Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Definition: What is PLM?

PLM, short for Product Lifecycle Management, describes a holistic and conceptual approach to managing and controlling all data generated during a product lifecycle. This includes information from design, construction, production, sales, service, disassembly and recycling. PLM accompanies a product along its entire value chain and is supported by specialized software systems. 

"Product Lifecycle Management solutions play an essential role in optimizing the product development process".

- Eigner, M. 2012, Product Lifecycle Management: A Guide to Product Development and Life Cycle Management (VDI Book), 2nd edition, Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

History & Development of Product Lifecycle Management

The theoretical concept of the product lifecycle was formulated as early as 1957 by Allen Hamilton, an employee of the Booz advertising agency. He divided the lifecycle of a product into the five stages of introduction, growth, maturity, saturation and decline. Product lifecycle management of the present day was significantly influenced by American Motors Corporation (AMC), which in 1985 was looking for a way to electronically accelerate its product development processes so as not to fall behind the competition. However, in addition to AMC, many other companies in the early 1990s were also looking for an application that could shorten the development phases of a product. An immediate founding father of PLM is not known.

PLM took more shape with the first product development solutions in the 90s and the development of CAD software (Computer Aided Design). However, Product Lifecycle Management is mainly a result of the so-called Engineering Data Management (EDM), the first electronic management systems, which later came to be known as the (PDM). Since PDM focused more on data management, a conceptual approach to support the production process emerged a short time later under the name Product Lifecycle Management. Unlike PDM, PLM is not an IT solution, but a concept that is implemented with the help of PDM and applications such as CAD or CAM. Meanwhile, PLM is a ready-made system that enables companies to manage and control product lifecycles. In recent years, interest in cloud-based PLM applications in particular has increased. In Germany, providers such as Arena Solutions and Autodesk were pioneers when it came to PLM in the cloud.

Product Lifecycle Management in detail

Product lifecycle management encompasses all relevant corporate processes in a single concept via development and design-related product data management. PLM is of a purely strategic nature and includes the planning, control and organization of all processes required for the generation and management of data, resources and documents of a product lifecycle. At the outset, PLM is based on the information generated during the planning and production of a product - including the data generated by external service providers and suppliers. The management structure of PLM essentially consists of the following three phases:

  • Beginning of Life (BoL): Includes new product development and design processes;
  • Middle of Life (MoL): Includes work with external service providers, product information management (PIM), and warranty management;
  • End of Life (EoL): describes plans for the disposal, discontinuation or recycling of a product.

The aim of PLM is to provide all product-specific information centrally so that it is available to every employee in a company equally and at every workstation. This prevents unnecessary and duplicate data and increases efficiency.

Advantages of using PLM:

  • improved quality of the final product
  • shortened working time
  • reduced costs
  • central database
  • increased productivity
  • increased competitiveness
  • same database for all
  • no inconsistent data
  • mapping of all processes
  • avoidance of duplicates
  • common document management

Core functionalities of PLM

Product Lifecycle Management has a considerable influence on the overall economic result of a product. For example, it also takes into account factors such as spare parts supply or software updates. The basic core functions of PLM include:

Requirements management

Software-supported requirements management captures different and sometimes contradictory requirements within a PLM process. These are assigned to specific components or assemblies and assigned priorities. The creation of requirement structures without reference to material masters is also part of this process. Requirements form the basis of target analyses and traceability.

Change management

Change management is the coordinated monitoring and management of all product-related changes. It is part of configuration management.

CAD data management

A central function of the PLM system is the management and integration of CAD files.

Document management

Document management refers to file management in a PLM system, so that files and data records are always available in their current version. Unlike CAD data management, document management includes all documents generated in the context of the product creation process.

Configuration management

The task of configuration management is to document and manage all related work results as configurations. This includes product-related changes.

Project management

Project management comprises the planning, monitoring, control and completion of a project using project management systems.

Product data management

Product data management means the holistic management of all information generated during the development of a product. PDM is used to store, provide and manage product-related information and the processes involved in its creation.

Product structure management

Effective product structure management makes all information about a product centrally accessible via the PLM system.

Variant management

Variant management aims to create a transparent and configurable product portfolio. This is achieved by finding a balance between product variants and processes and reducing complexity.

Application areas of PLM

The majority of PLM-based applications focus on the value chain in product development and can be used in all kinds of sectors. These include industrial sectors such as aerospace and shipbuilding. PLM systems are also used in environmental technology, the defense industry and for medical products. In recent years, PLM is also developing in the direction of manufacturing and assembly and includes all essential process areas, such as in the production of clothing or consumer goods. Manufacturing and operations schedules are also a component of PLM. The individual PLM components include areas such as construction and design (CAD), modeling and engineering, production planning and control, technology development, sales planning and distribution logistics, statistics, service and recycling management.

By means of PLM, specialists work on a product or system in a horizontally networked manner and have access to the important data of the neighboring special areas at all times. Therefore, PLM is nowadays an essential support in product development.

Definition of product life cycle

The product lifecycle is the core element of Product Lifecycle Management and always starts with an idea or the loose concept of a product. 

"The product lifecycle describes the phases that a product goes through after it is introduced to the market."

- Schwael C., Billing F. 2012 Product lifecycle: top 100 management tools. 2nd edition, Gabler Verlag, Wiesbaden.

These phases can be defined as follows:

Phase 1: analysis, product development and design

At the beginning of every product there is an idea or a basic concept. In this phase of development, the idea or concept is optimized until it appears promising. The optimization processes avoid errors and save costs and time.

Phase 2: Product management and product simulation

Based on the development phase, initial product data is collected. The simulations based on this data offer the opportunity to test the product comprehensively and to determine important parameters for manufacturing.

Phase 3: Product manufacturing and product marketing

After successful simulation, the required materials are procured via suppliers and the product goes into production. Subsequent quality tests determine whether it is ready for market launch. Strategies and operational processes are defined in advance for marketing.

Phase 4: Product maintenance and product recycling

To further optimize the product, customer feedback flows into the production process. Disassembly and recycling are also part of the product life cycle and show whether the product was successful or not.

PLM as a management approach

PLM and the product lifecycle are a major component of product management. In the holistic management approach, PLM is based on the so-called "single source of truth" principle. According to this, all data concerning the product is provided centrally by a PLM system. For this approach, it is important that product-specific data from other software systems can be synchronized into the PLM system via interfaces.

These types of software are used in the development of products throughout the life cycle:

In the course of a product life cycle, various specialist areas work hand in hand. The areas can be defined on the basis of the cycle phases as follows:

  • Market and requirements analysis
  • Conception
  • Draft and design
  • Construction
  • Quality assurance
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing
  • Customer Experience

A well-organized PLM ensures that the respective areas can work together efficiently using modern technologies and methods. To achieve this, a complete management system is developed based on the PLM software.

PLM system

A PLM system forms the basis for holistic solutions in the product development process. It manages and provides information centrally throughout the company about all the data that is generated in the product lifecycle. A PLM system is more of a central database than a single instrument. In this database, all product-related information is made available in a collected form. PLM systems map the entire value chain and make it traceable in all its steps.

Various PLM systems with different focuses can be found on the market. In principle, they are best selected on the basis of specific requirement criteria.

Common PLM systems include:

  • GAIN
  • Dassault Systèmes
  • PTC
  • Siemens PLM
  • SAP
  • Lectra
  • Autodesk
  • Arena Solutions

PLM Software

PLM software organizes and integrates the various life cycles of a product, simplifying the management and control of all processes. It manages data on items, parts, products, requirements, documents, change orders, and workflows. PLM software can only be used on the basis of a strategy. While PDM software creates a unified data set for collaborative management and collaboration, PLM software systems take into account all the data and processes involved in developing, launching and discontinuing a product. All workers involved in the development and introduction of new products, in different areas such as engineering, quality, procurement and production, benefit from PLM software. Using the software guarantees a consistent level of data for all involved.

PLM helps to,

  • guarantee product quality
  • stay within budget;
  • make work more efficient;
  • comply with regulations - for example, on the environment and safety.

Companies that use PLM software boost overall productivity and reduce supply chain risks because all information is centrally managed by the software. PLM software systems make it possible to automate and manage product and quality processes throughout the product lifecycle. Many companies are turning to embedded software services such as Product-as-a-Service (PaaS) to sell their new products or services. Cloud-based PLM solutions help them respond flexibly and quickly. Modern PLM software provides the digital foundation for a unified product development and supply chain strategy and is tightly interwoven with real-time data from technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning (ML).


PLM, or Product Lifecycle Management, is based on the product development solutions and electronic management systems of the 1990s and describes a conceptual approach to managing and controlling a product's data throughout its lifecycle. This lifecycle of each product is divided into four main stages, starting with conception. In the holistic management approach, PLM synchronizes all product-specific data from other software systems such as computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). Product data management software is used in all areas where products and services are generated and is closely interwoven with modern technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). The fundamental benefits of PLM include error prevention, working more efficiently, and saving time as well as costs. Modern PLM systems are cloud-based..

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is PLM?

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is the link for managing and controlling all product-related data that is generated during a product lifecycle. PLM covers all phases of the product lifecycle - from concept and design to recycling.

What is the PLM process?

The PLM process is the management of the lifecycle of a product.

In the course of a PLM process, it is ensured that a product or service reaches the market. This is achieved by the Product Lifecycle Manager bringing together all processes and data via interfaces.

What is the difference between PLM and PDM?

PDM stands for Product Data Management and is used to manage CAD and product descriptive data. PDM is a component of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), which in turn means a holistic view of the product lifecycle.

What is a product lifecycle?

The lifecycle of a product begins with the idea or conception. After the development of the product, its main cycles follow. The cycles are divided into product introduction, growth, maturity and degeneration.

What are the advantages of using PLM?

With PLM, it is possible to make product data accessible throughout the company in order to optimize the exchange of information among the employees involved in the project. A large proportion of the process steps are carried out virtually, so that errors can be identified and rectified at an early stage. This saves companies time and money.

Which companies are interested in PLM?

Although PLM originated in the manufacturing industry, more and more companies in other sectors are also looking at product lifecycle management. PLM is interesting for all companies that develop products or services and bring them to market.

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