Tech Trends: From UNIX to Windows14 Sep, 2004 By: Arnie Williams
Toyota Input shapes Development of PTC's Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0
When PTC introduced Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire in February of 2003, the company emerged from several years of a downward spiral in market share and financial performance to make a strong statement about its future direction. Long a UNIX-based, complex, difficult-to-learn-and-master, yet powerful engineering design product, traditional Pro/ENGINEER was losing ground to products from companies such as Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, SolidWorks, and others whose products were less expensive, largely Windows-based, and easier to learn and deploy.
With the introduction of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire, PTC marched right back into contender status with a less-expensive product that runs on Windows, Linux, and UNIX. Its Windows-look-and-feel interface made it much easier to use than its predecessors. The company also designed it from the get-go to integrate with its Windchill products, other collaboration software on the market in early 2003, and the Internet.
Figure 1. The ability to model an engine in 3D in such a way as to fully explore all design ramifications was important to engineers at Toyota Motor Corp. PTC developed Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 with the needs of its customer Toyota very much in mind.
With the release of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 in May of this year, PTC has pioneered an innovative approach to product development that runs counter to the rush in the marketplace to ship new releases on a six-month development cycle. Instead, PTC's research and development team worked hand-in-hand with engineers at Toyota Motor Corp.'s powertrain engineering division to create a release that would help companies like Toyota achieve longer-term process improvement goals in their highly competitive industries. A close look at the PTC-Toyota Motor Corp. relationship is instructive in how MCAD software could be developed in the future.
PARTNERING FOR DEVELOPMENTThe idea of meeting with customers and studying their needs to inform product development is not a new practice in the MCAD software-development industry. Indeed, not to have a good idea of what your key customers expect from your product is bad business practice and a recipe for nonrepeat business among a diminishing customer base. But in the case of Toyota Motor Corp.'s powertrain engineering division and the development of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0, PTC took the know-your-customers approach to a new level.
Up until the year 2000, Toyota Motor Corp. worked primarily with a proprietary MCAD system developed in-house, notes Brian Shepherd, PTC's senior vice-president of product management and marketing. The decision to move to commercial software was based in part on the growth of Toyota's supply chain structure. The company needed a product that its growing supplier base could interact with more easily.
Figure 2. One of the key goals of Toyota Motor Corp. is to reduce the time between design and manufacturing and also the barriers between designers and manufacturing engineers. The ability to use compression calculations during design with Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 helps engineers design with more confidence in the manufacturability of products.
Shepherd reports that Toyota adopted CATIA software in some parts of the company that focusedon body engineering and generic Pro/ENGINEER for its powertrain engineering division. After a pilot program that lasted from 2000 through 2001, deployment of the software took place in 2002.
But this was just the beginning. "Toyota has a strong reputation around process improvement; they don't stand still," says Shepherd. "We wanted to work closely with them to help them realize key quality-improvement goals."
Toyota itself was looking 10 years ahead and making plans for how to achieve something on the order of a 50% increase in market share. That's a bit far out to plan specifics for software development, says Shepherd, but PTC was determined to put its research and development efforts in step with Toyota's process improvement targets in the development of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire's next release.
Taking this approach to development would mean departing from the six-month release cycle that some of its competitors were on. Nevertheless, Shepherd says PTC made a decision that a longer-range cycle with the kind of information-sharing opportunities the company would realize with Toyota made good business sense. And it wouldn't be only Toyota that benefited from this approach, but all PTC customers.
Engineering teams from both companies met frequently to discuss process-improvement goals and to develop specifications for the release. Among Toyota's goals were to improve planning and structural design to start it closer to the release-to-manufacturing stage and shorten time to market.
The powertrain engineering division also wanted to work on product and process design simultaneously, breaking down some of the traditional barriers between design and manufacturing. For example, when designing a hole in a cylinder block, engineers wanted to think in more detailed ways about how it would be manufactured (figures 1 and 2).
Also of concern to Toyota was shortening the time between design freeze and start of production—the period when tools required for production, for example, are manufactured. The company also wanted to improve the digital pipeline for collaboration internally and among suppliers. PTC engineers worked together with their counterparts at Toyota to look at each of these areas and to specify the types of improvements in the software that would be required to better enable these processes (figure 3).
Figure 3. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 provides dynamic analysis outputs that help engineers determine early on in the design phase whether products such as this valve train will satisfy manufacturing parameters.
BETTER FIT, QUICKER ADOPTIONPTC could hardly have gotten a more palpable sign that this more in-depth partnership approach was beneficial to adoption rates than it did with the May 2004 release of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire. By June Toyota already had deployed hundreds of seats. The usual lag time between the new release of a product and customer adoption rate—sometimes as long as six months—wasn't a factor.
And inside Toyota's powertrain engineering division, much of the downtime associated with deploying new releases and bringing engineers up to speed was also sharply reduced. Many engineers had already worked with the software in testing prerelease versions, and all of the sites had PTC consultants on hand during deployment to ensure that engineers had recourse to one-on-one support.
This development approach was a test case for PTC, says Shepherd, but also a resounding success. "We plan to employ this approach going forward with other large customers, working in parallel. It's an intense way to go about software development, and it means longer periods between releases, but all customers benefit."
Shepherd also notes that the quick adoption rate resulting from this more in-depth customer focus during development is tangible proof that the benefits are shared by both customer and developer. PTC will likely consider Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 as emblematic of the long-range value of in-step customer development.