PLM (Product Lifecycle Management)

Provide the context, security, traceability, and processes needed across enterprise teams and systems to ensure product data is accessible and trustworthy

What is product lifecycle management (PLM)?

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A product's success is not solely determined by its design or functionality. It’s also essential to consider its production process, the sourcing of its components, its maintenance, and more. These aspects make up the product's lifecycle. Successfully managing this lifecycle in its entirety is crucial to keeping pace in an expanding competitive landscape.

This is the role of PLM software. It enables geographically dispersed, multidisciplinary teams to strategically collaborate with partners and customers using trusted, up-to-date product information to streamline product development.

Product lifecycle management is the foundation for a digital thread strategy, which enables product information to be available to the right people, at the right time, and in the right context to create new value for the organization. PLM also enables supply chain agility and business continuity.

Build a foundation for a wide range of new revenue growth and cost-saving opportunities with PTC’s out-of-the-box applications. Seamlessly integrate our PLM solutions with ERP, MES, CAD, AR, IoT technologies, and more.

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History of product lifecycle management (PLM)

Product lifecycle management originally provided basic safeguards for CAD files. Check-in/check-out and version control, features now taken for granted, introduced critical protection and organization for design information. PLM has since matured to manage an ecosystem of information and is entrusted with robust controls for products and processes across the value chain. PLM’s standardization, reusability, and collaboration are must-have features for best-in-class manufacturers.

PTC's product lifecycle management leadership

PTC's comprehensive PLM solution portfolio provides a foundation for the digital thread, speeds supply chain collaboration, ensures quality compliance, and drives Agile product development processes. PTC's PLM portfolio enables internal product teams and supply chain partners to design, manufacture, develop, deliver, and service products fast and effectively.

Whether you’re a startup, mid-sized, or Fortune 500 company—we have the right solution to meet your needs. PTC’s Windchill, Windchill+, Arena, and FlexPLM solutions bring your teams, product information, and processes together to help you introduce innovative products to market faster and more sustainably.

PTC is the only pure-play software company that can enable manufacturers to manage the entire lifecycle of the product, from the first draft of concept design, to the last day of useful operation, to the repurposing and recycling.

Benefits of product lifecycle management software

Improved collaboration

PLM simplifies access to content and workflows, helping cross-functional teams meet their schedule, cost, and quality goals. PLM’s authoritative source of truth enables the digital thread so that engineering, manufacturing, service, and other teams can collaborate faster without sacrificing quality.

PLM simplifies access to content and workflows, helping cross-functional teams meet their schedule, cost, and quality goals. PLM’s authoritative source of truth enables the digital thread so that engineering, manufacturing, service, and other teams can collaborate faster without sacrificing quality. Read More Read More

Increased efficiency

PLM streamlines key processes, such as digitally generating bills of material (BOMs) and related product views (e.g., mBOMs and sBOMs) to eliminate data errors and improve workforce efficiency. By automating the delivery of standardized, role-based information, PLM accelerates critical processes across your operations.

PLM streamlines key processes, such as digitally generating bills of material (BOMs) and related product views (e.g., mBOMs and sBOMs) to eliminate data errors and improve workforce efficiency. By automating the delivery of standardized, role-based information, PLM accelerates critical processes across your operations.

Enhanced product quality

PLM's collaboration and transparency replace complexity and chaos with efficient concurrent engineering—supporting all projects and product lines across the organization. It also supports these functions with traceability from issues to components, and from functions to hardware and software parts.

PLM's collaboration and transparency replace complexity and chaos with efficient concurrent engineering—supporting all projects and product lines across the organization. It also supports these functions with traceability from issues to components, and from functions to hardware and software parts.

Faster innovation to launch

Product launch teams rely on PLM to ensure critical feedback and data are shared throughout the entire development process. Thanks to PLM's connected process plans and work instructions, the journey from development to manufacturing moves with speed, agility, and reliability.

Product launch teams rely on PLM to ensure critical feedback and data are shared throughout the entire development process. Thanks to PLM's connected process plans and work instructions, the journey from development to manufacturing moves with speed, agility, and reliability.

Enforced product compliance

PLM’s ability to manage processes, standard part structures, and automation ensures precisely consistent products in every manufacturing site worldwide, including contract manufacturers. Data-driven consistency ensures product compliance and mitigates regulatory risks.

PLM’s ability to manage processes, standard part structures, and automation ensures precisely consistent products in every manufacturing site worldwide, including contract manufacturers. Data-driven consistency ensures product compliance and mitigates regulatory risks.

PLM for sustainable engineering

Utilize the digital thread to make design decisions that support your sustainability initiatives. Making good design choices matters because 80% of a product's environmental impact is determined during the design phase. By combining design and engineering data from PLM with real data coming from the physical world via IoT, engineers can take the environmental impact of the processes and materials used to create the product into consideration. With PLM for sustainable engineering, you can maximize the value you deliver while minimizing the waste.

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Product lifecycle management capabilities

BOM management

Get full digital associativity across engineering, supply chain, manufacturing, sales, and service.

Collaborative product development

Manage and execute complex product development projects with collaboration and workflow tools.

Engineering change management

Provide built-in governance and traceability for automated, accurate, and coordinated engineering change management.

IP security

Enable secure collaboration across the value chain by managing IP protection through enterprise digital rights management.

Manufacturing process management

Build and manufacture anywhere with a seamless flow of information between engineering and manufacturing.

Model-based systems engineering

Enable collaborative, innovative design and maintenance of complex systems.

Parts classification

Reduce product complexity and drive down costs with a classification strategy that ensures duplicate parts avoidance and greater reuse.

Product configuration management

Minimize the harmful impacts of product complexity by managing product configurations and data with a single source of truth.

Product data management

Enable global collaboration across concurrent design environments with a secure, tightly integrated, multi-CAD and product data management system.

Product variability management

Manage complex variants and configurations at scale.

Quality management

Build quality, reliability, safety, and process control into every part of the product lifecycle.

Requirements and test management

Create, structure, and validate complex product requirements across the engineering lifecycle.

Service process management

Establish a foundation for accurate and accessible service information.

Supply chain collaboration

Enable supplier collaboration with IP security so you can share design data and track deliverables to multiple projects around the globe.

Leaders using PLM to drive digital transformation

See how these global manufacturers are effectively using PLM to drive their digital transformation journey.

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Seagate

See how Seagate established an enterprise digital thread with a PLM foundation.

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U.S. Navy

Learn how the Navy is using PTC’s PLM cloud model to support the digitization of NAVSEA.

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Volvo CE

Learn how Volvo is using PLM as the backbone for an industrialized digital thread, which improves cross team efficiency and accelerates time to market.

Read Their Story

Vaillant Group

Learn how Vaillant Group is getting their digital house in order one step at a time, starting with engineering change management.

Learn How

NEXTracker

Learn how NEXTracker harnessed PLM solutions to improve accuracy, eliminate time-zone delays, and accelerate product introductions.

Read Their Story

Potrero

Learn how Potrero improved product design and quality and achieved compliance success with PLM.

Read Their Story

PTC's comprehensive PLM solution portfolio

PTC’s Windchill, Windchill+, Arena, and FlexPLM comprise a robust PLM solution portfolio. This digital thread foundation connects product information and processes to speed supply chain collaboration, ensure quality compliance, and drive agile product development processes.

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Windchill: Industry-leading, enterprise PLM software

Realize value quickly with standardized, out-of-the-box functionality across a comprehensive portfolio of core PDM and advanced PLM applications.

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Explore Windchill+

Windchill+: Collaborate without boundaries

Enjoy all the features and value that Windchill offers on–premises, only faster with preconfigured best practices, built-in security, and frictionless collaboration enabled by SaaS.

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Explore Arena

Arena: Cloud-native PLM and QMS

Arena solutions are easy to configure and deploy, enabling internal teams and supply chains to develop and deliver high-quality products fast.

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Explore FlexPLM

FlexPLM: Get products to market just in time

FlexPLM’s visual, scalable, secure, and user-friendly platform helps brands and retailers get products to market with speed and efficiency to be on trend.

Explore FlexPLM

PLM on-demand hub: Collaboration across the digital thread

Hear from global leaders like Bosch, Cellcentric, Vestas , and ZF about how they are utilizing the digital thread to connect their network of engineers and non-engineers across the organization.

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Future of PLM

PLM promotes emerging digital solutions and innovations like artificial intelligence (AI). Best-in-class manufacturers are building on PLM to simplify processes (e.g., change management), automate tasks (e.g., requirements validation), and handle complex business logic (e.g., CAD model optimization). Together PLM and AI will increasingly predict and provide role-specific, contextually relevant product data. AI applications can enhance PLM with generative responses and by solving problems with natural language and localized dialects.

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Product lifecycle management (PLM) FAQs

What are the five phases of product development?

The five phases of product development are concept and design, development, production and launch, service and support, and retirement. These phases all depend on PLM furnishing standardized, reliable, and role-specific data—exactly when it’s needed.

Concept and design

The concept and design phase begins with engineering teams innovating to meet customer needs and market opportunities. PLM supports this phase by allowing engineers to collaborate simultaneously on model requirements, systems, and software elements. PLM also optimizes cost and quality by improving early issue detection. PLM-savvy organizations have full confidence that design or data flaws are caught and corrected before they reach downstream phases.

Development

During the development phase, engineers optimize the quality and efficiency of initial designs. PLM facilitates real-time collaboration across teams, allowing for efficient, simultaneous work with industrial partners. Cross-functional and partner collaboration significantly reduces the cost of stage-gate transitions as products progress from development to production.

Production and launch

The shift from design to production is a pivotal phase, requiring manufacturing teams to have real-time access to data created and revised during the design and development phases. Without that data, manufacturers open themselves up to a host of threats; production can grind to a halt, shop-floor technicians may make snap decisions, and quality issues can develop that may not be detected until after products reach the market. PLM ensures a continuity of data between all disciplines, which is indispensable as products transition from development to launch.

Service and support

The service and support phase begins long before products reach the market, with extensive planning—including structures, 3D transformations, and configuration logic. PLM improves how downstream deliverables are created and supports change management continuity between product and service engineering. With the right PLM implementation, even the most immense service supply chains can be optimized, supporting performance-based logistics contracts, and maximizing asset availability and readiness.

Retirement

Companies looking to maximize value mine the product retirement phase for ways to reduce costs, time, and resources. PLM equips the organization with the resources needed to improve end-of-product-life operations. This creates new, transformative ways to advance sustainability and efficiency, which can drive improvements in more traditional business metrics. Organizations that focus on the retirement phase often turn the operational costs of doing business into growth and revenue opportunities.

What are the four stages of the product lifecycle?

Product lifecycles vary significantly, ranging from short (e.g., mobile devices or laptops) to long (e.g., aircraft or naval vessels). Regardless of their total lifespan, all products progress through the same four stages: product development, growth, maturity, and decline. At each stage, PLM can offer benefits that support the overall lifecycle.

Product development

During the product development stage, research and development (R&D) teams work to bring new products to the market as quickly as possible. PLM provides much-needed support to key early-stage tasks (requirements management, ALM/PLM integration, multi-CAD data management, document management, BOM management, change management). Market leaders trust PLM for improved cross-discipline collaboration, efficient innovation, and minimal design changes.

Product growth

During the product growth stage, your operations must have agility to meet market demands. Factories can’t afford disruptions, even as quality and regulatory issues demand immediate resolution. PLM enables collaborative agility to address enterprise change management, closed loop quality, supply chain planning, regulatory compliance, and manufacturing engineering—building blocks needed for rapid product growth.

Product maturity

During the product maturity stage, real-world utilization offers significant opportunities for data gathering; PLM can turn that data into rich, actionable insights. For example, machine learning, IoT, and connectivity can transform support with predictive maintenance. Beyond that, usage data improves R&D’s understanding of how certain features are being utilized, and can direct new advances in performance, quality, and safety. PLM creates a data map that provides traceability between the "as designed," "as manufactured," and "as maintained" stages.

Product decline

In the product decline stage, when products are no longer being manufactured and support is scaling back, controlling costs is crucial. Deploying PLM with service lifecycle management (SLM) helps optimize service efficiencies and quality. PLM provides an authoritative source of truth for part and product data, improving technician effectiveness and reducing mean time to repair. With built-in automation and seamless processes, PLM can save hundreds of labor hours per month and reduce spare part costs and supply errors.

How does PLM deliver the digital thread?

The rapid pace of change and complexity in your business can result in siloed teams looking skeptically at product data and processes. That lack of trust amplifies complexity and confusion—which can seriously undercut efforts to be innovative and agile in the marketplace.

Traditionally, distinctions like role, department, geographic location, software, or hardware platforms are reasons why data can’t be shared. But the digital thread makes these distinctions arbitrary—removing barriers and creating opportunities to share and use data in new ways. And all data is treated with accessibility, traceability, and credibility. The result is that you not only empower teams across your organization with more data and insights, but you’ve also increased their trust that the data is accurate and actionable.

PLM provides the foundation needed to deploy your digital thread strategy. PLM maintains the data integrity and builds the confidence you need to keep pace in fast-changing, competitive markets. And PLM integrates with complementary technology (e.g., industrial connectivity, IoT, AI/machine learning) to establish a universal data flow between IT/OT systems—needed to implement the digital thread at full enterprise scale.

How does PLM support digital twins?

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical product, process, person, or place that can understand, measure, and even manage its physical counterparts.

PLM brings together the three components of a digital twin: a digital definition of its counterpart, operational/experiential data of that counterpart (gathered from Internet of Things data, real-world telemetry, and beyond), and an information model (dashboards, HMIs, and more) that correlates and presents the data to drive decision making.

A digital twin is much more than a simulation, which is merely a data-driven prediction for how a physical entity will behave. A digital twin spans the full product lifecycle, reflects evolving data, and serves engineering, manufacturing, and service use cases.

How do you manage the product lifecycle?

Managing the product lifecycle effectively requires managing each stage’s data, process, and team needs. It begins with creating a central hub for digital product definition and maintaining comprehensive records of engineering specifications, service procedures, and manufacturing process definitions for each version of every component. This ensures control and understanding of exact product configurations, as well as traceability and governance over all changes throughout a dynamic, evolving product lifecycle.

PLM systems are designed to standardize, automate, and scale this management process, making it data-driven and applicable even in complex environments. Managing the product lifecycle involves different requirements and provides unique benefits to each team. Collectively, this results in significant improvements in efficiency, quality, service, and the overall product lifecycle.

A supply chain leader benefitting from a properly managed product lifecycle will realize resource savings by tapping into the universal data flow between PLM and ERP – eliminating the pitfalls of manual data entry. An engineering lead will experience efficiency gains across their entire organization – enabling them to ramp up capacity and fund more projects. And because product designers are collaborating with advanced planners early in the cycle, they can work together to beat cost targets. Manufacturing teams can move into active production faster with accurate, complete, and up-to-date data. Service leaders are also better prepared – having benefitted from participation in NPI and change processes.

What are some challenges of PLM?

At the senior level, PLM’s impact and value is evident; leaders who see outcomes like shortened change control cycle times don’t need to be sold on the virtues of PLM. But many of PLM’s benefits rest on formalizing processes that originate with engineering teams (such as more sophisticated product definitions). And if the positive impacts of these changes aren’t clearly communicated, engineers will understandably prefer not to add more checkpoints and validation steps or revise familiar workflows. To secure rapid adoption and success, the following tactics are recommended:

  • Build executive sponsorship from the outset to secure budget and reinforce to employees that PLM processes are a business priority.
  • Cascade strong communication down from the executive level. Middle level management buy-in is key to preventing adoption roadblocks.
  • Allocate time and resources for teams to properly adjust, absorb, and understand the value of change.
  • Locate the right champion in the business. Rally teams behind a voice who can articulate the end-state to build a culture of contagious enthusiasm.
  • Recognize that transformation is a process. Reward success and respond to challenges with support.
  • Support teams during the transformation period. Be sure engineers are included in the details of key milestones. Provide resources to build a culture of active collaboration and shared goals.
  • Communicate success after deployment. Help individuals recognize how they are contributing to shared company success. Create a sense of ownership and pride in these improved business outcomes.

What is the difference between PLM and ERP?

Effectively managing the product lifecycle involves multiple enterprise systems, including PLM and ERP. The precise boundaries between these will depend on your business model and complexity of your products.

Digital assets (i.e., the intellectual property output of product development) are typically lifecycle managed in PLM. Downstream systems can modify within reason, but these cannot change any form, fit, or function that is defined in the BOM sent from PLM. PLM is known as the source of truth; ERP augments that truth to add components that enhance the data.

Production planning, forecasting, sourcing, cost tracking (physical assets) is typically managed in ERP – transaction-oriented information. ERP is well-positioned to augment PLM data but should never change the definition of source data. ERP is not able to maintain complex configurations. ERP adds "costing" items, subcontract, vendor data, add part alternatives, etc.

Changes are released all together and always must flow back to the PLM system, including data from manufacturing, service, and engineering. This ensures the implications of all part or product changes are visible and well understood.

Additional resources

Connected systems in discrete manufacturing

Learn how to align PLM, ERP, MES, and more to achieve digital transformation success.

Aberdeen report: Weaving quality into the digital thread

Learn how to ensure quality in complex, innovative engineering environments.

Analyst ranking of leading PLM vendors

Read the latest SPARK Matrix™ report and see why PTC has been recognized as a leader among PLM solution providers.

The seven building blocks of the digital thread

Gain insights into what the main building blocks are to a successful digital thread and how PLM is a key component.

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