Even after manufacturers deploy a modern, powerful ERP system like Microsoft Dynamics 365, teams of engineers, product managers, procurement and finance managers, manufacturing managers, account executives, and service managers may still partly work in silos. That can make it harder for a manufacturing company to deliver products in a timely manner and adjust engineering designs quickly as market requirements change. A Sikich partner, Bluestar, helps manufacturers eliminate counterproductive disconnects with its Bluestar PLM (product lifecycle management) solution. Below are some highlights of the conversation I had with John Theobald, Sales Director, Americas, and Rick Trask, Presales Solution Architect at Bluestar.
When organizational disconnects get in the way
For many manufacturers, probably the most important disconnect is the one between engineering and manufacturing operations. While ERP will be a hub for many activities of the various teams, they may also use specialty CAD, product lifecycle management (PLM), or product data management (PDM) software tools to manage important aspects of product design and data management. That means the process may still be marred by inconsistent data, errors, inefficient communications, and redundancies that can get in the way of serving customers with the products they need.
In consequence, it may become challenging to expand engineering and production to more and different products or efficiently meet the requirements of key customers asking for custom capabilities. When manufacturers operate multiple production plants or have engineering and operations teams in several countries, limited collaboration and data silos can be particularly counterproductive. Ever-popular Excel spreadsheets and other workarounds may help people record and track data they must have, but are not really an effective way to overcome informational and operational disconnects.
Embedded PLM solution to enable seamless data flows and processes
Bluestar PLM—usually referred to as simply Bluestar—helps manufacturers unify their teams and processes. The solution merges ERP, CAD, PLM, and product data management (PDM) in a single, cloud-based, collaboration-ready solution that is embedded in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management. The key concept behind Bluestar is the enablement of a seamless process from the ideation of a product, through engineering, R&D, manufacturing, supply chain management, quality assurance, and distribution to the target market. Originally developed in Denmark at the beginning of the century for the Microsoft ERP system that eventually became Dynamics 365, Bluestar today supports manufacturers around the world.
Sometimes, PDM and PLM are confused. In the context of Bluestar, PDM is a subset of the solution’s capabilities which gives engineers a repository for the product and revision data they originally create in a CAD system. PLM, as mentioned, facilitates the entire product journey from early-stage design, through the supply chain, production and distribution. All product data flows into the product information management on the Dynamics 365 platform. Because Bluestar is fully embedded in Dynamics 365, it can give users access not just to product data, but also enable change and quality management, corrective action in case of quality deviations, warranty claims and processes, and other activities. Users in engineering, manufacturing, sales, or quality management can initiate and take ownership of product changes and quality corrections.
What changes for engineers and other teams?
The Bluestar solution assesses the impact of product changes on production inventory and production and sales orders. It also delivers notifications and assigns tasks so people can take the right steps in their part of the process. With product versions for revisions and changes, Bluestar offers full visibility of the as-built inventory throughout all transactions, along with complete, traceable histories to help manufacturers remain compliant with regulatory mandates and quality standards. And, when suppliers fall short and supply chains are balky, it suggests alternative sources of parts or materials.
Engineers used to navigating multiple systems and having to laboriously transfer data can use a variety of CAD solutions which integrate with Bluestar, and they can bring data from several CAD systems into a single BOM. Engineers at home in CAD and PDM environments can take advantage of Bluestar to gain better visibility of the entire product lifecycle and have a greater say in team collaborations. As an alternative to CAD software, engineers and other users can rely on a viewer tool called BlueView to delve into three-dimensional models of products, virtually disassemble them, or zoom in on parts.
Generating PLM benefits quickly and flexibly
Unlike traditional PLM deployments that can take as long and be as complex and resource-intensive as ERP projects, manufacturers can go live with Bluestar by investing roughly about a quarter of the implementation time and cost of other PLM solutions. A big factor in this efficiency is that Bluestar is fully embedded in Dynamics 365, and there is no need for IT to create, test, and manage integrations.
However, manufacturers don’t need to wait to realize the benefits of Bluestar PLM until the end of their Dynamics 365 deployment. They can implement the solution, introduce collaborative PLM, create item masters, and manage BOMs, to conjunction with CAD systems when their Dynamics 365 deployment hasn’t started or is not yet complete. Or, as many do, they can layer Bluestar into their environment once Dynamics 365 is fully operational. Another, efficient alternative for syncing data between CAD and ERP is to link Dynamics 365 and CAD systems by means of Bluestar connectors and implement the full Bluestar PLM solution later.
Low-risk deployments and consistent software updates
No matter when discrete manufacturers implement Bluestar PLM, Bluestar and Sikich consultants know how to set up the software systems, adjust processes to be seamless, and data to flow as it should. Bluestar offers a well-defined, efficient implementation methodology based on expertise grown in many projects worldwide. Consultants provide hands-on training and help companies understand how best to set up their CAD structures, document management, and other conditions to get the best results from PLM. They also help their clients make the most economical use of software licensing and avoid ERP system replacements unless those are part of their strategy.
Over decades of collaboration, the Bluestar team has built a seamless collaboration with Microsoft developers, managing its coding and technical innovation through Microsoft Lifecycle Services (LCS). With early visibility of upcoming Dynamics 365 update releases, Bluestar manages its own updates to keep pace with the Microsoft releases. Closely connected with the leading providers of the CAD systems many manufacturers use, Bluestar matches their enhancements promptly with solution updates.
Expanding Bluestar for digitally driven manufacturing
As manufacturing business models, ERP, and PLM evolve to rely on more diverse and new data sources from the edge—such as mobility, robotic production systems, or the internet of things (IoT)—Bluestar is finding ways to help companies accomplish more with data. That includes making data events visible and intelligible for nontechnical roles. Customers often spearhead new uses for Bluestar when they see how easy it is to store and manage any type of data and structural attributes with the solution.
Bluestar is already enhancing its workflows and change management capabilities to help customers achieve more with their product data, for example, as they offer and manage warranty field services or stand up new ecommerce channels. One area that finds great interest among manufacturers is root cause analysis of parts or material failures or performance degradations, which can help engineering, operations, and procurement managers make better upstream decisions and offer a strong, fast response to customers’ issues.
Bluestar also expects to create functionality to enable companies to partner and collaborate more closely. In the future, the Bluestar team anticipates supporting other editions of Dynamics 365, like Business Central, or alternative ERP platforms.
In the video below, you can watch the complete conversation I had with John Theobald, Sales Director, Americas, and Rick Trask, Presales Solution Architect at Bluestar.
Here to help
Sikich has delivered many successful, transformative ERP projects to manufacturing companies and provides managed IT services to many long-standing manufacturing clients. We can help you take advantage of Bluestar PLM to connect engineering and production in your operation. Feel free to get in touch if you have questions or are considering a pilot project for Bluestar or Dynamics 365.
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