PlanetPTC Live 2011: Embedded Software, Mobile Apps, and SocialLinks

During his keynote address at PlanetPTC Live 2011, Jim Heppelmann, PTC's president and CEO, took note of the growing importande of software in modern products.

During his keynote address at PlanetPTC Live 2011, Jim Heppelmann, PTC's president and CEO, took note of the growing importande of software in modern products.

Earlier this week, when Brian Shepherd was demonstrating the Windchill app for iPad at PlanetPTC Live, he got one of the most enthusiastic rounds of spontaneous applause from the audience. It happened when he demonstrated that, by shaking the iPad, you could explode an assembly model into parts.

“It’s something still in the work,” said Shepherd, PTC’s executive VP of product development.

Windchill on the Go with iPad
With a mobile app currently in development, PTC joins the PLM (product lifecycle management) vendors who are looking at the emerging mobile devices as a way to jump-start PLM-on-the-go — a dreamy vision to bring PLM to the nooks and crannies of plant floors, shop floors, and manufacturing sites where desktops, laptops, notebooks, and even netbooks don’t easily fit. (PTC’s rivals — Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, and Siemens PLM Software — have also released various apps for mobile devices.)

One of the most forward-looking aspects of Windchill — the integration of Windchill SocialLinks — seems tailor-made for mobile devices. With an instant messenger-like panel, Windchill SocialLink allows users to upload, download, and view activity feeds associated with internal communities.

Windchill 10.0, the latest release of PTC’s product data management software suite, has a distinctly browser-like look. (Its primary navigation window is dubbed Windchill Navigator.) But Windchill currently remains, for the most part, a private-cloud or on-premise deployment. PTC has in the past expressed skepticism about cloud computing — the use of public cloud, like Amazon EC2 remote servers, to deliver computing capability over the web. But its exploration of mobile devices may urge PTC to take a fresh new look at cloud computing.

Andrew Wertkin, CTO of MKS (left) and Brian Shepherd, senior VP of product development, PTC (right) discussed role of embedded software in modern vehicles.

Andrew Wertkin, CTO of MKS (left) and Brian Shepherd, senior VP of product development, PTC (right) discussed role of embedded software in modern vehicles.

Embedded Software on the Rise
The iPad also represents a new trend in current consumer electronics — its sleek, small form factor would not have been possible without offloading many of its functions to software (you can only miniaturize cogs and wheels so much before they become too fragile to operate).

“The world of software is just invading product development,” noted Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC. “That presents a whole new set of challenges … Embedded software becomes an enterprise product. Turns out software is also the most serviceable part of the product.”

Many industry watchers now acknowledge that software is a major innovation driver in product design. This explains PTC’s rationale for its latest acquisition, MKS. Known for MKS Integrity software, MKS caters to manufacturers who need to manage the development, integration, and maintenance of embedded software.

“Cars rolling off today’s assembly lines include more than 100 million lines of embedded software code and nearly three quarters of all medical device innovation is now attributed to software changes,” PTC observed in its announcement of the acquisition. “Yet, while software is critical to future product innovation, it is commonly managed independently from the physical product in which it is embedded.”

The combination of PTC’s PLM (product lifecycle management) and MKS’s ALM (application lifecycle management, MKS’s preferred term to describe its specialty) could offer an ideal environment for managing the mechanics and geometry of a product and the control software in parallel.

PTC currently has no plans to absorb MKS products into its portfolio. MKS Integrity, for example, may remain a standalone product for the foreseeable future (which, in the fast-evolving high-tech world, means two to three years).

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