PDM vs. PLM: A Process Perspective

I want to continue the discussion started last week in my post ‘PDM vs. PLM: A Data Perspective‘. Thank you all for comments and your contribution to this conversation. I think, clarification in this space can be very beneficial for customers, vendors and other people involved in planning and operation systems for product development, engineering and manufacturing. From the data standpoint, PLM is about to cover a much broader scope of data. However, data is only one dimension, we can use to compare PDM and PLM. Another dimension is a “process”. So, today I’d like to come with a process perspective on what are differences between PDM and PLM.

Process Definition

The definition of a term “process” is very broad. Looking on the Wikipedia “process” page I found a diverse set of definitions. I’d like to take two of them as a context of this discussion.

Wikipedia – Process.
Process or processing typically describes the act of taking something through an established and usually routine set of procedures to convert it from one form to another, as a manufacturing or administrative procedure, such as processing milkcheese, or processing paperworkto grant a mortgage loan, or converting computer data from one form to another.

Wikipedia – Business Process.
A business process or business method is a collection of related, structured activities or tasksthat produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers.

I found that vendors in the space of design, engineering and manufacturing software are using the “process” word very frequently and by doing so, came to the situation where everything in their activity can be considered as a process. In my view, it created a lot of problems with explanations of what software solutions are actually doing in a context of particular organizational processes and needs.

Why PLM Is About Process?

The main reason when PLM is tightly bound with the definition of a process is actually related to the definition of a lifecycle. This is about a whole product life. Every step in this life cycle can be defined as a collection of activities / tasks that produce a result (product). Manufacturing organization activity is focused on the process of planning, engineering, development, manufacturing and supporting products. Design process, Change Management, Release Process, Sales Process… All these activities are part of the overall product lifecycle process. When you think about these steps, you can come to the definition of PLM as a software helping companies to organize and maintain product related processes.

PDM vs. PLM Processes?

Originally, PDM was created in order to maintain design and engineering data. Simply put it was about managing CAD data, related engineering files and their revisions. This type of activity normally can be localized inside of engineering organization. PDM systems are bound to the design tools (historically it was CAD) and serve engineers in their activity related to management of versions and releasing of design and engineering information to manufacturing and rest of the organization. With such a scope PDM easy becomes a software to maintain a release process. However, in real life, this design release is connected to the other product development activities. This is a situation when PLM is coming with broader process support of managing a change, supply chain, quality and other (product related) processes.

What is my conclusion? The first ugly truth coming out of the data perspective post – PLM is about to cover wider data scope. Thinking about a process perspective, I came to the conclusion of the second ugly truth – it is better to explain your software product value in association to the real organizational and product development processes. ERP first discovered a “process-secret-sauce” and started to bind their modules and expand ERP to additional organizational processes.. CAD/PDM companies came second to the spot and decided to capture a broad definition of Product Lifecycle Processes. PDM was about one simple process – Engineering Data Release. Shifting from PDM to PLM, vendors attempted to bind solutions to product development processes in an organization. However, the diversification of these processes in organizations is very high. It resulted in a very high level of complexity and growing amount of customization and software tailoring. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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