Web-based data management gets up and running fast

Jan. 8, 2004
Arena PLM is a comprehensive Web-based data-management program that works like a bridge between technical software such as CAD and EDA, and business programs such as ERP. Because the PLM is Web based, there is no hardware or software to install. Users simply need an Internet connection and browser to use it.
The dashboard appears first when logging on to Arena PLM. It provides a place to save searches as well as frequently used items and suppliers. Users also see which members of an extended design team -- employees, consultants and suppliers located anywhere -- are currently in the workspace.
The Change Order Lifecycle Status diagram in Arena PLM tells whether an engineering change order (ECO) is open, submitted, rejected, or effective, along with the commands that move the ECO between stages.

The PLM lets users manage product data such as item masters, BOMs, change orders, and lists of approved manufacturers and vendors, in a central database rather than by spreadsheets and e-mail. Product development is more efficient when engineering, materials planning, operations, and suppliers work in parallel from the same accurate and up-to-date product data.

The developer has divided the software into a suite of three groups or arenas that include the:

  • Product Arena for managing product definition, change management, and workflows for engineering change orders and requests.
  • Sourcing and Costing Arena supports sourcing operations, product costing rollup, and quote and purchase-order management.
  • Integration Arena exchanges data with business (ERP) and technical (MCAD, EDA) software.

Users first set up an account by logging into Arena's PLM Web site. It takes only seconds. Once logged in, the Arena PLM Dashboard shows everything a user needs to work with the application, including an Inbox, and supplier and product viewing information. It's a master-control panel. The user interface is informative and actually pleasant to look at. It's easy to navigate and contains almost everything needed. It takes little guesswork as to what to do, so new users are up to speed quickly. The amount of displayed information can be overwhelming, but a little study quickly makes sense of it all.

There are few menus because the application is Web based. Most commands and functions work by clicking on buttons and hyperlinks. Excellent online help and other information sources are on every page, so users always have somewhere to turn for assistance. The software uses a concept called Worlds to organize product information such as items (parts, processes, and documents) found in a bill of materials (BOM), change requests, suppliers and supplier items, and files.

To set up accounts for viewing and working with data, users need account administrator privileges. An administrator assigns accounts to employees and outside suppliers and determines what data each can view and manipulate. The account administrator also assigns roles and routings (formal workflows) for change management.

Organizations using Arena PLM will likely have product information to import. To test the function, I imported an Excel spreadsheet. The operation was straightforward. Before importing data you have to prepare it. For example, a comma-separated value (.csv) must be the data source. It's a neutral data format that doesn't bring proprietary and irrelevant information with it. Users should also fix data errors that might occur while being imported, usually by inspecting files after they are imported.

After importing data, all items are in the active workspace, and the application switches to an Items view. This view lets users search for specific parts and assemblies using different criteria and examine detailed information about any listed part or assembly. For complex datasets, the developer provides custom imports and professional services.

Users add new items to a workspace or create products by grouping items into a BOM hierarchy. The most useful aspect of the program is in creating relationships between data, such as managing various part numbers, manufacturers, vendors, costs, and files of any kind that might be associated with an item or change order.

As a test, I created a sample part by generating a part number and name. I then associated a Word document and CAD drawing with the part and added suppliers. I also entered their costs and lead times. It wasn't difficult to see how useful it is to have all interrelated product data in one place.

The Change Management module gives users two levels: versioning and formal engineering-change-order (ECO) management. Versioning is generally used during design when product changes come fast and strict controls aren't necessary. It also lets users see the entire history of a product's development and BOM redlines and notes explain version changes. The ECO capability lets users create change boards, then assign different workflows for routing and approving change orders.

Because the PLM is Web hosted, users can share data with suppliers on a need-to-know basis in a secure, controlled manner. To start sharing, just grant the supplier read or write access to a part, BOM, or other data. Change management lets users control exactly what revision level a supplier sees, so there is no ambiguity in what suppliers are supposed to build.

The software supports mapping company to supplier items, as well as direct and indirect sourcing relationships. This is important because the PLM monitors processes that build the product in addition to the product. And because data is centralized, users can more easily analyze it to optimize business operations. For example, users can collect vendor prototype and production costs. Users might roll-up these costs across a multilevel BOM and see what the product will cost at any time in its development. Users can also print and share costing and other reports.

Arena PLM is useful out of the box and can be upgraded with additional modules as needs arise. Yet it is easy to learn and use, and can be accessed from almost anywhere. I conducted this review from my office in a small town by a dialup connection and had no problems with the product with regard to accessing it, importing data, or making changes.

Arena PLM comes from Arena Solutions, 274 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041, (650) 937-1438, www.arenasolutions.com

--Jeffrey Rowe

Jeffrey Rowe is an independent mechanical design and technical communications consultant with offices in Colorado and Michigan. He can be reached at (719) 539-8549 or jrowe @ cairowest.com.
About the Author

Paul Dvorak

Paul Dvorak - Senior Editor
21 years of service. BS Mechanical Engineering, BS Secondary Education, Cleveland State University. Work experience: Highschool mathematics and physics teacher; design engineer, Primary editor for CAD/CAM technology. He isno longer with Machine Design.

Email: [email protected]


Paul Dvorak - Senior Editor
21 years of service. BS Mechanical Engineering, BS Secondary Education, Cleveland State University. Work experience: Highschool mathematics and physics teacher; design engineer, U.S. Air Force. Primary editor for CAD/CAM technology. He isno longer with Machine Design.


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