Monday, March 5, 2012

PDM & PLM: What's the Difference?

Recently I have witnessed several discussions on Twitter, Facebook, the China Garden Buffet (Yum!), and a few other places about the difference between PDM and PLM. Many people use these two acronyms interchangeably, and I think some people are confused. PDM and PLM are not the same and it is important to understand the differences.

Product Data Management (PDM) has been around for a long time. When 2D CAD systems were first developed, we quickly learned that they are very good at one thing: creating lots and lots of files. As 3D CAD became popular, and more and more product information became a large collection of CAD files, it was hard for people to keep track of all this data. So, PDM systems were developed to allow check-in and check-out of these files from a secure vault. This is the reason that most early PDM systems were nothing more than CAD data vault mangers. These PDM solutions not only kept track of relationships between parts and assemblies, but also prevented multiple people from working on the same files at the same time. Thus, PDM became the way that design files were vaulted, tracked, and managed.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a relatively new term that was coined to include the full gamut of tools and methodologies that are used to manage the virtual product during the entire lifecyle (go here to see our simplest definition of PLM). A more detailed definition of PLM from CIMdata is: "The collaborative creation, use, management and dissemination of product related intellectual assets." Remember, PLM is not just about technology, it is a strategic business approach that includes innovation around products AND processes. PLM supports the extended enterprise and spans the full product lifecycle from concept to end of life. Without properly managed intellectual assets, it is impossible to consistently infuse new products and processes with innovation.

Now that we have defined PDM and PLM, I think we can clearly see the differences. PDM is a subset of PLM; It includes the management of intellectual asset information and their relationships. PDM is an important basic requirement that supports PLM, and you cannot do PLM without PDM. PLM includes asset creation through CAD, Analysis, Digital Manufacturing, Documentation, Images, Software, etc...there is generally no creation of intellectual assets in PDM. There are usually few collaboration capabilities within PDM. However, a strong foundation for PLM starts with a comprehensive and strong PDM solution.

The confusion between these terms, I think, often comes in the way people choose to use them. Many companies, and even vendors, will call the selection and implementation of a PDM system PLM. While it is true, in a sense, that the first step on the long PLM road is putting a strong PDM solution in place, that is only one small piece of the PLM puzzle. There will still need to be much work done on configuration management, visualization and DMU, collaboration, digital manufacturing, integrations (ERP, MES, CRM, SCM...), and on, and on, and on...along with all the business process innovation work that will be required.

I could go into more detail, but it gets complex and I need to go get some Chinese food now; I'm starving!

So, where are you on the path to PLM?


  1. Jim, I think the topic of PDM vs. PLM is one of the most discussed. I liked the way you summarized in one page. On my side, I have 3 levels of answers.

    1. (simplest) - it is the same. People in most of the manufacturing companies don't care. They will tell you - we need a system to help us with product development, and you can call it PDM, PLM...

    2. (advanced) - it was PDM (20 years ago), now it developed towards PLM. So, take PDM, add some additional staff, and you will have PLM. Actually, you are very close to this answer.

    3. (sophisticated) - if you really want to know the difference, you can take a look on different aspects of PDM and PLM - data, process and integrations. Last year, I wrote a series of posts about that:

    PDM vs. PLM - data perspective.

    PDM vs. PLM - process perspective.

    PDM vs. PLM - integration perspective.

    Best, Oleg

  2. Oleg,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Yes, I agree with your stance, and enjoyed reviewing your comments from last year. I wanted to try and get it on one page, so you will notice that I haven't gone into much detail. This is a topic that can be endlessly debated, but my goal is to help people be less confused when they hear these terms used.


    1. This is a very interesting and objective read. However I would rather classify PDM as being a complimentary solution to PLM and not a subset. To some, this may suggest you get PDM with PLM which is not the case in many situations.

      In most situations, the best understanding of the engineering CAD data is from that vendor which often times provides a very good PDM solution. However it may not be strong enough to satisfy those PLM type requirements. Here is where PLM as a Strategy comes nto play. Why not assess a strong PDM coupled with a strong ERP as being a corporate PLM strategy? Or augmented by a traditional PLM vendor?

  3. Patrick,

    Thanks for your response.

    I don't think you can consider PDM to be a complimentary solution to PLM, remember, PLM is a strategic approach and includes a collection of solutions, where PDM is usually a single solution from one vendor. PDM is the foundation of PLM; without it, you cannot build PLM solutions. But, without PLM, you end up with limited capabilities to integrate, collaborate, and disseminate intellectual assets to the rest of your enterprise.

    However, PDM + ERP would be a TERRIBLE PLM solution! ERP does not include the support for product and process innovation early in the design process that is needed for product success. Only PLM allows a company to support the innovative early stages of product development.

    Keep in mind, the challenge is to become an innovative business through the proper adoption of PLM to create, capture, manage, and leverage your organization’s Intellectual Assets as a competitive weapon!

    That's my view!

  4. Thanks Jim,

    I agree 100% with your very politely written article! Some might disagree with me, but unless you don't know what PLM is, there is no confusion about the differences between PDM and PLM. In my little head, if you are only managing plain data, that's PDM. However, if you start manipulating 3D content in addition to the above, making it available to all working hands involved with the product, that is PLM. It is ridiculous that there are still vendors claiming to be deploying PLM while having no integration to 3D!

    Here is a link to another excellent article by Oleg, you forgot about that one Oleg ;)

  5. Yaser,

    Thanks for your comments. I am still surprised at the number of people who confuse PDM and PLM. Amazingly there are still many employees and partners at major PLM vendors who do not really understand the difference (not you, of course). We believe that with enough solid PLM education from CIMdata, we can solve this problem and bring sanity back to the PLM market.



  6. Hello Jim,I have read your article and you have made the difference more precise and clear cut.I have a question related to PLM n ERP.Is ERP included in PLM solutions?I have come across many books of which few says, a bit of ERP is present in PLM approach whereas others claim that PLM and ERP integration would turn out to be a game changer in any organization.If ERP is already present in PLM then why should we integrate both?

    1. Ramesh,

      In my experience, ERP features are generally not found in PLM. I think it is correct to say that a good integration between PLM and ERP would be a great help to most companies.


  7. Thank you for sharing. The iReliability™ PdM Data Management Software Tool strives to deliver Global Standards, Best Practices, and Methodologies to the end user in what can only be described as an intuitive, “common sense” approach.

  8. Great post Jim. We make a PLM for apparel and are just now starting to see major traction. I've shared this post on our LinkedIn page today, keep up the good work :)