PLM: just a piece of software?

PLM is a methodology and highly critical business strategy that enables significant competitive advantage in this ever challenging industry. PLM is one of the fastest growing areas of technology investment for retailers and brands, why? PLM adds value, improves profitability and, best of all, enables companies to stay ahead of the competition.

So, what is PLM?

PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) is a description of the entire process from the early visibility of the need to create a product to meet the future business goals, through to the creation of a product or collection of products and the eventual end of the product's shelf life. The concept of PLM manages the entire lifecycle from 'birth to grave'.

In its simplest form, PLM manages all central product data, enabling users to reuse that data to improve the speed of accurate and real time information and have complete visibility of progress and any issues. PLM in the world of apparel emerged from such tools as CAD (Computer Aided Design), GMS (Grading and Marker Making Systems) and PDM (Product Data Management) in the late 1980's. Today, it can be seen as the integration of all of these tools, enabled through advances in technology that result in improved business processes through all stages of a product's lifecycle.

Process, process, process.

Many describe PLM as a set of linear processes that have been designed to compress the entire supply chain. At WhichPLM, we see PLM as a web, capturing each detail within the supply chain and feeding every change back to the core.

Where does PLM fit into product development?

Typical areas covered by many of the solutions on the market today include:

PLM Processes

  • Business Planning
  • Line Planning
  • Attribute Planning
  • Store Planning
  • Creative Design
  • Storyboarding
  • Sketching
  • Concept Design
  • Fabric and Component Design
  • Pattern Development
  • First Prototype Specification
  • Detailed Design
  • Risk Analysis (Simulation)
  • 3D Design
  • Sample Process
  • Sizing
  • FOB (Free On Board)
  • Detailed Multi-Dimensional BOM Costing
  • BOL (Bill Of Labour) Costing
  • Capacity Planning
  • Ethical Auditing
  • Critical Path Management
  • Manufacture Tracking
  • Construction and Assembly Details
  • Quality Assurance and Control
  • Supplier Performance
  • Maintenance and Support


The reality is that PLM lives in the shrinking world of 'Cyberspace' and covers a multitude of complex processes that are in a constant state of change (and which need to be captured). People and departments can no longer perform their tasks in isolation if the business is to remain competitive. The past seasonal structure we all know well will disappear and become an ever-changing daily process of constant newness. A PLM solution can help companies to deliver total transparency across the business, bringing massive savings in cost and time which will essentially drive competitive advantage.

How can PLM improve our organisation's competitive advantage?

PLM can deliver massive advantages for the business if implemented successfully. Typically, companies can make major savings by rationalising processes. This all adds up to more on-trend products, in the right sizes and colours leading to a reduction in markdowns. Improved collaboration across the extended supply chain will reduce administration cost and essentially improve quality.

What are the specific PLM requirements of this industry compared to others?

  • Speed to market (Fast fashion).
  • Complexity multi dimensional, sizes, colours and fits.
  • Supplier collaboration (Extended supply chain manufacturers and their suppliers).
  • Integration to supporting EPOS (Electronic Point Of Sale) ERP systems to drive more accurate up to the minuet business planning, Line planning and product development.
  • Multi dimensional BOM, size/colour/fit/variations/supply locations.

How well can PLM fit with ERP?

Ever since the early development of PDM systems, the subject of developing a common set of interfaces and standards has always been a key discussion topic between PLM and ERP. So what is being done today to improve integration to help achieve a truly FASTER Supply Chain?

  • We now have improved open technology (XML and web services) which allows PLM and ERP providers to develop interfaces and standards between the two systems, for example common attributes that are used by both systems:
    • Product header information fields
    • Standard fabric composition fields
    • Standard trims fields
    • Standard image types
    • Standard POM & measurement points
    • Standard Critical Path key fields
    • Standard RFQ (Refer For Quote) fields.

  • Today, systems that are built using modern platforms and technologies which can enable customers to develop their own middleware interfaces based on dynamic data tables.

So, is PLM worth the investment?

Yes, of course, but implementing a PLM system isnt just about installing a piece of software. It is an enterprise-wide solution that needs commitment in terms of resource, training, process rationalisation and internal communications. Calculating the cost and time savings from implementing any PLM system is extremely complex. It is rare to find accurate, scientific ROI (Return on Investment) calculations specific for the apparel market, so it is common for savings/figures to be published from other industries which are in fact wild estimates! There are a multitude of factors that can affect the ROI (Return on Investment) as every company is different, operating within and across different locations. WhichPLM has developed an ROI Calculator to help companies to find out how much value PLM will add and also the cost of not implementing PLM.


Future trends

  • More PLM vendors are striving to offer a complete end to end PLM solution for the apparel/retail sectors, i.e. broader PLM solutions which cover more apparel related processes that are currently being managed by other, separate systems, such as: trend research, 3D virtual modeling, storyboarding, advanced line planning, visual merchandising, virtual retail store planning, design, managing marketing data, visual costing, distribution, RFID and sourcing.

  • Connecting the supply chain further to encompass more factories and mills. It makes sense to share information with suppliers earlier in the product development process.

  • PLM will become an integral part of a companys green strategy to reduce carbon footprint.

  • SaaS: SaaS solutions present tremendous opportunities for all sizes of companies, but the main users today in the apparel industry are the SME's (Small to Medium Enterprises). The bottom line is that, in these uncertain times, SaaS offers the apparel industry a low cost and accessible entry into the Product Lifecycle Management world.

  • Ethical Trading: Smart companies thrive on the availability of information and, although total control of the supply chain maybe impossible, investment in PLM technology is a step in the right direction.

  • Innovation in the credit crunch: more companies will focus on becoming lean and delivering up the minute FAST fashion with PLM. There is no better time than now to start improving development processes and coming up with new ways to stay competitive.

About the Company

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