PDM vs PLM: What's the Difference?
Learn about Product Lifecycle Management and Product Data Management
Taking an idea from concept to shipped product is difficult. Doing it all in an organized way is even harder—and delivering that product on time while juggling an enormous amount of product data, business processes, and various stakeholders might seem impossible.
Today’s companies are in a constant race to innovate and bring quality products to market faster. In order to remain competitive, it is essential to get rid of tedious manual business processes and communication silos.
Both internal and external teams need to collaborate efficiently across the entire value chain to develop cutting-edge products instead of wasting time finding the right product design files, sending countless emails highlighting revised product versions, and missing crucial product quality issues.
Targeted software and technology like PDM and PLM tools are necessary to ensure product workflows, milestones, and business processes are in place. To find the right solution for all your product lifecycle needs, let’s understand the different software tools available and their use cases.
So what is the difference between a PDM and PLM tool exactly? How can these two tools work together effectively for your team?
Product Data Management (PDM) tools help engineering teams organize product design files and maintain consistency across versions while they develop and update products, ensuring there exists a single version of each file and that each product update change is tracked.
PDM systems provide a single source of truth, robust version control and a collaborative platform. Engineers can focus on developing products rather than worrying about working from wrong file versions or missing an important update. Product design files provide useful information for various teams associated with the whole product lifecycle.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what product data management is and how it helps engineers, product designers, and business teams keep stakeholders in the loop while maintaining high quality standards and innovating faster than ever before.
What is PDM used for?
First, the obvious question: What data does PDM software manage? The answers can vary, but typically, PDM software manages data related to the computer-generated design (CAD) of the product. It includes the product files that clearly define the specifications and materials to be used in production. These files are CAD or CAE files and the plan for the product is laid out in 2D or 3D renderings.
Innovating new products is far from instantaneous—it takes time and lots of trial and error to successfully launch a truly innovative product. Plans and product designs go through several iterations and changes to meet the consumer needs, allocated supply chain and resource costs, and manufacturing feasibility goals.
Since most products will have multiple parts and files that link together, it’s important to keep them organized in hierarchical folders, which PDM tools can simplify. Keeping design files updated while preserving previous iterations is key to preventing errors, because everyone knows what changes have been made and when.
Regular product updates are vital to staying relevant in today’s market. True product innovation requires engineering teams to focus on leveraging consumer insights instead of trying to manage logistics around distributing the latest product design files to stakeholders.
From broad redesigns to tiny tweaks, updating design files in one central location allows collaborators and stakeholders in the engineering team to save time and easily note revisions they may have missed otherwise.
It’s key to note that PDM primarily focuses on CAD data and solves challenges encountered during the early part of the product lifecycle. The interactions across the value chain cannot be captured solely by a PDM tool.
In order to leverage value across every product lifecycle stage, insights have to be delivered upstream to other stakeholders outside of the engineering team who are involved in the new product launch, commercialization, and aftermarket service.
After all, as Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Engineering data needs to move across the whole value chain to procurement, sales, marketing, contract manufacturers, suppliers and partners, and not just reside with the engineering teams. All these cross-functional teams need to access the CAD metadata, benefit from versioned and organized designs, and collaborate efficiently.
For example, when PDM data is managed effectively and shared well:
- The IT or project management office can respond to design changes quickly and record corrective or preventive actions, reducing the risk of overrunning budgets and overshooting timelines.
- Sales, marketing, and operations teams can also use the latest designs to prepare for new product launches or document changes to current product lines, staying ahead of the curve.
This is where Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software comes in.
What is PLM?
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools enable companies to get quality and innovative products to market faster while reducing costs, improving product throughput, and facilitating contextual collaboration from concept to customer.
PLM ensures that the assumptions made during the innovation management phase—i.e., ideation, requirements management, and concept design phases—are actually feasible and can solve the customer’s pain points.
Discovering that a project is not feasible at a later phase in product development and manufacturing can lead to delays, or even worse, a poor product hitting the shelf. PLM captures and manages the whole product lifecycle by sharing a broader set of product data than a PDM tool can share, which may include bills of materials, manufacturing data, design approvals, packaging, marketing information, and much more.
PLM breaks down communication silos across various internal and external teams—engineering, operations, quality, procurement, logistics, suppliers, contract manufacturers, joint design manufacturers (JDMs), original design manufacturers (ODMs), sales, marketing, finance, and services—thereby enhancing collaboration and productivity.
Some of the benefits of using PLM software to develop new products include:
- Integrating data, business processes, and people involved into the overall product evolution—ideation, commercialization and service.
- Bringing quality and innovative products to market faster.
- Increasing productivity by leveraging features like group collaboration, workflows, reporting, and mobile support.
- Creating a closed feedback loop ensuring all teams—engineering, manufacturing, sales, partners, and services—can gather insights from customer feedback to design improved and robust products.
- Maintaining visibility into the project status, allowing companies to stay ahead of the curve, even if they’re managing multiple projects at the same time.
PLM makes it easy to identify product issues and ensures necessary adjustments are made in time without letting anything slip through the cracks. Keeping all product data in a single unified repository enables executives to make critical business decisions and allocate resources accordingly.
What is PLM used for?
PLM software gives all stakeholders access to production documents, milestones, workflows, reporting, and change management processes within a single interface, enabling them to share information, record progress, and resolve problems efficiently. PLM helps internal and external stakeholders, including:
- Engineers, designers, operations, sales and marketing, procurement, services, and other business staff who need to be able to collaborate and share plans.
- Contract manufacturers, JDMs, ODMs, suppliers, and other partners who need to prepare and purchase materials for fabrication or assembly.
- Customers or clients who need to get accurate updates and deliver feedback during key phases of the product lifecycle.
PLM tools bring together the data, business processes, and people required for developing products.
A typical product has several teams, not just engineering, involved in bringing a product to life. Multiple product components need to be developed and manufactured in tandem and assembled once everything is complete. With multiple teams working on various product lifecycle stages—namely ideation, manufacturing, commercialization, and service—the process quickly becomes complicated.
PLM tools play a vital role in tracking who is assigned to which part of the product development and commercialization process in order to make sure that everything is progressing according to the schedule. An organized process helps to improve product quality, bolster innovation, and reduce mistakes, thereby preventing costly delays.
Manufacturing and operations teams need two-way communication throughout the product lifecycle. They need to provide engineers with input about the latest product designs, and help to select the best materials for manufacturing. Maintaining the entire product data, workflows, and reporting on a single unified repository facilitates real-time contextual collaboration, improves transparency, and enhances accessibility.
Highly regulated industries like medical device manufacturing especially need to remain compliant in their ever-evolving regulatory landscape. Without PLM software in place, manually reviewing and approving designs can introduce errors and cause delays, slowing down the overall product development process. Furthermore, being noncompliant can cause a company to incur huge penalties, and bring irrevocable damage to its brand.
"PDM and PLM systems, while distinct, are interrelated. They need to successfully integrate with each other to provide visibility into both design files, workflows, and change management processes in order to bring highly innovative and quality products to market faster."
PLM and PDM together
Bringing a product to market requires coordination between multiple teams, workflows, and systems. Large and small enterprises making anything from medical devices to consumer products use both PDM and PLM software to manage the data and lifecycle of product development.
Once the CAD files are complete and finalized within the PDM file system, they can be exported or synced to other systems like PLM. Integrations between PDM and PLM tools allow engineering teams to continue working with CAD and other design programs, without siloing data that needs to be accessed by other stakeholders across the various product lifecycle stages.
Engineers are free to save designs and updates using a PDM tool, which enables them to keep the correct file versions in a single source of truth. Then, the PLM tool allows several stakeholders outside the engineering team to access the right information, collaborate seamlessly, and keep the entire process organized. This ensures:
- Real-time contextual collaboration with other internal and external stakeholders involved in the broader product lifecycle management process.
- Maintaining consistency in bills of materials and part numbers, which reduces confusion and prevents errors.
- The project stays on track to meet budget, supply chain, and time constraints.
PLM software uses the information and specifications in the design files to communicate with a broader set of team members outside of engineering—including purchasing, manufacturing, operations, finance, sales, and marketing—outlining the list of resources needed to produce, sell, or service the item. These systems work together, bringing CAD and other design files from the PDM into the PLM, ensuring workflows, milestones, change management processes and reporting are tracked effectively—a necessary process to take the product from concept to customer.
However, engineering work isn’t finished once the design files are in the PLM. PLM solutions enable collaboration across multiple teams and create a closed feedback loop ensuring all teams — engineering, manufacturing, sales, partners and services can gather insights from the customer feedback and leverage them to design improved products.
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Keeping conversations related to design and production decisions, workflows, and project timelines within a unified platform not only fosters real-time contextual collaboration, but also acts as a reference point for various product lifecycle phases—from ideation to launch and commercialization.
The most important thing to remember is that PDM and PLM systems, while distinct, are interrelated. They need to successfully integrate with each other to provide visibility into both design files, workflows, and change management processes in order to bring highly innovative and quality products to market faster.
PLM vs PDM: Which tool do you need?
With all that in mind, the question is: Which tool do you need—a PDM tool to manage data or a PLM tool to manage what your people can do with that data?
The short answer is you need both.
To effectively manage both product design data and production, sales, and service of innovative products, you need both systems with data flowing freely between them. When design files are updated, an integration between your PLM and PDM tool ensures that the right files are synced to the bill of materials, enabling your team to make intelligent purchasing and resourcing decisions.
Envisioning PLM and PDM together
To illustrate how PLM and PDM systems work together, let’s imagine your company needs to make a new cell phone.
- You’ll need to get engineers assigned to design the parts for the hardware, outline the materials, and record product specifications to be used in the manufacturing process.
- Engineers will use CAD software to complete this work.
- They’ll go through several drafts for each product component. (However, these files can quickly become overly complicated and messy without a file hierarchy and system to store them. That’s where PDM software comes into play.)
- Your engineers will use a PDM tool that organizes the design files and delivers them in a way that makes it easy for engineers to update designs.
- Then, they integrate those design files into a PLM tool, providing other stakeholders with the right information so that innovative and quality products are manufactured and launched to the market faster than ever before.