PTC’s Project Lightning – my guess at what it is

Notes from PTC/user, 8 June 2010

Yesterday we heard from executives at PTC extolling their great adventure to solve the remaining CAD problems that others have not tackled. According to PTC these problems are: Ease of use, Interoperability, and Assembly Management.

PTC plans to announce their product plans on 28 October 2010. In case you have not heard of this project, here is a link to the file on the PTC site explaining it.

I spoke with and heard from at least four PTC executives during the first day of the conference and while all were extremely tight lipped about what it is, I have pieced together what I believe is their direction.

Before I reveal this, however, here is their quote about their plans “PTC is unveiling ‘Project Lightning,’ its vision and strategy to define the mechanical CAD market for the next 20 years.” Wow, quite a statement, and very impressive. But 20 years is a long time in the technology market. That is four to five generations of computing technology, three customer CAD life cycles, a new generation of engineers, and twelve typical software releases. I believe that their thinking is that PTC invented parametric modeling and it was about twenty years ago. Now it is time for another cycle. Are they really planning a completely new innovation in modeling or will it be just another tweak in the current methodology?

I posed some questions to Michael Campbell, PTC’s VP of development for the Lightning project about how big an innovation we could expect. After all, if you are redefining the problems of the next 20 years, I would expect a really BIG INNOVATION. Perhaps, I suggested, might we expect specification driven design? You know, type in the specs, then engage in some interaction with the software (not detailed design) and out pops the CAD model. Nah, way to big for this project, he said. What then? I asked. Something that we can deliver in the next 18 months, he hinted. Hmmmm.

Brian Shepherd, EVP for product development at PTC, during his morning presentation, also gave a clue. He hinted at a solution combining their existing technologies.

Here is my guess.

PTC will “screw together” CoCreate’s 2D and 3D technologies with Pro/ENGINEER to create a hybrid parametric – direct modeling system. This might solve their first two objectives – ease of use and interoperability. Ease of use, because one could use either technique for modeling. After all direct modeling is simpler than parametric modeling. Interoperability, because a model with no history, that can be edited, is vastly simpler to export/import.

That leaves me with the third objective – assembly management. Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s new CEO in waiting, in his morning introduction, noted that large assemblies with multiple configurations were especially difficult to deal with. He cited the example of large tractors where every tractor was unique with many customized options. Wouldn’t it be great if servicemen had at their fingertips all the required manuals on each tractor during the service call? What is commonly call configuration management. This leads me to posit some sort of closer tie between Windchill to more easily manage the data and Pro/E with a new approach to speedier assembly design, with perhaps Arbortext playing a role in documentation.

To get all this working together smoothly might well take many years. But how innovative is it really? Autodesk and Siemens PLM already introduced two unique solutions for hybrid parametric – direct modeling.

What’s your guess?

9 responses

  1. A hybrid solution of ProE and Cocreate is just too simple and as you said “it’s been done.” (SolidEdge was doing it several years before AutoDesk and Siemens both!)The point was made that there is no one size fits all single solution, so I am more in the camp of a core design platform with integral Web 2.0 tech and a suite of smaller apps that are as easy to add and access/use as an iphone app. (The idea of apps just might have a 20 year life in the tech industry. Or maybe it’s “the cloud”)
    The core platform might give you an interface that blends the best of the 2D and 3D paradigms of Cocreate and ProE, and the apps would allow you to move between modeling techniques as needed. Assembly management would likely be based on the ProductView technologies to drive that advanced configurability and visualization without exiting the core platform, and Windchill technologies would provide a unified data management platform and rich assembly configuration control interfaces.

  2. Hello Ray-

    I’ve been using history based SolidWorks for 12 years and it has served me well.

    A few years ago, I had a contract with Hewlett Packard and I used CoCreate direct modeling.

    I still prefer history based modeling but I’m open to look at new methods.

    Devon Sowell

  3. I agree with the simpliest vision, an integration of the existing technologies. But don’t forget that an instrument like CADDS5 by Computervision, still sold by PTC, was either 2D, 3D direct and parametric in early ’90s. And some customer are still using it for big plants and ships design.
    So, we’re not so surprised that PTC is going to make more attractive an old technology with the UI of the modern CAD that it owns.

  4. I’ve used ProE, Solidworks and currently use CoCreate at work. I believe that there is less to this “breakthrough” than meets the eye….it’s probably marketing hype built around trying to salvage their CoCreate disaster. The problem is, CoCreate’s “Model Manager” for managing CAD files is barely functional and hopelessly slow and buggy. So…PTC will probably get rid of MM, extending Windchill / PDMLink (much more robust) to handle both ProE and CoCreate format docs in one management system. Then, users can choose to use either CAD package to create parts and assy’s. The parts created with CoCreate will be non-parametric blobs…but can be loaded into ProE and can be edited in the normal CoCreate fashion. Another issue that is likely to remain is that although CoCreate 3D is easier to use – it is quite brittle and locks-up often if the parts are geometrically complex or have draft and fillets. The trick I’d like to see is to be able to let CoCreate 3D save a history tree to allow parametric-style editing even on parts that someone built non-parametrically….and vice-versa – let CoCreate users load ProE parts, edit them non-parametrically…but let the part REMAIN parametric, and ProE compatible. Theoretically possible…but I don’t see them doing this in 18 months. If they can do it – that would be great. In the end – let’s hope they end up closer to ProE than CoCreate in terms of robustness !

  5. After listening to the presentation videos at PTC’s website, I think they are going to offer a group of modules that are located in the the cloud. You’ll rent the the module that you need for whatever task is at hand. It will start as a renamed group of existing products that almost work together and after five or six years of trying to migrate the user interfaces they’ll announce “Project Tornado”.

  6. I’m a techie, not a marketing person, but I think the new software product shouldn’t be called LIGHTNING.

    A much better name would be ProCreate !

  7. What can I say? I have been using CAD tools for the last 34 years and I have never yet found a less user friendly tool the Pro-Engineer so quite frankly anything thtathey do is likely to be an improvement. Direct modellers allow far more flexibility and do not mean that you have to spend several hours understanding the mindset of the original modeller before you can successfully change a small detail on a complex part. The natural outcome of this is that bolting Co-create software onto the front end will put a big smily face on the software and its users. It will make it almost as good as Unigraphics was 5 years ago.

  8. Pingback: PTC - Creo - See AnyMode Modeling In Action: “Art to Part” Seamlessly

  9. Pingback: PTC Creo - Français - Découvrir AnyMode Modeling en action : « De l’idée à l’objet en toute transparence »

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