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?

PTC’s new Windchill RequirementsLink application looks very promising

During the PTC/USER meeting in Florida, week before last, PTC announced a new Windchill application – Windchill RequirementsLink.

As one of my key interests is Systems Engineering, and the press info was a bit sketchy, I had a follow on interview with Michael Distler, Director, PTC Windchill Solutions Marketing.

Basically, this application uses a document or input to the requirements, typically a Word doc. A user interacts with the application to “slice up” the document into individual requirements. Each requirement become a separate requirement and then can be “connected to” the part, assembly, or BOM which acts in fulfilling that requirement, almost seeming like a requirements BOM. Interestingly, additional data can be input that provides verification specifications also.

Reports generated from RequirementsLink allow users to check for traceability (which parts or assemblies are related to a requirement), for satisfaction of that requirement and whether any related verification tests have been performed and approved.

My reaction: This is a terrific capability for all engineers, one that is sorely needed by designers, managers, and quality personnel for sharing and collaborating on how requirements are met. Similar capabilities are also available with Siemens PLM Teamcenter and Dassault Systemes SmarTeam (soon to be part of Enovia). RequirementsLink provides a free viewer; the authoring version costs about $2000 per named user. PDMLink is a prerequisite.

None of the mentioned requirements software are yet technologically advanced enough to actually connect requirements to specification driven design. Nor can any actually examine the connected part automatically to determine whether the requirement has been satisfied. This may be a distant goal for future CAD systems.


Windchill ProductPoint: A new class of application?

Some of you may be familiar with my tendency to call most of today’s PLM systems as still being too hard to use and getting in the way of the typical design engineer.

I recently had the opportunity to get a close look at ProductPoint, with some of PTC’s technical experts. I was impressed with its ease of use and connectivity to Pro/ENGINEER.

Windchill ProductPoint appears to be the beginning of a new class of products that build on the lessons learned by the latest developments in social networking. In fact, we are beginning to see an interest in what is being called “social product development.” What does this actually mean? No crisp definition yet exists but Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and its ilk seem to have opened up a vast desire to connect with others instantly. This differs greatly from typical engineering processes, whereby a product developer designs in his cubicle, then after a relatively large amount of time, shares his design with others for comments, criticisms, and feedback.

Windchill ProductPoint gives SharePoint reach into the world of Product Development. Sharepoint, Microsoft’s technology infrastructure for collaboration, has already been well adopted across manufacturing companies as a backbone for Office applications, primarily for document sharing and management. Windchill ProductPoint, now enables SharePoint to understand and store complex CAD data. A future release of Windchill ProductPoint will go further and support the sharing of information among other Windchill-based systems.

If you have a Pro/ENGINEER installation and do not have a Windchill PLM solution installed, we advise installing ProductPoint immediately. The benefits to using ProductPoint will seem to transport your organization into the modern era. The costs are moderate, the installation straightforward, and the administration of product data will provide huge benefits in your daily operation. Not only will it improve the management of your critical product data, but it and SharePoint will also improve other related day-to-day operations. We all know that engineering information is just a piece of the information required to design and release products. ProductPoint will also allow and the maintenance of related documents such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and pdf files – all able to now be easily managed, revision controlled, AND accessible to your entire organization, locally and worldwide.

Choosing the right PLM system

Interested readers can listen to the webcast replay discussing the Buyer’s Guide: Selecting and Evaluating the Right PLM System,” written by TechniCom and Tech-Clarity just last Summer. The Buyers Guide covers:

  • How to determine the need for a new or expanded PLM solution
  • What a new system should include, and what it should cost
  • How to establish management, functional, technical and integration requirements
  • How to conduct an evaluation and select a vendor

All from a small – medium business point of view. The best way to get to the webcast is to go to and search for “buyer’s guide”.

Readers can get a copy of the white paper that goes along with this from the website. Click here.