Windchill factor

PTC, which has recently been playing the PLM giants at their own game, is from the purist’s
point of view responsible for CAD/CAM’s ‘modern movement’.

IBM and UGS have been grabbing the PLM headlines recently to such an extent that you could be forgiven for thinking there was no-one else in the game.

But based on the size and vintage of its customer base, US company PTC has equal claim to the PLM high ground. Indeed, Windchill, PTC’s enterprise data management solution, was the forerunner of many of the formative PLM implementations.

The main architect of Windchill at PTC is James Heppleman the man responsible for software developer SDRC’s Metaphase PDM product, which is a significant constituent of UGS’s Teamcentre.

Globally, PTC’s customers and suppliers have worked wonders with Windchill, perhaps the most notable example being the Airbus A380 whose success owes a great deal to the system.

Very few close to CAD/CAM and PLM are neutral about PTC — they either love it or hate it. But PTC is no longer the company that engendered these responses in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, from the purist’s standpoint the company is responsible for CAD/CAM’s ‘modern movement’ as most of the CAD software we use today is based on the constructive 2D paradigm approach to solid modelling introduced by the company back in 1985.

PTC has an MCAD customer base of some 35,000 from all the major industries. And because of its heritage the firm understands the creation side of digital modelling— PTC started modern CAD/CAM with Pro/ENGINEER.

Many can criticise PTC’s previous marketing approach as being too aggressive — but this funded the business, enabling it to develop Pro/ENGINEER.

Today the business model is different. Like most vendors, PTC’s main route to market is through a reseller channel, with corporate sales concentrating on the larger accounts. This requires a more strategic approach with less room for the aggressive tactics of old.

And the perception is changing. The company has been through some difficult times and has restructured significantly to position itself much more effectively in today’s marketplace.

It is about two thirds the size that it was five years ago and is now profitable. The cornerstone of its current approach is its Product Development Systems (PDS) strategy, which is being embraced and endorsed by much of its customer base.

This breaks PLM into manageable bite-size chunks, making it easier to digest and applicable to smaller organisations. PDS complements ‘Product First’ which is PTC’s marketing strategy, placing the product at the centre of the enterprise.

PDS is the solution that makes Product First tangible. It is founded on creation, collaboration and control. Creation is obviously Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire; collaboration is provided by Windchill ProjectLink; and data control is through Windchill PDMLink. There are the complementary modules, such as PartsLink for parts classification which also broadens the footprint of what PLM can do.

PTC has learnt some lessons in terms of packaging along the way. The early releases of Windchill were based around some fairly complex concepts, which were difficult for companies to comprehend and understand how they related to their businesses.

The current approach is far simpler and whether you’re doing digital model definition (with Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire) or configuration management (with Windchill) quick start set-ups can be installed in approximately two weeks.

Quick start is implemented on-site by PTC and is aimed primarily at getting customers up and running quickly.

PTC recognises that in contrast to the situation five to 10 years ago, customers aren’t interested in very large-scale software deployments; they want to take small steps and get return on investment as quickly as possible from each step. The Quick-Start implementations are fixed-price/fixed-scope projects targeted at getting a working system up and running in two weeks.

The prices are linked to the number of seats with breaks at about 10 seats and then up to 50 seats. If you are going beyond 50 seats the price scales accordingly but it’s not linear — in other words, 100 seats is not double the cost of 50. For a typical moderate installation (up to 10 seats) you’re looking at £20,000 for installation and set-up.

This is implementation cost only, but because the way the software is sold, many of the customers already have the licences to the software — for instance, PTC used to embed Windchill licences with Pro/ENGINEER. The implementation cost still tends to be the major component, but once you decide to follow this approach the system is productive much sooner.

PTC has a significant footprint in the industry, with expertise in all the major sectors — aerospace and defence and automotive. Hi-tech is a key growth area and the technology of the offering has increased because people are not just trying to manage Pro/ENGINEER data anymore. They want to manage multi-CAD and multidiscipline software — including Pro/ENGINEER, CATIA, Unigraphics, PCB design software such as Mentor Graphics or Cadence.

PTC has an interface to ClearCase from IBM-owned Rational, for managing software, which is often required in today’s complex products. The company refers to this as heterogeneous data management capability; what it really means is that whatever you use to define your product when you’re designing it there is a capability to manage that data within Windchill.

Because of this level of integration PTC takes responsibility for the data integration. These interfaces are written, tested and implemented by PTC, so the company makes them work and supports them as long as the customer is on maintenance.

One major implementation at present involves Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine in Norway where PTC is implementing Windchill to manage Unigraphics CAD data.

PTC has also recently taken over a couple of companies — Polyplan Technologies and Aptavis Technologies. Polyplan is involved in Manufacturing Process Management (MPM). This relationship links in the CAD generation stages with production stages, so in many ways it’s a bit like Delmia or Tecnomatix for IBM and UGS.

Polyplan is not as big as Delmia or Tecnomatix, but provides PTC with similar technology.

Now that PTC has acquired the company it intends to make Polyplan a fully integrated part of Windchill so that the manufacturing engineers can be involved in defining the process to make products that Pro/ENGINEER is developing. T

here is a move in the industry for lighter footprint MPM products like Polyplan, which is much more affordable. Although customers seem to prefer the simpler technology some smaller organisations think Delmia or Tecnomatix considerable overkill.

Much of the audience for this kind of technology are companies of 50 or less (especially in the UK) so heavyweight applications more suited to automotive tier 1s are not really appropriate.

The biggest challenges for PTC in marketing Windchill PLM is in overcoming outdated prejudices and figuring out how to offer Windchill technology to smaller companies. The bite-size approach of the Product Development Systems strategy goes a long way to addressing these issues.