PDM vs. PLM: What’s the Difference?

By Gabe Enright on

Customers don’t only come to TriMech to make a purchase, but also for advice and guidance to figure out the right solution that fits their business and meets their goals. Data management is an important aspect of these conversations because if you can’t access your data it doesn’t matter how great the software performs.

When we are working with companies who use SOLIDWORKS, the answer seems easy. Enterprise Data Solutions are the best way to manage design files. The conversation can quickly get challenging as we start throwing out more acronyms, and this is where I come in.

The questions I am most often asked are:

“We have a PLM system, do we need a PDM system too?”

“Can I use EPDM as my PLM system?”

“Do I need both?”

“Do I need either?”

The short, unhelpful answers that lead to a bigger discussion are: probably, probably not, maybe and most likely. So, let’s start at the beginning with the most basic question, “What are PLM and PDM?”

What is PDM?

PDM stands for Product Data Management. It was created for managing files associated with your product design. As CAD systems have gotten more sophisticated, their file SOLIDWORKS PDMstructures have also gotten more complex. SOLIDWORKS designs are made up of assembly files which are made up of part files and other assembly files. These files are then annotated with 2D drawings. All aspects are related and must be maintained so that their references are preserved. If your assembly can’t find the parts it needs, it’s useless, and if it finds the wrong file it could be even more disastrous.

A PDM system organizes all the files associated with your designs, facilitates collaboration enabling multiple users to simultaneously work on a project and maintains version and revision control of designs, ensuring your design history is maintained. A designer can be working on a subsystem, while another works on the overall assembly and a third is creating 2D drawings of everything. Without a PDM system, it’s not easy to ensure that everyone is not overwriting each other’s data or that everyone is working on the latest file versions.

>> Watch our On-Demand Webinar, Get To Know SOLIDWORKS PDM

What is PLM?

PLM stands for Product Lifecycle Management. This allows an organization to control all aspects of product configuration, not just the design data. From project inception to design to manufacture and even obsolescence, PLM is a tool that ties everything together. It’s critical for complex products that encompass many different design elements.


Let’s take an example of something most of us are carrying right now, a mobile phone. The phone has physical parts designed in 3D CAD, electronic components designed with an Electronics Development Agility (EDA) solution, software that runs the phone, packaging, user manuals, etc. Organizations need a way to capture all the information that defines their product. Different components require different types of documentation to do this. In a PLM system, a mechanical part may be simply represented by a PDF of the 2D drawing and neutral 3D output like a Parasolid file. Product packaging may have 2D drawings, as well as graphical artwork files used for printing. Each unique component will have the particular file types required to define it included. PLM also encapsulates the approvals associated with releasing and changing a product. This may be a requirement if they are a medical device manufacturer or subject to other certification like ISO. As this data is captured it may need to be accessed by Purchasing Departments, Quality Departments and even exported to an ERP system. PLM can provide proper access to all these data consumers.

What’s the Confusion?

With my brief explanation of the two tools in general, you may be wondering where the confusion comes in. There, in fact, is a lot of overlap between many PDM and PLM solutions.

There are some PLM solutions that try to manage CAD files and their complex relationships. This can often be perilous as the PLM vendor must keep up with file version updates from the CAD vendor. A PLM system may have integrations to many CAD applications and to maintain them all can lead to customers being stuck on versions waiting for their CAD release to be supported. 

PDM & PLM Overlap

PDM vs PLM DifferenceWhat about SOLIDWORKS PDM Professional? The software demo presented a lot of functionality that sounded like PLM. It’s true, PDM Professional can do many PLM-like things. The software can handle multiple document types, a Bill of Materials (BOM) object and even Engineering Change processes. The difference here, is that at the end of the day PDM Professional manages files. As we start handling components that are represented by multiple files as described earlier, it’s going to require additional work to represent that component. The BOM management in PDM Professional is also best at managing BOMs primarily based upon SOLIDWORKS assemblies and drawings.

Let me try to summarize this with a few simple conclusions:

Who needs PDM?

If you are designing with a modern Parametric CAD application like SOLIDWORKS, you can benefit from a PDM system.

When should I consider a PLM solution?

Do you have complex Bills of Materials that include multiple aspects such as Mechanical, Electrical and Software? Do you need advanced BOM management like redlining and rollups? Do you have advanced regulatory issues like FDA, ISO, RoHS or ITAR? Answering yes to any of these makes you a candidate for PLM. If you would like to learn more about TriMech’s PLM solution, you can request a quote.

Want to dive deeper into this subject? Watch our On-Demand Webinar, Roadmap for Enterprise Based Systems.