LiveWorx 2016 celebrates the physical+digital world

Jun 21, 2016 | Hot Topics

What happens when you mix a lot of old-time CAD super-users with new, edgy technology? Some cross mojonation* but also quite a bit of resistance. It’s interesting; people who are excellent at their jobs are the most resistant to change because it will make them less expert, yet they are they very people who could make the combination of old and new sing. PTC’s LiveWorx user conference, a mashup of all of the brands and products that make up today’s PTC, was a perfect example of this. Almost all of the keynote content emphasized the virtual and augmented reality, service lifecycle and Internet of Things parts of PTC’s portfolio, yet most of the attendees were Creo/ProE users who needed to go home having boosted that expertise to justify their attendance. Some of it worked, other parts …not so much,

But first, a bit about PTC’s expanded portfolio. If you’ve been following, you’ll know that PTC has made many acquisitions over the last few years, all designed to put it into new parts of their existing customers’ businesses. The idea has been to leverage CAD models and associated PLM data for service, for example, to allow customers to create new offerings and deepen their relationships with end-customers. For example, make photocopiers? Rather than outsourcing that service relationship to a third party, why not look at leveraging design, warranty, replenishment rate and other data to bundle a service package with the product so that the buyer doesn’t even have to think about it? The buyer gets peace of mind, the seller gets earliest insights into the customer’s needs and desires. That was the SLM (Service Lifecycle Management) thrust.

Now add to that the ability to turn your service team into super-technicians by offering them detailed service information before they ever get to the custom site. No longer do they roll blind, spending valuable time trying to discover which model, or what replacement parts might be needed — SLM technology can vastly improve the efficiency of the services department. Augmented reality (AR), the ability to overlay virtual data onto real life, can add even more capability to each technician’s role. Say you’re repairing that photocopier; with AR goggles you have access to all of the manuals for that specific model, and can be shown which parts to take out in what order, to get to the component in the back. AR is a terrific tool that’s in its infancy for these types of uses — but without a CAD model and the PLM data to back it up, there’s no way to access, with assurance, the specific information pertaining to that machine. There are lots of implications and barriers to making this work: the CAD model needs to be as-built, not as-designed, and it needs to be updated to as-maintained if parts are swapped out. Suppliers change over the life of the asset; repair instructions must reflect these changes, too. It’s as much a data management issue as a business opportunity, and the enterprises that can rearrange their operations to keep this data live will succeed at SLM; the ones who can’t (or won’t) will struggle.

Then comes the final part of the picture, as it is today: start looking at the reams and reams of sensor data we’re already gathering –and the tens/hundreds/thousands-times more data we could get if we actually instrument everything out there– and use it to inform design and services. Now we’re starting to close the loop between how a buyer wants to use a product, what the designers believe will meet that need, the manufactured object, and then actual usage at the customer site. We all make assumptions and project how we would use an object onto the buyer; they usually do something completely unexpected — and now we can know this and track its consequences. Again, CAD and PLM come into play, to manage the placement of the sensors and how to interpret the data that streams back.

This often gets lost in all of the noise about Internet of Things (IoT). It’s not about the Internet; it’s about the Things — and many of them, at least the industrial ones, have been fitted with sensors for decades. Decades. That’s not new, and many CAD users are already well-versed in their placement. What is new with PTC’s offerings is the ability to get this data back to the office and start making sense of it, in ways that are easy to set up and manage. Raw data is a huge pipe coming at you; you need to weed out the thousands of “I’m operating the way I should be” from the few “there’s something wrong” signals, and then determine what actions to take as the “something wrong” signals build. That’s what ThingWorx, PTC’s IoT offering is meant to do.

I’ve been to other events for LiveWorx users and integrators; as far as I know, this was the first event that put all of PTC’s brands and users in one giant tent. The intent was cross mojonation*, so that designers would begin to see how they might leverage the data from IoT-enabled products already in the market to make the next generation even better. And how important CAD is in the world of AR. CEO Jim Heppelmann laid out PTC’s vision (and unveiled a new company logo) for the convergence of the physical and digital worlds, with PTC technology at its core. It was a more coherent description of the vision, and definitely included a path forward for the legacy businesses, but it was still all IoT/all the time. It’s tough to craft one presentation that hits all possible stakeholders, but I think PTC missed an opportunity to tell its CAD and PLM base (the majority of current revenue) how they can benefit from IoT both as career opportunity and a way for their companies to compete.

The Creo 4.0 intro session showcased dozens of coming enhancements. The most important thing you need to know is that there are hundreds of them, centering on additive manufacturing, model-based design, design for IoT and productivity. From intelligent GD&T to mini toolbars and WYSIWYG customization to really cool rendering and 2.5D/3D lattice designs for 3D printing, there’s something for everyone in the release. From an IoT perspective, Creo 4.0 will include an Insights App/Extension that enables Creo users to access sensor data to make better design decisions. Creo 4.0 is scheduled for release at the end of 2016; you can get a sneak peek now by going to www.ptcusercommunity.com/groups/ptc-creo-sneak-peek. Do it soon; I think this opportunity ends in August.

I do wish PTC had made this a main stage session; the room was overflowing even though it was at 8AM. The work being put into Creo is massive, and burying it hides PTC’s commitment to continuing to invest in the brand. Too, I wish the audience had been a bit more receptive; the people around me were “glad PTC had put the !@#$ IoT in the closet” for at least one session. Too bad; that next job might involve connected thinking.

CAD griping aside, it was a really cool event. John Deere, Flowserve and other companies are doing innovative things with both technology and business models to integrate CAD, PLM, AR, VR, IoT and a lot of other acronyms in their quests to better serve their customers. But they weren’t the only examples — PTC is posting presentations here, and I urge you to check them out.

PTC also announce that LiveWorx 2017 will be in Boston, on May 22-25. You can register now for $695 using promo code ATTEND17

Note: PTC graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The title image is of PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann on stage at LiveWorx; image is courtesy of PTC.


  • “cross mojonation” is a phrase from the Austin Powers movies that the Urban Dictionary defines as “To mix two unrelated things into something wierd [sic], unexpected or exciting. Could be bad…could be good. You will know when it has happened.” I think that applies perfectly here.
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