Education / PDM vs PLM
what is a PDM system?

Summary: PDM is a tool to manage product data and ensure robust version control and a single version of the truth. PLM manages the workflows, processes, and the cross-department/cross-chain engagement organizations need to bring products to market. PDM vs PLM? It’s a non-starter – companies need both.

We’ve been talking a lot about the enterprise tech stack recently, looking at things like ERP, PLM, PDM tools, and more.

And last week we looked at what product data management is, diving into how it works and how it can help organizations.

Now, we’re going to answer the $64,000 question:

What’s the difference between a PDM and a PLM, and which one should you buy?

Quick recap: What is PDM or PLM software?

Before we get too far into this, let’s clarify what we’re talking about.

PLM stands for Product Lifecycle Management. It’s a tool that guides products through the product development lifecycle. And as products and supply chains get more complex, a way to manage the development process becomes more and more important. PLMs usually give organizations:

  • Workflows
  • Milestones or stage gates
  • CAD/BOM syncing
  • Change management processes.

PDM stands for Product Data Management. PDM tools manage product data as it moves through the product lifecycle. Specifically, PDM systems keep CAD files organized and version controlled.

This is usually achieved with a check-in/check-out file structure and a centralized storage solution, either in an on-premise server, a privately managed network or, increasingly, a cloud server.

In a nutshell, PLM is responsible for the process and the system that product development happens in. PDM is responsible for managing the actual digital product files that move through that PLM process.

PDM vs PLM: what one do I need?

The answer is: “probably both.”

Full disclosure, the title of this blog post is a bit misleading. PDM vs PLM isn’t really a thing because they’re not substitutes for each other.

Rather, they’re complementary software solutions that modern enterprises can use to improve product development.

PDM and PLM are complementary software solutions that modern enterprises can use to improve product development.

PDM tools make managing changes within an engineering context much easier.

Why you need a PDM

The problem is that engineering data is clunky and complex.

Engineering teams manage enormous assemblies that can only be manipulated by specific programs. Maintaining consistency across versions, especially for companies with global design offices, is difficult.

PDM makes this easier by:

  • Ensuring there’s a single version of every file
  • Tracking each change as new versions come in
  • Creating unique part numbers for every individual part/file that make up the overall assembly
  • Check-in/check-out file formats.

Together, these eliminate people editing a file at the same time or being confused by duplicate files.

Because CAD data is complicated, in PDM vs PLM, PDM usually comes first.

However, PDM doesn’t make it easy to manage the workflows surrounding file changes.

PDM manages the what changes, but not really the how or why.

That’s where PLM comes in.

PDM vs PLM:  why you need a PLM

PLM manages the change processes and workflows that drive product development.

For example, if a piece of an assembly needs to change because it keeps breaking, then PLM will be the tool that manages that change process.

PLM  software also bridges the gap between engineering stakeholders and the rest of product stakeholder network.

Other business units need to use engineering data, but because PDM manages CAD data through CAD software, it’s uniquely unsuited to this kind of cross-department and cross-chain engagement.

PDM is uniquely unsuited to cross-department and cross-chain engagement.

Engineering is primarily concerned with ensuring a design is fit for purpose, and ensuring that the right CAD assembly gets used at the right time (e.g. version control).

But business stakeholders care about BOM syncing, cost, parts centralization, accessible 3D models, and more. None of these are the core function for engineering, but all rely on engineering data.

With no PLM, informal communication tools like email creep in, which means files move beyond the version-controlled environment of enterprise software.

pdm vs plm informal bypass

And suddenly, organizations are back to where they started, digging for the right file version or sending the wrong one through the product lifecycle.

Plus, they’re on the hook financially for a PDM system that isn’t doing its job.

The bottom line: PDM vs PLM are two sides of the same coin

PDM vs PLM isn’t a matter of choosing one over the other.

It’s a matter of ensuring you have the tools you need to do your job.

For organizations who are using CAD software and iterating regularly, a PDM is usually the first purchase.

They’re often less expensive than a full PLM solution and, more importantly, the pain they solve for is experienced earlier in product development lifecycle.

However, stopping at a PDM is a rookie mistake.

Engineering data inevitably has to move beyond the engineering team. Procurement, sales, executives, supplier managers — they all need access to the data captured in CAD metadata.

Stakeholders end up attaching files in emails, linking to shared drives, or just sending specs and requests via instant message. A single view of complex engineering data is lost, and teams have to scramble to keep versions up to date and processes moving efficiently.

On the other hand, a PLM without a centralized CAD storage solution and robust version control is about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane: it’s a nice start, but probably not the full solution.

That’s why we built our cloud PLM system to have a fully functioning PDM solution within it. Because we think companies need both to effectively manage engineering data and then effectively move it through the product lifecycle.

PDM vs PLM? There is no versus.

For us, it’s PDM & PLM: a love story.

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