Definitions: What is PDM, PLM and PIM? Learn the Basics

defining pdm plm and pim

Why a Blogpost about PDM and PLM definitions?

If you happen to be in the PLM business, you’ve probably used to having philosophical discussions about what PLM is, what it isn’t, and whether we should keep using the term PLM or invent a new one. You debate these questions at conferences, online, in your client’s boardroom, and at your PLM user’s desk.

Two weeks ago, I answered a survey prepared by PLMIG and Xlifecyle entitled “PLM and the digital future”. They are gathering data to analyse the existential identity issues that swirl around the term PLM.

Terminology is important, so we might need to get the definitions right and rethink. In this post, I’d like to walk through the rise of Product Lifecycle Management and its definitions.

What is PDM?

Once upon a time, products were designed on paper, drawings were used to share data, and changes were approved with a simple “okay”. Before the mid-20th century, Computer Aided Design (CAD) was a non-existent term. No one imagined that products would soon be designed digitally.

This wasn’t so long ago. I still remember watching my father and his team hunched over a drawing board, driving to the workshop with a car full of drawings, and signing the latest design changes over the phone.

Even today, when I ask them to show me their product’s installed base, some of our customers secretly confess that the “real” single source of truth is in the archive in the basement.

What CAD changed was not only the way we design products. Soon after people started to widely use it, they realized they needed a smarter way to manage product data.

PDM stands for Product Data Management. PDM was introduced around the 1980s. Different teams started to jointly design products, and they needed a way to collaborate on the product design process. In the beginning it was mostly about controlling distribution and access to design data – that is, who gets to see and edit what.

Definition Of PLM

While PDM was a big step forward towards smart data management, it was still pretty much focused on engineering and CAD Design.

As products became more complex and multiple disciplines became involved in the design process, the need arose for a more holistic Product Data Management system, one that brought in teams from the whole lifecycle and supported all disciplines, not just engineering.

Today, Mechanical CAD (MCAD), Electrical CAD (ECAD), plant and machine control systems, and the entire suite of Office applications keep generating ever-growing amounts of heterogeneous product data. Managing this data is a complex challenge, because the information it holds needs to be looked at throughout the product’s lifecycle.

PLM integrates relevant authoring applications and enterprise core systems such as ERP and CRM to let Product Data seamlessly “flow” through the lifecycle.

Developed to address the requirements of product complexity, PLM serves up multidisciplinary design, supplier integration, and lifecycle collaboration in many flavours.

eCommerce and the rise of Product Information Management

In parallel to the developments in industrial product data management, another stream was on the rise to fulfil eCommerce and online consumer needs. Companies who sold products online also required basic product information management systems to organize their wares and present them to consumers on the internet.

PIM stands for Product Information Management. In his book “Product Information Management – Theory and Practice”, Jorij Abraham defines product information management as the processes and technologies focused on centrally managing information about products, with a focus on the data required to market and sell the products through one or more distribution channels.

Product Information Management systems are used to manage simple product information and the documents required to sell and manage the product online – for example, the product name, the price, the product’s key attributes, or the product category.

Product Information Management Systems are essential for the consumer goods and fashion industries.

Pdm Vs Plm Vs PIM – Are PDM, PLM and PIM The Same?

But let’s be frank here. There’s thin line between PDM, PLM and PIM.

As products became more complex, many more systems were required to create and manage product-related information. While PIM systems could store and manage product IDs and descriptions, and PDM systems could handle part and drawing numbers, control access to data and release and change workflows, there was still a need for a more powerful system that could bring it all together and connect all of these pieces of information. 

As discussed before, Product Data Management systems were developed to manage CAD Product data more intelligently.

In his book, “Product Lifecycle Management, 21st Century Paradigm for Product Realisation”, John Stark describes a PDM system as “a computer system, an application, which manages product data, has the sole purpose of managing product data, and is used to keep all this product data under control”. According to Stark’s definition, every PLM system is actually a PDM system.

In fact, PDM systems are focused on CAD file data management and are typically attached to CAD products. PDM systems focus on data, revision and change management. Meanwhile, PIM systems have evolved into more complex systems that handle not only product attributes, but many different sets of information in different formats.

Today, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is widely seen an extension of PDM and PIM.

What PDM and PLM Systems are out there?

Product Data Management Systems

Now that we’ve covered the theory, let’s look at what PDM systems are out there:

  • SolidWorks PDM: Dassault Systems offers a simple PDM application called SolidWorks PDM. It’s used to manage data files and documentation from SolidWorks.
  • Vault PDM: Vault PDM is the native PDM application from Autodesk Products. It allows users to store and organize design data and documentation, maintain versions and revisions, reuse designs, and prevent multiple users from modifying the same document simultaneously.

Product Lifecycle Management Systems

Some of the bigger and most well-known Product Lifecycle Management systems are:

  • Aras PLM: Aras is a modern “CAD system-agnostic” PLM solution. It’s web-based and supports companies that need to manage product development, multi-site manufacturing, supply chain operations, and quality compliance in a flexible and scalable way.
  • DS 3DExperience: The 3DEXPERIENCE® platform from Dassault systems offers a broad portfolio of technical and business applications, such as CATIA and ENOVIA. The platform enables stakeholders across the enterprise to manage product complexity throughout the lifecycle. It’s one of the most powerful PLM systems out there.
  • SAP PLM: The well-known ERP provider SAP also has its own PLM solution. It provides all- round integrated support for all product related processes from the beginning of lifecycle and product ideation to manufacturing and service. SAP’s solution comes in handy for customers who are using SAP as their ERP system, as their ERP and PLM solutions are integrated.
  • Teamcenter: Teamcenter is Siemens’ PLM system. It connects people and processes across functional silos with a digital thread. Teamcenter is one of the most widely implemented PLM systems out there. 
  • PTC Windchill: Windchill is the PLM software from PTC. Windchill is well integrated with simulation tools and widely used by medium-sized enterprises.

Cloud PLM

The rise of cloud computing and open APsIs is changing the game for traditional PLM vendors and bringing in some promising new and smaller players. Cloud PLM vendors are here to fulfil the demand for the fast and smooth information flow and simplicity that modern businesses require.

Even if traditional PLM vendors have historically shied away from industry-specific solutions and flexible open architectures, we’re seeing a positive change towards simpler systems with modern user interfaces and industry-specific solutions that can cope with the online world we live in.

Some examples of Cloud PLM vendors include:

What’s wrong with the PLM term?

Implementation failures, big budgets, and elephant-sized programs frighten executives and corporate types. When they hear the term PLM, they instantly bury themselves in the sand. Isn’t it “sexier” to talk about Digital Twins and Threads than using the old, boring, term PLM?

Industry 4.0, digital transformation, digital thread and twin are all new and shiny terms closely related to PLM.

Although (in my opinion) the term PLM describes what we do in PLM – managing products through the lifecycle – reasonably well, the truth is that these three letters together don’t come with a great reputation.

Still, PLM is trending nowadays. Enterprises are realizing that without a solid digital representation of the product, digitalization can’t be more than a colourful PowerPoint vision-board slide.

Product Lifecycle Management sets the basis for a consistent digital thread, keeps track of digital twins, and connects smart products and industries.

In short, it brings product data together and connects product information through the whole lifecycle.

Do we need a new name for PLM? I’m not sure. What I do know is that we’ll have to live with it for a long time to come!

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