Product Data Management / Product Lifecycle Management

Product data management (PDM) or product lifecycle management (PLM) systems provide the tools to control access to and manage all product definition data. It does this by maintaining information (meta-data) about product information. PDM or PLM systems, when tightly integrated with other product development tools, do this transparently and with minimal additional effort on the part of the user. In addition, PDM tools provide valuable functionality with process management particularly as it relates to configuration management or engineering change control. This environment is depicted below.


Product lifecycle management systems vary in their functionality, but some of their common capabilities are described below.

Access Control

Access control to each element in the product definition data base can be specified. Read only access can be given to personnel not directly involved with the design, development and planning process. Creation and maintenance access can be given to the individuals responsible for product and process design. As product data management systems evolve towards collaborative product commerce (CPC) systems which are used across multiple enterprises in a supply chain, access control becomes more critical and requires control to limit access to specific projects, products or parts for a specific supplier or customer.

Component / Material Classification

Components and materials can be classified and organized and attributes assigned. This supports standardization by identifying similar components/materials, eliminating redundancy, and establishing a preferred parts list. Establishing classes and subclasses with attributes allows a designer to search and select a needed material, component or assembly with minimal effort thereby avoiding having to re-specifying an existing or similar component or material.

Product Structure

Since the relationship of a product’s parts is a logical one maintained by the information system rather than a fixed physical relationship as represented on a drawing, it is possible to readily maintain more than one relationship. This will allow different views of part relationships in assemblies to correspond to the various departmental needs (e.g., engineering and manufacturing product structures), while maintaining rigor and consistency of the product’s definition through this single data base. Thus, this one logical data base can support product and process design requirements as well as maintain part relationships to serve as a manufacturing bill of materials for MRP II/ERP. In other words, PDM provides the ability to hold not just the physical relationships between parts in an assembly but also other kinds of structures; for instance, manufacturing, financial, maintenance or document relationships. So, it is possible for specialist team members to see the product structured from their point of view. Product data can be accessed via this complete Bill of Materials. This access includes assemblies, parts and related documents.

An integrated approach to developing, organizing and maintaining part and product definition data facilitates the design process, makes design data more readily usable and enhances integration with process requirements.

Engineering Changes

Engineering changes can be facilitated with this configuration management and administrative control embedded within the system. CAE/ CAD tools will enable engineering changes to be more thoroughly developed and analyzed to better define change impact. Once a design has been created, it can be checked-out electronically to a workstation for engineering changes. When the changes have been made, it can be returned to the central database and placed in a queue or an email notification sent for approval by designated parties. In this manner, a Change Control Board (CCB) can even “convene” and provide individual member’s input electronically. In addition to supporting engineering analysis, information related to procurement, inventory, manufacturing and cost is available for members of the CCB to evaluate, designate the effectivity of the change and determine the disposition of existing items.

Process Management and Workflow

PDM or PLM systems support process management by defining process steps related to the development, distribution and use of product data. The process is defined in the form of specified process steps and release or promotion levels that the data must achieve. The manner in which the process is defined varies with every PDM system. Within a project, responsibilities are defined for the process steps – who needs to approve the data or work on the data before it moves to the next release or promotion level. While, the current process is defined in a company’s configuration management or engineering change procedures and in its new product development process, often changes have to be made to take advantage of the communication and coordination capabilities of the PDM system. This new data is moved to the next person’s “in basket” within PDM or an email notification is sent.


To start with, a solid model may go through many changes during the course of development, each involving modifications to the underlying engineering data. Often the engineer will wish simply to explore a particular approach, later abandoning it in favor of a previous version. Once the engineer is satisfied with the model for the activity that he or she is performing, the model and any other related data is submitted. The PDM system might then notify an analyst that the design is is ready to perform FEA stress analysis on it. When that task is complete, the stress analyst performs an electronic sign-off. The PDM system might then notify manufacturing engineer that the assembly or part design is ready to plan its manufacturing process and a tool designer might then be notified that the part design is ready for a tool design. After these tasks are performed, the individuals submit their data to the PDM system which maintains its association with the underlying product structure. A final step in the process might be a product team review and approval. After the team sign-off, the part or assembly would then be elevated to a release or higher promotion level. A similar, but different process may be established for engineering changes.

The PDM system must have the flexibility to establish the process approach that an organization uses for development, release, and change of engineering, manufacturing, and other related data. It must allow appropriate rules to be established to control the process. For example, the company could instruct the system to prevent an engineer from signing off an assembly for release until all its parts have been individually released.


Collaboration can be supported in several ways. First, a PDM system may be the gateway that a team uses to access the information under discussion avoiding the need to copy and distribute a series of paper documents. Second, the PDM system may provide a synchronous or asynchronous collaboration environment for team members to access, present, review and product feedback on product and process information. Further, this collaboration tool may incorporate a view and mark-up capability and the provide the ability to store marked-up files or documents by collaborator. Third, what are now described as collaborative product commerce systems (CPC), provide extended PDM functionality and access control outside the enterprise for customers, suppliers and interested third parties (e.g., regulatory agencies). This speeds the distribution of information, enhances coordination, and speeds the capture of feedback.


A PDM or PLM system provides benefits in a number of areas:

Time-to-Market: Data is instantly available to all with access. There is no waiting for paper documents to be distributed nor time wasted while documents sit in an in-basket waiting for review. Time spent searching for component and product data is reduced. Collaboration features also speed and improve the process.

Improved Productivity: Studies have shown that engineers spend 25% to 35% of their time searching for, retrieving, handling, filing, and storing documents and information. This time can be reduced with a PDM system and its single repository, its classification and information structuring capabilities. The classification and search capabilities aid design retrieval, provide the opportunity to avoid “reinventing the wheel”, and, as a result, reduce the related development effort.

Improved Control: Because PDM better manages configurations and assures that everyone is working from the most current data, it avoids problems of working with old data. Access control features assure that only authorized parties can access or change proprietary information. Control over engineering changes is improved with less manual effort.