Product lifecycle management or PLM software is tricky to get your head around because it really has three meanings.
First, it’s a process and a way of doing things.
Second, it’s a software solution to a problem.
And finally, it’s an aspirational approach to how complex products should be developed in a modern world.
Which makes a one-sentence answer really challenging (don’t worry though, we get there at the end).
This post is going to answer, in exactly 3 minutes and 20 seconds, the question:
What is PLM software?
Better get cracking.
Where PLM software came from
Before we get to the guts of what is PLM, we need to understand how it evolved.
Product lifecycle management emerged in the mid-1980s in the automotive industry. The idea of PLM is that you track a product from cradle to grave.
It emerged the way all systems like this do – some new organization, (American Motor Company, the makers of Jeep) needed to compete against better-funded incumbents like GM so they decided to make their processes more efficient. Using PLM, they reduced waste and improved time to market by keeping data centralized and computer-based with CAD.
And product lifecycle management (PLM) was born.
Remember, at the time processes were wildly outdated:
- Supply chains were getting longer and more complex
- Decentralized production was becoming more common (e.g. lots of plants making pieces and then being assembled at a final OEM end-point)
- Products were becoming more complex (and more regulated)
- Manufacturing was facing aggressive price-shopping from consumers. Basically, cost became a race to the bottom.
(any of this sounding familiar?)
At the same time, the aerospace industry was developing an Engineering Data System (EDS) which eventually morphed into product data management.
What is PLM software today?
That’s the history of where PLM came from – big organizations building extraordinarily complex products and releasing version after version of them.
But the value of using product data to inform product ideation, procurement, and production quickly spread beyond big companies like Airbus and Chrysler.
Now, product lifecycle management software is used to deliver all kinds of products to market, which means there are a lot of different providers out there.
Its purpose today is to help organizations:
- Develop new products using CAD software
- Produce and manufacture new products
- Bring those products to market
And increasingly, product lifecycle management software has to process the feedback from the market back to the design and production processes.
To achieve these goals, PLM software has to do four things:
- Link together CAD metadata with a bill of materials
- Manage workflows for organizations needed to bring products to market
- Manage product data as they move through the product development lifecycle stages
- Hook in auxiliary suppliers and business stakeholders to a shared version of truth or single source of truth.
What is PLM software tomorrow?
So that’s where PLM came from and what PLM is today.
What about tomorrow? What’s on the horizon for PLM?
We forgot our magic 8-ball, but we’ve got a few predictions up our sleeve.
PLM will close the feedback loop
Right now, we’ve installed lots of sensors in all sorts of machines to anticipate the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT).
But we’ve been here before. Organizations always find it a lot easier to collect data than to do anything useful with it.
There are IoT platforms to help with this, but we think that another tool to manage data isn’t a sustainable model for most of the value chain who needs this information. We think that PLM is going to fill the gap by having flexible webhooks that can collect IoT data and link it directly to the design piece and BOM unique part identifier (UPI) that it relates to.
PLM will be in the cloud
This is a no-brainer. PLM is going to be a cloud-based product. We’re not going to flog a dead horse but needless to say, there are a lot of benefits to it being cloud-based. And as objections to cloud solutions fade to a distant memory, it’s the only feasible way forward.
PLM will be the workhorse of product development for all product development
PLM remains largely the purview of enterprise companies. Basically, with multi-million-dollar implementations, it’s a pay-to-play system that most SMBs can’t afford.
But that’s the old world. We think that new SaaS cloud PLM products will catalyze collaboration across the value chain by lowering the cost of entry to the point that even small organizations can hook into the broader stakeholder network and deliver products faster than ever.
The one (OK, two) sentence answer: what is PLM?
What is PLM? PLM is a software solution to manage products from cradle to grave by integrating data, workflows, and systems across a value chain to fuel collaboration and drop the cost of new product development by making processes fast, efficient, and simple. In the future, cloud PLM will help organizations close the feedback loop and bring data from the IoT into new product development.