Sunday, October 5, 2014

PLM vs ERP – the everlasting trench war or the best PLM ROI?

PLM vs ERP discussions have a tendency to end in trench war between the ERP people and the PLM people. If not open hostility, there is little understanding of your opponent. It does not have to be like this. PLM and ERP can live together and make the total outcome better if PLM and ERP has found their roles and co-operate.

 In this blog I am talking about PLM and ERP tools. Not the PLM concept covering many applications and the whole lifecycle.

This is one of the everlasting PLM topics. There are a lot of blogs about this topic. And more will come as this topic will exist as long as PLM and ERP tools exist. Here are some of them: Beyond PLM, The Virtual Dutchman, Engineering (Engineering) and

Why is PLM vs ERP a challenge?

Traditionally PDM and MRP had clear roles. PDM takes care of the parts and BOM from engineering and MRP takes care of purchasing and production planning. This picture is not that clear anymore. PLM and ERP have overlapping functionality and processes. Both try to handle “all product information”. PLM stretches into the ERP domain with for example sourcing functionality and ERP stretches into the PLM domain with for example CAD integrations.

Another reason is that PLM and ERP are typically owned by different organizations. ERP is owned by the finance-people and PLM is owned by the technology-people. There is difference in culture, focus, language and they often have a hard time understanding each other.

One oversimplified difference is that with ERP you optimize what you have (existing and physical products), with PLM you optimize what you do not have (new products, intellectual property).

How to approach this

The challenge is identifying a clear and not overlapping role for the PLM system and ERP system in your company. The first step is getting the PLM and ERP people into the same room and get them to understand each other. And to see this from a bigger picture. What is best for our company? Can we achieve something better by co-operating and perhaps “giving away” something to the other side?

There are clear benefits if you can get PLM and ERP to work together. Less time entering information again, better quality of data, faster change processes etc. Get out of the trenches and look at the information flow, processes and business needs. Do this without prejudice about where and how to solve it. When you understand what your business needs you can look at a logical flow. Which tools have the best functionality and which roles are supposed to do the work? Don´t make people have to work in both systems and switch back and forth.

Use a top- down approach: What is best for the company; not “how can I build as much functionality into my tool as possible”.

Several of the companies where we have run PLM-ERP workshops with this approach have responded: This is the first time both camps say they understand each other and are agreeing that together they can really improve things.

A typical scenario

There is no single correct answer on what the PLM-ERP set-up should be. The most common solution though is this:
  • The parts and EBOM are born and approved in PLM
  • The EBOM is transferred to ERP when it is approved
  • The EBOM is re-transferred when it is changed and approved again
  • MBOM is created in ERP based on the EBOM
  • The change process includes manufacturing planning (at least manually)

The next level could be feedback from ERP. E.g. Cost, stock, change implemented, preferred suppliers etc.

Some companies create and give names to parts in the ERP system and others create the MBOM in the PLM system. However, most companies with a working PLM-ERP integration follows the set-up above.

The challenge is anyway the business process, information flow and business rules. Not on the technology side.

Typical PLM-ERP integration tasks

When you start looking on a PLM-ERP integration there are some task you have to do. Here is a typical list:

  1. Objective & Ambition – What do you want to achieve? What is the business pain?
  2. Processes – Which processes will be covered/changed?
  3. Information Flow – What information will be handled and how should it flow?
  4. Business Rules – What are the rules ensuring data and process consistency?
  5. Data Model – How is the data related to each other? Are the data the same in PLM and ERP?
  6. Transfer Mechanisms – What is triggering the transfer? What is transferred?
  7. Data mapping – How do PLM and ERP data map?
  8. Data ownership – Which tool owns which data at which step in the process?
  9. Integration Technology – What integration technology should you use?
  10. Technical Implementation – Programming/configuring the solution

The first 8 are business topics, only the last 2 are technology topics. The challenge is on the first 8. If you do those correctly you will find the 2 last ones to be manageable.


PLM - ERP integration is one of the really big benefits you can get from a PLM investment. It will ensure good quality of data and you will reduce the manual effort in data entering.

There is no single right answer to how this integration should be. There are overlapping processes and functionality. Get out of the trenches and find out what is best for your company.

Tore Brathaug

1 comment:

  1. There was a discussion here in the past. Has it been removed ?