Product Data Management (PDM) vs Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

June 27, 2022

As hardware teams build out their software tools setup, many consider both PDM (Product Data Management) and PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) systems. However, the difference between these systems is not always clear. Here’s what they are, how their definitions are changing, and why teams should consider one type of tool or another.

Historical definitions of PDM and PLM

In the past, PDM has been viewed as an engineering-focused system and as a subset of the product lifecycle which is captured in a PLM. In this view, PDM is the day-to-day tool which is used by engineering teams to manage their design data, including CAD files and drawings. One of the primary use cases of PDM in this definition is managing versions of files as they are updated by engineers. Features such as check out/check in and revision history add most of the value. PDM can be considered a hardware version of Github’s features for branching and merging. The primary use case for PLM is managing data associated with files for the entirety of the lifecycle including engineering, sourcing, supply chain, and production. While engineers are involved in the downstream functions, they are not the primary owner of these functions and so the PLM systems are not built to support their workflows in an optimal way. Features such as lifecycle status and other metadata management add most of the value.

Changing definitions and requirements of PDM and PLM Systems

While these views of PDM as a subset of PLM are standard, they do not account for a number of factors which require a new definition for hardware teams today. First, these definitions do not take into account that certain size teams must have individuals wear multiple hats. Engineers often have to create design options which take into account information that is managed by other functions. For example, an engineer has to create two versions of the same bracket with different part numbers to account for a sourcing cost reduction investigation. As a result, it can be difficult for engineers who work mostly in PDM to exit that system to work in a PLM which is inevitably not that well connected to the engineering workflow. Second, a number of factors have forced hardware teams to have tighter development cycles. The expectation to work faster requires more integration between various functions of hardware development. The outcome is that tools need to have a wide range of capabilities to support multiple functions.

Modern PDM Systems

Modern PDM systems are designed to provide robust PDM features and essential features previously associated with PLM. The reason for this is to put design files at the core of hardware development. With design files at the center, modern PDM systems support the best possible design decisions being made that align with the needs of other functions such as sourcing, supply chain, and production. To support this goal, modern PDM systems offer the most important features of PLM and do so in a way that design teams and non-design teams remain on the same page. For example, often design teams rely on an ECO (Engineering Change Order) process whenever a design is being tweaked. However, most hardware teams are constantly evaluating multiple design options based on incoming data from other engineering functions, sourcing, supply chain, and production. As a result, most ECO systems cannot handle these fast-paced situations with multiple options and the team goes to using a spreadsheet or slide deck to manage ongoing changes. In contrast, Bild offers an ECO process that uses embedded design approvals. This system enables multiple approvers to provide input at the speed that is needed. Modern PDM systems like Bild also offer better tools for BOM management. While BOMs can be managed in most PLM systems, they are an integral part of the engineering teams’ design decisions and build management. For that reason, it is difficult when traditional PLM systems prevent BOMs from being managed in a connected, updated way. In Bild, our BOM management tool pulls information directly from the CAD and provides clarity as designs get updated.

Existing ECO systems are heavy weight and require administrative work, which can slow down the iteration process. New workflows (see below) around change orders mimic other software applications, making reviewing and approving quick and easy.

In conclusion, modern PDM systems are different than traditional PDM systems in how they are defined and how they serve hardware teams. Modern PDM systems are built to put design files at the core of the product development process in a way that enables better design decisions to be made and the entire hardware organization to move faster. In order to do this, these systems are designed to enable both engineers and non-engineering teams to work as quickly as possible and stay on the same page. The hardware teams that use Bild are able to achieve both of these and get products to market faster.