLM process that a company depends on may not be operating at its full potential.

The PLM Process 

Product life management systems organize and manage the processes and data associated with the production of products throughout the entire company and beyond. A good PLM system gives product managers useful insights into all of the details concerning the design and production of their products. With this level of control, OEMs can make design and production changes as necessary to compensate for market and technology changes to get the highest yields in quality and profitability. Here are some of the benefits that an effective PLM system provides for those companies that use it.

Product Life Cycle

While the details of a product’s life will vary depending on the industry it belongs to, its purpose, and its operating environment, four stages typically characterize the life cycle of a product:

  • New product introduction: When a new product is first introduced to its market, the sales may be slow, but the startup costs associated with its design, development, and marketing are usually high. The product may also go through significant changes in this stage before being ready for full production.
  • Market growth: After being on the market for a while, the new product gains popularity, and its sales and resulting profits grow. At this point, the product configuration has been finalized, allowing it to go into full production.
  • Product maturation: In this stage, production is steady and marketing is more refined towards the end-user. At the same time, the product will be prepared for enhancements to capitalize on new technologies and continued market growth.
  • Receding sales: At some point, the product will lose popularity, whether that is due to a decrease in demand or an increase in competition. When this happens, companies will look at rebranding, introducing the product to new markets, reducing production costs, or ending the product’s life cycle. 

These stages bring with them different issues that must be managed along with the regular design and manufacturing processes. For instance, the choice of components used during the introduction of a new product may change to less expensive parts with longer lead times for production. Project managers use the data collected from these different life cycle phases to help them plan for future growth, production, and sales.

When Is a PLM System Needed?

Product life management systems were originally targeted only for design engineering. Designers would use the information from the PLM system to help their design processes be prepared for enhancements and upgrades to their projects. The problem was that the information was only available from internal processes, which severely limited how much the PLM system could help with. Today, PLM systems have extended much further than the design environment of the original equipment manufacturer. Many PLM systems now include the following:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Manufacturing
  • Supply chain
  • Technical support
  • Partner channels

With the wide range of information available to work with now, companies can leverage a PLM system to give them a much more comprehensive view of the life cycle of their products. This visibility helps project managers see changing trends in the supply chain, customer usage, or marketing needs and respond accordingly with changes in product capabilities and production numbers. And, as the number of remote workers continues to grow, a robust PLM system helps keep all team members informed of the current status of the life cycle of their products.

The Capabilities of a Good PLM System

Product lifecycle management works with the different functional areas of a company to coordinate the product’s data and information. These different areas include:

  • Design: The PLM system will process the data and information coming from all the different design groups associated with the product, including electrical, mechanical, and software engineering groups.
  • Manufacturing: Improving time-to-market and reducing production costs is one of the primary purposes of a PLM process. The PLM system will help with both change and cost management by communicating essential information to all stakeholders in the organization.
  • Bill of materials: Managing the BOM of the product is another critical component of an effective PLM process. Proper BOM management includes working with external supply partners and sales channels to get the best prices on components and other materials.

To accomplish this organization of information, a PLM system needs to be able to share data between employees, vendors, partners, and in some cases, customers. This will include additional data points such as sales, distribution, service, and support, allowing the PLM system to provide an organization with an exact picture of the life cycle of their products. However, there is one catch to all of this. A PLM system must have accurate data to work with.

Cadence’s Allegro Pulse managing design data for a PLM process

A PDM will manage the design data your engineers create

The Breakdown Between Electronic Design Data and the PLM Process

As we have seen, a well-designed PLM system will yield large returns of quality and profitability for companies. However, there is a potential road-block to the success of a PLM system that corporations need to be aware of. In order to correctly process information for a product life management system, the system must have accurate electronic data available to work with. Here is where many PLM systems break down—let’s examine why.

Types of Electronic Design Data

Electronic design is well known for the amount of data it can produce. Here is a small sampling of some of the more common data types that a design department works with regularly:

  • CAD databases: Each PCB design project will usually have one or more CAD databases associated with it. These databases include schematics, simulation, layout, and analysis and come in different data formats depending on the system requirements. When considering all the different projects and revisions and adding the databases required for software development and mechanical design, the number of databases can be staggering.
  • BOM and parts lists: These files are critical for including the correct parts in the design databases as well as for purchasing and manufacturing partners.
  • Drawing files: Many drawings are associated with electronic design, including schematics, fabrication, and assembly documents. There are also specialized drawings for unique applications, component specifications, and mechanical drawings for everything from individual boards up to the complete system. Drawings are often saved in a PDF format but can also exist as image or database files.
  • Manufacturing files: There is also an abundance of files used in the manufacturing of electronics, including artwork, drill, XY location, readme, and other assorted data files.

Unorganized File Systems

The sheer number of different types of data files associated with electronic design can quickly bring a PLM system to its knees. This problem is magnified when considering the different methods of file organization used throughout the design industry:

  • Corporate file structures: This structure is the most useful to a PLM system, but their makeup can vary from project to project, making it difficult for the PLM’s automated processes to work with.
  • Personal file structures: This file organization method can be the worst for a PLM system to work with. Personal file structures don’t have central ownership, organization, or user accountability, making it nearly impossible for the PLM system to find and use what it needs.
  • File security: Another huge problem with unorganized file systems is the overall lack of data security and management. In many cases, file systems are left open for changes from internal and sometimes external forces. And, in some instances, the file systems are so closed up that the PLM system is unable to access them.

Non-Existent Version Control 

Another problem with electronic design data is version control. Traditionally, this has been a manual process managed by the users, typically with unique file names. As with any manual process, the naming conventions can vary from project to project, making any sort of automated version control difficult. These files are also vulnerable to being corrupted, deleted, or simply lost.

Integration Into a PLM Is Difficult Without an Automated Data System 

As we have shown, the large number of data files complicated by manual efforts to manage them can create a plethora of problems for PLM processes:

  • Automated PLM data functions are difficult or impossible to implement.
  • Data entry into the PLM processes has to be done manually.
  • Automated PLM services, such as BOM distribution, are challenging.
  • Corporate control for versioning and archival can only be achieved through manual efforts.
  • Automated updates and enhancements through the PLM system aren’t possible.

To effectively marry a company’s electronic design data into the corporate PLM process requires automated data management. PDM systems coordinate all design data by directly interfacing with design tools, removing the need for human data management from the overall equation. Next, we’ll look at how a PDM system is designed to successfully work with the PLM process.

Cadence’s Allegro Pulse committing design data for use in a corporation’s PLM system

Product data management systems like these will commit design data for the PLM process

Integrating Electronic Design Data Into the PLM Process With Allegro Pulse

Product life management tools require accurate electronic data and information to provide the foundation for PLM processes. However, as we have seen, manually collecting and processing design data allows too many opportunities for errors and requires a large amount of time and labor. Cadence has come up with a unique solution for this problem with Allegro Pulse, a product data management system that is integrated into design processes.

Introducing Allegro Pulse

Allegro Pulse is a PDM system that features work-in-progress (WIP) tracking and other administrative tools for precision data management in electronic design processes. Connecting users through the cloud, Pulse uses its server-based architecture to support its different features. These features include a workflow engine, data management, security protocols, and search capabilities. Pulse is integrated seamlessly into a corporation's design tools, allowing it to manage the design data behind the scenes and free up engineers to focus on their work instead of juggling design files.

With workflow visibility across all user domains, Pulse also provides project managers with the tools they need for real-time WIP reporting, traceability, and compliance tracking. Project milestones and goals are easily tracked with metrics available from Pulse’s dashboard, giving managers the ability to spot problems before they get out of control. Pulse’s tracking and reporting capabilities also allow project teams to control engineering and manufacturing costs early in the design, avoiding costly changes and enhancements later.

How Pulse Works

With its server-based architecture and cloud connection, Allegro Pulse provides the following benefits for design team engineers:

  • Pulse is directly integrated with Cadence’s design tools and completely owns the data.
  • Pulse’s operation is invisible to engineers who continue to use their design tools as normal.
  • Pulse automatically manages saved or published design data according to its WIP configuration, removing the need to manipulate design data files manually.
  • Engineers can focus their talents on design rather than data administration.
  • Project managers can use Pulse’s dashboard to monitor the WIP, allowing immediate changes to head off problems.
  • Pulse’s WIP platform also provides a central platform for coordinated design analysis.

To do this, Pulse has many automated systems it uses for data management:

  • Pulse manages all design objects through a data check-in system complete with version control capabilities.
  • Pulse automates the workflow, providing each stakeholder with the information they need to proceed with their tasks.
  • Pulse’s dashboard provides project managers with a dynamic view of design information that updates in real-time.
  • Pulse also controls access to external design partners, ensuring data security.

Where Pulse Fits Into a Corporation’s PLM Process

Product lifecycle management depends on accurate design data, and Allegro Pulse is designed to collect, process, manage, and distribute that information for the PLM process. Pulse’s workflow and process automation is the intellectual property that Cadence has developed for design customers. This IP manages the workflow and data from engineering teams to protect a corporation from unexpected design and process errors that can slow down or corrupt the manufacturing of products.

Pulse is designed to provide accurate design data to the PLM system that is not hindered by file security or structural problems. Because Pulse owns and manages all of the data coming from design processes, the PLM system won’t be troubled with file ownership or other data security problems. And, since Pulse will process all of its collected data before it distributes it, the PLM system will receive the data it needs for proper product lifecycle management.

Next, we’ll look into some more specific details on how Pulse will tie together a design group’s data and the corporate PLM process.

Cadence’s Allegro Pulse’s dashboard for product data management

Pulse’s dashboard gives project managers and other stakeholders complete product visibility

The Benefits of Using Cadence’s Allegro Pulse as Part of Your Corporate PLM Process

With its integration into your design environment, Pulse will be a great asset to both your design teams and your project management. While working silently behind the scenes to manage the design data for your engineering teams, Pulse will also give your management the visibility it needs to monitor the work in progress. This level of automation will give you shorter design times, fewer errors, and less time and cost in getting your products to market.

To find out more about how an automated design workflow process IP would be an asset to your company, talk to our team of experts.