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The Differences Between PDM and PLM Software

Key Takeaways

  • Product data management (PDM) software is sometimes confused with product lifecycle management (PLM) software.

  • PLM software is used to track lifecycle status for a product as it makes its way through the marketplace.

  • PDM software is more of an engineering tool, but its functions can be accessed within a PLM software platform.

PLM software graphic

Product designers and engineers have multiple software tools available to them, which they use to build new products and track product data throughout its lifecycle. Product data management (PDM) software is often equated with product lifecycle management (PLM) software, and both are important for engineering, producing, and distributing a product to market at scale. The two types of software platforms are historically very different, and the misconception regarding their usage likely stems from their role in the product development and management process.

So, what is the difference between PDM and PLM? In short, PDM is an engineering tool used during product development, primarily regarding the tracking of technical data. PLM software goes beyond development and is used to track all product data spanning beyond engineering and development of a product. Although these types of software platforms are very different, modern software solutions are blending these functions such that a PLM system can contain a PDM component.

PDM vs. PLM Software

The differences between PDM and PLM software start with basic functions, but there are also differences in scope and scale. However, PDM systems perform some of the foundation tasks involved in modern PLM systems, and they may even track some of the same data. Let’s look deeper at the differences between these two types of software platforms.

PDM Software

A PDM software application does exactly as its name suggests; it is used to manage and catalog product data. These platforms often include a version control system and version history feature as well as search features to find components or project data in a centralized database. Most CAD software will have a set of bare-bones product management features included in the software; for example, ECAD software uses libraries to catalog electronic components for use in PCB design projects.

PLM Software

PDM systems are almost universally recognized as a subset or component of a PLM solution. The most basic function of a PLM system compared to PDM software is to provide obsolescence and lifecycle information alongside design data.

While PDM systems begin and end with product design data, PLM software is used to manage and track everything beyond the realm of design software. PLM software is like PDM software but for much more than just CAD data. The PLM portion of an enterprise management system builds on top of the core PDM functions by including manufacturing, documentation, inventory, application code, sourcing, and distribution information on top of basic PDM functions.

To see how these software platforms differ, the table below illustrates some of the core tasks and functions that would be performed inside both PDM and PLM software during each phase of product development.





The PDM system only stores design data, it does not act as a design tool, track project status, or link to external (non-design) data.

Design data is built in a program that integrates with the PLM system so that all revisions and the release status can be immediately tracked.


Prototypes may be produced on an as-needed basis; prototypes are not assigned a lifecycle status and may not have any data stored in the PDM.

Designers assign a “prototype” status to the project inside the PLM system. Any data needed to manufacture a prototype is accessible alongside other design documentation.

Volume Production

Manufacturing files may be stored in the PDM, but inventory or sourcing data might not be stored in the system.

CAM/CAD users assign an In-Production status to the product, and users begin linking the sourcing, inventory, and ERP data to the project data stored in the PLM system.


PDM systems might track revisions within a project, or revisions must be tracked under a separate project/part number. PDM systems only track revisions to design data.

Revisions and change orders are assigned to all aspects of project data, including assembly data, application source code, and the product’s primary technical data.

Lifecycle Tracking

Some PDM systems might provide visibility into lifecycle status, but this is only applied to certain objects in the PDM.

PLM systems track lifecycle status for all aspects of the design, ranging from individual parts to product documentation and the entire assembly.

The Role of Modern PLM Systems With PDM Functions

In the past, it might have been desirable for a company to implement a PDM system for product data and handle other product management tasks on an ad hoc basis. PDM systems are simpler to install and use, and they help engineering teams stay organized while working through complex projects. PDM systems offer a much better alternative to using separate processes and systems for storing, tracking, and preserving product data. In the past, you would have different PDM systems for different types of data; one system might only be used for documentation control while another system might be used for CAD data.

Newer PLM systems are integrating PDM functionality into a single platform, or at least providing a central location to handle data from multiple applications. This allows design and manufacturing teams to track lifecycles on all aspects of product data from a single system, rather than using multiple systems that might not support lifecycle tracking for all portions of the product. Before investing in new data management tools, make sure your solution can track all aspects of design, release, manufacturing, and documentation. 

If you are looking for a scalable solution, consider Allegro Pulse. Pulse features include a workflow engine, data management, security protocols, and search capabilities. And, Pulse integrates seamlessly into many design tools, allowing it to manage the design data behind the scenes, freeing up engineers to focus on their work instead of juggling design files.

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to our team of experts.