The 3 Flavors of PLM You Need to Know

Education / The 3 Flavors of PLM You Need to Know
Engineering Handoff Mentality

Summary: there are three major types of PLM: specialist providers; modular PLM systems, and dedicated cloud PLM solutions. They all have pros and cons, and it’s about choosing the right solution for your business. 


Product lifecycle management software comes in almost infinite flavors and combinations.

And if you think you need PLM, it can be hard to know where to start.

So here’s a quick rundown to help you out.

Here are the three types of PLM, and the pros and cons of each.

By the end of this post, you’ll know:

  • What separates different PLM vendors
  • Where each type of PLM excels
  • The cons of each type of PLM.

Here we go!

The 3 types of PLM

First, specialist providers.

These are organizations who specialize in PLM, usually in conjunction with their own CAD software.

Second, modular PLM providers.

These are organizations who specialize in something else (e.g. ERP) but offer PLM as a bolt-on service.

Finally, dedicated cloud PLM providers.

These are the latest type of PLM software on the PLM landscape.

They’re aimed at smaller organizations (more on this in a minute) and puts PLM on the cloud rather than hosting it in an on-premise environment.

For instance, at Upchain we’re a dedicated cloud PLM provider.

Now, let’s dig into these.

Types of PLM software: specialist providers

Specialist providers dominate the PLM space.

And with good reason.

Specialists providers make CAD software first and add PLM later.

And since PLM is about moving product data beyond engineering, having your PLM and CAD seamlessly integrated is extraordinarily valuable.

Which is why traditional PLM industries like aerospace & defense and automotive, who are deep into a specific provider’s CAD gravitate towards the same provider’s PLM solution.

Pros of a specialist provider

  • Integration between the PLM solution and the same company’s CAD system is seamless.
  • It’s designed to handle a huge amount of complex data (e.g. for an airplane).
  • It’s usually a closed environment, which simplifies security.
  • This type of PLM is the tried and true solution.

Cons of a specialist provider

They’re at the high end the pricing table

Specialist PLM solutions tend to be a bit pricer. According to G2 Crowd, traditional PLMs rank in the top 80th percentile on average for PLM cost.

This means that on average, specialist providers cost more than 80% of all the PLM solutions out there.

They only integrate with their own CAD

Specialist providers usually offer a CAD system as well as a PLM.

The two are designed to work together. And they do.

But as soon as you move beyond that CAD environment, integration becomes difficult. This can present problems for:

  • Teams who use different CAD systems for different things
  • Suppliers whose clients use different CAD systems
  • Organizations with multiple, semi-autonomous divisions where they build their own tech stack.

It’s a single suite solution

On the spectrum from best-of-breed to single-suite, specialist providers sit at the single-suite end.

They work well with their own software family, but often fail to work with other tools.

This includes competitor software (e.g. different types of CAD) but also business solutions like email, word processors, Excel, and shared drives.

Modular PLM providers

The next major type of PLM is what we call modular providers.

These are PLM solutions that are offered by companies who specialize in something else but offer a PLM system as an optional add-on.

PLM is offered as an additional add-on.

What separates modular solutions from specialists is that specialist providers are CAD-first organizations, who tie a PLM into their CAD data.

Modular solutions offer non-CAD software (e.g. ERP, database software, etc…) as their primary product and the PLM is designed first and foremost to integrate with that.

Pros of modular providers

  • It will integrate well with the rest of the provider’s software suite. This might include all the software you need to run your business.
  • It’s a tool your extended stakeholder network already knows.
  • It can usually be added to your existing infrastructure relatively easily, both from both an admin and technical perspective.

Cons of modular providers

Missing functionality

Modular providers run into the problem of servicing their own hero product over the needs of product lifecycle management software.

Usually, this hero product is an ERP, which means that product data and financial data are integrated, but building in CAD data can be challenging because it’s not the organization’s core competency.

CAD data can be challenging because it’s not the organization’s core competency.

Poor cross-platform integration

Modular providers run into a similar problem to specialist providers: they integrate effectively with their own software solutions but fail to integrate with others.

This ties their customers to a single suite, rather than choosing the software that works best for them.

Modular design means modular pricing

The modular approach to PLM means that pricing is usually modular as well – which means that the price can climb fast.

Dedicated cloud PLM providers

These types of PLM solutions are the latest addition to the PLM landscape.

Dedicated cloud PLM, because of the low implementation cost (no hardware) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) pricing structure makes this type of PLM the PLM of choice for small and medium-sized businesses, while its effortless scalability means it’s a tantalizing prospect for enterprise organizations too.

Cloud PLM is the solution of choice for small and medium-sized businesses.

Pros of dedicated cloud PLM providers

  • SaaS pricing and no hardware expenses keep the price low and mean the capital costs are negligible.
  • The underlying cloud architecture promotes configuration over customization
  • Rapid product iteration and constant deployment mean you’re always working with the latest and greatest.
  • As a rule, SaaS, cloud-based products tend to integrate better with other cloud solutions, giving organizations flexibility in what tools they use.

Cons of dedicated cloud PLM providers

“cloud” is a loaded term

A recent challenge we’ve noticed is confusion over what a cloud PLM actually is. There are now two types of PLM on the cloud:

  1. Cloud PLM that’s a SaaS-based, multi-tenant architecture committed to constant deployment, improvement, and scalability.
  2. Cloud PLM that is deployed via the cloud (that is, the software is technically “on the cloud”) but the product itself is essentially an on-premise solution, just hosted in a cloud datacenter.

Continuing concerns around security

Despite advances in cloud technology and increasing adoption in other software areas (e.g. CRM with Salesforce, software development with Jira on the cloud, etc…). many in the manufacturing world remain on the fence about cloud security.

For instance, in a recent webinar, CIMdata reviewed a survey completed in early 2018 that found that more than 40% of respondents worried about PLM on the cloud for security reasons – despite having other other cloud-based core business software products like ERP and CRM.

types of product lifecycle management software

All this in spite of the fact that Gartner found in 2017 that the cloud was actually more secure and less prone to vulnerabilities than an on-premise equivalent.

This incongruity is caused by the fact that PLM deals with a company’s intellectual property (IP).

If someone were to steal this IP, all those innovation dollars are wasted since they now have the ability to recreate the exact product.

Through 2022, at least 95% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault.

Final thoughts

Shortlisting which types of PLM might be right for your business isn’t easy. But hopefully, now you have a better idea of what goes where.

Because there is no single answer. There is no one type of PLM to rule them all.

It’s about understanding your pain and finding a vendor who can help you solve that pain to achieve business objectives.

Whatever software does that is the only solution for you.

Image credit: Dimitris Vetsikas via Pixabay


Got more questions about types of PLM? We’ve got PLM answers. Get in touch and find out if cloud PLM is right for you.

2018-12-12T14:01:53+00:00