illustration of product lifecycle with blueprint, development, production, and shipping to customer

Buyer’s Guide To PLM Software: What It Is, Cost, Features, + More

Before you invest in or think about investing in product lifecycle management (PLM) software, you need to know what PLM is. Product lifecycle management is a practice that manages product development from the early initial ideation through the entire lifecycle of the product, including product design, engineering, the manufacturing process, product launch, marketing, and end-of-life.

PLM is becoming more important in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, electronics and high-tech, chemical processing, and more. More product innovation in these industries and others has led to more complex product development, meaning that new products often need ongoing maintenance after implementation and that customers often need continued support and onboarding after purchase.

With the increasing number of steps involved in PLM due to these complexities, companies and extended enterprises need strong communication between departments and with suppliers, as well as increased visibility around the product lifecycle, improved supply chain management, and more. That’s where PLM software comes in.

What Is PLM Software?

Product lifecycle management software addresses the growing demand for more efficiency in managing products from beginning to end. PLM software solutions track products as they progress through the product development process, increase efficiency, and ensure all product teams are following the same plan. 

PLM solutions can: 

  • Assess stalled projects and help move them forward
  • Streamline communication between company teams
  • Improve the supply chain and manufacturing process
  • Create a paper trail as required by regulatory bodies
  • Control production and development costs 
  • Record product information so it’s accessible in real-time, and act as a single source of truth for this information
  • Reduce time to market for new products
  • Improve overall product quality
  • Automate business processes and management processes, workflows, and admin tasks

Some well-known examples of PLM software that you might come across include Siemens Teamcenter, Arena Solutions, Autodesk, Oracle, PTC Windchill, Aras, and more. You can find even more options in our list of the best PLM tools for 2020.

Features of PLM Software

Here are some of the key features to look for when you’re looking at product lifecycle management tools.

  • Bill of Materials Management (BOM Management): List the raw materials, components, and sub-assemblies that are required in the manufacturing of specific products.
  • Change Management: Request, plan, execute, and assess changes to any steps of the lifecycle of a product, from initial design to manufacturing. This includes cost recalculations and any adjustments to schedules.
  • Quality Management: Keep product and service quality high and consistent by improving quality planning, assurance, control, and improvement processes.
  • Product Data Management (PDM) and Product Information Management (PIM): Keep track of changes to product information and data to enhance collaboration and improve productivity. Databases should be accessible at any time and can be modified as needed. These can be stored on-site or with a third-party provider. 
  • Document Management: Store, manage, and provide access to necessary documents for new product development, existing products, and products at the end of the lifecycle.
  • Product Portfolio Management: Prioritize, manage, and assign product development tasks to team members based on resource availability, the entire portfolio of products, and your product value chain.

Cost of PLM Software

PLM software, be it fashion PLM software or general manufacturing, will range from $80-$150 per user each month, plus extra costs for implementation and training. The increased efficiency and shorter time to market that comes with PLM software can mean significant savings for a company even after all expenses are paid. 

However, early upfront costs can add up if the contract with the vendor is not properly negotiated. The purchase of PLM software should be carefully considered and not rushed into, as there are other costs to factor into the overall financial picture.

Implementation Costs 

The company may have paid for the license or set up a monthly payment plan, but there are usually fees to get things up and running. These fees are not insignificant, as they go towards the consultants or tech staff that are needed to implement the PLM system. For large companies, this can be in the millions of dollars. Implementation is complex, so it cannot be done by just anyone.

The type of solution you choose, such as on-premise or a SaaS, will also impact the cost. On-premise solutions tend to have a higher cost of implementation.

Integration Costs

Not all programs and business systems currently being used within a company will be compatible with the new PLM software. This means that custom integrations need to be created to ensure all apps will work together. This includes software like computer-aided design software (CAD software), PDM, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management software (CRM), communication apps, project management software, or Microsoft Office. 

PLM software needs to access the data these programs hold so integrations are non-negotiable. Lots of software options come with pre-built integrations, which will lower your costs. Check to see whether the integrations you need are pre-built or not. Most companies can create custom integrations for you, but this is an add-on fee that can get into the thousands depending on the complexity of the integration needed.

Costs for Training Staff 

Once the system is ready to go, your team members will need to learn how to use it, whether this is just department heads or the entire organization. This might include engineering teams, IT teams, quality assurance teams, and others. 

Training can cost approximately $1500 per day per user or $4000 if bundled, into something like a 3-day course. While this is a start-up cost, there may be more training needed if new employees join the team or if the software releases new versions.

Data Migration

Before PLM software can be fully implemented, company information and data need to be migrated over from old software or spreadsheets and documents. You can do this yourself to save costs, but PLM companies can do this for you, usually for an additional fee. 

The migration tends to be done over days rather than hours so you also need to consider the cost that comes from the amount of company time it takes to complete this. Data migration is not a step that can be skipped. Your team will need all data from before and after the PLM software was installed. Legacy data cannot be left behind.

Final Thoughts

Are you planning on implementing PLM software in the near future? Let us know in the comments below!

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