PTC Moves Towards a Complete SaaS Product Development Platform

Cloud platforms and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions have already changed many of the conditions for modern product development work—and are expected to bring even more changes in the future. Most of the important developers of PLM and sub-PLM software recognize this fact. But when it comes to the problems that surround efforts to establish cloud, SaaS and related PLM infrastructure, the angles of attack are a little different—and some developers struggle more than others, both with the technology and with getting users on board with the journey.

A common path towards SaaS has involved an indirect, more hybrid approach to building bridges between on-premise local installations and cloud platforms.

The more direct and, for PLM developers, significantly more difficult path has instead revolved around building new integrated platforms on cloud-native technology from the start, in order to more seamlessly establish everything needed in terms of programs and infrastructure.

The basic idea of the latter has been that you should not have to create your own infrastructure and download software to your own servers or computers. Instead, everything you need is in the browser, in one place, accessible directly in the cloud: software, infrastructure and processing power in a product development world where the needs for power to handle exponentially growing data volumes are directly available through lease, anywhere, anytime and on virtually any kind of device.

PTC's CEO and President, Jim Heppelmann. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

PTC’s CEO and President, Jim Heppelmann. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

In all of this, PTC’s CEO Jim Heppelmann is perhaps the most enthusiastic driver of the SaaS and cloud platform concepts in the PLM industry. And he’s not simply talking about it, but also acting proactively. PTC has maneuvered itself into an excellent strike position with the purchases of cloud CAD/PDM solution Onshape, cloud PLM platform Arena and other recently acquired or developed cloud-based capabilities such as CAM software CloudMilling and circuit board design module PCB Studio.

There are additional clear signals of where PTC is heading in this. For example, the company recently launched the new Onshape Simulation and therefore can eventually put a complete Onshape PDM/CAD/CAE/CAM solution on the table.

The fact that Onshape is built on cloud-native technology from the start makes the whole package a breakthrough solution in the CAD industry, asserts Heppelmann.

“The ability to easily access a fully integrated and professional-grade CAD/CAM/CAE suite from a web browser is absolutely a real breakthrough in the industry,” he says. “Onshape allows individual engineers and teams to simultaneously design, simulate and plan the manufacturing of their products. No more shuttling data back and forth between tools and departments. The time and cost savings are significant.”

Repairing The Broken Tool Chain

This means the new Onshape Simulation is a valuable piece of the puzzle in the overall concept. But why is this more valuable than leveraging third-party solutions, which can already be done in the Onshape environment?

“The simulation happens inside the CAD tool during the design process while the designer is actively authoring the geometry, rather than later in a separate CAE tool used by a separate department of simulation analysts down the hall,” Heppelmann says. “The separate CAE department with separate tools creates a ‘broken tool chain’ because the changes made/suggested by the CAE department are difficult to merge back into the CAD design.”

“I like to think of the Onshape approach like the analogy to the integral spell checker in MS Word, which finds mistakes as you are writing the documents initially. That is highly efficient, whereas the typical ‘broken tool chain’ process would be more like finishing the Word draft with many mistakes, converting the Word file to another format such as PDF, then sending that PDF to another department who uses a PDF Editor to make changes and recommendations and sends the restructured PDF back to the Word author. What are you supposed to do with that?” he says.

“The only thing you can do is study it and manually transpose the changes you find into the Word document. This type of approach is highly inefficient and happens too late in the process, so much time and money can be wasted. The ‘broken tool chain’ is the common way CAE is done today, because it is all standalone CAD tools.”

PTC is stepping forward in its SaaS and cloud venture with the goal of building a platform with multiple capabilities. This week's launch of Onshape Simulation is just one of several examples of where the investment is heading. With deeply integrated simulation, designers get an effective tool to simulate entire assemblies, which—according to PTC—helps them make important decisions about time, materials and quality earlier in the design process. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

PTC is stepping forward in its SaaS and cloud venture with the goal of building a platform with multiple capabilities. This week’s launch of Onshape Simulation is just one of several examples of where the investment is heading. With deeply integrated simulation, designers get an effective tool to simulate entire assemblies, which—according to PTC—helps them make important decisions about time, materials and quality earlier in the design process. (Image courtesy of PTC.)

Why Is FEA Valuable in Development Work?

The platform approach, with a range of competent and seamless multi-disciplinary capabilities accessible directly in the browser, is a strong recipe for those who want to make life easier for stakeholders in the product development chain.

But why is FEA so valuable in the development process? On an overall level, it is about the general endeavor to deliver products and projects right the first time. This can be very complex as products today often contain challenging mechanisms and structures, and a variety of materials being used. How can companies overcome these challenges?

This is where computer simulation and FEA come in. By modeling load cases throughout all design and development projects in an iterative process during the creation of concept designs, running FEA scenarios allows the design to be developed and optimized for maximum performance.

In general, Heppelmann claims, having the FEA solution deeply integrated and seamlessly connected to the design program can be a significant advantage.

A Reflection of the Increased Importance of Simulation

During the last decade, simulation and analysis have taken on an increasingly important role as a result of the digitization of product development phases. Physical prototypes are becoming less and less common, replaced by digital 3D models of products.

Thus, simulation has also become more significant, manifested in the fact that investments among the world’s companies in CAE software have virtually exploded.

The PLM analyst CIMdata has captured this trend in its annual reports on global PLM investments. In this year’s 2022 edition, for example, it appears that Simulation & Analysis with $8.325 billion accounts for 14.3 percent of the total PLM investments. In fact, only Electronic Design Automation (EDA) is larger in the PLM space, at 22 percent of the total.

This makes the integration of an FEA solution into its simulation and analysis a very wise move for Heppelmann and PTC.

Alongside the new connection solution between Onshape and Arena PLM, which is also part of PTC's cloud arsenal, the company has recently introduced a PCB design module and purchased the CAM solution CloudMilling. (Image by courtesy of PTC.)

Alongside the new connection solution between Onshape and Arena PLM, which is also part of PTC’s cloud arsenal, the company has recently introduced a PCB design module and purchased the CAM solution CloudMilling. (Image by courtesy of PTC.)

First Cloud-Native Union of CAD, PDM and Simulation

Given this, what is so special about the launch of Onshape Simulation?

As mentioned above, users have already been able to use third-party solutions for simulating Onshape models in the past.

PTC points out in the press material that, through its deep integration into the CAD tool, Onshape Simulation enables designers and engineers to perform finite element analysis in a faster and easier way. This means designers are able to make well-founded design decisions based on structural analysis throughout the entire product development process.

In addition to the value of the new simulation module solving the “broken tool chain” problem, Heppelmann points to two other factors.

“A second advantage is that it all just works perfectly with no setup. You don’t have to download, install and configure a CAD tool then download, install and configure a CAE tool and try to figure out how to move data back and forth. You just log in to Onshape via a web browser and all of the CAD, CAE and CAM functionality is there and works beautifully together,” Heppelmann claims.

He also notes that PTC previously announced a similar CAM strategy in this context.

A third important factor is what I touched on earlier in the article: that simulation and analysis require a lot of processing power. Being referred to one’s own servers and infrastructure in this is limiting, says Heppelmann.

“Yes, you’re right. It is a big advantage with the ‘elastic compute’ that the cloud naturally brings into the picture. CAE tools need big workstations, and sometimes big compute servers up to and including supercomputers. But the superscaler ‘cloud’ is essentially the biggest computer ever made, and being elastic it will ‘stretch’ to give you as much compute as you need without having to pay for the massive compute server. This can be an incredible advantage, as you can do professional quality CAD and CAE on any old PC, laptop, Chromebook, Macbook, tablet or phone. Even move from your desktop PC at work to your phone on the train home to your laptop Macbook at the home office, each time keep right on working where you left off on the previous device, including running big simulations.”

(Image by courtesy of PTC.)

(Image by courtesy of PTC.)

Greg Brown, PTC’s VP for Onshape Product Management, also claims that there is great value in precisely this thanks to the tight integration. Onshape is, he asserts, the only CAD tool with product data management (PDM) built in, offering simulation interwoven with the core design and assembly environment. This helps reduce the time, effort and workflows required to set up and calculate structural analysis.

“In fact, this is the first time that CAD, PDM and simulation have all been united in a cloud-based environment,” he says. “It thus becomes an extremely effective way for designers to simulate entire assemblies, which helps them make important decisions about time, materials and quality earlier in the design process,” Brown sums up in the press material.

Features And Benefits of Onshape’s Integrated Simulation

In the press release, Brown also summarizes the functions and advantages of Onshape Simulation. These include:

  • Designers receive accurate mechanical guidance, such as strength and rigidity, without leaving the design environment. The CAD model and the simulation model are the same definition, dramatically simplifying assembly for simulation.
  • Onshape uses existing assembly mates in the definition of the part-to-part interactions, eliminating the need to “de-feature,” simplify or configure connections in their models before running simulations.
  • One can explore design variations quickly by simultaneously designing and analyzing assemblies, without having to pre-process or mesh. Simulation results are automatically updated when changes are made to Onshape models.
  • As part of an Onshape document, simulations are versioned with built-in PDM—including simulations for all design variants—and can be shared directly with other users for easy collaboration and decision-making.
  • The processor capacity in the cloud also means that the management on this platform allows simulations to be performed quickly and interactively, without the need for specialized local hardware.

The Onshape Simulation solution is initially available to Onshape Enterprise users. Availability for Onshape Professional users will follow.