We’d like to take a look at an intrinsic aspect of PLM systems: the product itself. The reasons many companies implement PLM systems – or really any “new” system – are typically to make business processes more efficient, data more accurate and / or available, as well as to lower costs of supporting the business. But when implementing a PLM system, there is also the unique opportunity to improve the outcome the system is designed to support. Here is where we get into product quality.

Managing product quality comes as a natural extension of PLM because the system is product-specific. Let’s look at a series of scenarios. Most Quality Assurance (QA) teams have created extensive test protocols to verify a supplier’s product quality and / or performance. Depending on the nature and number of products a retailer offers, there can be hundreds of protocols to manage.

After the product has been created, a PLM solution can be leveraged to identify the proper protocol and the responsible testing service. The ideal process is to have the protocol systematically attached to the product in the PLM solution based on a set of predefined criteria (e.g., product category, class, subclass). While this may be more difficult than it sounds, at a minimum, a PLM solution should store the testing protocol number and / or documents.

As the product continues towards adoption, the product information and required protocols are sent to the QA team and / or third party testing service. This gives the QA teams the proper amount of time to plan their work and reduces the risk that a purchase order will be delayed due to lack of testing. Additionally, when a quality issue has been identified, it is early enough in the process to give the supplier enough time to resolve the issue and minimize the risk of a delayed order.

Once the testing has been completed, the results should be sent to the PLM solution. By storing all product related information in one system, a company is able to identify quality Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure the performance of the supplier and identify any out of tolerance quality issues. Those suppliers that are frequently out of tolerance and do not improve can be flagged and avoided for future products. In the prior blog post regarding social compliance, we also discussed the fact that suppliers that have passed the social compliance standard are more likely to have a positive and safe work environment. When workers are treated – and trained – properly, the workforce is happier and more stable, thereby reducing employee turnover. A more tenured workforce is traditionally better skilled and vested in their jobs and produces a higher quality product than newer workers who may be less experienced and have less training. Therefore, product quality can be improved by allowing development teams to have visibility to certified suppliers via the PLM system and enabling the company to make much more informed decisions about their supplier partners.

PLM systems can go far beyond the “traditional” expected benefits like productivity, lower costs and better data. Improvements in product quality are another way to leverage your existing or planned investments in PLM.

– David