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?