Product lifecycle management (PLM) is one type of system that provides a platform for supply chain collaboration – a key driver of transparency. With the ability to support a product portfolio and deep, detailed product definition information (including material, costing, testing, and vendor management), a solid PLM system can become the backbone of a company’s supply chain transparency initiatives.
The design phase determines most of a product’s environmental impacts. This is where PLM systems offer the maximum impact. By designing products with very detailed material specifications and by providing product and merchant teams with the information they need to choose materials from more suitable vendors, sustainability objectives can begin to impact brands. Material libraries in PLM systems provide visibility into fabrics, trims, packaging, sub assemblies, and graphic treatments. Scoring material vendors and suppliers on criteria such as compliance with the Restricted Substance List (RSL) testing or defining attributes around water program requirements can impact material choices. With features such as “where-used” and processes such as “re-use,” designers can leverage pre-approved materials into their designs and tech packs. Developing a product bill of materials (BOM) with approved materials will streamline sourcing activities. BOM “what-if” scenarios can be played out to understand trade-offs of using alternative materials or factories and the implications to the design, cost, and delivery.
PLM systems’ vendor management capabilities provide a platform for creating an end-to-end collaboration and transparency backbone. Vendor management includes vendor scorecards, quality and compliance, inspection management, social compliance audits, technical compliance audits, factory improvement plan management, and production capabilities certification. These scorecards provide the foundation required for ethical decision-making. By incorporating these metrics into the traditional supply-chain measures of quality, cost, and delivery, an organization can adapt PLM to support many transparency objectives.
These features are available in many PLM systems, with minimal configuration or customization. However, more integrated processes and requirements can be configured to provide the unique end-to end visibility and transparency required by organizations committed to best practices. Such customizations are called extended PLM (e-PLM) and often include mobile apps for design and submittals. New apps to support on-site photo streaming from factory floors showing work conditions, recordings of interviews with workers, and real time global communication are expected as the next wave.
With teams being developed to support new supply chain transparency initiatives, PLM solutions can support new approval, testing, and data collection workflows. Sustainability-focused manufacturing and sourcing teams can work closely with design and product development teams, and new calendars can be set up to support the unique timeline considerations of sustainable practices. Global collaboration will impact top and bottom lines through increased data integrity and more efficient processes.
Aside from PLM, other systems include compliance, quality, and materials management. These tools can integrate with PLM systems and provide in-depth visibility and accountability to material vendors, material testing and audit reports, as well as include environmental testing attributes and standards. Online information sources are also available and are designed to provide transparency into overseas suppliers through customs data and directories, allowing organizations to investigate companies, trade records, and global trade trends.