Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a comprehensive approach for managing the entire lifecycle of a product, from its initial concept and design through manufacturing, service, and ultimately, disposal or end-of-life. It serves as a centralized platform that enables engineers, designers, manufacturers, and suppliers to share information and work together seamlessly. A PLM solution should provide industry-standard product development processes – including those for multi-discipline and multi-functional collaboration – as well as tools to govern product data through part-centric and model-based methodologies.
Implementing the right PLM solution can yield significant benefits, including increased innovation, accelerated time to market, reduced development costs, better product quality, and improved overall efficiency in managing complex product data.
The origin of PLM starts in the early days of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) systems. In the 1990s, the modern PLM approach started to expand as businesses recognized the need for a more comprehensive and integrated way to manage the entire lifecycle of a product. PLM is now standard in many industries and is considered a vital need for manufacturers of products with extended lifecycles that require careful management at each stage.
Product data management (PDM) systems emerged in the 1980s, focused on managing product-related data and documents, version control, and data integrity. PDM solutions were like digital filing cabinets primarily used for engineering and design data management. But as more and more product-related activities went digital in the 1990s, PDM solutions expanded to product development and management of a product’s lifecycle – thus PLM. Early PLM systems focused mostly on supporting product development activities within engineering organizations and included capabilities like workflow management, change management, and collaboration. PLM became more pervasive in the late 1990s and 2000s, evolving into a tool for business functionalities throughout a product lifecycle.
Since the 2000s, PLM systems have evolved with each technological advancement. Integration with other applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES), has become more common to ensure seamless data exchange and process alignment across the organization. Additionally, advancements in cloud computing and digital technologies have enabled the development of more flexible and scalable PLM solutions. At each stage of innovation, the expansion of PLM has generated greater quality, efficiency, and value for manufacturers—and it will continue to do so.
PLM provides a centralized platform for storing and accessing product data, so stakeholders can make decisions with accurate and up-to-date information. PLM can also facilitate testing and analysis for early detection of issues, and often includes robust change management capabilities.
As a connected and unified repository, PLM can foster communication, simplify information sharing, and promote efficient teamwork across the entire product lifecycle. The integration of PLM with other applications enhances decision-making and reduces silos, leading to faster product development, improved quality, and cross-functional innovation.
PLM facilitates better collaboration among cross-functional teams, enables parallel development through real-time data and version control, and optimizes supply chain coordination with visibility into relevant materials and components. This results in faster and more efficient product development processes, which reduces time-to-market and allows businesses to stay competitive.
PLM also ensures that accurate, up-to-date information is accessible to all stakeholders to improve overall product quality. PLM's ability to accelerate time to market, enhance product quality and innovation, and optimize supply chain processes directly increases revenue by capturing market opportunities, attracting more customers, and improving operational efficiency.
Several trends are shaping the future of PLM, driven by evolving technologies and global business demands.
PLM is increasingly integrating digital twin concepts (creating a virtual replica of a physical product or system), enabling businesses to simulate and analyze product performance, optimize designs, and predict maintenance needs. PLM leverages digital thread methodology by intertwining diverse data streams (CAD, IoT data, customer feedback, etc.) so organizations can optimize operations across an entire product lifecycle.
Some PLM implementations are adopting agile and DevOps methodologies to foster iterative development, continuous integration, and faster release cycles, especially in industries with rapidly growing product requirements. Integrations with application lifecycle management (ALM) technology are also trending in PLM as product differentiation is increasingly driven by software.
Cloud-based PLM solutions are gaining popularity due to their scalability, flexibility, and ease of implementation. Cloud PLM allows real-time collaboration among distributed teams, simplifying access to data and reducing infrastructure costs.
Balluff is a dedicated partner for industrial automation that offers more than 60 years of experience in sensor technology.
Given the evolution and trends of PLM, there are a few elements we can expect to see flourish today and in the coming years: software as a service (SaaS) adoption, democratized data, and enterprise-wide impact on the same level as ERP and MES systems.
SaaS PLM solutions empower companies of all sizes to embrace PLM without extensive upfront investments, enabling faster implementation and reducing IT complexities. This means organizations will achieve richer PLM functionality while giving IT teams more resources to focus on strategic initiatives.
Democratized information is intrinsically linked to the future of PLM, where stakeholders across departments and organizations can access and contribute to a shared single-source of product data truth. With an active role in more stakeholders’ day-to-day lives, PLM will only become more integral to collaboration. And with the popularity of cloud PLM, manufacturers are looking to SaaS solutions for a competitive advantage.
PLM is playing a bigger role in enterprise applications. The integration between PLM, ERP, and MES systems has become increasingly seamless, creating a unified digital ecosystem. All of which elevates the importance of PLM and promotes higher fidelity to product definitions throughout the entire enterprise. This growing role of PLM will force companies to reevaluate the distribution of functions across ERP and PLM and how they work with MES.
The future of PLM is bright – and has already begun. Check out this infobrief from analyst firm IDC to see all that SaaS PLM has to offer and the crucial role it plays in digital transformation.
Jeff is the VP for Windchill Digital Thread. His team leads Navigate, Visualization, Windchill UI and Digital Product Traceability. Prior to joining PTC, Jeff spent 16 years implementing and using PLM, CAD and CAE at Industrial, High Tech & Consumer Products companies including leading the first Windchill PDMLink implementation in 2002. He was active in the PTC/USER community serving as Chair for the Windchill Solutions committee and on the Board of Directors for PTC/USER helping to bring voice of customer input together and create a community where people could network for tools and processes. Jeff attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Lehigh University.