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What is PLM software

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software gathers data and manages the operations necessary for companies to develop, produce, sell, and dispose of products. The major components of a PLM software solution digitize and organize

  • Data collection
  • Engineering planning
  • Supply chain management
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Chemical and material sourcing
  • Quality management
  • Service and repair documentation

PLM software often has similar features as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management software. However, ERP software and supply chain management solutions don’t necessarily contain all of the features necessary for technical product engineering processes including computer-aided design (CAD), service and repair documentation, or quality management.

The best PLM software options for 2021

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The products listed in this comparison chart range from specialized tools to fully-featured PLM platforms. They all contain an integrated bill of materials functionality. CAD/CAM/CAE functionality refers to direct inclusion of these tools within the PLM.

CAD/CAM/CAE project management automation quality management

Siemens

yes yes no yes

Oracle Fusion Cloud PLM

no yes yes yes

 

Arena PLM

yes yes yes yes

 

Duro PLM Professional

no no yes yes

UpChain

no no no no

Open BOM

no no no yes

 

Aras

no yes yes yes

PTC Windchill

yes yes yes yes

Upchain

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4/5

A cloud-based PLM for small to medium-sized businesses, Upchain helps manufacturers develop products from design to production. Since the system runs on the cloud, stakeholders can collaborate on designing products, improving processes, and obtaining approvals from anywhere with an internet connection. Upchain has a built-in PDM, and you can use the software from any major CAD program.


Siemens Teamcenter

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4/5

Siemens Teamcenter is a cloud-based PLM that includes features such as 3D product design, bill of materials (BOM) management, electrical design management, product data management (PDM), and more. Though it can be prohibitively expensive for smaller organizations, Teamcenter works well for large organizations in the aerospace, energy, utilities, transportation, and consumer products sectors. The 3D product design and modeling feature is useful, but expect freezes and slow load times for larger files.

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Infor Optiva

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4.5/5

Infor CloudSuite PLM for Process (Optiva) is a cloud-based PLM built specifically for manufacturers in the food, beverage, chemicals, and life science sectors. For organizations bound to strict labeling regulations, Optiva is a lifesaver. The system also optimizes formulas and recipes to keep costs as low as possible, and built-in project management tools increase visibility across a product’s lifespan.

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PTC Windchill

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4/5

Windchill from PTC is an open-architecture PLM system with built-in product data and bill of materials management. This system integrates easily with other software to make it easy for manufacturers to record data throughout the product development process. 3D visualizations of products help designers collaborate on product designs, and manufacturing process planning helps products get to market on time and on budget.

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Arena PLM

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4/5

Arena PLM helps manufacturers manage every aspect of their products’ lifecycle, from design, production, and distribution to analytics, quality management, and employee training. Use the demand analysis feature to create sales forecasts and calculate total parts demand. For medical companies, use the Validation Maintenance Service to validate Arena faster according to FDA regulations and ISO standards.


ENOVIA

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4/5

Best-suited for medium to enterprise-sized organizations, ENOVIA is a PLM software that runs on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform from Dassault Systèmes. ENOVIA manages bills of materials, changes and configurations, product development, materials compliance, and more. This system works across three different disciplines to help companies manage their entire product life cycles: intelligent business modeling and planning, intelligent product configurations, and quality and compliance management.


Oracle Agile PLM

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4/5

Oracle Agile PLM is built for enterprise-sized organizations and offers multiple products, including Agile Product Collaboration, Agile Product Quality Management, Agile Product Portfolio Management, and more. Break down barriers across distributed teams to foster collaboration and innovation in product design using this cloud-based system. Securely store and organize every point of data across your value chain to make improvements and reduce costs.

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Autodesk Vault

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4.5/5

Built for organizations in the manufacturing, architecture, engineering, and construction industries, Vault from Autodesk is a market-leading PLM system with a built-in PDM tool. Vault integrates seamlessly with other products from the Autodesk software family, including the CAD and PDM software, and the system secures sensitive data behind a firewall while still allowing for sharing and collaboration. Look for data reuse features to save time by starting with a previous design.


SAP PLM

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TechnologyAdvice rating: 4.5/5

SAP PLM is an enterprise-grade software that helps organizations track and store product data throughout its lifecycle. Comprised of four different tools, SAP lets you develop, cost, collaborate, and engineer products efficiently and at the lowest possible cost. Manage complex logistics using the project and project portfolio management tools, and get real-time cost calculations using the product lifecycle costing tool.

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Features of product lifecycle management software

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Product lifecycle management software features increase with the complexity of the tool and the manufacturing process. Not all of these features will be essential for all teams, but many companies will require several of these.

CAD/CAM/CAE

Computer assisted design (CAD), computer aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer aided engineering (CAE) tools help product teams precisely design physical products. Digitized design tools give teams the ability to collaborate on products, share designs, and even examine product designs in 3D.

Not all companies will need a PLM platform with a native CAD tool, and many otherwise fully-featured PLM solutions do not include CAD features. Instead, many tools offer API or native integrations with digital design tools. If your team already has a preferred CAD software, check that your PLM will integrate directly or support viewing and sharing files from the tool.

Supply chain management

Without up to date information on access to parts, raw materials, or manufacturing plants, a product’s time to market could extend to disastrous lengths. A good PLM software will let you access lists of available parts, delays along the supply chain, and viable options for replacements.

Data collection and analysis

How your company uses data can be the difference between a competitive advantage and drowning in the details. PLM software can be a source of actionable data to improve your time to market, reduce product issues and recalls, and increase revenue. A PLM solution with integrations with business intelligence or data analysis software or built-in analysis and reporting software can provide insights that improve processes.

Many product lifecycle management systems also now include product data management (PDM) features to track and manage the data surrounding the product lifecycle.

Centralized planning

The point of a product lifecycle management software is to provide a centralized location for all product stakeholders to collaborate on and access product plans. The tool should support your full process from design to retirement with document storage, change management, project management or task assignments, and multiple levels of user access. The tool should work like a highly specialized project management or collaboration software where individual contributors can view, edit, and analyze key components of the product plan.

Workflows and automation

Highly complex processes become easier to execute with fewer mistakes when workflows and automations take away some of the chances of human error. A PLM software with workflow tools and automation features can reduce the amount of time that teams wait on approvals from suppliers, increase the speed that products move between lifecycle stages, and ensure that key documentation doesn’t get lost.

Quality management

Quality management tools help teams in highly regulated industries track and itemize their key product materials for compliance audits. These tools also allow companies to set quality standards based on internal needs or regulatory guidelines. These standards can then be used by manufacturing and production teams to grade and improve products to meet and exceed requirements.

Benefits of PLM software

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If implemented correctly, product lifecycle management software can provide companies with benefits that positively impact a company’s bottom line. Most companies will see several — if not all — of these benefits.

Improved processes

The act of documenting the company’s product lifecycle can improve internal processes for many companies. PLM software goes further by centralizing information all along a product’s lifecycle, and centralizing that data where the entire company can access it. By making product documentation available to the entire company, a PLM can improve how product, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and research work together to bring products to market.

Centralized data collection

As a centralized hub for product-related documentation, a product lifecycle management software becomes a resource for process analysis and improvements. Teams can take advantage of analytics and reporting features directly in a PLM, or combine the product data with information from finance, marketing, sales, and support teams in a robust business intelligence tool.

Reduced time to market

PLM software lets stakeholders from every point in the product lifecycle provide direct feedback on their part of the process. By reducing the communication barriers and streamlining the workflows between departments, product teams spend less time waiting on approvals. And by providing an interface for suppliers, manufacturers, and quality assurance teams to comment on processes and notify the team of delays, the project stakeholders can quickly react to a changing market.

Product governance

Regulatory compliance, audit histories, and product governance all depend on accurate and up-to-date documentation at every point in product development. A PLM can store key details pertaining to regulations, documentation of compliance, and form an evidence trail that speeds audits and improves compliance. Companies who implement PLM software spend less time gathering documentation.

User roles and responsibilities for PLM software

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To be most effective, product lifecycle management software should be accessible to all stakeholders in the process while limiting each user’s access to their scope of work. In the interest of proprietary security, look for products that have granular or custom user role settings. Consider which of these user roles will need to view, edit, or have administrative privileges in the PLM you choose.

Research and development (R&D)

Research and development teams will need to gather product ideas in the PLM and view documentation for existing products. If your PLM has customer relationship management and marketing features, the R&D department may also need to access customer lists and purchase history to conduct customer interviews.

Logistics specialists and managers

Logistics specialists and their managers ensure that parts and products get to where they need to be on time. The PLM can alert these employees to lags or changes in delivery throughout the supply chain that impact their workload. These tools also include logistics teams in instances where they can provide solutions.

Materials and parts sourcing

When, how, and from where the raw materials or parts for a product can be sourced can severely impact how quickly products make it to market. Input from sourcing professionals can improve products beginning in the design phase when the entire process lives in a PLM.

Manufacturing

PLM software brings together plans and documentation from every part of the product design process. When manufacturing teams have access to this information early, they can begin to plan for contingencies and build plants concurrently with the design, saving time to market.

C-levels

The executive team is expected to synthesize data from across the company to make the most informed strategy decisions. Providing C-level access to PLM reporting and analysis features gives them the ability to use product production data directly in their planning.

Accounting

Accounting teams that are given self-serve access to financial statements, invoices, and purchase orders through the PLM can use that data to shorten payment cycles and prepare for yearly audits without interrupting the product teams.

Buying considerations for product lifecycle management software

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Integrations

Some enterprise-level PLM solutions include every possible feature from CAD to distribution and product retirement. Other PLM software includes select features designed for specific industries. For these tools, you’ll need to check that the PLM software integrates with your existing technology stack. Consider whether your PLM of choice includes or integrates with these software types

If these features are not included or provided by direct integration, you may want to check whether the vendor provides an API to improve data transfer speeds.

Data storage and availability

Because a PLM holds critical product information, ensuring that the software can effectively store that data and make it available for use or collaboration is vital. Ensure that your tool contains enough hosted storage space, or that you can connect to an outside database seamlessly. Companies will also want to check export functions to ensure that they retain access to proprietary designs and product quality information.

User licenses

In order to gain all of the benefits of implementing a PLM, companies need to ensure that all stakeholders can access the tool. This means providing custom security access to various roles and users, ensuring accessibility via the cloud, and understanding which stakeholders outside of the company will need to access the system or its reports. When researching your PLM, be sure to map out the user licenses you need currently and allow some room for growth.

Implementation time

Product lifecycle management software brings together data from many points throughout the company. Whether you’re implementing the software for before developing a single new product or you need to transfer data in from other tools, setting the software up for the first use can take time and resources. On average, you can expect at least 1-3 months of implementation time for product configuration, testing, and data migration. You’ll also want to keep in mind that it may take your team several months to find the right option.

Choosing the best PLM software

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Product lifecycle management software can simplify and speed the processes necessary to take new products to market. Choosing a PLM software shouldn’t be as difficult as your product process. We can help. Enter your requirements at the top of the page to receive a short list of products that meet your needs from our unbiased Technology Advisors. It’s free and it only takes 5 minutes.

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