PLM Interest Group: discussing the evolving role of PLM in the digital world

In 2020, Xlifecycle Ltd joined forces with the Professional PLM Initiative to address the following question:
What will PLM practitioners of the future need to know about digital transformation in order to drive value creation?


The rise of smart products, smart factories, Industry 4.0, IIoT, hyper-connectivity, AI, AR, VR, and related digital technologies continue to have a major impact on PLM.  The possibilities and problems associated with this are only just surfacing.

Almost every company that undertakes Product Lifecycle Management related transformation also wants to take advantage of the new digital advances. Boardroom attention is focusing on digital capabilities to shape a connected ecosystem.

There is a vast amount of PLM experience that should be carried forward into this new digital age.  This can only happen if there is clear alignment on how the two disciplines relate to each other. Industrial companies need a template for applying the combined PLM and digitalisation disciplines in real, effective manufacturing environments.

Xlifecycle Ltd has partnered with the PLMIG to establish the facts.

Survey findings


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PLM is a discipline, not just a tool. A clear definition of the relationship between PLM and digitalisation is needed; every PLM professional will need selected digital skill set to work effectively in the future.

Industry Survey

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How PLM and Digital differ now, and whether they will converge;  how the Digital Twin and Digital Thread differ and complement each other; and whether PLM needs to evolve to adapt to the 'Factory of the Future'.

Position Paper

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PLM solutions must solve business problems, and digitalization is a mean to an end. Understanding PLM principles is essential when implementing digital platforms, improving data and associated processes.

Challenging the status-quo and making sense of the digital hype

The rush of enthusiasm for the possibilities of Digital Everything and Smart Everything has drawn attention away from the some of the core aims and principles of PLM.  Some people perceive that PLM is the platform on which new digital improvements should be constructed—whereas for others, PLM is now just a component part of a more important Digital Revolution.

From Engineering 4.0 to Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), the Digital Thread, the Digital Twins and business transformations offer ways to enhance PLM; they have also captured the attention of senior management and business executives in a way that PLM never has.

The purpose of this initiative is to put forward a neutral picture of the role of PLM in the ever-changing digital landscape, and of how the digital world is transforming PLM.

PLM and the digital future

The overwhelming picture is that we are starting from a point of confusion. People are keen to explore the subject, but talk about it in different ways. There is no clear or consistent view of what the relationship between PLM and digitalization should be, and no clear vision for either. For some, PLM is about people first, for others it is about Digital Twins connected with Digital Threads, enabling smart factories, etc.

PLM is not well understood, and is difficult to explain. At the moment, the digital wave is still in hype mode and because of its wide scope it makes it very difficult for the enterprises to really understand the whole digital business beyond the marketing jargon. As yet, no-one has devised any agreed definitions or standards in this area.

The gaps that continue to affect digitalisation, such as legacy platforms and ECAD / MCAD / BOM / compliance functionality, are generally the same as those that delay PLM, so there is a business driver for an integrated approach.

These findings from the survey are viewed entirely from the PLM perspective – it is unlikely that many purely 'Digital' practitioners will know what PLM is, let alone how to blend with it or leverage it. It seems, therefore, that any advance in this area has to come from the PLM side. Wider dissemination and discussion may serve to highlight the important role of PLM amongst the digital hype.

This study sets out a practical approach to aligning the role of PLM in the evolving Digital landscape, and for embedding the PLM discipline in any future Digital environment.

Debating the place of PLM in the Digital future

Enterprise digital platforms have perhaps diluted their specific “purpose” by aiming at integrating all operations under a holistic umbrella—this is perhaps the vision for a fully connected digital future; vendors are also keen to continue to grab new digital 'real-estate' and markets.

This should not be an excuse to dilute the meaning of PLM, ERP, MES, etc. but perhaps on the contrary, time has come to clarify (and simplify) these disciplines and their respective roles in the digital future.

Though the 2020 survey is closed, the debate and the quest for clarification / simplification carries on...

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