Product Life Cycle Management (PLM) in Process Part 1 Proven in Discrete, Ready to Blossom in Process

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Product Life Cycle Management is a series of business processes, enabled by application software, which has proven to generate business valuein a variety of industries. Discussion with end-user companies reveals a consistent list of benefits including reduced time to market, gains in engineering productivity, increased revenue, increased reuse, reduction of redesign activity and more. A review of vendor web sites supports this conclusion with a number of case studies about companies that have seen significant advantages from implementing PLM processes and software solutions. Many of the vendors are now offering collaboration solutions that allow multiple enterprises or locations to participate in a single, coordinated design project for great benefits.

The growth of a large number of software suppliers targeting the PLM needs of the discrete industries prove that the PLM market within discrete companies is hot. The "Discrete PLM" vendors are numerous with more joining the list. These vendors primarily come from a background in Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Product Data Management (PDM).

Proven Value - But What About the Process Industries?

Searching for users and reviewing the available case studies shows that few experiences are available that reflect the PLM value available to process companies. Some of the case studies that focus on process companies show the PLM products used to enable packaging design or plant engineering but few include the development of the basic recipes for products.

The development of a food, chemical, pharmaceutical or other process product is a complex and costly process. Process industry companies could benefit from many of the PLM concepts that have proven to reduced time to market, gains in engineering productivity, increased revenue, increased reuse, reduction of redesign activity in the discrete industries. But PLM has had minimum penetration into the process industries. Why?

Again, Process Requirements are Different

As in many application areas, the requirements for process companies are different from those of discrete companies. Process companies lacking the option to buy standard PLM packages, have been forced to build their own solutions. These solutions have often been built by individual departments and don't address the process across departments or enterprises.

Discrete PLM suppliers correctly provide a suite of products that support the needs of discrete companies, for example, Computer Aided Design (CAD), configuration management, parts and product structures and more. However, the process companies have different requirements. Their product development processes require different functions, for example, formulation, specification management, nutritional analysis, test/analysis procedures, processing procedures, batch manufacturing deployment, packaging and more.

In addition, the link into manufacturing within a process company is complex with the role of PLM stretching into the plant environment. Process companies require a standard process specification (based upon S88 and S95 standards) in order to create consistent product worldwide. While there appears to be overlap between some PLM functionality between discrete and process vendors, most PLM products are based on underlying discrete assumptions that don't work in process.

The Discrete PLM suppliers remain focused on the extensive needs and opportunities provided by the Discrete PLM market. The Discrete PLM vendors do not provide the process functions and therefore, their products have not been received well by process companies. Industry experts predict that the Discrete PLM vendors will be either slow to address the very different needs of the process industries or more likely not attempt to address the process needs at all - or possibly make alliances with the process PLM players.

The market is now seeing new PLM vendors focused on the process industries or "Process PLM" vendors. These companies are not working on the needs of the discrete companies. The Process PLM vendors are working towards suites of PLM products that address the specific needs of process companies. The founders of these companies come from a different background than their discrete PLM counterparts.

The process PLM vendors come from a laboratory or manufacturing execution background. Their views of the business requirements for a PLM application are different. The Process PLM market has two vendors with existing and extensive solutions available today, Formation Systems ( and Sequencia ( With a release of its Recipe Manager product, SAP ( has joined the market with a starter product and extensive vision.

Discrete PLM Vendors
Process PLM Vendors
Matix One


Product Life Cycle Management (PLM) techniques have proven of great value to many companies. The benefits include reduced time to market, gains in engineering productivity, increased revenue, increased reuse, reduction of redesign activity. However, the PLM products available from the vast majority of vendors must be considered Discrete PLM products, not suitable for process companies. Now, Process PLM solutions are becoming available.

Part two of this three part series will look at some actual experiences of process companies that are adopting PLM products. Part three will look at some of the issues that process companies should consider when looking at a PLM project and PLM vendors.

About the Author

Olin Thompson, a principal of Process ERP Partners, has over 25 years experience as an executive in the software industry with the last 17 in process industry related ERP, SCP, and e-business related segments. Olin has been called "the Father of Process ERP." He is a frequent author and an award-winning speaker on topics of gaining value from ERP, SCP, e-commerce and the impact of technology on industry.

He can be reached at

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