Product lifecycle management (PLM) software is a robust solution designed to manage the entire product life cycle, from inception through manufacturing, to sales, aftermarket service and retirement.
PLM tools are designed to help manage product lifecycle, including all the information and other related business processes at every level of the product and/or service lifecycle across a wide variety of supply chains. This also includes all data pertaining to products, parts, items, requirements, documents, product quality workflows and engineering change orders. This management system provides different teams, and multi-disciplinary personnel that are geographically dispersed, the ability to work together and collaborate in a strategic manner with their partners and customers utilizing reliable, accurate and up-to-date product data.
Free product lifecycle management software is a cheap and cost-effective alternative to a premium, full-featured PLM platform. Free PLM tools are best suited for small businesses and startups that are looking to try out a particular product lifecycle management tool for free, with the intention of purchasing the software at a later date. They are also a reasonable choice for those that just don’t have the budget or financial capacity to go with a paid version of the software.
Odoo Manufacturing offers full-service PLM functionality and comes as a free app including free hosting and support as a standalone Odoo application.
There are two types of free product lifecycle management software, the free trial version and the free forever version. Free trials provide potential customers with complete access to the software features and capabilities, but they are limited to a specific number of days, usually 7, 14, or up to a maximum of 30 days. Software that is indefinitely free, on the other hand, is often limited when it comes to the available features, the number of seats/users permitted and the level of customer support provided.
Then there’s the free and open source software solution, which is a popular choice among small businesses looking to stay within their limited budget by minimizing the overall cost of their technology stack. Open source software has its source code available to the public, for customization and modification purposes. These systems are typically managed by a community of multi-disciplinary users with different levels of expertise, from programmers and coding experts to creatives, IT specialists and designers. Through collaboration and cooperation, a broad and diverse community of like-minded individuals has the capacity to improve the quality and functionality of any open source software.
Product lifecycle management is a foundational process that provides operational continuity and supply chain agility. Whether you’re opting for free PLM software or an open source one, there is value to be had in either option. You just have to determine what you need, what kind of features you’re looking for and what to expect from your free product lifecycle management software in terms of functionality and capability.
For instance, data governance and traceability are two of the key components that are offered by most top-tier PLM tools in the market. It allows you to minimize your product development cost, accelerate time to market and deliver the highest product quality and compliance possible. If this is something that you want or need for your product management process, then you have to look for it in every free PLM solution on your list or that you come across during your search.
Even though it is limited, there are still a lot of features that come with free product lifecycle management software that adds to its value and usability, especially for small businesses and startups with simple or basic requirements. It all depends on the vendor and which features they might include in the free version of their product. One such feature is the bill of materials or BOM management. The bill of materials is a list of raw materials that are necessary to create your product. In addition to the raw materials, it also details the subassemblies and expenses required to complete a specific product.
While a BOM management feature is crucial, vendors may offer varied capabilities when it comes to this particular function, depending on which pricing tier or package it comes in. For instance, the vendor might offer BOM management in all of its pricing tiers, including the free version, but the feature’s capabilities in the free version might be greatly reduced compared to the higher tiers.
Another core feature of paid and free product lifecycle management software is the project management solution. Again, the capabilities may vary from the free version to the highest paid tier, but the functionality is there. Project management covers the entire product lifecycle from conceptualization to product designs, manufacturing, quality management, marketing, all the way to sales and after-sale services. However, this particular function is often used for specific processes such as product development, production, introduction and delivery.
Data and document management is a feature that is fundamentally significant for all businesses and teams, regardless of their size and scale. This function allows for the proper storage, organization, access and sharing of pertinent product-related data and documents. A good PLM solution has to be able to meet your data management and sharing requirements if it’s going to serve you well in facilitating your product lifecycle management process, no matter how simple or unsophisticated it might be. A free PLM solution with decent data sharing capabilities can improve real-time decision-making for product designs, project reviews, change requests, support and maintenance.
Product regulation and governance is a feature that you need to make sure is included in your free product lifecycle management software as legal compliance is vital to any operation; regulatory compliance is a crucial aspect in designing any consumer product. Most PLM software vendors include various compliance specifications to support different regulatory standards, agencies and governments.
These specifications are tailored to ensure your product designs are compliant, that they do not utilize illegal materials and they don’t negatively affect the environment in a way that goes beyond regulatory standards. Premium products like Aras Innovator PLM and Oracle Agile PLM are equipped with built-in product regulation and compliance capabilities. However, if you’re going for a free PLM system, you might have to look for this particular feature to make sure it is provided by the vendor for free, or at least something similar to it.
Free product lifecycle management software is as beneficial to small businesses or startups as any business process solution that can help them save money in building their tech stack. Free or not, PLM tools provide a wide variety of benefits that product managers and teams can truly appreciate. The main goal of this type of software is to centralize product-related data and design processes to enhance key business elements like productivity and revenue.
One such benefit is risk reduction. PLM software solutions help ensure both local and standard regulatory measures are completely and consistently met. Your free PLM solution is also designed to help your operation produce a detailed audit trail with in-depth reports and valuable insights, so you’re always ready and prepared to handle future audits, expected or otherwise.
In addition to risk reduction, free product lifecycle management software also helps improve individual and team productivity. PLM systems are equipped with various visibility and collaboration tools that can significantly increase the productivity and efficiency of your employees and product development teams. With a free PLM tool, team members can spend less time and effort looking for relevant product data related to change management. Instead, they will have more time to spend on other business critical tasks and processes that are non-conducive to automation.
Free PLM software, although they may be limited in terms of features and capabilities, can still help improve product quality. While the features of many free PLM systems have a few limitations, small businesses and startups can leverage these tools to enhance the efficiency of their product development process and by extension improve the quality of the final product.
For instance, features like project management, data sharing and document management, quality management, change management, as well as reporting and third-party integrations all play a significant role in managing the entire lifecycle of a product, from conception to manufacturing to sale and even in aftermarket services. If your goal is to provide the best customer experience possible, when they’re using or consuming your product, then all the basic features and capabilities that are inherently present in most free PLM systems are still invaluable to your operation, no matter how small it may be.
Finally, free product lifecycle management software can also help accelerate your time to market by improving your production efficiency and solidifying your supply chain. Both of these are key factors to expediting your product’s time to market and your free PLM solution is at the center of it all. Fall short in any of these areas and you risk losing customers simply because you’re unable to meet your quota.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) software helps manage and organize product-related data during the development of any product, from the point of conception through the manufacturing, sale, aftermarket servicing and retirement/disposal processes. With free product lifecycle management software, small businesses and startups will be able to manage their small operation through the basic features and capabilities offered by free-to-use software.
If you have plans to purchase a premium PLM solution in the near future, then a free trial PLM tool should provide you with enough information you need on whether to move forward with a premium purchase.