PDM vs PLM: Which system reigns supreme?

May 9, 2023


As hardware companies progress through the various stages of product development, they will inevitably generate an enormous amount of data. This data can include everything from design sketches and schematics to customer feedback and quality testing results.

This data is critical to overseeing the entire product lifecycle. Because of this, companies will often rely on product data management (PDM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems to properly manage this data. 

The history of PDM and PLM systems is varied and has been influenced by the strategic initiatives of CAD vendors. Certain software companies have merged the two into a single platform, while other companies have focused exclusively on delivering stand-alone systems.

It’s important to understand the difference between these two systems, and when it makes sense to implement a PDM or PLM system for your organization. 

Here, we’ll explore the differences and overlaps between PDM and PLM systems. We’ll review when the two systems are accessed separately versus merged into a single tool. We’ll also examine the range of functionality of each and common use cases to give you a solid understanding of what each system can offer your business.

PDM vs PLM software – What are the differences?

As you delve deeper into the differences between PDM and PLM software, it’s critical to evaluate the needs of your business to determine which solution is a better fit. While both PDM and PLM software have overlapping features, there are also distinctions that set them apart. 

Understanding these differences will enable you to make an informed decision and select the best software to optimize your business processes, streamline product development, and improve collaboration and team collaboration. 

PDM software

Product Data Management (PDM) software is used to centralize and manage product data related to CAD designs. PDM features typically include version control, check-in/check-out, file locking, design rollback, and the management of concurrent collaborative design. 

With check-in and check-out, users can work on files while preventing any other stakeholders from modifying or changing files that are currently being worked on. Once the user checks the file back in, it becomes available for others to access and modify. 

File locking, on the other hand, freezes all edit capabilities, ensuring that the work being done on a file is not lost or changed. 

Overall, PDM software is designed to help teams manage and collaborate on design data and related documents efficiently.

PLM software

PLM is a more comprehensive approach to managing a product’s entire lifecycle, from ideation to end of life. Unlike PDM, which primarily focuses on CAD file management, PLM software covers a wider range of product data and processes, including design, engineering, manufacturing, and maintenance. 

By providing a centralized platform for all product-related data and activities, PLM ensures that everyone involved in the product development process is working with the most up-to-date information.

Some of the capabilities included in PLM software are: BOM (bill of materials) management, change management, revision control, and synchronization to downstream manufacturing teams via integrations with MES (manufacturing execution system) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. PLM software also provides workflow management, enabling teams to streamline processes and enable interdepartmental collaboration.

While PDM provides access control and version control, PLM offers full revision control, allowing users to track changes made to a product throughout its lifecycle. Also, PLM enables users to attach documents from other platforms, providing greater flexibility and collaboration.

How do you know whether you need a PLM system?

Until fairly recently, customized PLM platforms were only attainable by big businesses with huge budgets due to their hefty cost. But with the introduction of cloud-native PLM solutions like Duro, the technology has become far more accessible and affordable — a major benefit to any organization with a team of engineers. 

Spreadsheets may have a place in the early stages of product design — they’re cost-effective and the interface is familiar to most team members. But the more complex your product becomes, the more unwieldy your spreadsheet-based BOM becomes: No one knows if they’re working on the latest version of the sheet and not everyone is alerted of every revision or change, making it impossible to manage your product information effectively. 

If you look at the chart in the previous section, you’ll see some overlap between PDM and PLM system functionalities. Beyond these specific functions, a few other determinants indicate your organization is ready for a PLM system:

  • Complex hardware product that involves mechanical and electrical components and software
  • Multi-disciplinary engineering team
  • Distributed teams with manufacturing centers in another location
  • Difficulty tracking revisions and design changes
  • Need to prepare for “first article inspection” before scaling production
  • Growing team of engineers that find it challenging to collaborate with legacy spreadsheets

PDM might not always be needed

If your team is small, it’s easier to handle version control by sharing updates and communicating directly. Additionally, many modern cloud-based CAD tools like Onshape incorporate some of the most valuable aspects of PDM (like check-in and check-out) into their platforms.

Other CAD providers like SolidWorks provide their own PDM solution for check-in and check-out. However CAD-based PDM is designed specifically to work with files from their specific CAD application. If multiple CAD applications are in use, hardware organizations will potentially need to consider using a PDM for each specific CAD tool, unless the PDM is integrated with the PLM. 

Why PLM is a more valuable tool than PDM

Now that we have discussed the key differences between PDM and PLM software, it’s vital to understand why (and when) PLM makes more sense for your organization.

While PDM offers functionality for version control and management of concurrent collaborative design, PLM provides a more comprehensive approach to managing the entire lifecycle of a product. As a result, PLM is considered the more valuable tool for product development teams.

A more comprehensive approach to managing the product lifecycle

One of the main reasons why PLM is considered a more valuable tool is that it offers a more thorough approach to managing the entire lifecycle of a product

PLM software manages product-related data from concept to end-of-life, while PDM is purely focused on managing data within the design process, typically initiated in a CAD system. This means that PDM has a much more narrow view of the product development process.

PDM is primarily used by engineering design teams to manage design files in a single CAD tool as they’re being worked on. As such, PDM’s focus is on access control, version control, and collaboration among designers, all of which are critical functions during the design phase of a product.

PLM provides a centralized location for managing all product data during and beyond the design phase. PLM helps centralize and track design data, documents, BOMs, and supplier data, and allows teams to cooperate throughout the product development process.

Better collaboration between engineers and downstream teams (buyers, manufacturers)

Another benefit of PLM is that it enables better collaboration between engineers and downstream teams, such as supply chain managers and manufacturers. With PLM, approvals and access to releases and designs are not limited to just the CAD engineer. Different roles and stakeholders can view and provide feedback on designs, which promotes better communication and a more cohesive development process.

This is especially valuable given the increasing importance of the supply chain, which often involves many different suppliers and global networks. Supply chain issues are one of the leading causes of cost inefficiencies and product launch delays. PLM includes integrations with parts distributors, which enables designers to quickly look up pricing and availability.

Merging data from multiple CAD tools

PDM typically sits with a CAD provider, so any management of files is limited to those designed files only, not the files of any adjacent tool. However, it’s common for hardware product companies to use multiple (mechanical and electrical) CAD tools to design their products.

With PLM, it’s possible to connect numerous CAD tools and centralize the information, allowing different people from across the ecosystem to view it. This merging of data from disparate sources leads to a more complete engineering BOM and increased data continuity between engineering and manufacturing.

Additionally, PLM systems can link associated documents, such as software files, certifications or requirements documents, to a product record.

Risks of deciding to buy a PDM instead of PLM

While a PDM system can provide some value in managing product data, it’s necessary to consider the limitations of this approach before making a final decision. Below, we’ll cover some of the challenges to consider when looking solely at  a PDM solution.

Engineers waste time sharing updates with other stakeholders

Limited functionality beyond design management can pose a significant risk to organizations when choosing a PDM tool over a PLM system. While PDM systems are helpful in managing engineering data during the product design and development stages, they lack the necessary capabilities to manage the entire spectrum of product-related data, including compliance information, quality data, and supplier information, from concept to end-of-life.

This can result in engineers spending too much time sharing updates and manually updating downstream processes like manufacturing. To mitigate this risk, choosing a comprehensive PLM system that can manage all aspects of the product lifecycle seamlessly is indispensable.

Inaccurate data leads to rework

Another risk of poor data management is inaccurate data, which leads to multiple revisions. When different teams are working with different versions of the BOM or other product data, it’s easy for errors to slip through the cracks. This can result in additional work and costs to fix issues afterward. Inaccurate data can also lead to delays in production and missed deadlines, which can be detrimental to business operations.

Information doesn’t reach manufacturing in time leading to errors in production

One of the risks of inadequate or incomplete data management solutions is that the right information may not reach the manufacturing team in time. This can lead to issues in production, which can be costly and time-consuming to correct. Without access to real-time (or recent) data, the manufacturing team may not have visibility into the latest design changes or updates, leading to confusion and mistakes during production. At best this can save resources, and at worst, it avoids redundant work.

PLM can be used to publish design information to downstream ERP or MES systems to alert manufacturers about changes or updates to a product.

No way to check sourcing costing rollups

When managing product data across different systems, ensuring that sourcing information is up to date can be challenging. PDM systems don’t include insights into sourcing cost rollups. Engineers require this data so they can optimize their designs upfront for profitability.

By not having a centralized system to manage sourcing data, teams may struggle to understand the total cost and lead time for their complete designs (including both mechanical and electrical components). On the other hand, PLM systems allow you to see parts from different off-the-shelf parts distributors and costing rollups for products in one view.

Inefficient change management processes

In a standalone PDM system, you might manually manage product changes, and sharing changes downstream can be tricky. As a result, enforcing change control processes becomes challenging and time-consuming.

PLM systems provide a reliable method for tracking product iterations and managing change orders, even after a product is in production. Everyone in the team can quickly see what’s changed in a revision, why, and their role. As a result, they enable you to adapt products and address market feedback promptly.

Higher costs and longer implementation timelines when transitioning to PLM later on

Finally, organizations that choose PDM before PLM may experience higher costs and longer implementation timelines when transitioning to a full-fledged PLM system later. PDM systems are typically designed to manage product data within a single department, so they lack the scalability and flexibility needed to manage the full product lifecycle.

As a result, companies that upgrade to a PLM system later on may find that they have to manage additional overhead and lost opportunities when transferring their data.

Discover the intuitive PLM experience with Duro

It’s critical to have a long-term, comprehensive approach to product development. While PDM tools are ideal for managing design data, they have limitations when handling end-to-end product lifecycle management. This is where Duro’s PLM software comes in, providing a holistic solution that allows you to manage your product-related data from concept to end of life.

Additionally, Duro’s, PDM One tool enables you to protect and manage CAD files. Once you’re ready to share those files and move to the next stage of design, you can merge design data into a common BOM in your PLM ready to be transitioned to manufacturing stakeholders. This connectivity with downstream teams, suppliers, and other stakeholders, enables better collaboration and informed decision-making.

Discover the intuitive PLM experience with Duro today and take the first step towards transforming your product development processes.

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