Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

PLM Strategies-A Tall PLM with Low-Fat Milk

31 Oct, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Caffeinated views on PDM vs. PLM.

One morning, while waiting in line for my daily caffeine fix at a neighborhood cafe, I watched the barista toiling behind the steam-belching espresso machine. I noticed she used the same ingredients—espresso shots, steamed milk and foam—for both a latte and a cappuccino. So why call them by two different names? "You get more milk with latte," she explained.

A similar topic has been vexing me lately. What's the difference between PDM (product data management) and PLM (product lifecycle management)? After all, isn't lifecycle management about making prudent choices based on the vast amount of product data accumulated throughout the history of an organization? If so, isn't PLM just large-scale PDM? The answer to this question, however, isn't as simple as, "You get more milk with PLM."

 Figure 1. UGS s Teamcenter is a data and workflow management product, but it s also part of the Velocity series, a suite of software to put impatient buyers on the fast track to PLM.
Figure 1. UGS s Teamcenter is a data and workflow management product, but it s also part of the Velocity series, a suite of software to put impatient buyers on the fast track to PLM.

The Gordian Knot

Joel Orr, an engineering automation expert and analyst from Cyon Research (, suggested dissecting the acronym CAD before confronting the PDM–PLM confusion. "Earlier, computer-aided drafting, which is the automation of individual drafting tasks, had some challenges getting implemented, but ultimately people saw value in it," he said. "But computer-aided design is a whole different issue. We have difficulty defining what design is. How do you automate it? So even though vendors liked to call their systems CAD, or computer-aided design, in fact, for many years, what they were selling under the CAD heading was computer-aided drafting."

A parallel development is now underway, he observed. "PDM, or product data management, is something that people needed. You need to manage your drawings, your 3D models; it makes sense to automate that. It's a relatively straightforward kind of automation," Orr said. "But lifecycle deals with a much larger frame of reference—everything from product design, to deployment, to retirement . . . Over the last couple of years, [PLM] has begun to mean implementing PDM in a framework that takes into account CAD and other functions already automated. So PDM is still most of what's being sold under the PLM heading."

One Lifecycle, Many Philosophies

An engineering data management pioneer, Todd Cummings, director of Adept product development at Synergis, is quite frank about his PDM-inspired thinking. "PDM is the cornerstone of PLM and provides companies with the quality data they need to serve up to other enterprise-wide systems," he said. "Frankly, most companies ask us for help in solving their most pressing data management problems that are killing their engineering productivity. For most companies, big and small, PDM is the business driver, not PLM."

"Among some companies, there's been a rush to simplify the concept of PLM. There are now Web-based PLM service offerings, for instance," he observed. "I don't mean to suggest that simple, inexpensive software services that bill themselves as PLM solutions are not valuable—I don't believe that to be the case. But the reality is, those systems offer only a slice of PLM functionality."

Data is the Genesis of Lifecycle

"There is no PLM without PDM," proclaimed Tom Shoemaker, PLM solutions provider PTC's vice-president of product marketing, "You can't do anything to a product's lifecycle unless you're controlling its data." He reminds us that PTC, now considered a PLM powerhouse, was once a CAD and PDM solutions provider. "Initially, with just Pro/ENGINEER, PTC was a one-product company," he said. "But our customers' problems aren't nicely confined to just CAD modeling. They needed to manage their files too. So we evolved, by soon adding PDM capabilities."

Study the history of UGS, another PLM titan, and you'll find that at one time it too was a CAD and PDM product vendor. "We've been doing CAD data management as far back as we've been doing CAD tools," said Bill Boswell, UGS's senior director of the Teamcenter product. "But today PLM is more than just CAD and PDM; it includes digital product development, digital lifecycle management and digital manufacturing."

Boswell described PDM as "the walk before the run." But don't call PLM large-scale PDM in his presence—he'll arm-wrestle you until you change your point of view. "Real PLM," he argued, "is not just about software and technology. It's implementing processes to bring the right product to market and keeping track of people, processes and decisions as much as it is about managing blocks of data."

If you're a small or midsize manufacturer uninitiated in PLM, UGS will put you on its Fast Track to PLM with Velocity Series, a suite made up of Solid Edge (CAD), NX CAM Express (computer-aided manufacturing), Femap (simulation), and Teamcenter Express (data and workflow management). In other words, if PLM is your ultimate vision, from the start you'll be managing more than just your product data.

UGS's Boswell noted, "For any PLM system to be considered viable, it needs to be open and flexible so it can be effectively implemented in heterogeneous IT environments." He pointed to "UGS's open approach to PLM, such as Teamcenter's ability to manage product data created by any major CAD system or its integration with the leading ERP [enterprise resource management] systems" as a reason for the company's market presence ranking in the 2005 CIMdata PLM Market Analysis Report (

Managing Lifecycle vs. Selling Lifecycle

"In terms of soliciting investment," Cyon's Orr remarked, "I think [the term] PDM may be getting a little dated. When a firm hires an expert to tell them about PDM, the expert might say, 'Well, PDM's been around for a while, but frankly everything's blending into PLM.'"

"Vendors will put forth their own definitions of PLM, because there is no de facto definition of PLM," Synergis's Cummings cautioned. In other words, rather than seeking consensus, vendors will likely promote a definition that's more advantageous in marketing and more attractive to investors.

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Right or wrong, the perception that PLM is a superior concept is now driving sales. That doesn't escape the notice of PDM vendors. Some, in fact, make the most of it by realigning themselves with the hot new idea of the day. This positioning leads Cummings to remark, "Sometimes I look at some of the PLM vendors, and I scratch my head. Just last year, they were PDM vendors. But what drives Synergis is that customers get solutions that help them get their work done, no matter what the market calls it."

UGS's Boswell noted, "My guess is, [some companies] are trying to attach themselves to an industry that's beginning to see success. If it's a small company, maybe it's trying to attract venture capital, but more importantly, it's a reflection that its customers are asking about PLM."

Data Guardians vs. Lifecycle Guardians

What a PDM system like Adept provides is, according to Synergis's Cummings, "document management, design control and some vendor or supplier collaboration." In the case of Adept, the system also offers convenient ways to interact with MRP (material requirements planning) or ERP systems through integration modules. "Strategizing how design engineering data meaningfully interacts with MRP or ERP systems should be a core element of PLM," Cummings pointed out. But he'll be the first to admit providing and maintaining an MRP or ERP system is usually not a PDM vendor's core competency.

If a client is unsure whether it's in need of a PDM system or a PLM system, PTC's Shoemaker might pose a series of questions: "How are you using your data? What [systems] do you have to marry your data to? How are your design teams distributed? Do you use suppliers? Do you outsource your design to partners? How do you release, change and configure your data? Do you want [your partners] to review native CAD models or some facsimiles? Do you reuse data?"

Take, for example, a hypothetical automaker. Synergis' Cummings said this automaker should expect a PDM system to help manage "all of the design data—both documents and metadata—that goes to support its conceptual designs, works in progress, final approvals and releases to manufacturing." Some might argue that limited interaction with MRP or ERP systems should also be considered PDM's responsibility, but Cummings said generally that's where PLM takes over.

PTC's Shoemaker likewise pointed out, "If [clients] say, 'All I want is version control over CAD files to enable concurrent engineering,' meaning they want a few people to work on the same product without stepping on each other—if that's all they want, that's PDM's domain. But once they start to collaborate with people outside the engineering department—they want better data reuse, better change management—then they're leaning toward PLM."

Low-Fat, No-Foam PLM

PTC's Shoemaker thinks vendors can do more to clear up the PDM–PLM confusion: "Don't talk in big words, don't use too many acronyms, just describe what it is," he suggested. Industry analysts and the media also contribute to the confusion by tossing their own inventions into the mix. Depending on whom you ask, CPDM stands for either collaborative product definition management or collaborative product data management. VPDM (virtual product development management) also emerges, forcing all the vice-presidents of development management everywhere to seek new acronyms for their occupation.

Synergis's Cummings admitted the PDM–PLM ambiguity may hurt the market because it could lead to reluctance and skepticism, but he's putting his faith in consumers. "They usually know exactly what they want," he said. That means if they want an engineering change order management system, a quality assurance system or a compliance management application, it really doesn't matter whether you call it a PDM system or a PLM module. If it does what they want to do, they'll buy it.

PTC's Shoemaker likes his nonfat latte iced. UGS's Boswell likes his latte in a grande size. Adept's Cummings prefers a quadruple-shot venti caramel macchiato instead. This columnist likes to top his latte with a dollop of whipped cream.

Kenneth Wong is a former editor of Cadence magazine. As a freelance writer, he explores innovative usage of technology and its implications. E-mail him at Kennethwongsf at

About the Author: Kenneth Wong