PLM Software Buyer's Guide
The Best PLM Software is All About Supporting Iteration
By Gabriel Gheorgiu
What is PLM software? Product Lifecycle Management software (PLM) is an essential tool for manufacturers. While today’s manufacturing ERPs have made it much easier to track a product’s lifecycle, it doesn’t account for the specific phases of development and revision. PLM tools take your product development to the next level of collaboration, but you need to make sure you’re shopping for the right features.
- Product lifecycle management applications break down silos during product development, ensuring all teams have access to the latest version of the design.
- In order to have a successful implementation, you should come up with a few goals to hit before you phase in your new system.
- Product lifecycle management systems are equipped with basic features such as design and simulation tools, but there are additional features companies can choose to implement, such as plant management.
- When contacting vendors, it’s imperative to have a list of questions ready to go so you can learn more about the vendor beyond their features.
What This Guide Covers
- What PLM Systems Do and Their Benefits
- Implementation Goals
- Basic PLM Platform Features & Functionality
- Advanced PLM Features & Functionality
- PLM Software Comparison
- Questions to Ask a PLM Vendor
Benefits of PLM Systems and What They Do
PLM software is a tool typically used by manufacturers during the incredibly iterative design process. This tool allows for changes to be made at any point during product development, syncing the alterations throughout the system. This ensures that your entire company is able to work with the same product design at every moment. Due to PLM’s accessibility, many non-manufacturers have utilized this type of system to manage their iterative product lifecycle management processes as well. There are many industries that are part of the manufacturing sector, but the three main sectors covered by PLM vendors are heavy manufacturing, light manufacturing and process manufacturing.
Product Lifecycle Management Benefits for Manufacturers
Refers to industries that manufacture complex products like heavy machinery, aircraft and vessels, drilling equipment, turbines, etc. The main characteristics of this type of industry are that it doesn't produce large quantities of the same product, and the finished products are often customized based on the needs of their customers.
PLM’s sophisticated BOM tools allow heavy manufacturers to design and manage products with thousands or tens of thousands of components. Further, PLM helps manage all the information about each component, how they interact with each other, how to replace them and more.
Includes industries like fashion and apparel, furniture, home appliances, and consumer electronics. The products manufactured by companies in these industries are not very complex, and their production is repetitive. This means the design process isn’t very complicated, and the mass production of these products allows for little customization. Product information can be easily reused, and product changes can be implemented relatively quickly.
PLM can be used by light manufacturers to document product changes across all production, ensuring all facilities are using the same process. PLM also helps businesses manage their portfolios, balancing risk and new investment opportunities. Light manufacturers may also find the resource management tools helpful, which allow managers to optimize labor according to tasks, timelines and profit margins.
Refers to the combination of resources that are transformed into a finished product through an irreversible process. The most important industries where this type of manufacturing is used are chemicals, food and beverage, and pharmaceuticals. Companies in these industries often find their biggest challenge trying to find the optimal formula while complying with safety regulations.
PLM software is an excellent solution to this challenge, equipped with both advanced BOM tools along with tools to maintain compliance. PLM’s compliance management helps manufacturers keep track of the numerous regulations across the globe while keeping track of every product change in the same system. This allows for greater efficiency and less doubt when it comes to configuring products.
Benefits for Non-Manufacturers
As mentioned earlier, PLM is also suitable for non-manufacturers. For instance, retailers may use PLM software to design their merchandise displays. Using technology to track the movement of customers in a retail space, they can create scenarios in order to simulate flows of people and identify potential bottlenecks. Retailers can also use real-time data from their supply chain in order to identify issues in the flow of goods between different locations.
PLM software can also be used to design complex infrastructure and construction projects, as well as mining or oil and gas facilities. New technologies like virtual reality can help companies in these industries create realistic simulations of their operations. The use of geographical information systems (GIS) also helps them track and monitor what’s happening in the field, allowing them to meet safety, environmental and regulatory requirements easier.
Finally, product lifecycle management solutions can nowadays be used in industries such as finance, banking and insurance, mostly to digitize and automate processes. Vendors like Dassault realized they can apply their extensive knowledge and experience with highly regulated industries like life sciences to other industries. PLM can help financial institutions be more agile, while at the same time improving data governance and complying with a plethora of rules and regulations.
Every one of these industry sectors and subsectors has specific characteristics, and PLM software companies have created industry-specific features to cater to the unique needs of their customers.
PLM Implementation Goals
In order to successfully implement product lifecycle management tools, you need to create a plan and set goals for the project. It’s important to think of implementation as a project so it gets the attention and resources necessary for a favorable outcome.
Review your current PLM activities and goals
|An important piece of any successful implementation is understanding your current processes. This part is essential so you can best understand how your business will work with a PLM system as the new structure of your organization. Determine which parts of your business need to be improved with the new system. Equally as important, make sure you determine which processes may have to be altered or replaced, even if they currently work well.|
Gain insight from stakeholders
|After you’ve taken some time to fully understand your processes, learn what’s important to the people this software will affect most. This includes management, as they have to oversee production on a daily basis. You also want to speak to end users and ask what their biggest challenges are and what they might hope to gain from a new system. Understanding the activities of end users is also useful here, as it provides context to what they’re asking for.|
Determine your implementation leaders
|Now that you understand your business functions and those most affected by them, it’s time to decide who will be key in implementing the software when the time comes. Determine who you think will learn the software the quickest and anticipate directing those who will need help with it. Again, you should consider utilizing the support offered by your chosen vendor. This way, you don’t overburden your existing staff.|
Through achieving these goals, you’ll gain the insight necessary to create a thorough and detailed list of requirements. Requirements are the features, functionality and other facets of the system your business needs in order to fully benefit from the software. Using this guide, you can learn more about top PLM software which should then help you accomplish the goals listed above with a greater context. See our PLM requirements checklist for examples you might want to include on your own list. Then, once you’re ready to create your own, check out our customizable PLM requirements template.
Basic PLM Platform Features & Functionality
These next features are what define PLM software. Even your most basic systems should include the following:
Plant and factory management allows manufacturers to manage the physical locations used for production. This type of functionality is more important for medium to large manufacturers that need to manage large and complex production facilities. While a typical shop floor of an SMB manufacturer doesn't require this type of functionality, large companies in industries like aviation or aerospace can benefit greatly from it. Other industries where plant and factory management are used extensively are energy, natural resources and utilities. Ideation helps companies gather and manage ideas that can be used to improve existing products or create new ones.
Traditionally, companies relied mostly on new ideas from their design teams, but consumers nowadays expect personalized products and want their ideas to be taken into consideration. All of these ideas and suggestions need to be documented and prioritized based on the product development strategy of the company. Then, they should be converted into features. Besides PLM features for ideation, a recent trend has led to the creation of crowdsourcing platforms for product development. These platforms are usually separate from the PLM solution, which is why some vendors offer the option to transfer information between the platform and the PLM.
|Design||This feature is probably the most critical stage of any product development process. The main challenge companies are facing when it comes to design is to create great products at reasonable costs and to make these products as easy as possible to manufacture. A product that doesn't address real customer needs or that's too expensive to manufacture is usually doomed to fail. The main tool used for design by manufacturers is computer-aided design (CAD), which can be delivered as part of the PLM solution or separately. For light industries like fashion and apparel, other design tools like Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw can be used.|
|Simulation||Simulation allows companies to create different versions of a product in order to compare them and choose the best option. More advanced simulation software also allows companies to create scenarios by adjusting various parameters of the product and the environment where it will be used. Basic simulations can be performed using the software alone, while more complex simulations in industries like aviation require a physical environment like a laboratory or a testing center. Recent technological advancements have allowed PLM vendors to greatly enhance the simulation technologies used. They’ve also permitted customers to create virtual testing environments for extremely complex tests.|
|Data Management||Usually called product data management (PDM) and oftentimes confused with product information management (PIM), this type of functionality can be defined as a metadata repository of all product information. In other words, besides managing product details like structure, components, physical characteristics, cost, etc., PDM also helps companies manage drawings, technical specifications and CAD designs, as well as all the “data about data” (metadata).|
|Manufacturing Process Management (MPM)||MPM helps companies define how products are manufactured. All of the product information — including structure, technical specifications, etc. — needs to be converted into operations and methods that can be implemented on the shop floor for the production of the finished products. Another challenge that MPM addresses is the fact that product designs change, and those changes need to be implemented quickly and accurately. This allows manufacturers to make sure they can produce the finished products with the right specifications and little or no variances from the planned costs and timeline.|
Advanced PLM Product Features to Consider
Depending on the industry of the software buyers and the complexity of their operations, additional functionality may be required. These features are usually delivered as standalone solutions, which may be sold as part of a PLM package or separately.
|Plant and Factory Management||Plant and factory management allows manufacturers to manage the physical locations used for production. This type of functionality is more important for medium to large manufacturers that need to manage large and complex production facilities. While a typical shop floor of an SMB manufacturer doesn't require this type of functionality, large companies in industries like aviation or aerospace can benefit greatly from it. Other industries where plant and factory management are used extensively are energy, natural resources and utilities.|
|Service Lifecycle Management (SLM)||SLM has become very important in recent years, as companies started to focus more on the customer experience. Service management is particularly important for manufacturers selling products that require maintenance. For companies manufacturing complex and expensive equipment, it's critical to define a service management strategy that covers all stages of the product lifecycle, from design and manufacturing to the product’s end of life. This is where SLM is particularly useful: in helping companies put the customer experience at the center of their product development strategy.|
Compare PLM Services
When you’re performing a PLM system comparison, it’s important to thoroughly analyze the features offered by each. Businesses should formulate a list of requirements and then make sure prospective vendors offer them. Further, businesses should consider the depth of capability offered within these features. This can be a difficult endeavor, especially if you’re not ready to demo several systems.
Thankfully, SelectHub’s analyst team has already evaluated the best PLM software from Siemens, Oracle, NetSuite and other vendors in our in-depth PLM software comparison matrix. Each vendor gets a score for how well they provide the most popular PLM requirements with an explanation from our analyst team. See how well PLM market leaders perform side-by-side with our unique tool.
Questions to Ask PLM Software Vendors
The most important thing buyers need to understand before even starting a PLM application selection process is it’s not only about features and functions. In fact, the functionality may not always be the most critical factor, especially when there are several product lifecycle management companies with similar offerings for a particular industry. The real deal-breaker might be more of a “soft” factor — for example, the reliability of the vendor or its partners and the services they provide.
Often, the only way to find out this information is to speak with the vendors directly. Before you reach out to vendors, however, you should come up with a list of questions to ask. To help you get started, we’ve listed some that PLM buyers may find beneficial:
Do you have experience in my industry and with companies my size?
There is no secret recipe that applies to all PLM selection projects. Actually, depending on the size of the company, its industry and its growth plans, the selection process can be quite different. For instance, many manufacturers that decided to outsource production decades ago thought they only needed a CAD system or basic PLM for design, since their partners overseas were supposed to take care of the rest of product development. This led to both important quality control challenges and data management issues, since huge spreadsheets were exchanged between companies and their partners.
It's therefore important for companies to clearly understand the role of a PLM solution for their specific situation. In most situations, PLM needs to integrate with ERP, which is why medium- and large-sized companies sometimes decide to select and implement ERP and PLM at the same time. This is a good strategy to make sure that PLM and ERP work well together, but it can also be a very time-consuming and expensive project. Smaller companies usually focus on PLM only, as they try to find the best way to integrate it with their existing ERP software.
How well does your product integrate with other solutions?
Another approach often used by large multinational companies is the combination of several PLM solutions, either from the same vendor or from different vendors. While it’s not ideal, this approach allows companies to provide different software to locations with different needs. For instance, a large company may have its product development team in one location, manufacture the components for its products in a second and perform the final assembly in a third. These may be separate companies that are part of the same group, separate business partners or a mix of both.
Can your PLM system work as a standalone?
At the other extreme is smaller companies that, out of necessity, may decide to select and implement only the PLM components that they need for the short term. In this situation, they generally plan to add other desired components later on. This approach allows companies to avoid a huge initial investment, especially if they choose a cloud PLM software. But in order to avoid going through another selection process in a few years, these companies need to make sure they choose PLM vendors that can cover their future needs.
Can you tell me about your history with successful implementations?
Due to the importance of PLM software to many companies, particularly those involved in manufacturing, buyers should be looking for much more than just software. It's also important to find a vendor that's reliable and has a proven track record of successful implementations. Furthermore, many product lifecycle software vendors work with local partners who oftentimes are responsible for the implementation and the maintenance of the system. A thorough selection should take into consideration all of these factors, when applicable.
Which ERP vendors does your system integrate with?
Since PLM should be tightly integrated with ERP, it's also important for buyers to understand who will provide it, how and at what cost. Some vendors have partnerships with a few major ERP vendors, while also offering integration with many others. It's also possible that a partner of a PLM vendor may sell and implement ERP. Yet another possibility is the vendor or the partner customizes the way the PLM and ERP integrate — something that usually happens for large projects. Smaller vendors prefer to adopt more flexible delivery platforms like the cloud, providing APIs for integration or data transfer.
For most medium- to large-sized buyers, each situation is different and can be a combination of any of the options mentioned above. For instance, two companies of similar size and from the same industry may end up selecting different PLM solutions based on their product development strategy, the selection approach or even their geographical presence. It's not uncommon for PLM vendors to lose customers because they do not have a strong partner in the region of the prospect.
What type of support and other services do you provide?
Most vendors that provide complex software like ERP or PLM applications offer implementation and training services in order to help customers get ready to use the system. Some vendors also offer services for onboarding and user adoption, which is a more personalized way to support their customers during implementation and a certain period of time after the system goes live. This means the needs of different categories of users are clearly defined, which allows vendors to define and deliver more focused training, custom integrations, personalized workflows and suggestions to improve business processes.
Furthermore, manufacturers with complex operations can benefit from engineering consulting and change management services. PLM vendors have a lot of experience with engineering best practices, which allows them to help buyers redefine or optimize their product development strategy. Since these types of changes can be very disruptive for the operations of a company, it's also important to plan and implement change management activities. Most companies do not have the qualified personnel or the experience with business process reengineering and change management, which is why they prefer to outsource them to the PLM vendor.
The main challenge buyers face when considering these services is that the basic services are often not enough to guarantee a successful implementation. And at the same time, services like change management can be prohibitively expensive.
What’s the average lifespan of your system?
A PLM program implementation is too expensive and too disruptive to be repeated every couple of years, which is why buyers need to plan at least 5 years ahead (ideally closer to 10). This is easier said than done because of the volatility of the world economy. For example, it's estimated that less than half of new manufacturing companies survive more than 4 years, so planning for 5 to 10 years may seem impossible. There is also the fact that industry sectors like manufacturing are not growing much anymore. For instance, the forecasted growth of U.S. manufacturing from 2017 to 2020 is only 1.6 percent per year.
PLM buyers cannot control these trends, but they can plan a phased approach to selecting and implementing PLM. What this means is buyers should consider their immediate needs first, then look at what may happen to their company in the medium term. And finally, try to estimate the role of PLM in their company over the long term.
Despite slow growth and market volatility — or perhaps because of these factors — companies are trying to be creative and diversify their activities. For instance, more and more manufacturers are now focusing on services related to the products they manufacture. This means they should be looking for a PLM solution that's used not only for product development but also for service lifecycle management (SLM).
PLM software buyers face many challenges during the selection process. Just like ERP, the selection process is complicated, but it can be managed and delivered successfully. It is important that buyers don’t get overwhelmed by the software selection process. This can be achieved by clearly defining what they need and what their priorities are, for both the short and long term.
A good start is to apply the 80/20 rule, which means buyers should focus mostly on the 20 percent of features and services that cover 80 percent of their needs. Everything else is still important, but shouldn’t be a deal breaker. This helps companies to be more realistic, helping them find the best product for their needs and budget, instead of looking for the perfect solution that likely doesn’t exist.
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Sage Business Cloud Enterprise Management is the most powerful and flexible business management solution offered by Sage. Sage Business Cloud Enterprise Management provides industry-leading functionality that encompasses all business processes. Its compact software design supports industry?specific processes and provides end?to?end visibility across finance, sales, customer service, purchasing, inventory, and manufacturing operations.Sage Business Cloud Enterprise Management enables you to manage your business growth in a fundamentally more efficient manner while reducing costs, delighting your customers, and outmaneuvering the competition.Sage Business Cloud Enterprise Management provides a clear view of your business operations—emboldening business leaders to focus on exceptions, accurately evaluate risks, and make faster decisions. For most businesses, critical information, insight, and indicators are scattered about—in spreadsheets, systems, and databases. In some cases, employees themselves become gatekeepers of information others need, which can cause bottlenecks. Sound familiar? Sage Business Cloud Enterprise Management solves these common challenges by compiling data in real time and providing tools such as user-defined dashboards, business analysis tools and reports, and automated workflows and alerts that drive effective and rapid decision making.
Gain a 360-degree view of the processes and activities involved in developing and manufacturing products. From concept through delivery, you can integrate operations, support innovation, enable collaborations, and make informed decisions. By implementing our integrated PLM software-and-service package, you establish transparency and comply with industry regulations, by documenting production performance.
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PTC Creo is a scalable, interoperable suite of product design software that delivers fast time to value. It helps teams create, analyze, view and leverage product designs downstream utilizing 2D CAD, 3D CAD, parametric direct modeling.
In today’s global marketplace — where businesses are operating across borders and time zones — your customers demand that accurate, relevant product information be delivered in real-time. PTC Arbortext provides the capability to define, author, illustrate, manage and deliver dynamic product information — in the user’s preferred language and format — on demand.
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Streamline your business processes with Autodesk PLM 360 cloud-based product lifecycle management software. Affordable, intuitive, and easy to deploy, Autodesk PLM 360 is part of our Digital Prototyping solution to help companies of all sizes develop, manufacture, and deliver products more efficiently.
Modern PLM drives top-line revenue growth through intuitive applications that are personalized, social, insightful, transparent, and fully connected from product ideation to market withdrawal. With Oracle Product Value Chain, you can innovate, develop, and commercialize higher quality, compliant products faster and at a lower cost. Re-imagine PLM and take control of your product information to build a more profitable and sustainable business.
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SofTech customers achieve substantially improved business performance with documented savings of millions of dollars. The savings mount through more efficient product data management and reuse, reduced design cycle times of 60 percent or more, reducing ECO/ECN approvals from weeks to days, quicker proposal response time, and accelerated time to market
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Electronic Document Management, Sales Management, Easy Production Management, Purchasing Material Management, Repair Management, and other attractive features that were not available in previous ERP/MES/PLM solutions.
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