PLM 101: Product Lifecycle for Hardware Startups

PLM 101: Product Lifecycle for Hardware Startups


If you’re in manufacturing business, I’m sure you’ve heard about PLM (Product Lifecycle Management). And the thing you probably heard are “PLM is for large companies”. As far as you are concerned about your hardware startup business, you might think PLM is not important and you can do it later. This is can be a true when you work in your garage on some prototypes. However, as soon as you start thinking how to bring your product to at least handful of users, you can find that following some basic PLM principles can save you time, money and help to bring product with right cost and quality.

Why PLM is important? The nature of new hardware project is very intense. The team is rushing the schedules between working on the prototype, kickstarting a fundraise program and planning how to manufacture at scale. It is hard to setup a fully fledged product lifecycle solution at this stage. Last year, I shared some of my thoughts in the article – Why Kickstarter projects need PLM? I’ve been learning how manufacturing companies and especially hardware startups are using different engineering software – CAD, CAM, CAE tools, data management software (PDM and PLM).

I have some bad and good news for you. The good news – the chances are you are already doing product lifecycle management. Because, without that you cannot design, engineer and manufacturing stuff. I’m sure you do some design, save it in some locations, backing it up, managing versions, producing Bill of Materials, collaborating with contract manufacturers, planning QA and setup your testing and compliance processes. The bad news – you are doing it in a poor manner. The ugly situation can be in case you don’t do it at all and hope it will magically happen. Here is the thing – it will hit you at a moment you don’t expect. I’ve heard many stories about lost copies of CAD files and sending wrong versions of design and specifications to suppliers. I can add odds that you miss some information in your bill of materials and, as a result, the estimation of product cost is far from realities.

The challenge for product development team – how to balance between the need to setup product data records, manage baselines of your design, bill of materials, make an assessment of product cost and inability to create fully fledged product lifecycle management solution.  After all, your hardware company is barely few months old and are running out of time to deliver product on time and with projected cost.

The last one is one of the key things. What are two most important questions you ask before developing any project? (1) How many items I can sell and (2) what is the cost to build it. These two things are absolutely fundamental in manufacturing regardless on the size and scale. The same holds true for any  hardware project you do. Without estimation of product development and manufacturing cost, you can make your manufacturing enterprise not profitable or just run out of money.

What is my conclusion? It is hard overvalue the importance of establishing your PLM strategy at early stage in your hardware startup lifecycle. But how you can do that? The important thing to learn about data management and PLM – this is not a project you should implement and forget. Product lifecycle management is a vital part of engineering and manufacturing activities. Once you are setting up it right, you will be able to expand and make it more sophisticated as far as your business will be growing. In the next blog posts I’m going to share some of my thoughts about basics elements of product lifecycle strategy and possible ways to implement it.

Best, Oleg


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  • Looking forward to the follow-up posts! You’re right that the difference between success and failure for a hardware startup is often how well they get a hold of PLM for their product. If they’re stopping for a moment to re-assess how they are handling their data it may already be too late. A difference maker is having someone with sufficient hardware manufacturing experience on the team, because they can spot the pitfalls as they come, even if it’s not captured within a cohesive IT solution. The problem exists for software development as well with source control but at least there’s a low friction solution for that and it’s GitHub. Sounds like we need a GitHub for hardware perhaps?

  • beyondplm

    Ed, thanks for your comment! GitHub is not different from PLM if you apply the same logic of lifecycle management. Here is the thing – it is actually includes GitHub since all manufacturing companies are intensively developing software these days.

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  • Dandy

    Any recommended PLM / PDM software / cloud solutions that are affordable for start-ups? And that can be integrated with your warehouse and manufacturers?

  • beyondplm


    Usually PDM system bundled with CAD is the most affordable. Going with PDMworks for Solidworks and similar systems with other CADs is okay (it is not a subscription, so licenses may cost ~1000$, but you better check with vendors).

    New cloud based CAD systems like Fusion360 and Onshape is providing PDM functionality as part of their basic package (no need to pay). Another option is to use GrabCAD Workbench which is free.

    On PLM end, you probably go with cloud PLM systems – Arena, Autodesk PLM360 and maybe few other. Although the definition of affordability can be different (most of licenses are in range of 80-150$ / user / set. The integration with ERP is something that provided, but requires implementation and might have additional cost involved.

    You can check new cloud based BOM management system for hardware startups – (disclaimer – I’m co-founder, so my recommendation is obviously biased). You can reach me out – oleg at openbom dot com for questions related to openbom.

    Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions.

    Best, Oleg