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What Is PLM?

September 10, 2019

It can be difficult to get a product from conception all the way to market.

The long product development journey includes stages that involve designing, testing, redesigning, validating, manufacturing and then finally distributing the product. (This process becomes even more challenging when the design is manufactured elsewhere in the world, necessitating constant communication to ensure production is running smoothly.)

Getting a product to market involves a lot of moving variables, and when it’s all said and done, the entire process can take several years.  

So how do manufacturers speed up this process and optimize the design of a product from start to finish? They use PLM software (product lifecycle management).

See the Highest-Rated PLM Software, Free →

What is PLM?

PLM software is a tool that manufacturers and designers use to manage a product’s data from inception all the way until its disposal. Since manufacturers, designers and engineers must all communicate during the production stage, PLM software offers a space to house all of a product’s information in one central location. This offers more visibility between each team, which often results in shorter product cycle times and more efficient operations. 

The product lifecycle, PLM helps keep track of the product lifecycle


Benefits of implementing PLM

Having a single source to manage all the data and processes that go into bringing a product to market is an invaluable resource for manufacturers and distributors. Here are some of the major benefits that PLM can have during the development phase: 

1) Shorter time to market

The ultimate goal of PLM is to streamline the process of manufacturing a product and shortening the time to market. When IBM conducted a study on PLM challenges and benefits, the company asked respondents to identify the most significant challenge in the life cycle of a product.  The largest number of respondents (29%) identified “delivering products on time” as the No. 1 challenge. In the same study, a business called Clarion was able to reduce design cycle times by 50% and tooling preparation time by 60% by using a PLM software tool. 

The data clearly shows that PLM software will reduce a product’s time to market since it provides a centralized location for all teams to access a product’s information. This provides full visibility, which enables teams to have the information they need to take action right away. The result of this is a faster time to market and reduced costs across the entire product life cycle.

2) Reduced costs

According to research conducted at the University of Bath, 70–80% of the lifecycle costs of a product are determined by designers during the early design stages. In other words, the cost of a product is generally determined by one team at the very outset of a product’s life cycle. PLM software aims to eliminate this by facilitating communication between teams surrounding ways in which the businesses involved can reduce costs during the product’s life cycle. This can involve factors such as reduced material costs, packaging cost savings and ways to save on ordering costs. 

3) Optimized supply chain

PLM makes the entire product life cycle visible for designers as well as suppliers. This helps with supply chain collaboration as it displays what materials are needed throughout the manufacturing process, allowing suppliers to make more informed decisions and save time and potentially money. A research report conducted by Arena, a PLM software vendor, revealed how its cloud PLM dramatically improved the supply chain across a variety of industries: 

Supply chain ROI that could use PLM or product lifecycle management software

                                                                       Image courtesy of Arena

4) Established global supply chain

Having one central location for a product’s information allows companies to scale a product’s development from a domestic setting to a global supply chain. This is a huge benefit for companies because manufacturing a product in a different country almost always saves a company money. Furthermore, the business can then easily distribute this product overseas, enabling them to reach a wider audience. 

5) Improved communication

It’s extremely difficult to have a product jump from team to team when everyone is using a different system. In fact, in the same study conducted by IBM, respondents stated that the third biggest challenge in a product’s life cycle is managing multiple data types and supporting systems. PLM software solves this issue by providing one centralized system for a product’s information, thus eliminating the problem of transferring data from one software to the next and streamlining communication between teams. Now when a product passes through one stage of the product life cycle, each time can provide detailed notes in the PLM software so the next team can clearly see which changes were made and what still needs to be done.

Next steps

It’s clear that implementing a PLM during your production life cycle can cut costs, improve communication and offer a great return on investment. The next step in implementing the right PLM software for your company is choosing which specific pain points your business encounters during the production life cycle. Does your business need improved communication? Do you need it to integrate with your ERP systems? Do you want a software that’s easy to implement or low cost? 

Once you’ve determined your needs, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions on which PLM software will have the biggest impact for your team. 

Want to implement a PLM today? Check out our article on the top rated PLM tools.


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