Data Management

Event Report: PTC/User World 2008

18 Jun, 2008 By: Jeffrey Rowe

New data management software — and an airplane — take flight at conference.

I attended the PTC/USER World Event 2008 early this month in Long Beach, California. I don't usually cover PTC extensively, so this was an opportunity for me to get to get better acquainted with the company, its products, and what's happening there.

I was invited to this user conference as a member of the press and analyst community, so much of the information that I was presented had more to do with the business side of PTC and not so much the technological side of the software. I also found many of the general sessions to be more sales oriented than user oriented — unusual for an event of this nature, but nonetheless informative. The company did announce a couple of new data management products during the event and made presentations related to its CoCreate acquisition.

Jim Heppelmann, PTC executive vice-president, software products, and chief product officer, said it is the 30,000 Pro/E maintenance customers who drive the company, so it was ironic that Pro/ENGINEER received relatively little attention. Looking ahead to the future, Heppelmann did say that Pro/ENGINNER Wildfire 6 (two releases away) would have direct modeling and editing capabilities and would be PTC's answer to the new Synchronous Technology announced recently by Siemens PLM Software and now integrated in NX and Solid Edge. I also have the feeling that Pro/E will borrow some aspects of CoCreate's explicit modeling (non-history-based, no features, geometry-only) approach, as well. Data management in and of itself is fine, but during the event there was little discussion of the creative process, and after all, the data to be managed has to come from somewhere.

Data Management Takes Center Stage
Although PTC did downplay MCAD somewhat, the company really emphasized the importance of data management and collaboration with the announcement of two products: Product View and Windchill ProductPoint.

Product View 9.1. Product View 9.1 is intended to make Windchill more of a visual experience with MCAD and electrical CAD collaboration capabilities. It was developed with the knowledge that product development is a highly visual activity, and manufacturers have often struggled with multiple technologies to support the various forms and complexity levels of visual information. PTC's ProductView 9.1 was intended to address these challenges as a scalable visual collaboration platform that PTC says supports needs ranging from desktop viewing to the ability to explore massive million-part digital mockups. ProductView 9.1 also now supports the ProSTEP IDX (Interdomain Design eXchange) standard. With this capability, PTC claims to be the first MCAD software provider that adheres to this openly defined method for communicating incremental design changes bidirectionally between mechanical and electrical designers.

Heppelmann said, "During this past year, PTC has been working to consolidate its division and InterComm products under the umbrella of ProductView, providing customers one complete platform for visual collaboration."

ProductView 9.1 is scheduled to be available in September 2008.

Windchill ProductPoint. PTC also announced Windchill ProductPoint for capturing, handling, and sharing product development information based on the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Not the first company to make such a move, PTC hopes Windchill ProductPoint will bring SharePoint into the world of product development. Though relatively new to product development, Windows SharePoint Services, Microsoft's technology infrastructure for collaboration, has been adopted across manufacturing companies as a backbone for Office applications, primarily for document sharing and management. With Windchill ProductPoint, PTC says it will enable SharePoint to "understand" CAD data, increasing the reach of the SharePoint across product development teams.

According to the company, because Windchill ProductPoint does not overlap Pro/INTRALINK or Windchill PDMLink capabilities, PTC does not plan to develop migration tools or enable license transfers that would allow customers to switch to Windchill ProductPoint.

ProductPoint is expected to be available sometime during Q4 2008.

Will PTC's foray into using Microsoft's SharePoint Server fare better than that of its main competitor? I think its probability of success is greater because of its existing Windchill customer base and the way technology seems to be implemented. However, like all things, only time will tell.

Jetting Into the Future
I'm not a pilot, but I love airplanes and flying, especially general aviation, so I was captivated by the presentation made by Patrick Waddick, senior vice-president, Cirrus Design Corporation.

The company was founded in 1984 with a dream to design and build affordable airplanes that deliver better control, comfort, and safety. Today, Cirrus is the world's leading seller of single-engine, piston-powered aircraft.

Cirrus revolutionized the general aviation marketplace in the late 90s with several advanced technologies, such as composite airframes, electronic flight displays, the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), and an ice protection system, all at relatively affordable prices. Cirrus designed the industry's best-selling general aviation aircraft for the past five years, the SR20 and SR22. "The Jet," an owner-flown aircraft, is currently in development.

As yet unnamed and known simply as "The Jet," this next generation of aircraft from Cirrus Design is in the design and engineering phase.

Cirrus recently announced it has standardized on PTC's Product Development System (PDS) to optimize its product development process, improving operational efficiencies across multiple facilities in the north central U.S. All three aircraft have been designed using Pro/ENGINEER, Pro/ENGINEER Mechanica, and Pro/ENGINEER Piping and Cabling. Cirrus uses Windchill for content and process management, Arbortext for technical illustrations, and Mathcad for engineering calculations. The company has been pleased with the efficiencies afforded it through using families of products from a single source, PTC. Cirrus says it plans to extend Windchill for collaboration and is evaluating broader use of PTC's Arbortext to create and manage technical publications.

All in all, a very innovative line of products is coming from this very forward-thinking company, as well as a great use of various technologies.

PLM for SMBs
Although various PTC executives said otherwise, from the vantage point of me and my peers, product lifecycle management (PLM) for small to medium businesses (SMBs) seemed to take a back seat at this event.

This observation was reinforced by PTC's Heppelmann's statement that during the most recent fiscal year, 76% of the company's sales were direct, whereas the remaining 24% went through the channel. PTC deals directly (sales and support) with companies that have sales north of $700 million, and deals that are greater than $1 million for products and services. Anything smaller -- the SMB -- is relegated to the reseller channel. Although PTC repeatedly claimed that it appeals to SMBs, most of presentations were geared toward the needs of large companies. This could be good or bad, depending on your needs and if you're big enough to get direct attention.

Closely tied to PLM and the "bigger picture," PTC reports that its major competitors are SAP, Oracle, Siemens PLM Software, and Dassault Systemes. I can understand the latter two, but the former two are somewhat surprising, owing that each of them is more focused on ERP (enterprise resource planning) than PLM. But PTC is thinking big and getting into business processes, beyond MCAD and PDM (product data management). I have to question just how many SMBs are concerned about, and able to justify, a PLM/ERP system. I'll agree there is a huge potential market for SMBs employing some level of data management, but I don't see PTC betting the farm on PLM for these smaller manufacturers.

Overall, this was a good event, and I left with a fresh perspective of PTC today and where it's going in the future.

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