Product lifecycle management (PLM) software is designed to organize the work of those who collaborate on imagining, engineering, manufacturing, documenting, and supporting the various widgets available to the world as products. It tracks workflows and ensures product teams can communicate to make the best possible wares and services.
At its core, PLM software maintains a diverse collection of digital files that move through a virtual pipeline as various team members poke, prod, and comment on them until they reach agreement. Some are computer-aided design (CAD) drawings. Some are spreadsheets. Some are production schedules. Some are instruction manuals for the end user. The PLM system maintains all of these, ensuring the right people in the right roles step in at the right time.
Good PLM software can also reach across enterprise boundaries. At the very least, it will help the design team communicate and coordinate with those on the production line. Sometimes PLM software can even connect with suppliers at various companies to help ensure parts arrive in the right place at the right time so someone can put them together.
Here are 15 of the best PLM-related vendors in alphabetical order that are delivering platforms and suites that give every team more power to manage the lifecylces of their products, from design to sales to service to retirement.
Simulation is one of the big focuses for Ansys, a company that produces some of the best tools for creating CAD models and pushing future devices through a range of simulated stresses until they reach failure modes. Medini, for instance, is designed for safety analysis of electronics so that companies can comply with various safety regulations, from the ISO or the military. Lumerical FDTD will simulate photonic devices. LS Dyna simulates how materials deform in both small and catastrophic collisions. There are dozens of focused tools for particular product lines that can be integrated into a PLM workflow.
The Arena system emphasizes supply chain management (SCM) and quality control in product development with two systems that work together. The PLM tool manages the development pipeline while Arena’s quality management system (QMS) tackles issues of testing and compliance. Both are tightly integrated to create a single source of truth that follows the product from conception to manufacture to delivery. Design documents move alongside through development and testing certifications, making it possible for team members and managers to pinpoint mistakes and drive improvements.
The Upchain and Vault systems from Autodesk offers teams a framework for collaboration with the various Autodesk CAD tools. Both work together to track projects so that designers, managers, quality-control inspectors, and suppliers can ensure that the right parts fit together to form a working product. Upchain is a cloud-based tool available at three access levels (Participant, Team, and Professional). The Vault platform is available at three levels for three different sizes of endeavors: Basic, Workgroup, and Professional. The Basic version stores and indexes CAD models for faster searching. The Workgroup version adds more features for collaboration through the lifecycle of design and revision. The Professional version can provide a centralized repository for a multisite team with an expanded scope and extra features for tasks such as organizing documentation, tracking bills of materials, or automating change orders.
The Wonderware product is now called AVENA Systems Platform but it is still focused on helping heavy industries, especially those in energy production or marine environments. The tool is part of a constellation of products that integrate 3D design with process control and management. The Enterprise Resource Manager tool, for instance, helps plan and manage the creation of large industrial projects in a sustainable and efficient way. Forward-thinking analysis is now easier with a Predictive Analytics module that offers forecasts based on data from the rest of the cloud-based collection.
Bentley delivers a wide range of tools for managing factories and production lines in what they call a Connected Data Environment. ProjectWise, for instance, is a project delivery tool that organizes the various stages of individual projects. Many of the tools in their CDE are now integrated with Siemen’s Teamcenter so that information can flow between production line managers and the designers and marketing teams.
The pipeline at the core of Dassault Systems’s PLM product line ties together 3D modeling, design, simulation, and production with a consistent and well-integrated suite of tools. Designers can rely on Catia to produce production models with a collaborative team. Testing with Simula can detect issues before even the first prototype is realized. Version 5 offers a broad range of feature-focused options such as finding ways to strip away unneeded materials to deliver a lighter device with all of the same features. The company is also expanding its line. 3DVia, for instance, helps marketing teams put virtual models directly into the hands of customers so they can see what they might purchase on their screen. Some of their work is even heading further afield. Geovia is deploying some design and simulation code to model the planet and its environment.
The JCMIS (Joint Configuration Management Information System) from Hexagon links together the various stakeholders to build consensus when developing products, usually for the US Department of Defense. The tool offers a closed-loop system in which inspectors and users can communicate directly with developers to ensure deliverables meet standards and provide solutions. Dashboards track the various parts of the projects through a secure, web-based application. Hexagon built the system for defense contractors, and it complies with important standards and security mandates.
The cloud-based, multi-tenant OpenBOM began as a way to gather bills of materials across a supply chain, but it’s grown to be a full collaboration platform to synchronize all stages of design, change, and production. Data analytics and a curated knowledge graph can drive decisions. There are versions available for single professionals, small teams, and larger enterprises. A free version enables a single user to experiment.
ProStep’s OpenPDM is designed to integrate information from as many systems as possible, from enterprise resource planning (ERP), master data management (MDM), and application lifecycle management (ALM), to other PLM systems, including those from other vendors. The goal is a master system for managing the modern, complex supply chain. OpenPDM also offers targeted versions for particular industries such as OpenPDM-Ship, which manages the process of creating a new ship.
The Fusion Cloud Product Lifecycle Management offers a tool for following products from innovation to production and even sales. The goal is to create a virtuous closed loop for collaboration with team members based on data gathered from testing, production lines, and sales reports. The MDM section will collect data from omnichannel marketing, sales channels, ERP channels, and outside supply-chain vendors. The goal is a well-orchestrated decision-making process with well-defined roles, responsibilities, and governance.
The Product 360 tool from Propel organizes product development by integrating data from ERP, customer relationship management (CRM), and CAD tools. A fully-integrated quality management system tracks issues and data from incoming part suppliers, testing, calibration, and audits. The tool is built in Salesforce, enhancing the tight integration so that sales teams can work more closely with creators and builders.
The core of PTC’s approach are two major platforms: Arena and Windchill. Engineering and manufacturing teams can rely on Arena to carry a product from the early stages of conception, through design iterations, to manufacturing using a diverse collection of suppliers. Along the way, it integrates with Arena’s QMS to tackle problems with compliance, testing, and secure delivery. Windchill is an engineering design platform that unites teams working in a wide variety of roles to collaborate on design elements and critical features. Arena is available as a service while Windchill can be purchased as a service or installed on premises.
SAP’s solution for PLM is well-integrated with SAP’s management system, which organizes warehouses and fulfillment centers. The Portfolio and Product Management tools are focused on creating smooth collaboration environments for designing new products, accurately estimating production costs, and anticipating compliance issues. The financial integration helps ensure that the finished product is not just a visual delight but an economic success that arrives on schedule. Capital expenditures, capacity modeling, and R&D costs all feed into the equation for tracking the project.
Siemens Teamcenter brings product management to a variety of domains served by Siemens and its partners. Cadence Allegro, for instance, designs and simulates circuit boards for electronic products and integrates with Teamcenter for the tasks involving manufacturing and delivery. The tool is widely supported throughout Siemens and its collection of software products for supporting various product lines such as energy production or semiconductor manufacturing. Teamcenter X is a version available as a service in a Siemens-hosted cloud environment.
Companies that design, build, or use silicon chips may want to use Syopsys, which named SiliconMax, their version of PLM, as a tool for “Silicon Lifecycle Management” or SLM. The basic goal is the same, but the tools are focused on the steps of chip fabrication. The design stage, for instance, gathers data from sensors to guide the simulation and testing. The production stage called “YieldExplorer” relies on a full collection of silicon tests to ensure quality. Even after the product ships, SiliconMax is looking for the effects of aging.