Product lifecycle management (PLM) software has become an increasingly important tool for modern manufacturing organizations because products are increasingly complex and require collaboration from a large number of distributed teams and systems.
To help you get a better feel for how PLM software helps your product development process, we took a deep dive into the world of product lifecycle management. This article includes:
- What does PLM stand for?
- What is a PLM system?
- What does a product lifecycle management tool help you with?
- 5 Benefits of using PLM software
- 5 main features of PLM software
- PLM software list
- How to choose the perfect product lifecycle management solution for you?
What does PLM stand for?
Product lifecycle management (PLM) refers to managing the data and processes used to design, engineer, manufacture, sell, service, and dispose of a product.
PLM initially helped engineers collaborate on their product designs and manage information through the entire product value chain. Today product teams use PLM to involve all parts of the organization involved with products, including customer service, marketing, sales, suppliers and partner channels.
PLM is most helpful to organizations that manufacture physical goods. These organizations experience issues outside of design and manufacturing that PLM helps to mitigate by making product information accessible to teams across the organization.
What is a PLM system?
Since PLM helps organizations track data about their product, you may have an idea about what product lifecycle management software does. As you’d expect, PLM software manages all of the data and processes at each step of the product life cycle for all the entities involved in the supply chain.
PLM manages several types of data including:
- Item data
- Part data
- Product data
- Product documents
- Product requirements
- Engineering change orders.
PLM software manages the workflows necessary to get a product from an idea to in the hands of customers, and in some cases properly disposed of. These workflows enable everyone involved in a product lifecycle – including designers, internal and external stakeholders, engineers, manufacturers and suppliers – to communicate and collaborate.
Due to the dispersed nature of most supply chains these days, PLM systems are generally cloud based and integrate with a variety of systems including ERP systems and CAD software.
What does a product lifecycle management tool help you with
Product lifecycle management tools help organizations that build physical products integrate the data and documents related to their products. PLM tools also connect the business systems and people involved in product creation. For manufacturing organizations, PLM software is a key aspect in digital transformation efforts.
PLM software allows you to integrate your product development efforts with business planning and supply chain systems so you can get a complete view of the entire product lifecycle.
5 benefits of using PLM software
Here are five key benefits that product lifecycle management applications provide to product teams.
Decrease your time to market
PLM systems allow you to streamline your product development process by designing and testing digital prototypes of your physical product. This design, engineering, and manufacturing automation allows you to try out different iterations of your product without having to physically build them.
PLM systems also allow you to keep track of your valuable product ideas as well as all of the changes you’ve made to your product. This allows you to spend more time identifying and evaluating the truly valuable product improvements and less time trying to keep track of all of them.
PLM solutions bring together data from a variety of sources, including your ERP, CRM and supply chain system so that everyone involved in product development can have the same real-time view of product data.
The workflow aspects of PLM solutions ensure that the right people can make informed product decisions at the right point in the product development process. What’s more, everyone makes those decisions based on the same set of information.
When it comes time to build your product PLM solutions allow product development, supply chain, and manufacturing staff to share designs, production forecasts and other information via automated workflows.
Maintain Product Quality
PLM software allows you to see detailed information about product revisions all in one place so you can quickly determine if a problem is an isolated event or wide spread across the product line.
You can also use PLM software to verify that you’re following all the necessary regulations when you design and manufacture your product. That includes making sure that engineering changes keep you in compliance with regulations and make sure you’re keeping up with changing global standards.
PLM software also ensures that your products meet specifications during manufacturing and product simulations reassure you that your finished products are dependable and exhibit high quality.
The benefits listed above inevitably lead to products that your customers are interested in and want more of, so PLM systems also help you increase your revenue. PLM systems also provide access to customer feedback so that you can optimize your product enhancement efforts and introduce changes that will allow you to continue growing revenue.
Because PLM software consolidates product data and designs in one place and automates workflows (especially the really mundane tasks), they help you to improve the productivity of your product development efforts.
On top of that, computer aided design, engineering, and manufacturing help you make more judicious use of raw materials and component parts, saving material and labor costs.
5 main features of PLM systems
PLM-systems deliver the above listed benefits through the inclusion of these main features.
Centralized Data Repository
PLM systems provide a central location to store the relevant product data generated by several different sources. This data can be used to create all of the necessary specs and documentation for the product which is used by the wide variety of tools and machinery required to manufacture and service physical goods.
By providing product data management (PDM), PLM systems ensure that everyone involved with the product has access to the same information and can be kept up to date with changes to that information in real time.
PLM systems allow you to configure workflows that apply business rules to automate your business processes. You can determine when work on a product is transferred from one department to another.
This collaborative workflow functionality works hand in hand with the central data repository to make sure that the right people have access to the same data at the right time.
In order to provide a complete customer experience for their product, organizations that produce physical goods also create a wide range of documentation. Common types of documentation include assembly instructions, user guides, technical publications, release notes, and service manuals.
PLM systems offer content authoring features that ease the creation process for these documents by leveraging the data included in the central data repository. This ensures that the documents you need to create provide consistent information about the product that are relevant for your different audiences.
Computer-aided design and engineering
The computer aided design and engineering features of many PLM systems allow you to iterate through your physical product development efforts in much the same way software development teams can.
Computer aided design helps you create 2 and 3 dimensional graphical representation of your product which you can then simulate using computer aided engineering. This means you can identify weaknesses in your product design without having to physically create instances of your product.
Once you’re happy with your design and are ready to start manufacturing it, you want to make sure that your machines produce the design you intended. The computer aided manufacturing feature in PLM software gives you the peace of mind that the design you intended to manufacture is the one that actually gets manufactured.
This gives you an immediate lift on product quality, and it also tends to reduce the scrap you produce as most computer aided manufacturing tools also ensure that the actual manufacturing process is as efficient as possible.
PLM software list: 5 of the best product lifecycle management software 2021
While there are several options for PLM software out on the market, here are 5 that get generally high marks in the industry.
Arena PLM is cloud based product lifecycle management software targeted at high-tech electronics products being built by global teams. The product specializes in the sourcing, engineering, and compliance management aspects of product lifecycle management.
Arena PLM helps with the following use cases:
- Product development
- Supply chain collaboration
- Product record control
- Change management
- Project management
- Quality management
- Training management
- Requirements management
- Regulatory and compliance
Autodesk Fusion 360 Manage
Autodesk Fusion 360 Manage is cloud based product lifecycle management software solution targeted at industrial machinery, digital industries and automotive suppliers and components. The main selling point of this PLM software is its configurability and ease of integration.
Autodesk Fusion 360 Manage helps with the following use cases:
- New product development
- Bill of materials
- Change management
- Supplier collaboration
- Quality management
- App store
Oracle Cloud PLM
Oracle Cloud PLM accelerates innovation and new product introductions by efficiently managing items, parts, products, documents, requirements, engineering change orders, and quality workflows across globalized supply chains while seamlessly integrating to computer-aided design (CAD) systems.
Oracle Cloud PLM helps with the following use cases:
- Innovation management
- Product development
- Quality management
- Product master data management (MDM)
- Configurator modeling
Siemens Teamcenter is a product lifecycle management system that connects people and processes across functions with a digital thread for innovation. This Siemens PLM software is available on premise, on cloud or as a SaaS application (Teamcenter X). Siemens Teamcenter allows you to use your product information across multiple departments, such as manufacturing, quality, cost engineering, compliance, service, and your supply chain.
Siemens Teamcenter helps with the following use cases:
- MCAD and ECAD data management
- Bill of materials management
- CAD-neutral visualization
- Document management
Upchain is a cloud product data management and product life cycle management software. The solution, recently acquired by Autodesk is designed to help small and medium sized companies collaborate on design, engineering production, and maintenance processes.
Upchain PLM helps with the following use cases:
- View and markup 3D CAD drawings
- Project and product management
- BOM Management
- Change management
- Document management
- Design document review
How to choose the perfect product lifecycle management solution for you?
When you’re looking for a PLM solution, you need to consider the use cases that each option supports. Start by creating a list of requirements and evaluate each potential product against that list of requirements.
You should also consider the extent to which each PLM solution addresses your requirements and how much you’re willing to spend on a PLM solution.
In addition to the requirements you identify, you also should consider the following qualities of the individual PLM solutions:
- Is the PLM software easy to navigate?
- Can you easily integrate the PLM software with other systems?
- Does the PLM software support your existing processes? It’s usually sufficient for the solution to mostly support your processes and make some tweaks to your process based on what your PLM system provides. It’s often more economical to change your process compared to custom development on a PLM software.
- Does the PLM software allow you to organize and communicate across industries, businesses and different teams?
- Can you implement the PLM solution quickly and get it installed and integrated into existing workflows?
Key Takeaways about PLM software
Organizations look to PLM software to help with the product development process for physical products. They use PLM software to track the product data in a centralized place and facilitate communication and collaboration between the multiple teams required to design, manufacture and service a successful physical product.
When you use PLM software effectively as part of your product development process, you launch your products quicker, increase collaboration, maintain quality, increase revenues and decrease costs.
How can I learn PLM Software?
In order to learn PLM software so that you can be as productive as possible, you need to gain two different types of knowledge.
First there is a set of foundational skills that you’ll want to learn when you are going to start using a PLM system. These skills are not restricted to a specific PLM system or even PLM systems in general. Rather, they are fundamental skills that you need to be successful in any product development effort:
- Understand CAD modeling
- Learn to code
- Explore SQL
- Database principles
- Project Management
Next, you need to know how to use the PLM software that you selected. It’s usually a good idea to include ease of use and the availability of training information in your selection criteria for your PLM software.
Is JIRA a PLM?
JIRA is software used for tracking bugs and managing projects.While these use cases make up a small part of product lifecycle management, they are a very small subset. In order to be considered a PLM software, a product must have a centralized product repository, an ability to create automated workflows, and collaboration tools for collaborating with teams distributed around the globe.
How much does a PLM cost?
As with most other products, you get what you pay for.
PLM software pricing can vary quite a bit. You can find free products. If you’d like a product that solves some real product development problems for your organization, be prepared to spend somewhere between $100 – $200 per month per user.