PTC’s Metamorphosis: How They’ll Turn a Weaker Position into a Strength
Verdi Ogewell posted on March 11, 2019 |

Preamble

In the Internet-of-Things (IoT) space, product lifecycle management (PLM) developer PTC is often pointed out as the clear market leader. The company’s IoT journey started in 2013, with the purchase of ThingWorx, a move that made them pioneers in IoT, specifically related to PLM.

This software has developed explosively in PTC's hands, from a simpler $4-5 million business to an advanced technological platform that generates over $100 million in revenues per year. And the future looks even brighter, both technologically and commercially.

A number of evaluations by respected analysts have ranked the software as the most advanced in the industry. Analyses from Gartner (The Magic Quadrant), Forrester (Forrester’s Wave), QKS (SPARK Matrix) and IoT ONE are some examples from recent years where ThingWorx ranked top. The development speed has also received an extreme push and, under the direction of the PTC chief Jim Heppelmann, the technology has been expanded with advanced capabilities around augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR, VR and MR), via the Vuforia platform.

More importantly, though, the work of integrating ThingWorx and Vuforia with PTC's PLM suite, Windchill, has led to the fact that the PLM-developer is approaching, step by step, the possibility of closing the loop, creating IT support for the complete product life cycle: from ideation, the manufacturing process and getting the product into the end-user's hands, to feedback from field data to the PLM system and serving as the basis for new innovative versions of the product.

What was a weaker area is about to become a strength: A couple of years ago, PTC’s solutions for digital support for automation and manufacturing was not the strongest in the market. But all of that is changing as a result of the PLM developer’s bet on IoT, IIoT, AR, and its partnership with Rockwell Automation. Among the new features introduced in PTC's new version of its IoT platform, ThingWorx 8.4, is the new Operator Advisor, a kind of digital advisor to machine operators, which PTC believes
What was a weaker area is about to become a strength: A couple of years ago, PTC’s solutions for digital support for automation and manufacturing was not the strongest in the market. But all of that is changing as a result of the PLM developer’s bet on IoT, IIoT, AR, and its partnership with Rockwell Automation. Among the new features introduced in PTC's new version of its IoT platform, ThingWorx 8.4, is the new Operator Advisor, a kind of digital advisor to machine operators, which PTC believes "is designed to increase the productivity of factory workers by simplifying the way in which critical operational data is collected, synthesized and delivered."

But when the American PLM developer launched the new version 8.4 of the ThingWorx platform, it's not its general IoT capabilities that stand out. The really interesting thing about PTC's IoT journey is the tangential effects the bet has resulted in for manufacturing and automation.

Traditionally, these areas of PTC have not been the strongest in the market. But with the focus on IoT followed effects that led to OT connections (Operational Technology), IIoT (Industrial IoT) solutions, and advanced AR technology on the workshop floor. Above all, the partnership with Rockwell Automation, which began in 2018, changed the picture with one stroke.

What could be seen as a weakness for PTC is about to become a strength.

Synopsis

The current 8.4 version of ThingWorx for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is characterized by several improvements that can contribute to more efficient machine operation on the shop floor. For PTC's part, it should be stressed that this great step forward from the company comes with the deeper and more intensive cooperation that followed with the Rockwell initiative.

More than Just Lip Service

This collaboration isn’t just paying lip service to IIoT, but has manifested in integrated, ready-to-use solutions. In November 2018, PTC launched FactoryTalk Innovation Suite, a software suite that improves connectivity, specifically the links between multiple IT and OT sources. By linking operational technology and information technology, one can ideally connect networks that include both machines and units on the factory floor, such as applications, ERP and other systems.

FactoryTalk uses Rockwell's Manufacturing Execution System (MES), to connect PTC’s analytics solutions with the Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) capabilities from Rockwell to create a differentiated industrial package. While ThingWorx Analytics builds the predictive models, FactoryTalk Analytics provides sharp, real-time tracking and creates operational sequences based on the analysis model.

Undoubtedly, a good example of PTC's intention to produce a seamless product development, manufacturing and IIoT suite based on the trinity containing PTC's PLM solution, Windchill; the IoT/IIoT platform ThingWorx; and Rockwell's FactoryTalk. Together with the AR solutions in Vuforia—where you can apply a 3D model-based layer that explains how a product should be assembled, for example—the complete PTC/Rockwell portfolio constitutes cutting-edge technology that definitely is moving them into a stronger overall competitive position.

Siemens PLM is a Tough Competitior

While rapidly improving, there still are some things to be done for the PTC/Rockwell partnership, when it comes to factory simulation, for example. Siemens PLM’s automation solutions around the important area of virtual commissioning are hard to beat. The German PLM developer has invested heavily in its virtual commissioning solutions. The company has the APIs between the virtual and the physical machine worlds, and it has already developed the entrance code that can shoot directly into PLC’s to simulate, manage and run equipment on the shop floor. Rockwell does not have such a solution.It took Siemens years to develop and refine, and so poses a tough challenge for any combination of players on the market who want to compete in the cutting-edge world of PLM and beyond.

Bridging the Gap between IT and OT

A key issue with respect to Industry 4.0 and IIoT is: how do you bridge the IT and OT gap? Clearly, specific and deep knowledge of these two worlds, as well as knowledge of the respective business needs and safety requirements, is fundamental. The priorities differ in that IT is most important in issues like cyber security and data quality, while on the OT side factory output and risk of interruption are prioritized.

PTC and Rockwell's ambitions in these areas are to develop solutions that make it possible to optimize industrial operations and increase productivity by providing decision-makers with improved data and insights. Here, the companies mean that, "the new suite provides complete transparency of operations and system status from an information source within the organization."

This is big talk but, when the suite is put into practical setup on the shop floor, it may not be quite so easy to live up to. However, the development aimed at combining PTC and Rockwell is, after all, a big and surprisingly rapidly carried-through step; which is a promising indication in this context.

One key area in PTC’s ThingWorx arsenal of capabilities is the Asset Advisor. It continuously monitors key parameters in connected equipment to detect problems before they cause downtime. Service managers and technicians can remotely monitor, manage, diagnose and resolve issues for their connected equipment in the field. Providing service teams with unprecedented capabilities to act in real time for a proactive maintenance approach, ThingWorx Asset Advisor drives increased equipment uptime, decreased time to repair and improved customer loyalty. (Image courtesy of PTC.)
One key area in PTC’s ThingWorx arsenal of capabilities is the Asset Advisor. It continuously monitors key parameters in connected equipment to detect problems before they cause downtime. Service managers and technicians can remotely monitor, manage, diagnose and resolve issues for their connected equipment in the field. Providing service teams with unprecedented capabilities to act in real time for a proactive maintenance approach, ThingWorx Asset Advisor drives increased equipment uptime, decreased time to repair and improved customer loyalty. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

More on ThingWorx8.4

Of course, as concluded above, PTC’s IIoT capabilities are of the utmost importance. Hence, it is no surprise that this is reflected in the new ThingWorx for IIoT version 8.4. So, what does it look like?

Among the new features introduced is the new Operator Advisor. It is a kind of digital advisor for machine operators, which PTC believes, "is designed to increase the productivity of factory workers by simplifying the way in which critical operational data is collected, synthesized and delivered."

Undoubtedly, the company may have a point. There are still great opportunities for industrial manufacturers to differentiate product and service offerings, as well as improve employee efficiency in operational factory work by utilizing IIoT technology.

Where does this put humans in the factory of the future? They will continue to play key roles. In this context, PTC quotes a new report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, which states that “advanced technology and digital skills must be blended with unique human skills to deliver the highest productivity.”

Digital Operator Advisor Helps with Instructions

In some sense, this type of development work is not only a matter of the many smaller steps to success. PTC's ThingWorx 8.4, as an example of this, introduces Operator Advisor. This "advisor" complements PTC's existing set of solutions intended for manufacturers. Operator Advisor helps manufacturers sharpen labor productivity by simplifying the delivery of digital work instructions, eliminating paper- and PDF-based instructions. The solution can also collect data, which complements data for product genealogy and increase the visibility of the factory operations. Operator Advisor gathers IT and OT systems and connects them to smart tools and machines to create a uniform operator screen.

The Danish wind power developer Vista knows more about this: “This solution has changed how we deliver information to our employees on the floor,” says Mark Jaxion, IoT & Industry 4.0 leader at Vestas. “We have gone from providing text-based instructions through paper guides to delivering work instructions with 3D CAD files from the PLM system. The information is now delivered in a context that allows employees to focus on the task instead of digging around the various IT and OT systems for the right information.”

In its press material, PTC also notes that the company's solutions in the IIoT market, particularly in manufacturing, have led to ThingWorx achieving practical success with customers, system integrators and strategic partners around the world. Examples are Colfax, Elekta, Lavifood, Sealed Air, Vestas and Woodward.

“ThingWorx has brought together all our different systems and does the tasks from those that are useful to our workers,” says Jay Drager, head of Global Business Systems at Woodward. “Not only have we been able to improve the quality of our products, we have also increased the efficiency and productivity of our plants as well.”

A Much Easier-to-Use Dashboard

In order for users to quickly convert values ​​from their IIoT implementations, PTC has also added a number of other smaller, but not insignificant, improvements to ThingWorx 8.4:

  • An easier-to-use dashboard: an updated user interface for ThingWorx's "Mashup Builder tool", which makes it easier to quickly build and maintain IIoT solutions.
  • Integration with other enterprise systems and data: with Flow, you put in, synthesize and feed workflow with data allocated to relevant business systems, while triggering important actions and giving warnings to end users.
  • Scalability: you can further scale up ThingWorx for more extensive deployments. As part of this development, ThingWorx now seamlessly integrates with InfluxDB and Microsoft Azure SQL for consistent and time series based data management.
  • FactoryTalk Innovation Suite: powered by PTC components. We mentioned this solution in general, but now it is about improving the solution that was initially developed. Sharp functions and capacity for faster integration come with the latest version of ThingWorx. One can thereby further optimize one’s business and improve productivity with data and insights from IT and OT applications and systems.

AR Technique Sharpen IIoT Experiences

A key differential for PTC is the integration of ThingWorx IIoT and Vuforia's AR technology. For example, work instructions from the new Operator Advisor solution can be delivered via an AR experience to provide a sought-after, productivity-enhancing experience for all workers.

A strength, yes, but as always when it comes to establishing new technologies and methods, it will take time before we see broader breakthroughs in industry environments. However, what PTC is putting on the table has so many benefits that we predict that the uptake will happen sooner rather than later.


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