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  • Product Data Management and Product Lifecycle Management for the Manufacturing Business Sector

The purpose of this brief article is to provide a top-level view of Product Data Management (PDM) & Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and the role they can play in creating a high-level of efficiency in engineering and manufacturing processes.

Best-in-class manufacturers are aligning their people, processes, and tools from initial new product development all the way through a product lifecycle to field installation and service. This is accomplished by creating a “single source” of product and enterprise data that is accessible by each department and each individual stakeholder based on their unique role in the product lifecycle. For companies and manufacturers that need to design, supply, manufacture and distribute products globally, the availability of a single solution to manage all enterprise data and processes is essential.

What is Product Data Management (PDM)?

Product Data Management tools manage product data and design information as a product moves through a typical product lifecycle, or from concept to design, to manufacturing and finally to the field or customer for installation. Specifically, Product Data Management systems keep CAD files organized and version controlled. This is usually achieved with a check-in/check-out file structure and a centralized storage solution, either in an on-premises server, a privately managed network or, increasingly, a cloud server.

Why is Product Data Management essential?

Historically, engineering and manufacturing companies have used generic methods for managing their engineering documents such as Windows Explorer. Unfortunately, a non-specific management tool cannot always address “engineering-type” issues such as document workflows, Product-Lifecycle-Management, Engineering Change Orders (ECO) and design team collaboration.

While the features of an effective document control tool are many, the primary benefits can be found in helping design teams securely track “work in progress” while maintaining version control in a multi-user environment. It allows them to organize and reuse designs by consolidating product information and reducing the need to re-create designs from scratch. Users can store and search both CAD data and non-CAD documents (such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel files).

What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

PLM stands for Product Lifecycle Management. It is a tool that guides products through the product development lifecycle. As products and supply chains become more complex, a way to manage the development process becomes increasingly important.

Why is Product Lifecycle Management important?

A PLM solution usually gives an organization:

  • Ad hoc Workflows.
  • Milestones or stage gates.
  • Computer Aided Design/Bill-Of-Material synchronization in one collaborative environment.
  • Change management processes.
  • Connects isolated silos of design and manufacturing information.
  • Connection and exchange of information with other enterprise tools such as ERP.

In short, Product Lifecycle Management is responsible for the process and the system in which product development happens. Product Data Management is responsible for managing the actual digital product files that move through that PLM process.

Conditions within the manufacturing industry for which PDM/PLM are necessary tools can be as follows.

  • Growing competition and tighter budgets.
  • Globalization of business.
  • Company mergers.
  • Shortening delivery times.
  • Less time available for developing new products.
  • Tightening quality requirements.
  • Regulations and common industry standards.
  • Tightening state or federal legislation.

What are the benefits of a Product Data Management/Product Lifecycle Management solution?

  • A centralized control over data will shorten time to market.
  • Reduced compliance risks my managing a single version of truth for all product data.
  • Decreased materials and production costs.
  • Increased productivity because of less processing errors and associated rework.
  • Accelerated revenue growth.
  • Increased drive to Innovation.
  • Enhanced product quality.

How is a potential need for Product Data Management/Product Lifecycle Management determined to exist?

Typically, the implementation provider will join with the customer in a “Requirements Assessment” engagement. The process will include the provider gathering knowledge about the customer’s current and/or historic product lifecycle processes, along with the stakeholders that are involved along the way. Most often, there will be a series of short interviews with each of the primary stakeholders to gain insight into their role, how it is currently carried out and how they collaborate with other departments and stakeholders in the current process.

The benefit of a strategic solution roadmap?

From the solution provider’s collected information, an extensive report will provide a review of the information collected during the assessment. Once the customer has had the opportunity to review the report, there is frequently created, a strategic solution roadmap that will give the customer a point of reference to the solution implementation as it progresses to completion.

How to implement Product Document Management (PDM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM):

Successfully implementing a PDM/PLM system helps prepare your organization for growth. Whether you need to bring on new people or expand your product line, you will have the infrastructure in place to train new employees quickly and make sure the entire organization is following the same established processes. When you take a step-by-step approach and obtain executive and organizational buy-in, a PDM/PLM implementation can be done easily and effectively.

There is a six step process to implementing PLM. The first step is to establish objectives & goals for your PDM/PLM strategy. Secondly, an in-depth review of your processes will set the stage for subsequent phases of the implementation. Existing design, manufacturing and enterprise related data must be reviewed which will give direction and structure to the intended solution. The next order of business is to thoroughly review your data while considering how these previously unconnected silos of information will need to be shared across multiple departments and shareholders. The next step in an effective implementation is to obtain organizational & executive buy-in and sponsorship. The following stage of implementation will be to assign a project lead and then work closely from a project plan. Finally, train people on the new processes early for maximum adoption.



For organizations that use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software and iterates regularly, a Product Document Management is usually the first step. However, Product Document Management should be looked at as “step one” in a two-part solution. Engineering data inevitably must move beyond the engineering team. Procurement, sales/estimating, executives, and supplier managers — they all need access to the data captured in CAD metadata. Historically stakeholders end up attaching files in emails, linking to shared drives, or using spreadsheets and attending countless meetings to accomplish the necessary communications among their teams. In this scenario, a single view of complex engineering data is lost, and teams must scramble to keep versions up to date and processes moving efficiently.

On the other hand, while a PLM without a centralized CAD storage solution (Product Document Management) and robust version control is useful, it is still not a complete solution; they both have a role to play in a solution that requires both components.

A PDM/PLM solution will provide what every best-in-class manufacturing company needs when it comes to their product data. A highly efficient and comprehensive cooperation within a manufacturing culture is achieved when all enterprise entities can collaborate through a single source of truth in data that provides for Visibility, Accessibility and Accountability.  

-Stan Suttles


Get Your Team Up to Speed with Project Data Management and Product Lifecycle Management

Is your team ready to implement Product Data Management or Product Lifecycle Management tools? D3 Technologies offers a full range of engineering & design solutions for the manufacturing industry, we are here to guide you through your digital transformation and adoption. Contact us today for your design process assessment and start implementing PDM/PLM solutions.


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