Product Design

Event Report: PTC/USER 2009

24 Jun, 2009 By: Robert Green

PTC user conference rolls up its shirt sleeves and focuses on improving productivity.

Parametric Technologies Corporation (PTC) and PTC/USER recently held the 20th annual PTC/USER World Event forum in sunny Orlando, Florida. The theme was “Be Part of History” -- but I wasn’t sure whether they were alluding to planned announcements that would change the company’s history or a celebration of its 20 years in business. Turns out it was some of both.

"Be Part of History" was the theme of the 20th PTC/USER event in Orlando, Florida.

User Driven
Like Autodesk University and SolidWorks World conferences, PTC/USER is first and foremost a user training and networking event attended by power users from all manner of industries. The fact that press is invited to attend, such as yours truly, is just a side note to the user festivities.

Attendance was reported at 1,600, which seems about right given the capacity of the main conference hall and its packed seating for the opening session. Based on my informal polling, attendees included senior designers, engineers, and managers with a sprinkling of technical illustrators and manufacturing support personnel.

All in all, PTC/USER definitely catered to those professionals who actually use PTC software. This was not a marketing conference or an IT conference, but an engineering and manufacturing conference that happened to focus on software.

Product News
Of course there’s no way you could have a function like PTC/USER without talking about improvements to the core PTC products, right? At the main stage presentation (and subsequent presentations), new product features were touted as contributing to a software environment that enables greater design productivity and what the company is calling social product development.

The product introductions were peppered with company history, creating a sense of stability and legacy. The knowing nods of the audience indicated that those in attendance were, indeed, the Pro/ENGINEER faithful.

Following is a recap of the product news I found most compelling.

Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 5.0. Pro/ENGINEER is PTC's flagship 3D modeling solution, and v5.0 is slated to launch later this year. Video segments showed what must be early alpha builds. Modules I found interesting were:

  • Dynamic, regen-free editing.
  • Greater part realism in design interface.
  • Advanced Rendering Extension delivered noticeably faster mental ray renderings.
  • Native mode import support from other 3D CAD systems via plug-ins.
  • Digital human modeling support.
  • Spark Analysis extension for electrical creepage simulation.
  • Enhanced weldment modeling/analysis features.
  • Faster tool path generation.
  • Enhanced plastic molding tools.

Greater realism and analysis displays are part of Wildfire’s new feature set.

Windchill 9.1. Windchill is PTC's content- and process-management solution. Updates, also slated for release later this year, primarily were discussed in theory rather than demonstrated. To make a long story short, Windchill will be updated to stay in sync with all other PTC products and new features. The new features touted include:

  • Expanded Pro/ENGINEER compatibility
  • Windchill requirements link for tracking and cross-referencing product requirements through a project’s duration
  • Improved PDS (Product Development System) interoperability, providing content capture support for Mathcad, Arbortext IsoDraw, CoCreate drafting and CADDS 5 CAD/CAM software for shipbuilding.
  • Windchill Webparts for SharePoint, allowing Windchill information such as tasks and assignments to be presented to users in a familiar Microsoft SharePoint interface
  • Windchill Gateway for I-deas TDM (technical document management), allowing I-deas users to capture design data within Windchill
  • Windchill Workgroup Manager for CATIA V5, enhancing integration with CATIA V5 to include support for CGR cache mode and enhanced CATIA V5 document link.
  • Windchill PDMLink/Arbortext integration, providing Arbortext IsoDraw 7.1 linkage to original CAD designs, related 2D and 3D illustrations, and the associated product information

Relex Acquisition
Along with the new product announcements, PTC also announced it has finalized its acquisition of Relex Software. Relex specializes in analyzing field-collected product data to help PTC users understand product reliability, safety, and environmental compliance in liability-intensive industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medical device development.

PTC did not reveal the cost of the acquisition, but did report that Pennsylvania-based Relex will keep its current management team in place through year-end to assist with integrating Relex into the PTC product suite.

Social Product Development
One of the buzz phrases bandied about a lot during PTC/USER was social product development. In fact, I was really looking forward to hearing an explanation of this new catch phrase. Were we going to hear yet another talk about how Facebook and Twitter are changing how we interact with others in the workplace? Were we going to hear another tired talk about how collaboration is changing the face of CAD? I have to confess that I was expecting more of these sorts of platitudes.

But it turns out that social product development actually relates to the integration of Microsoft’s SharePoint Server 2007 collaboration tools into PTC’s ProductPoint data management tools. The social product development platform becomes social by using widely supported Microsoft tools as the communications glue that binds user locations rather than requiring expensive, proprietary, IT-intensive tools.

Windows SharePoint forms the IT basis of PTC’s social product development via communication with Windchill ProductPoint.

As one PTC executive told me, “Why fight the SharePoint wave when we can ride it?”

To envision the idea behind PTC’s social product development platform, consider this common workplace challenge:

  • Several workers use a common CAD package need to communicate changes.
  • E-mails or instant messages are sent and lost.
  • Uncontrolled file versions are created.
  • Nobody keeps track of who said what and when.
  • The change process is clunky, error prone, and not well documented.

Sound familiar?

What social product development does is tie together CAD users in a communication environment that is controlled by Microsoft SharePoint technology that is already running on most corporate networks. Notifications are now integrated into the CAD environment so users no longer worry about e-mail or instant messaging. As a bonus, the design conversation is no longer a fragmented trail of messages in other systems but a tracked conversation that allows steps to be stored and managed in ProductPoint.

Messages delivered via Windchill ProductPoint can be displayed as alerts in CAD modules.

Notes from the Show Floor
I decided to gauge the tone of PTC/USER by observing a host of training classes and talking to event attendees at breaks. I attended a variety of classes with attendance ranging from less than 10 to more than 200 and talked with attendees at the lunch break and in the coffee line. A few general themes surfaced.

Task-specific training. I noticed a lot less of the “what’s new”-type classes and a lot more “how to get the most from this feature” content. A class that talked about the specifics of data driving design from external data files may have only drawn 15 attendees, but those 15 attendees reveled in the fact that the class was held. One participant told me, “I’m looking forward to trying these techniques out back at the office now that I know where to start.”

No marketeering. Any hint of what I like to call “marketing speak” was left at the door in the technical classes I observed. Once the door closed and class began, it was all about understanding the software and related technology updates. It was easy to embrace my inner geek in the smaller sessions as questions were answered on the fly by most instructors.

Learning under pressure. It seemed like many attendees were picking up more responsibilities at their companies due to downsizing. These attendees came to PTC/USER with a list of learning objectives and a strong motivation to master the material at hand. I observed a more serious mix of students at PTC/USER than I’ve seen at other user events.

Wrapping Up
PTC/USER 2009 proved that even in an economic recession, software users still want training and networking opportunities and are willing to pay for them. PTC/USER 2009 also demonstrated that PTC is a company that is moving ahead with product development, technical innovation, and product acquisitions to emerge from lean times with a stronger design suite and a loyal customer base.