Needham, MA—Working on the principle that engineers need to collaborate with widely dispersed design team members and with their supply chains, PTC recently introduced Pro/Collaborate—an Internet collaboration tool for Pro/E users. Powered by a version of Windchill ProjectLink limited to Pro/E, PTC offers Pro/Collaborate as a free service for Pro/E licensees with current maintenance agreements.
"Basically the service offers a PTC-hosted version of ProjectLink set up to provide specific functions for the duration of any given project," says Brian Shepherd, senior vice president of technical marketing for PTC. "Only the person who initiates the collaborative project has to be a licensee, because although the system only supports Pro/E, users of other CAD programs can visualize designs within the collaborative space using Windchill's ProductView."
Pro/Collaborate has its limitations. "Some restrictions exist on the amount of disk space available for collaborative workspaces in Pro/Collaborate," Shepherd says. "The amount of space a customer company can access will depend on how many seats of Pro/E it deploys." Users with a single seat of Pro/E get 100MB disk space, rising to 2GB for users with 100 seats or more. While that amount of space may be too small for many heavy CAD models, it's adequate for collaboration based on marking up visualizations and sharing ideas in a discussion forum. Pro/Collaborate doesn't compete with fee-based live collaboration systems such as CoCreate's OneSpace.
In the process of using Pro/Collaborate, Pro/E users and others they designate can learn first hand how to use ProjectLink, one of the most popular components of Windchill. PTC also gains valuable exposure for its product lifecycle management (PLM) system. ProjectLink is available as part of Windchill or separately. Pro/Collaborate also showcases ProductView, a visualization system that drew some fire from Pro/E users at the recent Pro/User Conference.
In operation, a Pro/E user sets up a Pro/Collaborate workspace for a given project, making it possible to share work with geographically dispersed colleagues—other engineers, purchasing departments, sales and marketing, customers, and suppliers. The initiator can specify access controls, and participants can communicate outside their respective corporate firewalls on such tasks as publishing parts, drawings, and assembles directly from Pro/E, adding supporting documentation and specifications, monitoring design information, tracking progress, and exchanging ideas through discussion forums.
James Carpenter, a mechanical designer with Harris Corporation (Melbourne, FL), tested Pro/Collaborate prior to its general availability in August. "It doesn't take any training to use this," he says. "It's easy to access the service and set up project folders. When I want to bring in a part, all I need to do is open the folder and tell Pro/Collaborate I want to bring in a part. It opens a browse window, and when I find the part I want, I just click on it to bring it into the folder."
When wanting to collaborate, the user lets other team members know, and posts the working folder to the workspace. "Someone at a remote location can grab the part and work on it on line," Carpenter says. "A system that works like instant messaging lets you communicate back and forth when more than one person accesses the file."
PTC reports that more than 30,000 companies and over a quarter of a million designers use Pro/E—creating a very large potential user base for the new service.
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