Top PLM Systems: The Ins and Outs

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A product lifecycle management system is a powerful solution that manages every aspect of a product’s digital life. PLM software can integrate data, workflows, business systems and people in an extended enterprise by facilitating the internal and external collaboration demanded by modern manufacturing environments.

PLM systems can help users gain greater visibility and control over the design process. With automated features that reflect changes throughout the product lifecycle, ensure legal compliance and develop statistical insights, PLM systems can streamline production operations.

PLM is available as either a standalone solution or as a component of ERP software. Enterprise resource planning software at its core is about the connectivity of various business processes and the obtainment of new and comprehensive sources of data through centralization. PLM follows this basic idea through its wide variety of capabilities and its consolidation of crucial business processes.

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What’s the Difference Between PLM and ERP software?

ERP and PLM systems are rooted in similar concepts. Both systems keep track of data and property, and both systems have proven to be essential tools in the development of successful business strategies. However, there are also significant differences between the programs that are necessary to point out.

Simply put, PLM and ERP both deal with the manufacturing of goods, but each contains tools related to different parts of the lifecycle. A product lifecycle management system manages product design and development. ERP, on the other hand, focuses on different components such as manufacturing, inventory and distribution.

One reason that many businesses gravitate towards ERP is because it integrates both manufacturing and non-manufacturing processes. This includes features such as human resources, accounting, distribution and customer relationship management. Reduced inefficiencies, standardized processes and the identification and adoption of best practices are some of the benefits that companies with ERP systems experience.

While ERP provides the ideal set of tools for dealing with the ongoing physical manufacturing of a product, it’s become apparent that it has some significant shortcomings when it comes to product design. This is where product lifecycle management systems come in.

The process from idea conception to realization requires specialized system features such as ideation and collaboration, which are incorporated in PLM systems. These systems provide a structured environment for capturing and managing ideas related to product development from all areas within and outside of an organization. At its core, a product lifecycle management system works to keep all employees on the same page as design changes are made. For example, if you add more ridges to the sole of your shoe design, that change would be reflected across your organization to ensure uniformity and that everyone is on the same page.

PLM systems address the real and growing needs of the increasingly complex environment of product design organizations. The goal of efficiently managing, synchronizing and sharing complex, interdependent computer-aided design files among global teams and supply chains make PLM systems indispensable. It has become the gold standard for managing all of the intellectual property that goes into defining a product.

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What Are Some of the Benefits of a PLM System?

PLM systems contains a wide suite of benefits. At its core, its goal is to centralize data and design processes in an effort to improve elements such as productivity and revenue. Here are some of the main benefits associated with a product lifecycle management system:

Cost Control

Cost is heavily affected during the design stage, which is why controlling costs is one of the most important yet challenging aspects of the product lifecycle. PLM allows users to better understand the cost of various materials and helps manage the development and tracking of a budget. Through this, PLM increases the amount of authority your company has over price, reducing waste and ultimately boosting your revenue margin once the product is introduced. Proper management of a product’s cost in the design and sourcing stage can significantly impact a product’s final competitive advantage in the marketplace.


Product development requires ample amounts of collaboration to be successful. PLM systems can increase visibility across the design workflow and allows for collaboration through tools such as the ranking and rating of design ideas. The ideation tool allows you to hear from diverse voices and to receive new design ideas. Some tools allow for collaboration to occur both in the office and when a worker is offsite due to the increase in cloud PLM solutions and mobile PLM applications. Multi-site availability is an important component of PLM that allows employees from different offices and different departments to voice their opinion on designs.

Ensure Product Viability

PLM systems are suitable for ensuring product functionality and feasibility. It can assure functional viability through the inclusion of test environments during the design lifecycle, which push your design to its limits to measure how it will actually perform once in the hands of your customers. It can also verify that your product is legally compliant through the integration of legal and ethical standards throughout the development process.

Some product lifecycle management systems have expanded to include not just product management, but also project management. In these scenarios, project effectiveness may be tested through the input of simulation data to measure the strains of a system. By ensuring that products and projects are viable, a product lifecycle management system can save you the headache of introducing an ineffective product.

Standardize Change Management

One of the most challenging parts of developing a new product is managing changes that occur during the lifecycle. Because there are so many moving pieces associated with design, it can be difficult to retain and reflect adjustments across the company. It’s essential that adaptations are clearly communicated across the product lifecycle to ensure that factors such as budget and schedule are adhered to. PLM systems can provide notifications and reflect design changes across your business. For example, if you change the color of a button from yellow to blue, that development will be communicated and used by departments such as manufacturing, accounting and procurement.

The ramifications of design changes can be extreme, so it’s essential that your staff is on the same page when it comes to alterations. As the length of product lifecycles become shorter due to the competitive economy, it’s becoming essential for changes to be reflected quickly and accurately. Therefore, the visibility and reflection of changes made in the design pipeline can significantly benefit your company.

Improve Productivity

By integrating various processes through heightened visibility and collaboration, you can significantly improve the productivity of your employees. Employees can spend less time searching for relevant information related to factors such as change management and instead use that time for other crucial tasks that aren’t as easy to automate. For example, instead of searching through hundreds of email threads related to a design to see the latest iterations, product lifecycle management systems can log a detailed list of adjustments to streamline the design process across your company.

Additionally, more transparent and open access to data insights can improve employee workflows by providing evidence of snags in the system. Data visualization can also help ensure that all elements of the product lifecycle are running smoothly by making it easy to quickly identify issues through visualizations rather than digging through spreadsheets.

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What Are Some Common Features of a PLM System?

PLM systems features vary from vendor to vendor, which is why it’s essential that you create your own list of desired tools for your system. Here are some of the basic features that you might wish to include in your product lifecycle management system:

plm system features

Bill of Materials

Bill of materials management is an extremely useful feature for the product design process. Vendors offer varied capabilities related to this function, but they are typically designed with various user groups in mind such as designers, manufacturers and product engineers. Function-specific BOMs, bulk replacement, purchase order tracking, risk assessment and BOM health checking are some of the specific BOM management features that PLM vendors may offer.

Computer-Aided Design Management

CAD management has a wide range of capabilities. These include MCAD and ECAD integration, tracking of engineering CAD data, process documentation and analytics documentation. This feature can also automate the design process and reflect changes in the product across the design cycle. For example, if a new component is needed for a product, that information would then be relayed to your company’s financial system to reflect costs associated with the design change.

Manufacturing Product Management

Manufacturing product management assists in portfolio management, product lifecycle analytics and product collaboration. One of the main goals of this tool is to maximize the ROI of the product design process. This system can provide status updates as a design moves through the production process. It may also assist in the development of product portfolio management strategies.

Product Regulation and Governance

Legal compliance is of the utmost importance when designing a product. Many PLM vendors include compliance specifications for different governments. This helps ensure that your designs do not negatively impact the environment beyond regulation standards and that they do not incorporate illegal materials. Some of the regulatory specifications that may be included in product lifecycle management systems includes REACH, RoHS and Conflict Minerals.

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What Types of Companies Use PLM Systems?

Like other derivatives of ERP software, product lifecycle management solutions are used by a wide variety of businesses in the manufacturing sector. Companies of different sizes, industries and with various amounts of employees can all benefit from PLM systems. Here are some of the sectors where you might find PLM services being used:

  • Electronics
  • Furniture
  • Fashion and Textiles
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Engineering
  • Energy
  • Automotives

Are There Any Potential Issues or Pitfalls of Product Lifecycle Management Systems?

Like any software system, there are potential issues to consider when looking at PLM. Here are some of the common complaints about these systems that you might wish to address when making your systems selection:

Not as Integrated as ERP

Depending on the needs of your company, you may or may not require integration of your PLM system with other tools. Standalone product lifecycle management systems can be customized or configured to integrate with other software or modules, but it’s more expensive and more complicated than it would be to integrate an ERP solution that has a PLM emphasis.

You should take into consideration the actual amount of integration that you need in your system and whether or not it would be worth it to your company to go for a full-blown ERP solution. If there is a large amount of integration required, it might be worth it to go for an ERP solution that has a PLM emphasis because it may save you some time and money in the long run. However, you should also take into consideration that the functionality of ERP software as it relates to PLM will not be as advanced or comprehensive as a basic product lifecycle management system would be, so there is a trade-off to think about.

Cost of Ownership

Product lifecycle management systems are not as expensive as ERP, but it still comes with significant costs. Factors such as the amount of training required, number of integrations, maintenance and installation method will affect how much you pay for the software in addition to its base cost.

User Accessibility

One potential issue you could encounter with a PLM system is user accessibility. Program availability is something that you want to heavily account for when making a systems selection. By selecting the wrong system deployment method, you could unfortunately end up reducing productivity rather than increasing it.

PLM systems are available as on-premise or cloud-based software. Cloud PLM is available anytime and anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. On-premise systems are installed on your company’s network and, therefore, is more limited in where it can be used. However, if your company performs all operations on-site or in-network, you might prefer to go with an on-premise solution.

Configuration of Helpful Data Insights

Because data centralization is one of the key benefits of product lifecycle management systems, it’s essential that this useful tool is implemented in a way that positively influences your business. It can take some effort to ensure that generated reports and visualizations are relevant to your business needs.

Therefore, it may be necessary for you to purchase or ask for assistance from a vendor or a consulting group to develop useful reports. The potentially complicated nature of this tool is a pitfall to consider along with the costs that might be incurred from the purchase of systems training.

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Small and medium-sized companies in industries such as manufacturing, retail, technology, and energy have adopted PLM due to its capacity to streamline development and maximize project value. Its ability to improve visibility along the design lifecycle and to maintain legal compliance are just a few of the key benefits of the solution, which can give your business a competitive advantage over your competitors.

What do you think are the best benefit of PLM systems? Give your thoughts on the subject below!

Lindsey JenkinsTop PLM Systems: The Ins and Outs

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