PLM and BIM – common roots or common future?

I was looking at the evolution of PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and BIM (Building Information Modeling) and found interesting parallels and associations.

Fundamentally, for a long period of time, I associated PLM with Manufacturing and BIM with Architecture, Engineering and Construction. After doing some research in this field, I observed a sort of convergence between both areas from a strategic standpoint and from a (potential and future) technological standpoint.

Based on the most fundamental definition of PLM from CIMData –” ‘PLM’ is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal“; PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and extended enterprise. One core PLM area – Product Data Management is focusing on capturing and maintaining information about product and/or services through their lifecycle; Secondly, CAx – focused on Product Design, other two areas – Product and Portfolio Management and Manufacturing Process Management focused on various aspects of process and decision making. In the scope of these areas, there are multiple development processes and methodologies – Concurrent Engineering, Top Down Design, Bottom Up Design, Design in Context. The most fundamental technologies used for PLM are Product Design Technologies (CAx), Product Data Modeling and Collaboration Technologies, allowing customers to develop the overall PLM processes in organization. I see much agreement in the development of processes for provided by many vendors. Unfortunately I can see significant industry level disagreement in the development of modeling technologies that will allow participants of the entire Product Lifecycle to create, share, and collaborate on product information. 

Now, let’s shift gears to BIM. There are a few roots of BIM definitions. I’d like to take the following simple one: BIM is the process of generation and management of the “building data” during its lifecycle. BIM today is accepted by major vendors in Architecture, Engineering and Construction and used in all building types – from simple warehouses to many of most complex new buildings. BIM covers multiple domains – geometry, spatial relationships, geographical information, quantities and properties of building components. It helps manage a wide scope of works, system assemblies and other related processes. BIM provides potential future as a virtual information model to be handled from Design Teams to Contractors and Subcontractors, and then to Owners, each adding their own additional discipline-specific knowledge and tracking of changes to the single model. The core technological and modeling principles of BIM were defined as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes)  and aecXML which are data structures for representing information used in BIM. There are a few other data structured developed by commercial vendors in the BIM domain. 

From my perspective,  there are definitely common roots for both PLM and BIM. Both came as answer to support people collaboration around the entire lifecycle of products, but in different industries (Machinery and AEC respectfully). In the early beginning, their capabilities were around design tools (CADs or CAx) and improved significantly with introducing of 3D. In machinery, introducing of 3D parametric modeling and, in AEC, 3D building models created a solid base for collaboration and process support. 

At the same time, there are some significant differences in the maturity of information models and process development for both BIM and PLM. PLM developed mature best practices related to development processes in the organization, especially processes and standards for organization in aerospace, defense and auto-manufacturing. At the same time, PLM in these industries was quite unsuccessful in establishing common information data models. IGES and STEP were two of the most successful, but not on the level of supporting virtual information model for the entire lifecycle process. In BIM, the development of IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) has been quite successful in my view. IFC is a vendor-neutral information model and supported by most  AEC/BIM vendors.

It’s also interesting to note how the  future of PLM and BIM is being  presented by vendors. Inspired by Web technologies and the future of Web-based systems, DS introduced PLM 2.0 as the next paradigm of Product Lifecycle Management – online applications with lifelike experience. In BIM, there are emerging definitions of BIM, BIM 2.0 and even BIM 3.0. BIM 2.0, according to these definitions, is focusing on analyses and BIM 3.0 on simulations. According to some other definitions of BIM 1-2-3, BIM 1.0, called ‘CAD on steroids’ focuses on model-driven AEC-oriented CAD .(By the way, this is similar to PLM which  developed around 3D parametric CAD systems). BIM 2.0 is focusing on how to expand BIM systems to non-A/E people (similar to PLM 2.0’s – “PLM for all”).

 Now, the most interesting observation is about 3.0… In some of the research, BIM 3.0 is defined as “post-interoperability”. I see development of IFC and BuildingSmart as something that can provide a future foundation for BIM tools to work in a seamless environment. It’s too early to introduce PLM 3.0, but at the same time, the idea of “post-interoperability” is definitely interesting as the future of both PLM and BIM industries. 



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  • jtbworld

    BIM spiced up with Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) makes the similarities bigger.
    Not to forget Plant Information Modeling (PIM) that is closely related as well.

  • Agree- IPD is very similar to Design-to-Manufacturing processes in PLM.

  • Oleg,

    On the face of it, PLM and BIM have much in common. There is one HUGE difference – PLM commonly serves a single organizational stakeholder where as BIM has many stakeholders in system that the legal system has designed to be confrontational by nature. Yes, this is an oversimplification on both parts, but you must understand this difference to truly understand why PLM and BIM are NOT the same.

    The best way I can explain BIM to a PLM audience is to describe it as the net sum of all of the information exchanges that take place between the dozens of competing parties within and among the scope of a project’s lifecycle, plus the data that those companies do not share.

  • jtbworld

    What you say is true for most BIM projects. I’ve worked in projects where this was not the case because we had all engineering and construction done by our company.

  • Brad, You pointed on very important characteristic of BIM- stakeholders diversification. I agree – this is probably ‘always’ happens in BIM and in traditional PLM industries happens much less. But if we take PLM to the level of extended enterprise and supply chain, situation probably will be different. On the other side, stakeholder’s influence on technological/functional level is less important in my view. I believe key in the future will be more and more about user experience and user acceptance. In other words – what is value for me! BTW – I’m truly believe stakeholder’s diversification allowed BIM to develop IFC and other standard activities. The same wasn’t happen with PLM in the past.
    Thanks for your comments! – Oleg

  • Dick Terleth

    Oleg (and others). In my opinion both BIM and PLM started from the same need: how to manage all information about an object, whether it is a building or an airplane is irrelevant. I have tried a couple of times to bridge the two worlds but with little success.
    Apart from the difference in organization that Brad pointed out there is also another big difference. In PLM we mostly deal with products that are manufactured more than once in small series (like airplanes) or in huge series (like DVD players and vacuum cleaners). The result of that is that there is a requirement (and time) for detailed design and manufacturing information.
    In the building industry the opposite is true. A building is usually a one-off and subsequently a large part of installation problems are solved by workers on the building site (I am always amazed by the lack of detail in installation information and the way plumbers route plumbing…). So there is a lot less detailed information.

    PLM and BIM can learn a lot from each other: BIM by adding more details and preventing problems on the building site (they see this as inevitable) and PLM by allowing more collaboration and standardization.

    Dick Terleth

  • Dick, I like your point. This is what I had in my mind – PLM and BIM will have common future. With regards to your example, I think, this is called (may be in PLM) products with long lifecycle. What is different between airplane you need to maintain 50 years, hydro-power-station and building? I think products from Power and Process industry actually provide sort of interests from both sides (PLM and BIM). This is industry where merge between PLM and BIM in today’s traditional view can happen first.

  • jtbworld

    Oleg, interesting that you mentioned Power and Process industry. I have a background at a company that also worked with Oil & Gas and Pharmaceutical. I guess that why we used BIM long before traditional building industry and before BIM acronym was coined.

  • Jimmy, agree with you. Actually I don’t see much difference between airplane and hydro-electrical power station. First is typical PLMish… second can be BIM. -Oleg

  • Oleg,

    There is a difference between building multiple instances of (essentially) the same product and maintaining one specific exemplar of that product through its life until it is scrapped.
    In fact this is something a lot of companies are struggling with. How to maintain information valid for products to be build from now and how to maintain the configuration of one build instance and even more than one.
    Meaning you have to maintain information about a number of nearly identical machines. You are going to end up with a lot of (nearly identical) product structures or some clever end-item effectivity rules. Otherwise you have a lot of problems to modify all (again) nearly identical items. Like airplanes, trains, trucks etc..

    But this is all about Product LIFECYCLE management, and not just managing information of how to build the next item of a series..

    Speaking about that. There are not many PLM systems capable of handling that elegantly. What is you opinion?


  • Dick,

    Agree with you. This is pure PLM topic. To be able core Product Information (BOMs and around) in two dimensions – time and configuration. I believe this problem will be solved in the future in with the same technologies. But today PLM vendors prefer to identify it separately. Why? Good question – probably because it sounds more clear for customers… Also, probably because, these cases in daily practice are mutually exclusive from standpoint of customer’s urgency. For manufacturers creating highly configurable items, management of information for long period of time is less important. I don’t think Dell keep all BOMs for all computers shipped to customers via their website and even if they do, you cannot change, so it can be simple snapshot. For long lifecycle products, effectivity is mostly around date and need to be dynamic, since you don’t want to end up with zillions of snapshots.

    I think PLM systems used for aerospace today are the most closed prototype of system that can handle changes in variable and configurable structures over the time. But it doesn’t mean this functionality shipped out of the box. I assume it created by companies doing so.

    If you have any examples – will be very interested to discuss and see how such systems were implemented and maintained over the time.


  • What would be best bim software to integrate with SAP. PLM

  • Hello Michael and welcome to join discussion!

    I’m not aware about any SAP-BIM integrations on product level. What type of integration you are looking for?

    I’d recommend you to take a look on possible connection between STEP standard and BIM. STEP is relatively popular in Europe, used by automotive industry mainly, but can provide some good grounds with SAP. SAP have good support for STEP too.


  • guttu73

    I completely agree with the post.

    I am trying to distribute more information on BIM

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  • Yevgeniy Orlik


    BIM just as PLM has not reached the maturity to support the lifecicle of the building models. The initiatives from IFC standards and BuildingSmart Alliance have so far just described a portion of the building element libraries, of witch there are still a huge number left to be described. IFC and CIS/2(format used by structural engineers and steel detailers) are both based on STEP file format. What is happening right now individual organizations are expanding their IFC libraries, so at the end there might might be an operability. So far, structural engineers for example, have to make sure that everything that has been modeled in BIM environment can be passed into third party analysis software. There is also industry innintiative to create XML based standards that will support buisness processes, requirements and document management of the project. As far as I know Dessault Systems begun to offer their PLM solution to AECO proffesionals, so far the only PLM solution, that I know about. My understaning is that for now it will be limited to users of Digital Project, from Gehry Technologies, that is based on CATIA.

  • Yevgeniy, thank you for your comment. Yep, Gehry is doing some innovation with DS products as far as I know too. So, what is your take on the future of IFC and STEP formats/definitions? Best, Oleg

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  • prabhu

    Can any one guide or reply me, How to configurable a product for commercial vehicle by using PLM, if possible:
    1.How my bill of materials structure should be
    2.What are the Marketing features need to be provided
    3.What are the technical features need to be provided for product development team.


  • Prabhu, Some PLM vendors today provide templates for different types of industries. This is a good marketing demo to show product capabilities. Best, Oleg

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  • I would like to know some thing about Plant Information modeling (PIM). Can any1 comment please.

  • It seems to me as something new. I’ve heard about PLM for process industry and BIM. However, Plant Info Modeling… sounds like a new TLA.

  • How interesting; I had also never really thought of how the two (PLM and BIM) might connect. With all the overlaps that you outlined, do you think a software company might someday offer a BIM management tool that would also manage PLM?

  • I think Autodesk is thinking how to blend AEC and Manufacturing. Recently, I’ve seen some of their AEC /Vault presentations during Autodesk Forum in Moscow and it was quite interesting. Best, Oleg

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  • I’m about to make an argument that may seem out of place and it shloud sound silly, but I’m getting to a much larger problem that I promise to tie together at the end.I fail to see how calling BIM a technology platform actually helps anything? First, let’s look at your comment: Why not “construction BIM”, “design BIM”, “facilities BIM” and I would like to propose “Geo-BIM” for non-building, infrastructure related projects, above and below ground. Because I could draw a warehouse building with a carpenters pencil, cut it out to exact dimensions with a child’s round tipped safety scissors, and paste it together with Elmer’s glue. Technically it’s a representation of a building, it has exact dimensions so it contains information, and since I glued all the pieces together it’s a model. I now have paper BIM! Since this was designed, constructed and it represents a facility and we can place paper equipment inside it, it’s construction BIM, design BIM, and facilities BIM!!! My technology was paper, pencil, and glue. You might argue that this information needs to be digital to be BIM. I’ll take a few digital photos of my paper model and link it into a document. You next might state that a few pictures can’t be BIM. Actually, I currently have software on my computer that can take the information from a few photos and create a 3D point cloud from it. Few people would argue that Point Cloud data of a building model to scale can’t be considered BIM. So a pencil, paper and scissors is now, officially, been made part of the BIM process.Excel spread sheets, scanned hand drawn documents, SketchUp models they can all be BIM and technically fall into any of these categories if done correctly.Our problem isn’t the categorization of BIM, it’s the use of the term period. BIM has become a storage area for every piece of digital information that can be tied into a model. It’s been called a process because so many things are thought of and brought into a digital model that anything, including a paper model, can now be tied back into the process of BIM.We need to stop using the term BIM altogether. It’s simply a term developed to describe a building model that morphed into everything related to computers that was different than how we did them before computers. I strongly believe that BIM is now just us doing our jobs. The use of the term BIM.. I believe shloud be obsolete. When describing what we do, we shloud be stating that I’m using Revit to explorer our design options; I use Navisworks to coordinate our different models; even I practice Architecture is better as it describes what we do better than a catch all term like BIM. I don’t know many people that practice BIM as their duties can be quantified better by actual architectural, construction & even IT terms.

  • Flakita, thanks for sharing of your insight! I think, the overall amount of TLA (3 letter acronyms) used to describe technology is decreasing. Maybe it will come to BIM too :). I think, vertical integration of models and processes can simplify the way people work. BIM is supposed to do so by applying modeling principles, sharing data and helping to coordinate people work. Just my opinion, of course. Best, Oleg

  • Working with Symetri an Autodesk VAR which primarily serves the oil & gas sector there is a strong pull from both AEC and Manufacturing solutions. We are starting to work with companies in plant design and construction who now have formulated BIM policies butt also require elements of PLM. We are also promoting Autodesk’s PLM 360 to manufacturers of Building Products (elevators, shop fittings, furniture, HVAC, lighting etc) who need PLM for their key design and manufacture activities, however as they are often stakeholders in major construction projects they also require BIM technology for collaboration with architects, designers and civil engineers. It will be interesting to see just how companies approach the combined PLM/BIM implementations and just how (and where) we splice the two together.
    Andy Hadley

  • @Andy, I agree. Companies doing process management are in the front of innovation that requires both manufacturing and AEC/construction solutions working together. That’s why I believe PLM and BIM will meet together. Speaking from the distance of 3 years since it post was published, I can see even more arguments why it will happen. Best, Oleg

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