Defining PLM


Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is the process of tracking and managing a product through its entire lifecycle from the first idea through development, production, sale, use, and ultimate disposal. First developed in the 1960s in the automotive industry as a tool for reducing product development lead time, PLM is now standard practice in most durable goods industries—especially automotive, aerospace and defense, and electronics.

PLM can be considered an expansion of the Product Data Management (PDM) toolset found in every ERP system, along with engineering data control, product configuration management, and the portion of product performance and reliability management that keeps track of products in the field. And, for the sake of definition, let’s include all the other appropriate acronyms associated with PLM:

  • Master Data Management (an extension of PDM that centralizes data control for multi-site enterprises)
  • Product Portfolio Management (PPM)
  • Engineering Change Control (ECC)
  • Computer-Assisted Design / Engineering / Manufacturing (CAD, CAE, CAM)
  • Manufacturing Process Management (MPM)

PLM is concerned with what manufacturing and engineering call “basic records.” These include item definition, bills-of-material, and process (routing) information, along with detailed history for a given part or product. For a complex product like an aircraft, PLM will track each individual aircraft and its major components throughout their entire lifecycle. PLM tracks serialized items like engines, instruments, and actuators, and their as-designed, as-built, and as-maintained configurations (including repairs, modifications, replacement parts and assemblies). A term sometimes used in the industry is “genealogy,” referring to the idea of tracing the roots and evolution of a particular unit and its contents.

Even for simpler products and products that are not tracked by serial number, PLM provides considerable benefits in recording and tracking the exact content and design of a product through its life—and the life of its “children,” including variants, related products, and next-generation products based on the earlier design. By having this information available, designers and engineers can learn from past experience, improve product performance and quality, and speed up the development process.

Many people think that the key to product development and management is in the data. But how do you act on it? How have you used PLM to make important product-related decisions?