Many people think PLM and PDM are the same thing, but that is not at all the case. To help you understand which solution is right for your needs, here’s a look at some of the key differences and why they matter.

PLM vs PDM - computerDefinitions

PLM means “product lifecycle management,” and it manages every aspect of the product from the design phase, through its production and sales arcs, its service requirements and all the way to its ultimate retirement. It provides a tool and a common repository to unite business processes and other software systems, people, data and company policies, and is the information backbone for a company and its entire extended supply chain.

PLM manages every aspect of the product from inception all the way to disposal.

PDM stands for product data management, and a PDM tool typically does just that: manage data. It is primarily responsible for version control and technical specifications, ensuring that engineers and other stakeholders are using the right versions and specifications.

PDM manages all of the data associated with a product.

Almost every accepted definition of the two solutions defines PDM as a subset of PLM, so if you buy a standalone PDM system, you may be shortchanging the company on necessary or desirable functionality.


PDM is an engineering tool, while PLM is an enterprise system, equivalent in value to the company’s ERP, CRM or MES.

PLM touches on each of these enterprise solutions and works best when integrated and acting as the master for shared data. In simple terms, PLM is a strategic business approach that aims to maximize product profitability at every stage by providing a structured framework for innovation, product introduction and product end-of-life planning.

PDM was created to manage engineering data, primarily data from CAD, and managed revisions and changes. While it can be used to manage the design release process, in the real world, there are so many design release processes that occur outside PDM capabilities that standalone PDM is simply another input to a larger, more comprehensive process.

PDM is an engineering tool while PLM is a comprehensive enterprise management system.

Organizational Usage

We’ve already established that PDM is an engineering tool, while PLM is useful for every stakeholder in the extended enterprise. In fact, PLM can be shared and used by manufacturing, procurement, supply chain, tooling, prototyping, service and support personnel. By looking deeper into the stages of a product lifecycle, we can see the truth in this statement.

The PDM Process:

  1. Initial Design: Engineering does the design, and no other departments have access to the information or the ability to use it in accomplishing their own tasks. In most cases, even most design review processing and approvals will have to be done outside of the PDM solution.
  2. Prototyping: With PDM, prototyping is done on an ad hoc basis, with either no formal process or an offline process.
  3. Release to Manufacturing: Release is accomplished through sharing CAD files or prints. Manufacturing enters items and BOM information into ERP or another enterprise solution, although sometimes this can be done using a custom interface.
  4. PLM vs PDM - dataECN Process: This is a paper process with multiple departments adding handwritten signature approvals to marked-up drawing packets. After the final approval — which often occurs in a meeting — engineering changes the drawings and releases them to manufacturing. Only now can manufacturing start applying changes.

PLM vs PDM - data
This Is the Design Process on PLM:

  1. Initial Design: The engineer designs and manages the product in the PLM package.
  2. Prototyping: Users promote the item to the prototype state. The electronic signatures on the promotion request are the approval to begin the prototyping process, and the testing lab has visibility into the design and specifications.
  3. Release to Manufacturing: The design goes through a promotion request similar to that in the prototype phase. Once approved, manufacturing can directly view the product structure in either a 2D or 3D representation. If the PLM and manufacturing systems are integrated, the items and BOMs are created automatically.
  4. ECN Process: Anyone who recognizes a problem can create a problem report. The problem report becomes the basis of an ECN request with assigned tasks for everything that will require updating because of the change. This may include part information, CAD documents, user manuals and sales brochures. On approval, the item receives a new revision designation, and the tasks are released by automated workflow.

Advantages of PLM

Clearly, PLM is a more comprehensive solution.

  • PLM offers more streamlined initial design and ECN processes, helping to reduce time to market.
  • Designs are visible throughout the organization, and the increased visibility helps to increase the probability of reusing designs.
  • Reusing designs helps reduce the required inventory investment and improves manufacturing productivity and efficiency.
  • PLM helps prevent costly manufacturing mistakes by ensuring that manufacturing documentation is always up to date.

We find that many organizations enjoy the extra functionality that PLM provides their organization once they understand how they would deploy it.

Advantages of PDM

As a more limited solution, PDM has the advantages of simplicity.

  • PDM is cheaper and faster to deploy.
  • PDM is very easy to maintain.
  • PDM requires very little training

How to Choose PDM vs PLM

If you have questions about whether you need a PLM or PDM solution, you should talk to an expert about the advantages of each choice in your specific situation. 3HTi has a full team of PLM and PDM experts on staff, and we sell and support most of the major software applications in the space. Contact us today to learn how you can benefit from an investment in PLM.