A New PTC At PlanetPTC Live

June 13, 2011

PTC’s claim to fame might be the concept of parametric CAD, but at PTC’s PlanetPTC Live  user event this week, mechanical design issues and MCAD technology took a back seat to a vision of product development in the broader context of business challenges confronting the enterprise.

At the introductory session of the user event, PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann talked about global competition. He spoke of the need for closed-loop quality processes and hit on the increasing pressure for companies to embrace sustainability–whether it be part of their product development strategies or simply taking a greener approach to IT. Challenges around embedded software development, supplier collaboration and manufacturing were all part of his set up to where PTC is headed: To become an enterprise product development system that transcends organizational boundaries and takes a view far beyond its traditional mechanical engineering roots.

We’ve heard this talk before and not just from PTC. As the MCAD market has matured and as some would say, reached a plateau, all of the major CAD vendors are taking steps to support a wider view of product development to include non-engineers in the process. But this may have been the most comprehensive step yet by PTC to fill in that vision with a fleshed out and well-crafted product roadmap. “I’m impressed by Jim Heppelmann’s breadth of vision,” tweeted Monica Schnitger, president of Schnitger Corp., a consulting and market research company focused on the engineering space. “PTC is trying to tie many levels of information and types of users under the PTC umbrella.”

MCAD, obviously, was part of the product roadmap discussion. But it had the same billing (in some cases, even less air time) then discussions around new capabilities in the areas embedded software development and requirements management–to name a few. Fresh on the heels of its $306 million acquisition of MKS and its Integrity Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tool, Hepplemann and other presenters spent a lot of time talking about how software development has “snuck” into product development, citing a host of statistics, including the fact that many companies now employ more software engineers than hardware engineers and that the average car now includes more than 200 million lines of software code. Andrew Werkin, a former PTCer, who left over a year ago for a role at Integrity and is now back at PTC post-acquisition, reiterated that software is increasingly a more important part of the product, not just for user interface or control systems, but where software actually serves as a way to address product defects easier or to tune a hardware product specifically for a certain market and need.

This growing prominence of embedded software as part of the product all points to the rise (again, not a new concept) of a systems engineering approach, where the different disciplines collaborate early in the design process as opposed passing designs back and forth in an iterative and highly ineffective engineering workflow. With Integrity now under its wing, PTC plans to evolve that platform, but more importantly, create deep integrations to Windchill, in a sense establishing it as a complete product development system, connecting the software development domain to the rest of the product development enterprise.

To support this broader view of product development, PTC rolled out a new framework for organizing its growing number of solutions. At the highest level, it talks about enterprise challenges around the need to share data and create processes that cross multiple silos. Windchill, serving as the repository or single source for all product-related material; new closed-loop quality processes based on the former Relex quality management module, but now an integrated part of the Windchill backbone; and emerging social media functionality delivered by an integrated capability called SocialLink, are the core technologies that will address those challenges.

For its traditional audience of engineers, PTC served up a host of new deliverables. Among the highlights were details on the formal release-to-market of Creo 1.0 and a nine new AnyRole Apps (more on that later). There is also new functionality that will result from the integration of Integrity not just with Windchill, but to Mathcad and other system modeling tools in order to provide better solutions for early system design and product definition. “A single view of the early BOM (bill of materials) needs to be shared broadly through the team,” noted PTC Executive Vice President of Product Development Brian Shepherd, in his presentation. “It’s too important to leave in a spreadsheet–it’s critical to do this within the product development system.”

Manufacturing and the supply chain and solutions for service and support are the two other groups PTC is targeting with its new cross-enterprise product development message. New and enhanced capabilities in the areas of product analytics (in both Windchill and Creo), sandbox capabilities for early collaboration with suppliers and a nifty peak at a mobile version of Windchill running on the iPad (which got a huge round of applause) were some of the ways PTC is delivering solutions to address pain points in this area. Its solutions for the service organization and what it now calls capabilities for creating a service bill of materials (SBOM) are being built on technologies coming from its Arbortext division.

Taken individually, the new products and positioning are pretty comprehensive and far ranging. But the really interesting part of PTC’s new and improved message is that it really isn’t about individual, monolithic products or solutions, but really about a mix and match set of capabilities that integrate to solve real business problems for users across a range of roles–not just engineers. Now that there are real shipping products, customers will be the ultimate judge as to whether PTC’s delivery is good as its strategy and positioning.

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