It is quite normal, even fashionable, for a company to coin a fancy phrase and use it to differentiate itself from the competition. Autodesk has “Digital Prototyping”, Siemens has “Synchronous Technology”, and so on. PTC is no different. Yesterday, at PTC World in Mumbai I learnt about something called “Product Development System” or PDS, and is comprised of 5 C’s – Create, Collaborate, Control, Configure and Communicate.
Now I tend to look at this kind of marketing and posturing stuff with a bit of skepticism because such phrases are often (if not always) the brainchild of some well paid marketing genius. But before discounting something like this it is important to understand the underlying message that it being put across, if there is one in the first place. PTC made that message very clear and easy to understand at PTC World. Instead of slide after slide with boring bulleted text and convoluted graphs and diagrams, they gave us a demo – a very different kind of a demo. A demo in which there were many presenters and was more like a role playing game. The demo lasted for 45 minutes but I will try to size it down for you. It will be interesting to see if you are able to figure out PDS on your own after I am done with the demo.
First a little background. PTC offers 6 main products or product lines:
(1) Pro/ENGINEER – for product design (not just CAD, if you know what I mean)
(2) Windchill – for process management (to streamline your business processes and manage your design data)
(3) Arbortext – for content publishing (technical illustrations, service manuals, etc.)
(4) Mathcad – for engineering calculations (basically Excel on CAD steroids)
(5) ProductView – for visual collaboration (a vital link between Pro/E and Windchill)
(6) CoCreate – for lightweight direct modeling (something I am very excited about)
There is a seventh product called InSight which will see the light of day shortly. It is a result of the recent acquisition of Synapsis Technology and deals with product design with an eye on environmental standards and other regulations. With the exception of Mathcad the other five products will have a role in the demo.
The demo is about two fictitious companies – Mega Loaders, an OEM that manufacturers heavy earth moving equipment and its supplier InGauge Electronics that designs and manufacturers electronic components. The program manager at Mega Loaders loads a 14,000 part assembly of a earth mover designed in Pro/E into ProductView and sees the big picture. InGuage has just bagged the contract to design the instrument panel on the dashboard in the driver’s cabin. So he fishes out the required reference geometry for the assembly that InGuage will need and uses Digital Rights Management to set the required levels of access for InGuage to complete the project. He then checks the data into Windchill. The Engineering Manager at Inguage checks out the data from Windchill and distributes it within his organization. The Mechanical Engineer designs the housing and does various simulation tests for strength and vibration. He works closely with the Electrical Engineer who designs the PCB, all the time checking in and out CAD data from Windchill. The Manufacturing Engineer creates a BOM for mannufacturing and modified his manufacturing plan to factor this new project. He notices a problem with an assembly fixture and quickly fixes it using CoCreate. The CAM Programmer checks out the final part file and creates the NC toolpath and documents the process for the shop floor. All these tasks by various people are performed by the different modules of the Pro/ENGINEER product family. So there is absolutely no loss of data in translation.
While all this was going on, the technical writer at InGuage checks out the data from Windchill into Arbortext and created exploded views and service manuals using a template supplied to him by Maga Loaders, publishes it to the required formats and checked it back into Windchill.
Simultaneously, the Program Manager at MegaLoaders has been keeping a close watch on the happennings at InGuage. After getting the outsourced design he integrates it into his mamoth digital mockup and does his own tests to verify the design. And thats when the shit hits the celing. Using the Pro/E Manikin extension (basically a digital human modeling an simulation tool), he notices that a bunch of levers interfere with the operators right hand when he goes to operate the buttons on the panel. To solve the problem, he makes a decision to move the buttons from the right side to the left side of the panel. He then lets InGuage know of the change and reminds them that they need to stick to the original schedule.
At InGuage the Engineering Manager, instead of swallowing hard, stays calm in the face of unexpected change. He reviews his customer’s request and charts a new course for his team. The Electrical Engineer reviews the new PCB layout, captures the change, verifies the change proposal and checks it back in for the Mechanical Engineer to check whether his assembly interferes with the new PCB layout. As it turns out it does interfere and he quickly adjusts his design. He quickly reruns his simulation tests for strength and vibration and checks the data bask into Windchill. The Manufacturing Engineer learns about the late change from Engineering and updates his manufacturing plan in an instant thanks to the associativity maintained across the entire system. The CAM Programmer gets the new part and in a mouse click arrives at a new toolpath, with no rework required. Meanwhile the Technical Writer simply drags and drops the new part into Arbortext and all his illustrations are updated automatically.
The Engineering Manager knows very well that nothing can afford to go wrong at this late stage and keeps a close watch on happenings from a single vantage point using Windchill. After every member of his team played out their part he finally releases the project on-time and on budget and they all live happily ever after.
So whats the moral of this story? I believe the moral is PDS. As the name suggests PDS is quite simply a “system to develop products” wherein smooth and accurate flow of data is the key to success. With PDS you get everything under the single PTC roof and do not have to waste time and resources figuring out ways to get data from one system to another and take the risk of getting some of it lost in translation. Windchill is the key ingredient in PDS and binds other systems in a seamless fashion. I don’t care what PTC marketing calls this, but if this works the way they claim it does, then this is exactly what engineers need. And I believe this example sums up what PTC believes is Product Lifecycle Management, probably one of the most debated three letter acronyms out there.
This precisely the reason why “smaller” Pro/E users are going head over heals over ProductPoint. With ProductPoint they are looking to ease the bottlenecks in their own systems to develop products.
In a private conversation, Ashutosh Parasnis, the Managing Director of PTC India, made it pretty clear to me that PTC has acquired and would continue to acquire companies that help add to their PDS. I spoke to half a dozen top PTC executives and asked them about the rumors of PTC being on sale. PTC’s India Country Head, Rafiq Somani’s answer pretty much sums it up, “Look at our numbers. Look at our growth. Clearly these people don’t know that they are talking about.”
As regards adding direct editing capabilities to Pro/E, Ashutosh Parasnis said that they would consider it if it became a priority for their customers. He said, “As of now, customers have far more important and pressing problems which we are trying to solve.”
I asked Rohit Biddappa, Senoir Manager – Marketing, about PT
C’s marketing strategy, while comparing it to the likes of Autodesk and SolidWorks. He said, “We can easily do what they are doing and go ahead and create FUD (Fear Uncertainity Doubt). But we believe that is not what counts in the end. We know that we are technically far superior than our competition. The EADS PLM benchmark say it all. Even a phone call from the French President to EADS could not stop them from awarding the contract to us, instead of Dassault. Customers are not fools and can see through most of the guerrilla marketing that’s going on.”
My flight back to Goa leaves in three hours. However, judging by the perpetual state of chaos that Mumbai finds itself in, I had better leave for the airport sooner than later.