Hardly a day goes by without someone asking, "What's hot?" Lately the answer has been easy: PLM, or product-life-cycle management. The market for PLM software is expected to expand by 31% this year, according to AMR Research. "Overall, we see manufacturers' new product-development initiatives representing a $100 billion opportunity," says Tony Friscia, president of AMR in Boston. What exactly is PLM? "It's a strategy whose goal is a seamless, electronic-based process for managing the different phases of the life cycle of a product, from concept to design to manufacturing to maintenance of the product in the aftermarket environment," explains Amir Livne, executive vice president for industry marketing at Tecnomatix Technologies Ltd. in Nashua, N.H. PLM is more than simply computer-aided design (CAD). Instead of the entree, it's the full five-course dinner. BMW's 7-series, for example, was designed with the help of Tecnomatix' MPM digital system, which includes product definitions specifying what to make, when and where to build it, and how to build it. "MPM bridges the gap between what, when and where," says Sharron Lifschitz, head of Tecnomatix' electronics industry unit in Israel. The "how" part of the software package includes product-line simulation and costing. "Our customers' engineers tell us they spend half their time in this 'how-to-build it' phase," Lifschitz says. MPM contains an electronic "bill of process," called e-BOP. "E-BOP creates the manufacturing memory," Lifschitz explains. This data, in turn, can be viewed over the Web by customers and suppliers. "Our solutions enable OEMs to see how their contract manufacturers are designing their processes," he adds. Pushing the envelope in this area is Centric Software. Centric has something called the Innovation Center, a graphical representation enabling product designers, engineers, managers and executives to track the status of product R&D programs in an attractive 3-D format. One company using Centric is Volvo. "Centric Innovation provided Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center with a unique 3-D, digital, collaborative project environment in which teams could meet and review concepts in the context of new product programs and present these to executives for go-to-market decisions," says Benny Sommerfeld, concept business manager at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center. Adds Neil Mitchell, vice president of marketing and strategic alliances at the San Jose, Calif., software firm, "This technology unites a company, because all participants can see where the company is going with its products." PTC's Mike Grandinetti believes these new technologies are hot because manufacturers are changing the way they do business to both improve collaboration and take advantage of their efficiencies. "There is a tremendous amount of emphasis today to get the design perfect before that information is transmitted to the physical part of the supply chain," says Grandinetti, senior vice president of marketing at the Needham, Mass., software company. PTC's customers use the company's popular Pro-Engineer (to be released under the new Wildfire name next fall) CAD software to create products, at the same time employing the company's Windchill system to control their development and foster collaborative design. "PTC's Windchill provides Web-based portal access to all of the critical program data allowing the sharing of status and metrics throughout the program," says Henry J. Levine, vice president and deputy of Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter program Air System. EDS offers its TeamCenter system, a data management platform, as well as its popular Unigraphics CAD program and E-factory, for allocating manufacturing resources and simulating production. "The traditional focus of CAD and product-data management was on product introduction, but the focus of PLM has been broader, offering the opportunity to manage the product development process as well as design of the process or product line," says Christian Kelley, vice president of marketing communications for EDS PLM Solutions in Plano, Texas. "Under the PLM view, 10% of the work is done when the product is designed." Doug Bartholomew is an IW senior technology editor. He is based in San Francisco.