PLM vs PDM: What’s the Difference?

Coming up with a product idea can be easy, but moving that idea from an early concept, all the way through to it being in the customer’s hands is a lot harder. Managing that process efficiently and coherently makes it even more complex — balancing working practices, product data and stakeholder satisfaction in tandem.

How you and your internal and external teams collaborate during product development will define whether your projects succeed or fail. Technology solutions such as PDM and PLM are there to help ensure each project succeeds by helping you align your product design, production and business processes.

Finding the right solution for your business can be a challenging, and often confusing process. Before trying to decide on the right one, it’s important to understand the differences between these technologies and their use cases.

What is Product Data Management (PDM)?

PDM systems help engineering teams organise their product design files by providing a single source of truth, robust version control, change control and a collaborative platform. Engineers don’t have to worry about working from wrong file versions or missing important updates and can focus on developing cutting-edge designs instead.

Typically, PDM systems manage product design data. That includes specifications and material data used in production and it usually takes the form of physical design files (CAD) or design simulation (CAE). PDM systems then maintain the hierarchical structure of these files (parent-child relationships).

Ranging from complete redesigns to tiny tweaks, updating design files in a single location means that design collaborators save time and easily note revisions that might have been missed otherwise. Keeping these design files updated whilst preserving previous iterations prevents costly errors; everyone knows when, why and what changes have been made.

The main takeaway is that PDM focuses on CAD data and solves challenges experienced in the early product development lifecycle. Interactions with people outside of engineering can’t solely be done in a PDM tool – if a business needs to manage these sorts of interactions, then this is where a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system comes to the fore.

What is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)?

PLM systems capture and manage the whole product lifecycle by sharing a broader set of product data than a PDM system would. This includes product data such as requirements, bills of materials, project plans, problem reporting, manufacturing data, design approvals, packaging, marketing information … the list goes on.

By storing every piece of product-specific data, PLM systems help businesses break down communication silos across all of their internal and external teams and processes by implementing a single, unified repository. PLM systems also connect the data, business processes, and people assigned to those processes. This interconnectivity of data is what’s referred to as ‘the digital thread’. It enables a connected flow of data as well as an integrated view of the product’s data from different functional perspectives. An example would be the procurement team only wanting to see procurement data for the product; if engineering changed part of the design, the procurement team would be informed and be able to gauge the impact of the change on their work and carry out the change in the system too.

Essentially, PLM systems play a central role when it comes to tracking who’s assigned to specific pieces of the product development process and their impact on other stakeholders, ensuring everything’s progressing according to schedule.

PLM vs PDM: Which one to go for?

Having considered all of that, the question is: Which tool does your business need—a PDM system to manage product design data for your engineers or a PLM system to manage comprehensive product data sets for your entire business?

Regardless of which route you choose; our Business Transformation team are on hand to walk you through the discovery process. With the team having experience and access to both PDM and PLM solutions, you can be assured that the team will conduct the discovery with no bias towards a particular solution and instead will do their best to identify the correct solution for your business based on your current position and your future aspirations.

If you would like to explore the options available to your business, please get in touch with our team. We have extensive experience in delivering both PDM and PLM solutions, and can help you identify the right option for you.


Are you still unsure which approach is right for your business?

Our team are able to provide an agnostic evaluation, taking into account your business goals and requirements, to help you identify whether PDM or PLM would suit your business best. We are in a unique situation, having both hands-on experiences with each offering and the ability to offer a range of both PDM and PLM solutions.

Get in touch today to see how you could benefit from implementing PLM.