If the whole industry that PLM has been built on was a massive bear mama, Autodesk just grabbed it and gave its jowls a good shaking, then proceeded to mount and ride it. On February 29th, Autodesk launched their PLM product announced last year at Autodesk University, Autodesk PLM360. It’s a completely web-accessible, highly customizable platform to help organize the vicious design process from start to finish. Their goal (besides making loads of cash) is to make the obscure and exorbitant cost of PLM implementation and usage go away. I believe they’re actually helping people understand what PLM is along the way.

Autodesk PLM360

Having been an administrator for various PDM, ERP and PLM systems, I know the gut-wrenching pain of meetings on process control, more meetings on process control, and the endless spreadsheets and abject horror that goes into a 6 month – 10 year implementation of process control.

It’s the same old story. Somewhere along the way, we as designers, engineers, or CAD managers are pulled into different roles or sent to work with people in manufacturing, certification, or (may it never be) marketing. We see how information and inefficiency is spread amply across the entire process, so it makes sense that something to organize it all is needed. We look into options and they, being few and far between, are just too expensive or complicated to set up in the one hour a day we have to figure out a solution.

Now Autodesk comes along and slaps shiny words like ‘affordable’ and ‘ease of use’ on the PLM beast, delivers it over the web (where we already live 28 hours out of the day) and says you can have it running in a couple hours or days. That’s fairly attractive. If you’re like me, you’ve probably stuck to using Box, Dropbox or Wetransfer to share and move files about (if your company even allows that). In a sense, Autodesk is going to have a cost and simplicity battle with people already using those apps, but at the same time PLM360 is going to be the solution for many a business that can’t use online file sharing applications. That, and the frustrated PLM manager in larger companies, puts Autodesk in a pretty good spot to convince people that PLM can be easier.

The PLM App model

On aspect of ‘easy’ Autodesk is building into PLM360 is apps. Everyone is jumping on the app bandwagon… or trying desperately to figure it out. For good reason too: it’s a great model. Only the functionality you need – try it out for free. Mix and match your apps depending on your job role and needs. No need for implementation or IT support. Just install and go. It makes even more sense for all the bits that go into the lifecycle of a product. As you see below, Autodesk has each category and aspect of PLM mapped out for you. For those wondering where PDM works into this, you’ll see Vault (Autodesk’s PDM software) noted. Vault isn’t required or even needed to run PLM360. PDM is just that one small aspect in the entire product development process.

So here you have the apps and, as you can imagine, accessibility to these whether you’re on a desktop or mobile device. If anyone has convinced us they can do mobile, it’s certainly Autodesk. Now, a couple questions to you: Does it help visualize what PLM is? Does this capture everything?

PLM360 Pricing

Whether large company or small, it really always comes down to pricing. Autodesk has set up a nice little freemium model with three levels. The first level is free for up to three users. The second is $25/user/mth for read-only access, communication and workflow participation. The third level is $75/user/mth for full access to all workflow and apps. Now, if you’re comparing other apps, Box cost $15/user/mth but with that you’re only getting file sharing/syncing. The cost for 360PLM is surprisingly high, but 1/10th the cost of a typical PLM system according to Autodesk. To run PLM360 full-up for a 10 person company, you’re looking at $9,000/year.

They do have an introductory offer, a fixed $100 fee for up to 10 people and 1 admin till December 2012. (This offer is until June 2012.)

PLM for PLM sake

Just because PLM becomes easier to use, does that mean you’ll use it? It controls the business process, but who defines that? I’m giving PLM360 a try because I see a need to capture not all, but many of the aspects listed in the apps – parts of the current design process, like certification and sales that are outside the typical design and engineering workflow, but are important parts of it. We’ll see how it works as far as configuration, accessibility, and ease of use. Are you planning to try it? What are you using it for? Is it all you’ve ever dreamed PLM could be?


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.