PTC’s LiveWorx foreshadows digital transformations

Jun 22, 2018 | Hot Topics

Technology. Business partnerships. Longtime customers, dragged forward. New customers to be wooed. PTC’s annual user conference, now called LiveWorx, is barely over and there is so much to digest and to draw conclusions from — this blog post is a first stab at covering what I saw, heard and learned.

First, a recap of the main takeaways:

  • Rockwell Automation: The industrial IoT partnership with GE isn’t giving PTC the market reach it wanted, so PTC entered into a relationship with Rockwell Automation that has Rockwell making a $1 billion investment in PTC shares in exchange for a board seat, joint development of IoT and factory automation solutions, and an expanded go-to-market. More here and here on the deal. Why do this? So that PTC gains access to Rockwell’s sales resources and customers. What was very clear at LiveWorx is how important this partnership is to both parties. PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann said during his keynote that the smart connected factory opportunity is too big for PTC to address on its own; a “big brother” partner would enhance credibility, add expertise and scale, and broaden its technology footprint. For its part, Rockwell Automation’s CEO Blake Moret said that the companies plan to sell an integrated suite of IoT and MES, capitalizing on Rockwell’s experience in the OT world. Mr. Moret’s customers have been asking for this, he says, to avoid downtime and improve performance — from PLC programming to operating analytics. There are already some proof points: Rockwell had assembly lines on the floor that show what might be coming. They were mobbed, if that’s any indication of the potential for commercial success.
  • ANSYS Discovery Live: PTC and ANSYS announced that Discovery Live (rebranded as Creo Simulation Live) will be available inside Creo Parametric starting later this year/early next year. Designers will be able to see, while inside Creo, how design changes affect product performance via real-time simulation. Why do this? To embed simulation into routine design tasks, by making it as simple as possible. The demos I saw really were that simple: open a new tab in Creo Parametric, define loads and go. From then on, any design change would cause the simulation to be rerun, showing the typical heatmap view of stresses. As with Discovery Live, structural, thermal and modal analyses using ANSYS solvers will be in the first release; CFD to follow. PTC also intends to add ANSYS AIM into Creo for high fidelity and high accuracy for design validation. Fear not, Creo Simulate is not going away; product manager Paul Sagar said that users would be able to determine when and if they want to switch. [I saw this working in Creo 5; it will be backported to Creo 4, but I’m not sure which version(s). Pricing is still TBD.]
  • AR was everywhere. Literally. And showcasing some very cool ways of interacting with a combined digital/real world. We’re used to AR making data visible to humans via headsets or other devices. During his keynote, Mr. Heppelmann’s showcased Reality Editor, tech that’s coming out of PTC’s Reality Lab, that can edit machine instructions in realtime. The example was a simple conveyor that moved something (peanuts?) from a hopper, along a conveyor belt into a bin. Using Reality Editor, the inventor reconfigured the machine and reprogrammed its logic, added another machine to the system, and taught the new system when/how to turn itself on and off. This was really simple, but the implications seem profound: human-machine interface (HMI) programming is hard to do. Via connected devices, it seems to become much simpler, and the human can be just about anywhere to adjust operations. Too, with analytics, complex if/then/else scenarios can be programmed to automatically deal with scenarios where human intervention might not be fast enough to avert danger. The demo also placed an emergency off switch for the system on a screen — it was a very cool merging of the physical and digital into truly one world. There’s the AR that’s available today for training and to offer assistance as needed. There’s tomorrow’s AR, where we can examine and change the CFD profile of airflow around a car. And then there’s the future of AR, which PTC and others are just now imagining. It’s the Jetsons*, but better.
  • The IoT wave is building. PTC set up a customer panel where 6 very different companies spoke about what they were trying to accomplish via an IoT implementation. Over and over, the speakers emphasized that this isn’t about technology but about a business problem that needs to be solved: maybe an opportunity for something new or a lack of quality/repeatability/uptime to fix. Once the problem is identified, only then should technology get involved. Start small with something doable and prove a win to get bigger buy-in. Be prepared for a fast scale-up (meaning, don’t pick technology that can’t address the ultimate number of connections, devices, etc.). Attendees not on the panel added that IoT can be threatening to people on the sidelines: is this about replacing them with robots? Are analytics being put into place to judge them? An interesting addition I hadn’t heard before.
  • Creo lives. I don’t know why, but PTC always underestimates the number of Creo users interested in a roadmap session. There were two; the one I attended was standing room only. Perhaps PTC wasn’t ready to share the details of Creo 6 (out March 2019) and so focused instead on Creo 5: lattices, topology optimization, UI enhancements, sheetmetal, Unite multi-CAD that extends now to Autodesk Inventor. (Quick catchup: Unite allow Creo Parametric users to open Inventor files without an Inventor license. Used to be CATIA, Siemens NX, and SolidWorks.)
  • “We don’t do 12 month roadmaps any longer; we do quarterly reviews”. Kathleen Mitford, EVP Products, was actually talking about PTC’s product development strategy in general, as it relates to the fast-moving markets PTC now finds itself in. But she also likely explained why there was no forward-looking roadmap in the Creo session I attended — they don’t do that any more. I understand this in principle and see how it ties into modern software development strategies built around sprints and quick deliverables (or failures) but it is jarring in a world where many users need months to roll out a new version of software and need to know whether it’s worth the effort.
  • Microsoft and PTC formalized their partnership as PTC named Azure as its preferred cloud platform for industrial applications. This isn’t a surprise, as the companies have worked together on industrial Hololens applications and much else over the years, but now it’s official.

So why all the partnering? Mr. Heppelmann says that PTC has gone it alone for too long, and needs the breadth of offering and the depth of market access these partners bring. ANSYS bolsters a relatively weaker simulation offering and enables PTC to better compete against Dassault Systèmes and Siemens, both of which have very deep CAE offerings. Rockwell is a direct aim at Siemens, with its automation systems and MindSphere, and at AVEVA, which directly addresses process industries with Schneider Electric Software. The Microsoft thing? Well, it’s Microsoft. At the very least, a checkbox; at best, channels and true co-development.

The bottom line: Today’s product lifecycle is more complex than ever, with materials, manufacturing processes and end-use cases creating both opportunity to shake up a market and a greater risk of getting it wrong. PTC wants to be a one stop shop for product design, manufacturing, after-sales support and optimized usage. That’s a lot of touchpoints and technologies, and PTC is realizing that it cannot do all of this on its own. It stands to benefit from key partnerships –and we should see more of these– that take it into new industries and use cases.

You can watch Mr. Heppelmann’s keynote and selected other presentations from LiveWorx here (scroll down via/to Library).

PTC also held an investor day at LiveWorx, where it explained more of its thinking on investment priorities. I’ll cover that in a coming blog.

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 cover picture is of ANSYS CEO Ajei Gopal, PTC’s Brian Thompson (a “giddy CAD guy” and SVP) and Mr. Heppelmann

*If you’re not familiar with the Jetsons, here’s a little clip: