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Which PLM Tools Should You Use for PCB Design?

Key Takeaways

  • Product lifecycle management (PLM) involves comprehensive management of a product’s journey from concept to market.

  • PLM tools help companies track lifecycle statuses for products, product data, collateral, manufacturing data, and much more.

  • Product managers at large enterprises should carefully choose PLM tools that can support their development, manufacturing, and distribution roadmaps.

PLM tools graphic

Product lifecycle management (PLM) tools are used for more than just product development, they help unify business processes throughout a product’s lifecycle. In the past, each division in an organization might have had its own PLM tools or no PLM system at all, causing different teams to be totally disconnected from each other. In today’s innovative organizations, PLM tools play an important role in unifying enterprise resources and efforts towards efficiently managing a product throughout its entire lifecycle.

When product management teams are looking for the best PLM tools, what features should they look for? Design software performs only limited data management features and it might only support ad hoc version control and lifecycle tagging. PLM tools can go far beyond these tasks to give electronics developers and OEMs visibility into all aspects of product lifecycle, technical data, manufacturing data, and much more.

What You Need in Your PLM Tools

The electronics industry uses many features in PLM platforms that are found in other industry-specific PLM software platforms. At bare minimum, PLM systems need to include some data management capabilities as well as the ability to tag lifecycle data across multiple domains (engineering, manufacturing, and documentation). The industry’s best PLM systems go far beyond simply tracking lifecycles to provide much more visibility across an organization, sometimes reaching as far as marketing and sales functions.

Employees using PLM tools

Lifecycle Tracking for Design Data

Within PLM software, the basic mechanism for tracking and cataloging important data for an electronics assembly is its lifecycle status. Each lifecycle status (in production, obsolete, EOL, etc.) carries other information with it, and the UI in PLM software should make it easy to see all associated data that comes with a given lifecycle status. For electronics, lifecycle statuses are assigned and tracked at multiple levels, ranging from individual design documents to elements in the PCBA.

PLM tools need to track multiple pieces of design and engineering data:

  • Functional, mechanical, and electrical requirements documents that are created during front-end engineering.
  • CAD documents and models, both for ECAD and MCAD software programs.
  • Parts libraries that include models used in CAD software and distributor sourcing/pricing information.
  • A complete BOM with all part numbers, quantities, supplier information, and specifications.
  • All application code needed for product functionality, both on the device and on a web platform where applicable.

The main mechanism inside a PLM tool to track these pieces of information is the platform’s version control system. Because these pieces of data generally refer to physical products, the PLM tool should also integrate with an ERP system so that production runs can be tracked and managed. By placing this design data in one location that integrates with other systems, anyone who manages some aspect of the product’s development and distribution can access the critical data they need.

Manufacturing Data

Electronics packaging manufacturing data is provided to fabrication and assembly teams in standard file formats. There is a specific list of files manufacturers need for each PCB assembly run, and these need to be tracked alongside design data in a PLM platform’s version control system. PLM tools that tag design data at the product level should be able to apply the same lifecycle status to manufacturing data so that changes can be tracked across the product’s usable lifetime.

PLM software Gerber

Gerbers are important PCB fabrication files that can be stored in a version control system on a PLM platform.


Documentation can generally refer to any type of document that relates to a product in question. A product’s documentation contains many different pieces of information, some of which may be technical information related to design and manufacturing data. For an electronic product, documentation typically includes:

  • Functional specifications and requirements
  • Product datasheets and application notes
  • Testing, reliability, yield, simulation, and other data needed to evaluate the product
  • Change order notes
  • Other documentation like sales collateral

The version control system in a PLM tool should be agnostic to file types. A PLM platform should give a product-level view of all documentation as well as its revision history, lifecycle status, and functional area where the documentation applies.

Change Management

Throughout a product’s lifecycle, a product will undergo many changes to ensure it will remain relevant and competitive in its target market. Change management features in a PLM tool encompass a set of tools used to tag, assign, view, and close design and development tasks falling into any of the above areas. PLM tools should include a change management feature that allows product management teams to implement changes on their roadmap and assign important tasks to each functional area. The best PLM tools will link each task directly to relevant product data to help design and development teams streamline the change implementation process.

As a product matures, new technology, market demands, and consumer tastes will drive changes in the product, or possibly the end of a product’s lifetime. Competitive companies understand the need to track and manage the lifetime of a product in a centralized system. PLM software is the primary tool that product managers use to track this lifecycle information throughout the relevant lifetime of advanced electronic products.

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