Product Lifecycle Management

PLM Strategies--PTC's Answer for PLM

1 Feb, 2005 By: Arnie Williams

Windchill offers a roadmap to product lifecycle management success.


Last month in our inaugural product lifecycle management column, we looked at the origin of PLM and explored a number of developer perspectives on PLM. This month we narrow our focus to examine PTC (www.ptc.com) and its expansive PLM efforts. In the past five years or so, PTC's product emphasis has changed from an expensive, somewhat unwieldy, yet powerful and widely accepted and used parametric design product—Pro/ENGINEER—to a re-engineered Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire that has started to carve out competitive space in the mid- to high range as a viable, easy-to-use, Windows-based 3D solid modeling product. But beyond this remarkable transformation, PTC has also emerged as a company that some are saying has "bet the business" on its PLM strategies. That may or may not be the case, but one thing is certain—PTC has taken an aggressive plunge into the PLM market. According to a 2002 report by AMR Research that examined nine or so leading contenders for PLM bragging rights, PTC has emerged in just a few years on the top of the heap.

At the heart of PTC's PLM approach is the focus on a single digital product model that, according to PTC, "can be understood and worked on by everyone in the product development value chain." The concept may seem simple, but when researching leading manufacturing companies, PTC determined that in too many cases, a disconnect between engineering, manufacturing and C-level executives (CEO, CFO, etc.) resulted in a murky product focus that led to cost overruns and inefficiencies on a grand scale. Citing a Booz Allen Hamilton study, PTC reports that out of every 100 product development projects launched, 25 end up commercially successful, 63 are cancelled (after incurring tremendous costs) and 12 fail outright.

As it pulled together its PLM strategies, PTC determined that a good place to start would be with these C-level executives who need a better understanding of the central role digital products should play in their companies.

The Product First Roadmap

One of the first topics PTC discusses with companies interested in the benefits of PLM is the need to thoroughly examine internal business processes with the aim of aligning the entire company around the digital product model. PTC developed a set of guidelines, referred to as a Product First Roadmap, free to any interested party, that outlines some very basic steps essential to launching an effective PLM plan (figure 1). The Roadmap outlines a framework that includes the following primary components:
 Figure 1. PTCs Product First Roadmap lists a number of broad guidelines to help C-level executives better comprehend the importance of adopting a centralized digital-product model business strategy.
Figure 1. PTCs Product First Roadmap lists a number of broad guidelines to help C-level executives better comprehend the importance of adopting a centralized digital-product model business strategy.

Strategy. Product development strategy capitalizes on opportunities to enhance business value by driving growth and profitability.

Initiatives. Business initiatives are the actions required to achieve your strategy, and they often dictate a change in people, processes and technology.

Operations. Your business initiatives will, no doubt, affect specific operations in your product development process, such as digital model definition, digital product data management, project management and execution and change management.

Capabilities. Lastly, a company must implement the necessary capabilities to provide a solid foundation for the entire framework, such as capturing all forms of product-related intellectual property in digital format, establishing a single source of product data and conducting virtual design reviews.

While the Product First Roadmap is meant as an initial guide to help C-level executives comprehend the essentials of making the digital-product model central to running their businesses, PTC has a consulting arm that provides business-process management services to thoroughly map a product-first strategy to a company's overriding business objectives.

Making PLM Palatable

It's all well and good to develop a conceptual model to help C-level executives fine-tune their business strategies, but PTC would hardly be a significant player in the PLM market without a viable set of technologies to put the ideas to work. One of the strengths that sets the Windchill PLM product line apart from the competition is that it was developed from the very outset as an Internet-era product. Thus its secure intranet/Internet server model is based on familiar standards and is easy to deploy and use.

Taken as a whole, the PTC Product Development System (figure 2) breaks into three areas: create (with Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire), collaborate (with Windchill ProjectLink) and control (with Windchill PDMLink). Although this system is optimized to use Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire as its creation tool, it also works with all other leading mechanical and electrical CAD software.

Figure 2. PTCs Product Development System provides tools to create detailed and intuitive digital product information and control processes such as change management and design review. Its collaboration tools are designed to manage critical opportunities and engage project teams, customers, suppliers and partners.
Figure 2. PTCs Product Development System provides tools to create detailed and intuitive digital product information and control processes such as change management and design review. Its collaboration tools are designed to manage critical opportunities and engage project teams, customers, suppliers and partners.

Drawing on this modular technology, PTC helps companies optimize seven basic product development processes:

  • 1. Digital model definition
  • 2. Digital product data management
  • 3. Change management
  • 4. Configuration management
  • 5. Product development configuration
  • 6. Project management and execution
  • 7. Release to manufacturing

On-Demand PLM

The Windchill slate of products comes in modular form to help companies optimize PLM to their particular needs. Windchill is compatible with ERP systems and inventory-driven IT-based products so that companies can tie their product-manufacturing data to these systems, but PTC is quick to point out to business executives that the drivers should not be these inventory systems, but rather the digital product model.

Realizing that some companies are not ready to move into PLM whole hog, PTC recently began to offer a PLM on-demand service to companies that might want to try just a change management module, for example, or a project management and collaboration set of modules. PTC's rationale is that once companies experience the advantages of PLM on any level, they will want to reap the full advantages.

The PTC Web site has a wealth of information that provides more details about its PLM strategies and technologies, including the AMR Research report referred to above and a number of white papers and case studies that outline successful implementations of Windchill by companies of every scale. In keeping with its CAD roots, most of PTC's PLM customers are in discrete manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, electronics and industrial design.

Though the names Pro/ENGINEER and PTC have been synonymous in the past, going forward PTC is likely to be viewed as a Windchill-driven PLM heavyweight.

Arnie Williams, former editor-in-chief of Cadence magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail him at awilliams@grandecom.net.


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