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The History of PLM: From Paper to the Cloud

The History of PLM: From Paper to the CloudWith Industry 4.0 ushering in a new era of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and robotics, it’s no surprise that the adoption of cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) software continues to rise. To navigate the complexities of this technological era, companies are looking for more efficient and cost-effective ways to bring new products to market. Today’s PLM software addresses this need by offering a turnkey solution to centralize the entire product record, improve collaboration across dispersed teams, and boost productivity. The transition of PLM to a software as a service (SaaS) cloud platform has also removed the burden of costly IT infrastructure and maintenance that was required with traditional on-premises platforms.

So how did PLM get to where it is today? Here we explore the origin of PLM and how it has evolved over the years to become a widely adopted platform across a growing number of industries.

Evolution of Product Lifecycle Management

1931: Otto Kleppner, founder of a New York advertising agency, conceptualizes a precursor to the product lifecycle in which products go through three stages: pioneering, competitive, and retentive.1

1950: Concept of “configuration management” is introduced by the U.S. Department of Defense as a paper-based system for documenting and tracking how products are configured.2

1966: American economist Raymond Vernon publishes “International Investment and International Trade in the Product Cycle.” In this article he theorizes the product lifecycle to include the following stages: introduction, growth, maturity, saturation, and decline.3

1969: Software company United Computing (later known as Unigraphics) releases UNIAPT, one of the world’s first commercially available computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) products. CAM soon becomes a complementary tool to computer-aided design (CAD).

1970: U.S. military issues standards (i.e., “MIL-STD”) on how government contractors should use configuration management. With a focus on management, quality, and interoperability, these standards eventually become one of the key drivers for PLM.

1979: Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston introduce the first electronic spreadsheet program called VisiCalc. Spreadsheets are eventually adopted as a tool to manage bills of materials (BOMs) for engineering and manufacturing.4


Early 1980s:

  • CATIA, a multi-platform computer-aided design (CAD) software, is introduced.5 CAD is adopted as a standard tool to help engineering teams create product designs.
  • Unigraphics, a division of McDonnell Douglas, merges CAD and PDM systems to develop a computer-based PLM solution.6

1985: American Motors Corporation first uses PLM to accelerate production of their vehicles, notably the Jeep® Grand Cherokee.7

1992: Jeep® Grand Cherokee is the first recorded product built using a process called “product lifecycle management.”6

2000: The first multi-tenant Cloud PLM solution, BOMControl, is introduced by which later becomes known as Arena.6


Today: Extending the Boundaries of Traditional PLM

Arena, now a PTC Business, continues to extend the traditional boundaries of PLM. Today’s SaaS platform includes advanced quality, compliance, engineering, and integration processes that connect internal teams and supply chain partners to improve quality, reduce costs, and speed new product development (NPD).


Looking Ahead  

As we look to the future, digital transformation will be essential to helping companies maintain a competitive advantage and reach their revenue goals. In fact, a recent study by Deloitte Insights found that an organization’s financial success was directly related to their level of digital maturity. So how will PLM continue to evolve and support companies in their digital transformation efforts? One expected trend is the rise of smart, connected products. This will give way to a new generation of PLM which leverages IoT data to gather greater insights across the entire product lifecycle—from customer usage and product performance to product maintenance and servicing requirements. With these continued advancements, cloud-based PLM as a SaaS model will become more and more critical to businesses in years to come.

History of PLM

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  1. Kleppner O., Advertising procedure. 1925: p 5.
  2. Otero F., A guide to configuration management. CIOReview.
  3. Vernon, R. International investment and international trade in the product cycle. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 1966; 80 (2): 90-207.
  4. Levy, S. A spreadsheet way of knowledge. 2014, October 24.
  5. Weisburg, D. The engineering design revolution. 2008. July 27.
  6. Spiegel, R. A brief history of PLM. DesignNews. 2017. July 4.
  7. Segal, T. Product lifecycle management (PLM). Investopedia. 2019. July 5.