SCM and PLM: Questions about integration

Integrating your supply chain management (SCM) software with your product lifecycle management (PLM) software optimizes the capabilities of both systems. Before getting started, read answers to some SCM PLM integration questions.

While there is a natural overlap between product lifecycle management (PLM) and supply chain management (SCM) software, the two have rarely been integrated -- until now. Based on discussions with analysts, here are answers to some frequently asked PLM questions on how to think about, prepare for, and conduct integration between SCM and PLM.

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What are the bottom line benefits of integrating PLM and SCM software?

SCM PLM integration can have a positive impact on costs when it leads to rationalizing procurement. For example, leveraging the visibility provided by both PLM and SCM could allow a manufacturer to identify opportunities to reduce the number of chemical suppliers or standardize on a smaller number of components. Both of these hypothetical examples should result in lower purchasing costs, greater leverage with suppliers, and probably a more robust supply chain.

Are there any other strong selling points for SCM PLM integration?

One of the arguments for integration, something that is growing in importance, is increasing regulation and the related topic of sustainability goals. Mandates such as Europe's Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical (REACH), and End of Life Vehicle (ELV) mean that the Wild West days of sourcing are over. Companies need to be able to document and track what goes in to their products, where it comes from and, often, what happens to it after it reaches the customer.

The PLM side of the equation provides a viewpoint based on the creation and manufacture of the product while the supply chain management view offers the opportunity to ensure traceability from cradle to grave.

How quickly can I integrate SCM and PLM?

Integration is not usually something that can be implemented overnight. Usually, there are a large number of business processes that have to be assessed and understood first. Sometimes there are good reasons for the way things are and sometimes it's just a matter of old habits. Systems and applications also need to be assessed to determine the feasibility of integration.

How complex is SCM PLM integration?

Integration can be complex but fundamentally, the most important aspect of integration is on the process and practices level rather than bits and bytes. In other words, it is not as critical that PLM and SCM applications be tightly integrated as it is that the design and manufacturing operations learn to work together and share their most important bits of information.

What are the barriers to getting design and manufacturing and PLM and SCM to work together?

The barriers are mostly cultural. But it takes more than better sociability to get these two perspectives together. There are complicated tradeoffs that have to be thought through by management. For example, quality and cost are sometimes mutually exclusive. Design and manufacturing need to come together to determine where and when to compromise and with what end goal in mind. Likewise, choices about how things are designed and manufactured need to include a look at whether to make or buy and what level of granularity to impose. For instance, is it better to purchase sub assemblies and simplify your manufacturing?

About the author: Alan Earls had his first exposure to computer programming on one of Digital Equipment Corp.'s PDP-8 minicomputers. He went on to serve as editor of the newspaper Mass High Tech and is the author of the book Route 128 and the Birth of the Age of High Tech, a photographic essay on a key part of Massachusetts economic history. He currently is a freelance writer, covering many aspects of IT technology and writing regularly for

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