PTC Puts the Needle to the Digital Thread
Verdi Ogewell posted on August 22, 2019 |

Who is the PLM industry's leading visionary?

The question is interesting for a number of reasons; above all, because vision is perhaps the most important driver of technology development. But vision does not stand alone. To be commercially powerful, a vision must be acceptable and able to deliver on the functionality it promises without too wide a gap. There are many who can create a strong vision, but significantly fewer who can deliver on that vision.

Many would argue that Bernard Charles, Dassault Systémes' CEO and President, should be considered the leading visionary PLM ideologue among the commercial system developers and the industry in general.

There is a lot of truth to this. As I see it, Charles’ thought structures and conceptual ideas about platform thinking and the PLM concept–which he developed at the beginning of the new millennium and then spent a decade taking ever further towards the technology horizon–are still a foundation of the development. Bernard's presentations revolved around the idea of a digital platform on which one could seamlessly connect different functions of the design work, and then develop digital prototypes based on these, which then were manufactured, tested and ready for physical production.

However, within the framework of Dassault's organization, Bernard Charles has always encountered a wide gap between the greatness of his ideas and what has been practically feasible. This hasn’t been easy, and it’s hardly a coincidence that both the V5 edition of the company's solutions, as well as the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and V6, have had long implementation times (V5) and long standing when it comes to building customer volumes (V6).

But over time, no matter how groundbreaking the original ideas were, refined variants of the basic theme and new ideas take over. Development dynamics is a powerful force; one that tends to leave nothing untouched as the original ideas are brought into the future. Which brings us back to the question:  who is the leading visionary today, given that the visionary part is combined with the ability to achieve practical execution?

THE LEADING PLM VISIONARY. Over the past decade, PTC's CEO and President, Jim Heppelmann, has increasingly emerged as the PLM industry's leading visionary, a role he has taken over from Dassault’s leader, Bernard Charles. Above all, Heppelmann's and PTC’s investments in IoT and AR have radically restructured the conditions for product realization, distribution and aftermarket services. What stands out above all the rest and distinguishes him and his organization from the commercial market leader Dassault and its chief is PTC’s IoT/AR solutions and their ability to deliver on the visions around how these tools can be used. No other individual player on the market has been able to explain this more clearly than Heppelmann, though there are still significant challenges.
THE LEADING PLM VISIONARY. Over the past decade, PTC's CEO and President, Jim Heppelmann, has increasingly emerged as the PLM industry's leading visionary, a role he has taken over from Dassault’s leader, Bernard Charles. Above all, Heppelmann's and PTC’s investments in IoT and AR have radically restructured the conditions for product realization, distribution and aftermarket services. What stands out above all the rest and distinguishes him and his organization from the commercial market leader Dassault and its chief is PTC’s IoT/AR solutions and their ability to deliver on the visions around how these tools can be used. No other individual player on the market has been able to explain this more clearly than Heppelmann, though there are still significant challenges.

From this perspective, there are several challengers who can lay claim to the throne. PTC's Jim Heppelmann is a strong name, as is Siemens PLM’ chief Tony Hemmelgarn. What we’re talking about today is a "beyond PLM situation" where Charles' original ideas have been broadened, and where the strongest concepts are influenced by Gartner and CIMdata analysts’ thoughts on a Product Innovation Platforms (PIP), including Marc Halpern, Peter Bilello and others.

The question is complex, and the answers one has are influenced by the points of view one takes. But all in all, the question is whether, over the last decade, PTC's Jim Heppelmann has emerged as the best combination of leading PLM thinker paired with the ability to deliver on his visions.

PTC’s Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), digital twin and augmented reality (AR) investments, as well as the collaboration with Rockwell Automation in the factory automation arena, have definitely placed the company in a leading position in digital product realization, distribution and aftermarket services.

I’m not alone in this line of thinking. During PTC's ThingWorx Live 2019 in Boston, I discussed the topic with Gartner analyst Marc Halpern, who noted, “Yes, PTC has developed very strongly in recent years and Jim Heppelmann maybe has the strongest story of all in the PLM and beyond the PLM area."

SOLUTIONS FOR THE DIGITAL THREAD. Volvo Group invests heavily in developing solutions for the digital thread, and this is largely done based on PTC tools. On stage in Boston during PTC's global LiveWorx 2019 event, Volvo Group's Bertrand Felix demonstrated how to work with PTC's Augmented Reality (AR) solutions as part of developing a digital thread.
SOLUTIONS FOR THE DIGITAL THREAD. Volvo Group invests heavily in developing solutions for the digital thread, and this is largely done based on PTC tools. On stage in Boston during PTC's global LiveWorx 2019 event, Volvo Group's Bertrand Felix demonstrated how to work with PTC's Augmented Reality (AR) solutions as part of developing a digital thread. "With AR, for example, we can improve the quality control of the engines," Felix said.

Like a DJ Show

So, let's look at the matter as it was presented by Heppelmann during LiveWorx 2019.

These days it’s something of a "DJ show" when the major PLM developers conduct their user events, and PTC's LiveWorx 2019 in Boston, USA, was no exception. The event started with a colorful laser light show accompanied by thumping disco bass at a volume that leads the mind to a rock concert, rather than industrial IT support.

Nevertheless, the latter topic is what where LiveWorx lands, and PTC chief Jim Heppelmann made it all the more exciting from a practical point of view: he highlighted truck group Volvo as an outstanding example of what you can do with PTC's solutions in CAD, PLM and IIoT.

But above all, he demonstrated how to start using Augmented Reality and digital twins, "for real," on the workshop floor.

“With AR, for example, we can improve the quality control of the engines,” added Volvo Group's Bertrand Felix, during an on-stage interview by Jim Heppelmann. Heppelmann then went down to a Volvo truck with the engine lifted out of its compartment. Using a tablet, he was able to show how the software identified the individual engine, the parts that were included, and he could also pick up the 3D models of each component and at the same time check that everything was included and in the right place.

These are important steps taken towards a digitally cohesive development and manufacturing chain. They are not yet in use at Volvo Group, stated Felix, but the hunt for the digital thread is in full swing and PTC is the catalyst and supplier of the main tools.

One could certainly point to PTC's AR/VR/MR platform Vuforia, preferably in combination with Microsoft's HoloLens glasses or a tablet, as the secret behind this magic number, but this is a simplified picture. The point is that this is the whole chain for digital product realization–development and manufacturing–that the Volvo Group has chosen to focus on. Sub-components have been set up that will build the chain, much is still in the pilot stage and a lot remains to be done. But there is a plan, and the steps forward are imminent.

The usual "automotive set-up" incorporates a mixed range of solutions from both Dassault (CATIA/CAD and ENOVIA/PDM), PTC and others; however, Volvo seems to be moving towards a purely PTC set-up on the IT support side, even though Dassault remains on cabin design.

DEMONSTRATING AR CAPABILITIES ON A VOLVO TRUCK ENGINE. During LiveWorx in Boston, PTC’s Jim Heppelmann demonstrated how to use PTC's Vuforia platform in the quality work on the workshop floor related to a Volvo truck engine. With a tablet, he was able to show how the software identified the individual engine, the parts that were included, and he could also pick up the 3D models of each component and at the same time check that everything was in the right place. But AR is just one part of the development of the digital thread.
DEMONSTRATING AR CAPABILITIES ON A VOLVO TRUCK ENGINE. During LiveWorx in Boston, PTC’s Jim Heppelmann demonstrated how to use PTC's Vuforia platform in the quality work on the workshop floor related to a Volvo truck engine. With a tablet, he was able to show how the software identified the individual engine, the parts that were included, and he could also pick up the 3D models of each component and at the same time check that everything was in the right place. But AR is just one part of the development of the digital thread.

A Growing Threat to Both Siemens and Dassault

PTC’s software suite also typically expands towards the manufacturing area, which on a general level reflects both the Industry 4.0 trend and "Product-as-a-Service” concepts.

The latter means that a digital thread must be established to hold together all activities, from product innovation and initiation through manufacturing to the solution in the end-user's hands. This is an end-user who largely no longer buys physical products, but instead buys the functions and capabilities they represent—the "Power by the Hour” thought.

According to this model, airlines buy propulsive force per hour rather than an aircraft engine. But this is about far more than just airlines; the same principle can be translated into most products, with solutions that are developed and manufactured in smart factory systems and that deliver their life cycles controlled and maintained with the help of digital twins and digital threads in online networked systems.

In recent years this development, with the efforts directed towards the manufacturing side, has been a significant feature of the three major players’–Dassault, Siemens and PTC–development lines. PTC has partnered with automation company Rockwell, and Dassault with ABB. Siemens has always been and continues to be the leading automation player in its own right. However, PTC today, together with Rockwell and their FactoryTalk MES solutions, may be seen as a challenging and growing "threat;" meanwhile, the Dassault/ABB combination is still in its infancy.

USEFUL SIMULATIONS. The cooperation with ANSYS has given PTC sharp simulation solutions integrated in its CAD solution Creo.
USEFUL SIMULATIONS. The cooperation with ANSYS has given PTC sharp simulation solutions integrated in its CAD solution Creo.

No One Brings the Story Together Better Than Heppelmann

With Heppelmann as the initiator, PTC embarked on its famous IoT journey. In the years after 2010, PTC most often experimented with IIoT, AR, VR (Virtual Reality), MR (Mixed Reality), digital twins and threads—pilot-based elements in the development and engineering work. But over the years, PTC has moved IoT and AR into PLM and the industrial system in a way that is unparalleled in competition.

It’s been said that the company with a unilateral focus on IoT and AR will have lost pace in the development of their PLM and CAD side. This may have been true in the past, but it’s changed over the last two years. The focus has been widened as the IoT platform ThingWorx, Vuforia’s AR solutions, ANSYS Discovery Live simulation in Creo and Rockwell's FactoryTalk MES suite have been integrated and linked with the "PLM backbone," PTC Windchill.

Of course, not everything is ready yet, but the foundation has been laid for the digital thread that links industrial IT support from ideas and requirements, through the product definition, to manufacturing and finally to the product in the hands of the end users.

This digital thread concept was the theme during PTC’s 2019 LiveWorx event, and no one in the PLM arena is currently bringing together the story of state-of-the-art industrial IT support better than Jim Heppelmann.

But what does PTC's tool set look like?

PTC's Arsenal for the Digital Thread

On the stage in Boston, Jim Heppelmann connects the dots and components of the relevant parts of Volvo Group's arsenal of tools for product development:

PLM/cPDm (collaborative Product Definition management)

PTC's Windchill suite can be used as a product data backbone, but in the context of Volvo it should be seen primarily as a carrier of the digital components. Volvo's proprietary product configurator, KOLA, is and remains the governing element on the structure and variant management side. Windchill handles the connections between the other components PTC offers, in everything from CAD/CAx to IIoT and AR.

CAD

The Pro/ENGINEER “inheritor” Creo (engine, chassis) is mainly used for CAD and creation of digital twins, but as previously noted, Dassault Systémes' CATIA is also still used. Just as in many other large industrial organizations, Autodesk's AutoCAD is also represented for simpler design solutions.

IoT/IIoT

PTC's ThingWorx is the platform used in this area, which Volvo has not yet invested in on a large scale. However, ThingWorx is found in some pilots on the factory floor. A possible full-scale investment will depend on how the field operations with the solutions in place come out. ThingWorx has developed explosively and is an important foundation in manufacturing (IIoT) and PTC's digital thread. The solution is connected to PTC's Vuforia platform, as well as to Windchill.

AR/VR/MR

The Vuforia platform, in combination with Hololens and/or tablets can be used in several places in the product lifecycle; for example, the product development phase, manufacturing, training and in product maintenance.

PTC Kepware

Kepware is not uncommon in terms of operating technology (OT) at Volvo. This PTC solution for the industrial automation industry bridges the communication gap between diverse hardware and software applications. Generally, this means that it’s related to machines and the like in production. It is used at Volvo to collect and read production data from heterogeneous manufacturing environments.

PTC Navigate

Among the PTC products that are not yet in place at Volvo is PTC’s Navigate. This solution can play an important role, among other things, in helping users to access product data. In general, with regard to Navigate, Volvo has a larger number of "light PLM users" and in this, the Navigate platform offers the opportunity to create flexible role-based apps through surprisingly simple means.

A PROFITABLE PARTNERSHIP. The partnership with Rockwell on the factory automation side is progressing well, noted Rockwell manager Blake Moret (left) when Jim Heppelmann talked to him on the LiveWorx 2019 stage in Boston.
A PROFITABLE PARTNERSHIP. The partnership with Rockwell on the factory automation side is progressing well, noted Rockwell manager Blake Moret (left) when Jim Heppelmann talked to him on the LiveWorx 2019 stage in Boston.

The Rockwell Partnership is Starting to Pay Off

As we mentioned above, automation and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are the latest big puzzle pieces in the unified overall pattern that Heppelmann and PTC are creating. It has been difficult to get a clear picture of what Volvo's automation and MES page looks like. But regardless of that, Jim Heppelmann now counts the partnership with Rockwell as one of the PLM developers' most valuable assets with a huge potential, both technologically and financially.

The partnership is clearly developing in the right direction, stated Rockwell’s Blake Moret, during his time on stage for a shorter conversation around the collaboration.

In this case, Rockwell invested a billion dollars in the partnership and a shareholding (just under 10 percent). As a result, Moret was also accepted as one of the Board members for PTC. In short, the companies have every reason in the world to keep each other on their toes—which they already appear to do.

"During the past year we have partly developed the new FactoryTalk Innovation Suite, which is an important milestone and developed the cooperation in a good way," Moret said.

Heppelmann added that the companies' organizations have worked—and continue to work—intensively to learn each other's offerings and services.

"But even though we are early in the merger process, we have already gotten close to three dozen clear joint contracts," Heppelmann said, adding, "But in the pot there can be as many as four, maybe five thousand possible customers."

Not an Easy Nut to Crack in Competition

If we look at the overall picture, it’s clear that PTC acted as a pioneer in the process of building up a technologically sophisticated IT and OT range based on PLM, IIoT, factory automation tools and AR/VR/MR. It has been a challenging start, but the development in recent years should make competitors feel at least as much concern as they did among the automation giants when GM first launched its Predix platform.

But there are no easily-cracked nuts to deal with:

  • Siemens has the link between product development and factory manufacturing/automation, as a particularly difficult-to-challenge set of assets. Furthermore, the German automation and PLM giant has advanced rapidly in terms of the construction of a sharp simulation platform in Simcenter; with the integration of the ALM solution Polarion and the MindSphere IoT platform, they are well equipped to meet the most in terms of Industry 4.0 needs.
  • Dassault is the player with the most to prove when it comes to both IoT, IIoT and linked factory automation tools. DELMIA, which has been strengthened with Apriso capabilities (MES and MOM), has been there for a while, but its effectiveness on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform has been questioned. ABB’s cooperation on the automation side is also still in its infancy and some ready-made "suites" linking 3DEXPERIENCE, DELMIA and ABB's Ability family have not yet been announced. We have only been able to note a number of marginal contributions.

However, today it’s clear that PTC is the IoT and AR pioneer who has done their homework with heavy foundation work, and with this has gained a certain market leading position.

PTC Integrates Software Development Tools into Windchill

Finally, a few words about the development work regarding the solutions alongside IoT and AR. This is of the utmost importance in order to be able to turn around the positive effects that the two previous areas' skills and solutions created for PTC.

We will end today's article by briefly looking at a good example of what PTC has done with the latest versions of Windchill:

Today's smart, connected products require manufacturers to harmonize mechanical and electrical components with integrated software. This is a common problem at present, but setting up the new integrated solutions is not an easy job, often requiring a lot of effort. Old processes in combination with modern technology often produce poor end results and are a main contributor to slow product development processes.

This is what PTC believes they have addressed. For example, Windchill now includes built-in links and capabilities for tracking between built-in product data management features and system technology, requirements management, source code management and testing. PTC describes this as, "powerful features found in the current Integrity products" (PTC's Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tool for, software development), which is now merged with the Windchill backbone.

The integration of ALM solutions into Integrity in Windchill’s PLM suite has enabled designers to identify dependencies, see design development and understand improvements and exceptions.

At the heart of this is PTC Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC), an OASIS industry standard, to integrate the Integrity program into the arsenal of lifecycle management and system technology solutions in Windchill. In addition, PTC also sharpens the PLM connections with links to the ThingWorx Flow solution.

”The addition of requirements management and system technology can "catapult" Windchill forward and provide a solution for customers who need to use a consolidated, up-to-date digital thread consisting of product information, including requirements and systems design,” says Stan Przybylinski, VP of CIMdata.

FIRST WITH PLM. Dassault Systémes´ charismatic leader and visionary, Bernard Charles. His ideas around a platform concept and PLM were the first on the market. Today things have evolved and new visionaries, such as PTC’s Jim Heppelmann and his IoT concept, have taken over the agenda.
FIRST WITH PLM. Dassault Systémes´ charismatic leader and visionary, Bernard Charles. His ideas around a platform concept and PLM were the first on the market. Today things have evolved and new visionaries, such as PTC’s Jim Heppelmann and his IoT concept, have taken over the agenda.

My Take: A Leading Force, But Watch Out for Competitors

From a broad point of view, all these factors make PTC one of the leaders, if not the leading force, in the PLM area. What stands out compared to Dassault Systémes is the much smaller gap between PTC’s vision and capacity for delivery, as well as the fact that Dassault is still behind on PTC’s strongest areas: IoT, IIoT, AR/MR, and to some extent cPDm.

Dassault is still primarily a CAx company, with CATIA and some simulation and digital manufacturing solutions as their most distinctive features. However, they fall behind when it comes to IoT, AR/MR, and factory automation solutions. What makes Dassault stronger than PTC is their customer base, around 200,000.

When it comes to Siemens and their newly organized Digital Industries division, it’s clear that neither PTC nor Dassault can match the advancements the German PLM giant has reached in terms of cPDm, the links between product development and production and the capabilities in terms of factory automation. But on the other hand, Siemens has not caught up with PTC on the IoT and AR side, although this work is in full swing.

Playing a Winning Offensive

All in all, this makes Heppelmann "et alliances" a leading force in the pursuit of the digital thread. However, the battle for the future is far from over—among other reasons, because there are still some weaknesses, such that despite the concrete technological and integration advances being made, PTC and Heppelmann have not really succeeded in translating the rhetoric around the concept into a powerful commercial impact. PTC is still number 3 in terms of annual (direct) revenues, and so far has not shown the drastic revenue growth that the marketing efforts and technology advancements indicate.

In addition, Siemens is well ahead in the race, while Dassault has substantially more to do to tie the different functionalities on the 3DX platform together and to add more ready-to-use solutions in the IoT and manufacturing area.

Additionally, a market player such as Aras PLM has shown a surprisingly high level of market rattling capability.

But right now, PTC and Jim Heppelmann are playing a winning offensive.

The PTC leader is also probably the strongest visionary in the marketplace. He realized early on that PTC would face tough challenges, and wouldn’t survive on the market solely in the role of a CAD and PDM/PLM developer.

During the years just before 2010, it became increasingly clear that the product realization and product usage world was—or was about to become—based on connected and online solutions, which would change everything. In this, Heppelmann saw IoT as the ideal response for how to meet this change from an industrial perspective. Though it was often questioned, he continued to lead PTC on this track.

Today, the results of this venture are hardly questioned; however, the challenge to “spread the gospel” in a manner that will lead to a broad technology uptake and commercial breakthrough still remains. Largely the problem is about how the company's customers can realize concrete, calculable business benefits: “How can we develop business models that relates to the tools?”

This is not an easy task, and it will take time before things can be moved from pilots and smaller bets—but the day this happens, Heppelmann and PTC will be prepared.

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