Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Software
In this article, learn about the key features and benefits of some of the most popular PLM applications in the market.
This is the second article in the PLM series. To review the background information, check out the previous article.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) software is one of the four main information technology applications that enable modern manufacturing, together with SCM (supply chain management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), and CRM (customer relationship management). The PLM software market, although not as large as that of the ERP, is still significant with nearly $21 billion in global revenues. This market is expected to continue growing steadily at a rate of 1.5% annually, representing more than double the market size of the SCM software. PLM software feels less prominent in the industry in terms of publicity and available literature, but it is an important software category that is expected to grow.
Figure 1. PLM software is a relevant enterprise application category that is expected to continue growing. Image (modified) used courtesy of Apps Run The World
Before diving into the most popular PLM applications, let’s review some of the common key features.
Key Features of PLM Software
There is a robust offering of PLM industrial applications in the market and it is important to look at several factors before making a business purchasing decision of this scale. Similar to ERP and SCM platforms, PLM options from different vendors are customizable and include modules that are dedicated to specific product types and industry sectors. However, while custom solutions can be constructed, there are basic features that are essential to any well-built PLM solution.
Figure 2. BOM management in the Siemens Teamcenter PLM program. Image used courtesy of Siemens
- BOM Management
The bill of materials (BOM) is a hierarchically structured list of materials needed to make a product. PLM software offers ways to analyze BOMs and make appropriate decisions about changes to a product. Changes are made following well-established business change management processes (discussed next). The software also offers the possibility of comparing BOMs from different products in order to easily create product portfolios.
- Change Management
Any modifications and upgrades to a product are planned, approved, and executed within the PLM application. The software keeps historical records of changes, which can be useful when data from prior revisions are needed. An organized change management process leads to better control of the product evolution throughout its life cycle.
- Quality Management
Failure mode and effect analysis (FMEA) and root cause analysis (RCA) are two key quality processes that help identify, contain, and monitor issues with a product. PLM software offer tools to execute, document, and archive FMEA and RCA analyses. Comprehensive quality management is a requisite of compliance with regulations, another facet to be managed during the life cycle of a product.
- Visual Design
Computer-based PLM relies on CAD software to create graphical designs of products. Initially done in 2 dimensions, which is still the case for much of civil engineering, most CAD product designs are now made also in 3D. And, taking this a step further, it is possible to create entire interactive simulations of a product along with its production facility. This concept, known as ‘digital twinning’ greatly enhances the ability to predict and prevent any problems before they occur in the physical world.
- Organized Collaboration
PLM is multidisciplinary and, therefore, PLM software needs to provide tools that facilitate collaboration in a controlled way. BOM and change management are examples of this, but there are many more business processes that require sharing information, sometimes internally and sometimes externally with vendors. An example might include engineering, finance, and technical support teams, and perhaps a contractor support company, all requiring access to historical part data. This creates the need for a central file repository with secure access controls, credentials management, logs, file versioning, among other tools. Any PLM software provides this central data repository.
Popular PLM Software
Having reviewed the common key features of PLM software, let’s focus on what differentiates the top popular PLM companies. According to a 2020 PLM market study, the top ten PLM software applications accounted for nearly 86% of the total market. Out of those ten, the top five most popular PLM applications are from Dassault Systems, Autodesk, Siemens, Synopsys, and Ansys Inc.
Figure 3. Top ten vendors of PLM software by market share in 2020. Image (modified) used courtesy of Apps Run The World
- ENOVIA by Dassault Systemes
ENOVIA is known for its well-designed platform and central repository for sharing, collaboration, and change management. It integrates very well with popular CAD software, such as SOLIDWORKS, AutoCAD, and Inventor, while on the other hand, it needs a somewhat manual level of integration with ERP applications and their downstream infrastructure.
- Fusion 360 Manage by Autodesk
Previously known as Fusion Lifecycle, this is a cloud-based solution that is considered easy to use and offers real-time data updates. It comes with various customizable models to cover different types of production processes. It is also generally more cost-effective upfront as well as with license renewals.
- Teamcenter by Siemens Digital Industries
Teamcenter offers the flexibility of being cloud-based or on-premise. It places a strong emphasis on visualizations as a means of tracking and analyzing product changes throughout the life cycle. Another advantage is its focus on managing product compliance with regulations at a global level. Adopting Teamcenter carries a comparatively longer learning curve and might require permanent specialized management by the IT department, depending on the scale of the business.
- Fusion Design Platform by Synopsys
Synopsys is an important competitor in the electronics and semiconductors manufacturing industry. As such, it has released several platforms based on the PLM methodologies, highly oriented towards those same industries. Synopsys recently partnered with Siemens PLM, resulting in an important collaboration to enhance both platforms.
- Minerva by Ansys Inc.
Offered on-premise and cloud-based, Minerva is a simulation process and data management application within the scope of PLM. It is oriented towards creating and executing powerful simulations that can yield actionable data about a product, its features, and its manufacturing process.
PLM software is a combination of standardized tools to increase efficiency and ease of change management across all industries, while providing customizable support for unique challenges faced by each company. Comparing the benefits provided by various platforms, and understanding what questions to ask of each vendor can help make the best informed business decisions.