The History of PLM:
From Paper
to the Cloud

Explore the evolution of product lifecycle management (PLM), from its origin as a paper-based system to today’s cloud-based SaaS platform that is essential for business success.

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Otto Kleppner, the 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

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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

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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

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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).

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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.

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

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  • CATIA, a multi-platform computer-aided design (CAD)5 software, is introduced. CAD is adopted as a standard tool to help engineering teams create product designs.
  • Product data management (PDM)6 systems are developed to accommodate CAD, as the volume and versions of CAD become difficult to manage.
  • Unigraphics, a division of McDonnell Douglas, merges CAD and PDM systems to develop a computer-based PLM solution.6

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

Jeep icon

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

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The first multi-tenant Cloud PLM solution6, BOMControl, is introduced by which later becomes known as Arena.

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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).

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Digital Transformation

The rise of smart, connected products gives way to the next generation of PLM which leverages IoT data to gather greater insights across the entire product lifecycle—from product usage and performance to product maintenance and repair.

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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. Wired. 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.

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