We all know that Manufacturing is all about products and that you have to keep reinventing your product portfolio to keep ahead in today’s market. Perhaps what it is not so well known is that the majority of R&D products don’t even make the market and of those that do only 1 or 2 really make a worthwhile profit.

Therefore product development is a risky business, but one we can’t avoid. So how can we limit the risks and get better control of the process of controlling the life of our products?

Andy Michuda, Chief Executive Officer of Sopheon told me, “Product life cycle management (PLM) is the most vital business process in manufacturing today. A right decision on which product ideas to develop and produce can transform a company’s future. A wrong decision can bring a company to its knees. In the race for growth and profitability, the capacity to understand and act on PLM’s power will separate the winners from the losers”.

But what exactly is PLM? There seem to be no standard definitions of PLM—everyone has something slightly different to say. Even the site has a number of different definitions!

Let me give you my condensed definition of PLM. “It is the business process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal. It integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies as well as their partners, suppliers and customers.” PLM is first and foremost a business discipline, whose goal is to eliminate waste and improve efficiency, and is considered to be an integral part of the lean production model.

However, because of the business complexity and rate of change that requires organizations execute as rapidly as possible, application software is becoming more and more crucial to the success of PLM. It is one of the four cornerstones of a corporation’s information technology structure. Shoenhair of Ping, a PTC Customer, supports this view: “PLM can be difficult to measure, but it is absolutely critical to leaning out processes, and critical to improving information flow and control.”

Where do ERP and PLM fit? Most manufacturing companies distinguish two main process chains: the operational process chain and the technical process chain. ERP systems largely address the operational process chain, whereas PLM systems automate and enable predominantly the technical process chain.