Historically, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) has its roots in mechanical and electrical engineering, specifically the automotive industry. Its use was pioneered to manage a product (for instance, a car) from inception and on through computer-aided design (CAD), manufacturing, and finally into the maintenance stage.
While PLM was being fine-tuned, the software industry was also creating new ways to manage their own products. Growing from the traditional Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) oversaw the development of software applications from inception and on through the SDLC and finally into deployment and maintenance.
Today, all manner of consumer and industry products, including cars, medical devices and many types of household goods, are developed by engineers from different disciplines including mechanical, electrical and software engineering. The modern car contains microchips and embedded systems, along with their accompanying software, as well as the obvious mechanical components.
Increasingly, this means that PLM, ALM (and SDLC) all play their part in the lifecycle of modern sophisticated products. Products developed in the aeronautic, automotive and life sciences industries now often require mechanical and electrical components that work in conjunction with embedded systems.
As a standalone process or application, ALM is not designed to handle the complexities of mechanical and electrical engineering processes. Likewise, traditional PLM systems weren’t designed to handle the demands of ALM.
However, some PLM systems are changing to incorporate and amalgamate the needs and processes of ALM. Solutions designed for areas like life sciences are able to incorporate requirements management that includes software requirements into the overall PLM system. Integrations between ALM applications and PLM applications are allowing the two engineering groups (software and hardware) and their corresponding processes to intersect more easily. As these improve, they will streamline the product development life cycle and directly improve time-to-market.
During testing and quality assurance, the interface between hardware, software and mechanical or electrical systems becomes paramount. When a fault is found was it the software, the hardware or the physical components that caused the error? Could it be a combination of factors from all three? The Test Management processes and supporting applications must include software and hardware.
For embedded systems, when ALM and PLM are managed together in an integrated fashion, then these questions, as well as information relating to compliance, are easier to answer.
To implement such a system requires expertise from those who are familiar not only with PLM but also ALM. Partnering with the right people who have the knowledge to help is essential to ensure the smooth integration of PLM and ALM in a world where increasingly even the simplest devices contain some amount of software.