6 Things You Need to Know About PLM Software

As companies look to improve their product offerings, refine supply chains and scale their business, a PLM system is one of the best tools to achieve these goals.

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Across a variety of industries, there’s a growing interest in product lifecycle management (PLM) software and its benefits. As companies look to improve their product offerings, refine supply chains and scale their business, a PLM system is one of the best tools to achieve these goals.

Here are the six most important things you need to know about PLM software, why it’s important and more.

What is PLM?

PLM is a process by which organizations take a product from creative inception and development all the way to end of life and phasing out. PLM software facilitates this process by integrating data, workflows and systems across a chain of key stakeholders.

A great PLM system should consider everything within these 4 phases of a product's lifecycle -- concept, design, production and distribution. Along the way, your organization should be setting goals and KPIs for each step in the process and workflows for the stakeholders. The best PLM software will allow you to collaborate with external vendors and suppliers and integrate important data from their end as you assess each step in your process.

Key elements within the 4 phases of PLM include:

  • Design
  • Product development
  • Buying
  • Production
  • Finance
  • Logistics
  • Sales channels
  • Management

As your organization goes through each of these stages, you should be collecting and entering data into your PLM system. The best software will help you streamline the process and allow you to eliminate tedious data re-entry. Meaning that your PLM software should certainly integrate with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Expected results with PLM software include:

  • Lower product costs
  • Greater product quality
  • Faster time to market

Lower product costs. As PLM is an iterative process that your organization should refine with each cycle, one of the goals should be to lower production costs. This may seem intuitive for any organization that engages in product development, but it’s important to point out that great PLM software should push toward a more refined supply chain along with a streamlined production process.

Greater product quality. In a similar vein to lowering product costs, product quality should increase as you foster the PLM process. Whether it's finding more durable materials or better parts at the right price, each cycle should push you to assess your sourcing, development and production methods to improve your offerings.

Faster time to market. This is a direct result of improving your supply chain along with manufacturing and logistics. The right PLM software is not only a repository for product data along its lifecycle, but also a tool to have comparable data to streamline and improve the steps in your process.

The benefits go on with measurable data suggesting that choosing not to use PLM software is likely to be detrimental to a range of key metrics for companies.

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Where did PLM software come from? 

Any idea for a process like PLM is born of a need within a given industry. As mentioned, the PLM process aims to bring products to market faster, more efficiently and with a greater degree of quality. Here's how it all started:

As early as the 1930s, the idea of different phases or stages of a product’s life were already taking form for many companies. Coming off the back of the second industrial revolution, organizations had more technology at hand and more sophisticated methods of production. This led to the natural categorization of lifecycle steps and efforts to improve those processes.

By the late 1950s, as industry leaders looked to scale their businesses, a process that recognized the introduction phase of a product as well as the growth and maturity phases and eventually the saturation and decline of the given product formed the basis of modern PLM.

In the mid-1980s, certain automakers were looking for a way to speed up their time to market in order to compete with larger industry figures. This gave birth to one of the most successful modern PLM processes that leveraged new technologies and sparked a new way of implementing design, communications and data management systems.

What does PLM software currently offer?

Current PLM software allows multidisciplinary teams to collaborate on products with internal and third-party stakeholders. The best part is that your PLM system will be a central repository of accurate information that geographically dispersed personnel can access. In a post-2020 world where more and more teams are working remotely, there's undeniable value in a system that facilitates accurate data sharing and collaboration.

Modern PLM software should help smaller businesses scale up as well as larger businesses create a repeatable process that does away with bottlenecks. This provides a path to digital transformation that all organizations need to stay competitive. Current PLM software generally provides an array of options for integrations with other enterprise software.

Key examples of PLM software integrations include:

  • ERP
  • Manufacturing execution systems (MES)
  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Where is PLM software headed?

As PLM software becomes more sophisticated with more integrations across industry value chains, it’s worth looking at where the technology is headed. Here are some industry trends and technological advances that may lend themselves to more robust PLM systems.

Cloud PLM. Full disclosure, the idea of a cloud PLM system is not something of the future. In fact, there are many options for it now. The reason to mention it for where PLM software is headed lies in the wide adoption of the technology. In the last decade, there’s been a growing education on the value and flexibility of using cloud computing for data storage, sharing and accessibility.

Where many industry professionals pushed back against the idea of storing sensitive PLM data in the cloud, they are now warming up to the idea. Especially since third-party collaborators are scattered across the globe. Cloud PLM makes for flexible and accessible processes with easier adoption across your value chain. Expect cloud PLM systems to be the standard moving forward.

Greater focus on customer experience (CX). CX has been one of the greatest barriers to the wide adoption of PLM software. Many developers simply provided the tools but didn’t consider the end-user’s experience. CX is quickly becoming a key differentiator for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) PLM providers. PLM software with good CX results in wider adoption of the platform. One of the main goals of a PLM system is to connect users across the value chain; the greater the number of stakeholders using product lifecycle management software, the more effective it is.

AI. On the product development and design side of things, there’s no doubt of the influence AI could have on PLM. Some early versions of this are making data management and accessibility more of a visual and streamlined experience. One example of this is storing visual data on textiles for fashion brands and designers being able to search and filter through their database by simply taking a picture of a textile or trim and finding the right match within that database. This could save countless hours of searching and sorting moving forward.

5 reasons to use PLM software

1.  Increased productivity. Reports suggest that across most industries, employees spend just under 40% of their work time on the primary function of their job. The rest of the time is often dedicated to data entry and re-entry, email communications and other data-centric activities that could be streamlined. By design, PLM software facilitates the iterative process of lifecycle management and drives improvements across the series of cycles for the given product. Implementing a scalable PLM platform increases employee productivity by consolidating designs, communications, workflows and product data in a single place. This inherently cuts downtime on finding and organizing data.

2.  Accelerated time to market. The smoother the workflow and the higher the productivity, the faster your organization will be able to bring products to market. An important thing to remember here is that the best PLM systems will not only improve internal team speed, but they should also increase the rate at which you collaborate with third-party partners. 

3.  Increased revenue. As you accelerate your time to market with PLM, you’ll also be reducing production costs. The intersection between those two actions will improve your margin and help you scale up your business. You can’t just think of PLM software as a way of improving workflows; one of the most critical KPIs after a few cycles is how it is impacting your revenue. If you aren’t finding steps in the cycle to improve, that’s an indicator that you should reassess your process. Any great PLM implementation will increase revenue over time.

4.  Accurate data sharing. PLM software should be the central repository for product data. Beyond that, it is the best way for storing and sharing accurate data. In traditional systems where PDFs, spreadsheets and other data forms are stored individually, it can be difficult to keep track of the most recent and accurate data points. That makes for a mess. PLM software organizes your date, helps you keep track of it and allows for sharing with the right stakeholders at the right time (both internal and external).

  1. Improved product quality. More accurate data and improved workflows are always going to lead to improved product quality. In fact, that is another contributing factor to increased revenue. Regardless of an organization’s position in the supply chain, your customer will be more likely to purchase from you if you provide great products. That stands for both business and commercial transactions. As you refine your PLM steps and drive even minor improvements, you’ll see the difference in the end product. This will improve sales and build a better basis for customer loyalty.