What is PLM (Product Lifecycle Management)?

At the most fundamental level, product lifecycle management (PLM) is the strategic process of managing the complete journey of a product from initial ideation, development, service, and disposal. Put another way, PLM means managing everything involved with a product from cradle to grave.

What is PLM software?

PLM software is a solution that manages all of the information and processes at every step of a product or service lifecycle across globalized supply chains. This includes the data from items, parts, products, documents, requirements, engineering change orders, and quality workflows.

Today, supply chains have become more global and businesses are shifting their operating models. For example, many companies are using embedded software services, such as product-as-a-service (PaaS) to sell new products or services. As a result, these organizations are discovering that they need a cloud-based PLM software that is ready to help them be adaptable and responsive.

Modern PLM software is quickly becoming the lynchpin to business transformation because it provides the digital foundation and enterprise product record for a holistic product development and supply chain strategy. When your business processes are aligned with today’s PLM software on a single platform, you can unify your product value chain with integrated business planning and supply chain execution to help drive faster innovations and improve how products are designed, manufactured, maintained, and serviced.

The history of PLM

From CAD to PLM 4.0

Managing products throughout their lifecycle is not a new concept. The process is ancient. It’s been around since products were first being sold. But, PLM as we know it today began with early product development solutions and the creation of computer-aided design (CAD) software. These early product development solutions were useful, but they introduced a big problem: how to manage, distribute, find, and reuse large CAD files. Back then, computers weren’t designed to store these large files, much less share them. Product data management (PDM) was introduced to tackle this issue. Before 1990, PDM—or PLM 1.0—solutions were CAD-centric and focused almost entirely on the CAD file or document management. This quickly expanded into managing the bill of material (BOM) and engineering change processes (ECOs), but remained focused solely on product development.

In the 1990s, globalization, outsourcing, and time to market pressures forced companies to expand their PDM deployments. Early PLM software, or PLM 2.0, was introduced with a layer of security and collaboration features, and it helped support many functions throughout the product lifecycle including quality planning, manufacturing, product compliance, product costing, and others to address challenges beyond core product development. While PDM is still the core of any PLM solution, legacy tools were neither complete nor user friendly, and required expensive and extensive customizations.

After 2000, a new generation of PLM software emerged, PLM 3.0. This new evolution was focused on product launches and incorporated more capabilities across the lifecycle including innovation and requirements management, as well as improved connections with downstream manufacturing, supply chain processes, and commercialization processes. In many cases, these capabilities were acquired and integrated with legacy tools. While companies were able to leverage this new functionality, this legacy approach was complex and still required extensive customizations.

Meanwhile, the pressures that drove the initial development of PDM and early PLM solutions grew. Business demanded solutions to meet their product and process innovation requirements, as well as the latest digital/business transformation and Industry 4.0 initiatives. Today, modern PLM software, PLM 4.0, is supply chain and customer-centric. It’s built on a software as a service (SaaS) model so companies no longer have to hire an entire IT department to manage it. With PLM 4.0, companies can establish and monitor a digital thread that connects the many voices of machine (Internet of Things), product (including digital twins), factory, and customer (via social monitoring) across the enterprise. Having access to this information from anywhere, at any time, bidirectionally in the cloud tightly links once-disparate business processes, breaks the barriers of data silos, and eliminates the complexity of gathering data across supply networks. The result is faster innovation, better decision-making, improved time to market, reduced costs, and enhanced product quality.

What is the digital thread?

How PLM delivers the digital thread

New business models, business transformation, and Industry 4.0 are all possible because of the technology advancements that give businesses the ability to respond to change quickly. Today’s PLM software provides the foundation and intersection of critical, cradle-to-grave product lifecycle processes woven with real-time data from technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). Global organizations are leveraging what emerged as a “digital thread” to change how they design, manufacture, and service products.

The digital thread can be defined as a collaborative, single data platform, which only next-generation PLM software can deliver. This platform ties together all elements of the enterprise and its data to produce a holistic view of a product’s physical and digital data throughout its lifecycle. The digital thread begins at the earliest stages of ideation and design through manufacturing, supply chain, and service—providing a seamlessly flow of governed data between business systems, processes, partners, and ecosystems.

Why do you need the digital thread?

The digital thread helps accelerate business value and breaks down the walls between once disparate and siloed systems. It reduces the latency and complexities of having to gather information across supply networks and share it at every step of the product value chain—including early product design, operations, manufacturing, service, and end of life. When combined with real-time transactional analytics, the digital thread delivers insights needed to make proactive, faster, and more-informed decisions. Today’s PLM software provides the digital thread giving you access to the right information, delivered to the right people, at the right place and time—breaking down organizational barriers to unlock speed and agility while ensuring the highest product quality.

What is a digital twin?

How PLM supports digital twins

Simply put, a digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset. Digital twins leverage the aggregation of current, historical, and representational data of a product to reflect its real-world use. When a physical object’s data is made available, a digital representation—a digital twin—of the same object can be computer simulated to model the behavior of the object as it’s designed, built, maintained, or manipulated, creating a virtual profile of the object at every step of a product’s lifecycle.

For digital twins to have the highest impact, they need to be supported by systems that are interconnected and reference the same information through the digital thread, enabled by modern a PLM software—PLM 4.0. This way, any changes to the digital twin can be made quickly and accurately in real time, and every person accessing the digital twin can be confident their decisions are based on the most up-to-date information.

Digital twins are not static. They evolve. As data continues to be collected across the product lifecycle—data from customers, factories, IoT sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, PLM, and operations—it is woven into the digital thread and the digital twin becomes more accurate. As the data coming in is analyzed in real time, you can use the digital twin to help you make higher-quality products, ensure optimal performance, run virtual what-if scenarios, or predict the cost/benefit of product modifications, without actually making them. Want to make a change to a product without having to prototype it? Simulate it on your digital twin. Want to see if changing a ball bearing on a machine in your factory will reduce production downtime? Simulate it on your digital twin.

Why do you need digital twins?

The ability to model a digital twin based on an interconnected digital thread is only available with modern PLM software. Digital twin technology provides invaluable, real-time updates that enable organizations to identify and analyze a problem—in an asset or in the production line—and fix it quickly. Companies that have adopted digital twins gained significant competitive advantages as well, include eliminating unplanned downtime, which reduces costs and improves product quality and customer experience.

Here’s an example. The maker of a smart tablet is about to release a new, over-the-air software update. This kind of update might bring up a product-related issue, such as a reduction to the life of the battery. With a digital twin, the manufacturer is able to run a simulation of this update to auto-detect such issues, and communicate them to quality management and engineering before making it. They can take corrective/preventive action, and create another software update to resolve it—preventing a bad customer experience that might damage the brand’s reputation.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) use cases

Connect your product value chain

Unify processes—from capturing an idea through commercializing products and services—for faster decision-making.

Read about next-generation PLM (PDF)

Seamlessly integrate

Unify the data and processes from your existing ERP and supply chain systems to gain a foundation for a holistic product development strategy. Streamline all processes, from initial ideation to production and commercialization.

Learn how to connect your supply chain network with integrated applications

Drive faster innovation to launch

Build a smarter innovation pipeline fueled by a steady stream of high-value ideas. Efficiently design, develop, and manage new product introductions and engineering change requirements.

View the transformation of product design report (PDF)

Harmonize product data

Leverage a single enterprise product record that spans all applications to provide the velocity and resiliency needed to support today’s complex business transformations.

Read the analyst commentary: Weaving the Digital Thread

Reduce the cost of quality

Drive closed-loop quality management to make successful, high-speed decisions with real-time transparency and traceable information.

Learn how to reduce the cost of quality

Enforce product compliance

Enforce product compliance and proactively track changes throughout your product’s lifecycle so you can quickly adjust to changing global standards, efficiently manage engineering documentation, and design compliant-finished products.

Read the requirements management digibook

Leverage the latest technology

Get immediate value from built-in predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT, and digital assistance that work together to create digital twins and turn data into insights.

Combine PLM and IoT to create digital twins and tie the digital thread

Get started with Oracle Cloud PLM

Is your product lifecycle management (PLM) software helping you rapidly design and launch new products?

PLM software may have started out as a way to transfer large CAD files and manage documents, but it has evolved into a must-have for today’s companies. Staying competitive requires that your product portfolio and new product introduction processes align with your strategic sustainability and growth objectives. Yet many organizations are still using disconnected legacy systems in isolation—some are even using spreadsheets—which just aren’t capable of supporting dynamic business challenges.

Oracle Cloud PLM is a cloud-based, PLM 4.0 solution that’s built on a software as a service (SaaS) model meaning it’s always kept up to date with the latest features, functions, and best practices. Cloud PLM rolls out updates regularly, so you’re continuously leveraging the latest innovations. Access to these new capabilities means you get immediate value from built-in, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), IoT, and digital assistance that works together to create digital twins that turn data into preventive, predictive, proactive, and prescriptive insights. Oracle Cloud PLM delivers a true digital thread—aligning design, planning, manufacturing, and service processes—to provide the foundation to support business transformations. And when PLM is unified on a common platform across ERP, supply chain management (SCM), supply chain planning, manufacturing, maintenance, IoT, and customer experience, you can drive faster, higher-quality innovations throughout product launch and remain resilient when markets pivot.