Spreading like wildfire

It hasn’t been what you would call a quiet summer in the PLM World. Major stories included PTC’s Pro/Engineer Wildfire 5, Siemens PLM’s NX on a Mac and IBM effectively turning over CATIA sales and support to Dassault Systèmes. We’ve also had Windows 7, which many believe is the operating system that Vista should have been.

PTC has managed to transform its flagship product almost beyond recognition from the product that we knew and loved in its formative years. In fact, you could be forgiven for not recognising it at all. The signature cascading menus have been consigned to the history books and replaced with a comprehensive offering that would not look out of place alongside many of the newest entrants to the PLM/solid-modelling space.

The marketing credo for this release is that it delivers new capabilities to help customers eliminate traditional design barriers so that they achieve faster, more efficient and more innovative product development. Wildfire 5.0 includes over 330 enhancements.

The user interface includes interactive 3D file previews in the open-dialogue box for graphical searching and a contextual ribbon interface for the 2D sketcher, similar to Office 2007’s. There is dynamic direct editing of parametric features with model regeneration on the fly, all while preserving the feature tree.

Other notable additions include a rib tool for moulded part design, the ability to generate curvature-continuous rounds and use sketch points for patterns, as well as real-time geometry and user-defined feature previews.

There is real-time photorealistic rendering — courtesy of Mental Ray, the rendering engine from Mental Images — plus material presets and real-world models.

Native 3D import wizards support Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks, and preserve non-geometric data (3D notes, annotations and metadata) in neutral formats.

A Spark Analysis Extension helps users to analyse and optimise the electromechanical clearance and creepage properties of designs. The extension automatically identifies where electrical sparks will cross gaps and creep along surfaces to help prevent product failures earlier in the design process. Additional enhancements in the Routed Systems interface enable users to create wires, cables and ribbons on the fly.

More efficient and innovative product development is driven by an increase in collaboration efficiency, underpinned by what the company refers to as ‘social product development’ capabilities. These are based on a combination of Pro/Engineer, Windchill ProductPoint and Microsoft SharePoint. It is called social product development because it is designed to operate like Twitter or Facebook for product development, helping users to find and reuse the wider design community’s collective knowledge.

Another notable development in the engineering software arena came when Siemens PLM announced the general availability of its NX product line on Mac OS X and 64-bit Intel-based Macs. This is not as strange as it sounds; NX is used by many leading industrial design companies around the world to design and manufacture innovative and sophisticated products. Its wide adoption throughout the global manufacturing industry is due, in part, to its ability to support a range of operating environments — including Windows, UNIX and Linux — in a heterogeneous or single operating-system deployment.

Because of its advanced rendering and animation facilities, NX has long been the CAD/CAM application of choice in many of the creative industries and it is fair to assume the new iMacs are desirable for a large number of stylists and engineers.

The Mac OS X version of NX includes all of the software’s robust CAD and CAM functionality, as well as support for Siemens PLM Software’s Teamcenter PDM platform through rich client capabilities embedded in NX and a thin client based on Apple’s Safari web browser. As a result, NX for Mac OS X can exploit all the capabilities of Teamcenter, including its ability to support a multi-platform CAD strategy.

Siemens and IBM moved slightly closer over the summer with the former announcing support for IBM’s Product Development Integration Framework (PDIF) as a development platform and primary integration environment. The development enables Siemens to deliver ready-to-use solutions built on its Teamcenter PLM software portfolio and IBM WebSphere and Information Management (DB2).

Additionally, IBM and Siemens will jointly provide a range of services, including consulting and implementation, systems integration and application hosting designed to help companies reduce PLM software acquisition and lifecycle costs. By using a flexible software environment, companies have a framework for marrying key PLM business processes to technology initiatives that offer a structured approach to managing the life of a product, according to the partners.

More recently, IBM announced an agreement under which Dassault Systèmes (DS) will acquire IBM sales and client-support operations encompassing DS’s Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software application portfolio, as well as customer contracts and related assets. This is the latest twist in an eventful IBM/Dassault commercial marriage and defines the next steps, where the plan is to establish DS as an IBM Global Alliance Partner and expand their services partnership.

‘The adoption and integration of PLM and 3D collaboration by a growing number of enterprises requires deep industry knowledge,’ said Bernard Charlès, chief executive of Dassault Systèmes. ‘The planned integration of the IBM sales force and related business operations represents the largest investment in our corporate history.’

Last, but by no means least, we come to Windows 7. This is yet another milestone in Microsoft’s quest to dominate the desktop. It is easy to be cynical about Microsoft’s business model, but Windows 7 is the inevitable evolution of Windows XP and Vista.

Despite the affinity of many enterprises for the sturdy and reliable Windows XP, there is a strong argument that we all need to bite the Windows 7 bullet sooner rather than later, as it is very definitely the future of Microsoft’s ubiquitous product. It is likely that we will see significant business adoption in 2010, due in part to Windows XP’s maturity and the timing of PC hardware-upgrade cycles.

Analysts at research firm Gartner expect corporate demand for Windows 7 to gain full momentum by the end of 2010. Consequently, Gartner recommends that businesses start testing Windows 7 now, pointing out that mainstream support for Windows XP ended in April and any support for XP from ISVs (independent software vendors) will dry up toward the end of 2011. In other words, if you stall you will end up in a support crunch, according to Gartner.

Microsoft is providing free tools to help with Windows 7 migrations. Still, planning for an OS upgrade remains a huge undertaking, full of compatibility testing and budgetary constraints. Gartner estimates that migration costs could be approximately £600 to £1,200 per user to move from Windows XP to Windows 7.

A Windows 7 migration also arguably presents a golden opportunity to engage in some housekeeping and become a more efficient business. Migrating to Windows 7 involves so much more than just installing an operating system on computers and transferring people over. It offers a chance to look at where you are spending money and where you can save it. Many businesses have applications that they don’t use but are still paying licence fees for. One of the problems of an OS upgrade is the temptation to migrate things that you don’t need anymore.

This is good time to do an inventory of the applications that don’t need to be compatible with Windows 7. Organisations need to prioritise migrations according to which applications in their environment are Windows 7 certified and which are not.

There are bound to be more application compatibility issues in the engineering and development groups of businesses. In these cases, more planning is needed, such as deciding whether to use features like XP Mode in Windows 7 to access older XP-only applications through a virtual machine.