Product Design

PTC Gets Explicit at Pro/E Wildfire 4.0 Launch

21 Jan, 2008

Company clarifies plans for CoCreate and reveals four new Pro/E modules.

Last week in Boston, Massachusetts, when Jim Heppelmann, PTC's executive vice-president of software solutions and chief product officer, faced the international press assembled for the launch of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 4.0, he knew he needed to say a few words about CoCreate before he could introduce the star of the show.

Late last year, PTC snatched up CoCreate, a 3D CAD company headquartered in Germany, for approximately $250 million. The question Heppelmann anticipated was, "Now that you have two CAD systems, what are you going to do with them?"

It's a fair question, since CoCreate's OneSpace and PTC's Pro/E essentially belong to two different camps. Whereas OneSpace is a dynamic modeler (also known as direct modeler or explicit modeler), Pro/E is the progenitor of parametric modeling (also called feature-based or history-based modeling). The former lets users push, pull, and deform geometric objects to create a design; the latter lets users build the desired geometry step by step through precise parameter input.

So a discussion of Pro/E's destiny must begin with OneSpace's place in PTC's product strategy.

No Parametric-Dynamic Hybrid Planned
"Are we going to merge Pro/E and CoCreate and get the best of both worlds? No," Heppelmann reasoned. "I don't think you'll get the best of both worlds that way. ... That's like merging a racecar and a SUV. What you end up with is an ugly, slow, funky looking hybrid that doesn't work well on the road, off the road, and won't win races."

A dynamic modeler like CoCreate is fundamentally easier to use than Pro/E, because the user is free to interact directly with the geometry. As Heppelmann put it, "It's not a user interface issue. It's because you don't have to do two-thirds of the work. ... You can make radical changes to the geometry without the history getting in the way."

"Combining parametric and explicit modeling means you either have full-fledged parametric capabilities in a explicit modeling package, or vice versa," said Ulrich Mahle, a CoCreate veteran who was recently promoted to vice-president of worldwide marketing and R&D. "Then you're very likely combining the disadvantages of both systems."

CoCreate OneSpace uses dynamic modeling that allows users to directly interact with the geometry, which is different from Pro/E's history-based or feature-based modeling method.

The Gray Area
So injecting a dose of Pro/E into OneSpace might be ill-advised. It might simply make the latter unnecessarily cumbersome. On the other hand, complementing Pro/E's parametric modeling paradigm with some dynamic modeling options might not be too far-fetched.

"In a parametric modeling system, there are places where you can use explicit modeling," said Heppelmann. "For example, in Pro/E, there's a module called ISDX [Interactive Surface Design Extension]. It allows you to push and pull surfaces using explicit modeling methods. That surface afterwards becomes a feature, part of the history tree."

But the matchmaking can only go so far. "You run into limitations as you approach topology changes through these modifications," said Mahle. "Or if you have very complex geometric situations like blends, then those capabilities don't travel far."

Heppelmann and Mahle assured attendees that PTC intends to keep and support CoCreate products as standalone offerings. In Heppelmann's vision, PTC plans to pitch OneSpace to customers who focus on one-off design (or products that are not derivatives of past designs) and work within shorter design cycles -- markets where Pro/E may not be the ideal solution. Potential target users include specialized equipment makers and manufacturers of electronics enclosures (such as cell phone housings).

Because PTC has never offered a standalone 2D product, CoCreate's OneSpace Drafting can fill this void. Heppelmann explained, "Even though our religion has always been to model in 3D and derive the 2D drawings from the model, we realize there are people who just want a quick sketch, and don?t want to have to go through the modeling process, so [OneSpace Drafting] could be a complementary product even for Pro/E accounts."

On with the Show
According to PTC, the Pro/E Wildfire 4.0 release is a major event, marked by 349 active R&D projects and more than $100 million in R&D investment. Michael Campbell, PTC senior vice-president of product management, introduced the new release, highlighting four new modules:

  • Pro/E Interface for JT
  • Pro/E Tolerance Analysis Extension
  • Pro/E ECAD-MCAD Collaboration Extension
  • Pro/E Rights Management Extension

Pricing options for Pro/E Wildfire 4.0 and modules.

The Tolerance Analysis Extension is powered by CETOL, a Six Sigma verification product from PTC partner Sigmetrix. The module is expected to let users analyze tolerance stack-ups and gaps early in the design cycle.

Ideal for high-tech applications, the ECAD-MCAD Collaboration Extension lets electrical engineers and mechanical engineers propose and accept design changes incrementally without swapping out entire files. Using the IDF flow (Intermediate Data Format, commonly used for circuit boards) for data exchange, the extension reportedly enables electrical engineers to view and respond to mechanical engineers' changes from the familiar ECAD environment, and vice versa.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image
The new ECAD-MCAD Collaboration Module in Pro/ENGINEER is designed to facilitate communication between electrical engineers and mechanical engineers. Click the images above for larger versions.

"The benefit of that is the reduction of iterations going back and forth," observed Todd Taneyhill, a CAD tool specialist for iDEN Mobile Devices, a division of Motorola. "The other thing that's very useful is the ProductView comparison feature, built into Wildfire 4.0. You can look at the electrical design and the mechanical design side by side."

The Rights Management Extension is powered by the Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite. Offering precise control over file opening, copying, saving, printing, and online/offline access, the module targets manufacturers heavily involved in outsourcing.

One of the new features, Auto Round, met with approving nods and praises from the users and analysts present. It's designed to automatically round as many edges as possible from the entire model or selected set. According to PTC, "The software creates sets of features whose sequence and edge sets are defined according to internal logic to maximize the number of rounded chains."

The Auto Round feature, introduced in Pro/E Wildfire 4.0, automates a time-consuming process.

More details about Pro/E Wildfire 4.0 are expected at the PTC User World Event (June 1-4, 2008).