PDM vs. PLM

PDM vs. PLM: Similarities and Differences

Product Data Management (PDM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) can sound similar at first, but they are two very different, albeit related solutions.

In this article, we will discuss briefly, what they are, what they do, and who needs them.

Product Data Management: What is PDM?

PDM is a software solution, that manages product design and engineering data in one central location. When all the designs, bill of materials (BOM) lists, revisions and version control, change orders are all controlled in one central location, engineering teams save time and make fewer errors.

What are some of the benefits of PDM?

  • Smooth design workflow: Integrate with the CAD programs you use seamlessly. Search and find the data you need fast. Easily replace and reuse old files. Work on the same data with your peers without worrying about conflicts. PDM streamlines the design processes and makes them faster and easier.
  • Better collaboration: Show the 2D and 3D views of your product, and get comments and feedback, even from people outside of your organization, like focus groups. Record the feedback directly on the PDM, to improve your design.
  • Automated processes: Many processes, from change orders, revision management, and creating BOM lists can be automated and streamlined through PDM.

In short, a PDM system organizes and the design of the product, and manages all the product data in a central, revision-controlled environment. This improves and streamlines the design processes while reducing the potential for errors.

Product Lifecycle Management: What is PLM?

While Product Data Management only deals with the design data of a product, Product Lifecycle Management deals with all the stages of a product, conception, design, production, and service.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) shouldn’t be confused with Product Lifecyle Management (marketing), although they sound similar. PLM focuses on marketing, sales, and profit management of the product, while PLM focuses on engineering aspects.

PLM is also a more enterprise-level application, like ERP and CRM. And also PLM is not only a set of software tools, but also a business strategy.

How does PLM work in different stages of the product lifecycle?

  • Initial conception: This is the stage where the product is developed from a rough idea to a concept. Designers may use many different types of tools at this stage, from pencil sketches on paper to clay models, to CAD design software. Many of the major specifications, features, and defining characteristics can be developed at this stage. Without a PLM system in place, engineers come up with a design. Many times, even approvals and comments on the design has to be done unofficially, using things like email and memos. With a PLM system in place, everything is done in a central location and this streamlines the process.
  • Design:  This is the stage where the product design is detailed, tested, improved, and made ready for full-scale production. This may include prototyping and small scale pilot productions. Without a PLM, engineers design the prototypes on an ad-hoc basis, with no central procedure. When there is a PLM system in place, designers mark the initial design as ready for prototyping, managers approve the request on the system. And when the lab produces and tests the prototype, they know the design constraints and parameters. And everything is recorded and managed in the same system.
  • Production: This is the stage where the design is ready for production. Without a PLM system in place, engineers send CAD files or printouts to management and manufacturing. Once designs are approved, manufacturing then enters items and BOM to their system manually, although sometimes there may be interfaces that facilitate the data flow. With a PLM system in place, engineers mark the design as ready for production. They can look directly into the 2D or 3D designs, and view the documents associated with the design. After the management and manufacturing approve the design, BOM is automated if PLM is also integrated into the ERP systems.
  • Service: This is the phase where there are all kinds of information while the product is already in production. Customer service, repair, and maintenance phasing out or retiring a product, as well as waste management and recycling all belong to this phase of the project. Using a PLM, every single comment and information is stored in a central location. Service requirements of one product also become a design input for future products.

Overall comparison of PDM vs PLM

Obviously, PLM is a more comprehensive overall management tool compared to PDM. PDM is usually only one component of PLM. However, implementing a PLM system can also be a more costly and time-consuming project.

The advantage of a PDM is that it is cheap and simple to implement. It is also generally an earlier project for a growing business. However, as a business grows, it is likely that both PDM and PLM systems would be needed, as well as ERM and CRM systems.

Advantages of PDM

  • Cheaper and faster for initial deployment
  • Very easy to maintain
  • Requires little training

Advantages of PLM

  • Streamlines every single step of product design
  • Faster time to market
  • Designs and all documents related to the design is visible to everyone involved
  • Reduced chance for any errors
  • PLM creates reusable design elements over time, so there is no time lost reinventing the wheel

Overall, smaller businesses will start with CAD/CAM/CAE first, and then will implement a PDM system. Then after a certain size and complexity of operations, implementing a PLM system will also be necessary. While the implementation of a PLM is more complicated and costly compared to implementing a PDM system, in the long run, a PLM system streamlines many more processes and prevent costly manufacturing mistakes. Most businesses will likely benefit from eventually implementing both.

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