The King is dead…long live the King
15 November 2010
Process type: Design
Stephen Holmes was on hand in Boston to witness PTC’s unveiling of its next generation design system, Creo. Along with Al Dean, he takes a look at what this is going to mean for the company and existing customers
PTC has launched what it believes to be the future of CAD for the next 20 years, going all out in its assault on the market to launch PTC Creo. A super suite of ‘Apps’ launching next summer is what PTC is hoping will answer the “four big problems” facing CAD users today, and it was undeniably rather impressive.
At its official launch in Boston, USA, DEVELOP3D was on hand to take in everything thrown at us, and try to analyse what this is going to mean to everyday CAD users, as well as the other areas affected. Let’s get down to basics first.
The Creo suite is an amalgamation of existing technology from PTC repackaged and re-architected into a suite of apps (more on the apps thing later on). In the initial guise, this will see the history-based parametric modelling tools from Pro/Engineer delivered alongside more direct editing based modelling tools from the CoCreate side of the fence into a single environment.
What’s key to understand is that both apps, for both direct and more traditional modelling methods, will use a “common data model”, Just like Siemens is doing with Synchronous Technology in both Solid Edge and NX, just as Autodesk is trying to do with its Inventor Fusion technology preview, PTC is looking to build an environment in which data can be edited using either of the methods and the data underlying (read: Features etc) will be maintained in both, reconcilable and persistent.
Alongside this, PTC is also taking its ProductView technology and using that as the basis for visualisation and data translation. ProductView has been one of the lesser known product sets outside of PTC’s customer base, but it’s incredibly able when it comes to dealing with geometry and very large geometry sets at that.
Then, building on top of this foundation, PTC is creating a suite of Apps (modules, if you prefer) that should expand over time, but initially, will look to solve several key problems the company feels need attention:
AnyRole Apps: It doesn’t matter what your role is in the product lifecycle, PTC wants you to know that it ‘understands’ that you use CAD too.
“We know the traditional roles that use CAD tools, the engineers and designers,” explains VP of product development Brian Shepherd. “But there are many, many other roles in product development; these people are not well served by CAD tools.”
The Apps will give every work role within the PLM cycle “dedicated environments”, and give them the ability to work with other members of the design team effectively. There’s something for everyone, with a simple UI for each one, all are set to be ideal for each sector: the ‘Goldilocks of Apps’ – just right. And if you needed more? Seamlessly link into another App to get what you need.
AnyRole Modelling: Killing off the ‘dead ends’ found when moving designs between 2D to 3D, and most impressively, taking parametric models into direct, and vice versa, without any noticeable problems.
It all looked very slick and fluent, giving the ability to schmooze in and out of either direct or parametric Apps, and 2D layouts and 3D models. An example of push and pull direct modelling retained all its data when opened in the parametric modelling App, but with some handy Microsoft Word-style track changes, to show a co-worker what had been changed.
Team interoperability looks as though it would be rapidly sped up, with little of the clunkiness that you’d expect. All of this was running off what was described as “The most powerful geometry kernel” around (not necessarily a new one specifically designed for Creo), and the “common data model”.
AnyData Adoption: Data from other CAD programs is no longer dead when opened in a Creo App. Far from being a useless block of imported guff, or needing some grim translator that ends up losing half the data anyway, it is now ‘adopted’ into the program, data intact, live, and ready to be modelled.
AnyBOM Assembly: Despite the suspect name, no explosives, just Bill of Materials - and Windchill. It’s all ready for the manufacturing stage, allowing for the validation and reuse of information on highly configurable products using a close integration with Windchill.
It automates assembly design from the BOM, but uses Windchill and the UI in order to make it more visual. AnyBOM generates a 3D model then automates the creation of all possible variations, allowing you to have a tighter control.
When will it be ready?
The first seven Apps launch next summer in the Creo 1.0 release, including the direct/parametric modeling tools. An autumn date will see the 2.0 release.
What’s in a name?
In a variety of languages Creo means: I think, I create, I believe. But PTC must have an awful lot of belief in this new era as everything is coming under the Creo branding. Not only are we presented with the new suite of Apps, but also a full rebranding of existing products means they are now merely ‘elements’ under the Creo umbrella.
PTC’s longstanding heavyweight product, Pro/Engineer, is now Creo elements/pro. CoCreate is slapped with Creo elements/direct, and Product View is reduced to Creo elements/view. Lower-case, and a lower status for what were once the PTC mainstays. Now they’re all just falling into being part of one big App family, which might be as how we eventually see them: as singular Apps to be purchased from an online store.
An App for everything
Tellingly, this notion of Apps and Jim Heppelmann’s convoluted introduction to proceedings about him trying to buy a track from iTunes would lead to assumptions that the sales channel is about to get a shake-up. In the later press conference everyone declined to answer whether PTC would be launching its own App Store.
However, much theoretical talk about it later, it would seem safe to assume it should appear by next summer also. By having an App store it would also bring in the idea that third party developers would be able to build and market their own Apps.
Luxion was at the event to show how its KeyShot plugin was already developed ready for use with Creo – although the ability in the future to download a KeyShot App would be the logical progression in this marketing mould. Although no mention was made of this, it would seem a business model that would allow PTC to keep a tight level of control over everything developed for its new Creo family, much in the same way Apple does with its App store.
So, is this anything new? The answer is two-fold as far as we can see.
Yes, it’s new for PTC. But, in a wider context, no. Or certainly not unique. Since the acquisition of CoCreate, there’s been a rebirth of interest in the direct editing technology and CoCreate’s never seen such a large marketing push.
Clearly PTC places great stock in what it has, combined with its existing Pro/E technology and products. Also, from speaking to the team over the past few years, it was clear that integration between Pro/Engineer and CoCreate was inevitable.
Wildfire 5 saw introduction of some new tools that hinted at a removal of the regeneration issue. That same release also had beta code for more direct editing technologies within it for customer experimentation and much had been planned for Wildfire 6 we believe.
Alongside this, there’s the simple fact that Pro/E (and thesame could be said to be true of CoCreate) were starting to look dated. Yes, both are absolutely technologically robust solutions, but they’re not the kind of fare that today’s users expect.
Of course, Wildfire was supposed to the rebirth of Pro/E, but five major releases in, the Menu Mapper still pops up - our old friend Done/Return never quite disappeared. CoCreate also had the problem that its UI was rather behind the times, not having changed in nearly a decade.
A With Creo, the team has the chance to take things back to basics, strip out all of that interface legacy, bring the two robust solutions together, try to solve some key problems perceived within the industry, all with a more modern user experience and they get to mix in, at a core level, all of the amazing things that ProductView has been doing for years in terms of sheer handling of very complex datasets.
The whole concept of Apps smacks slightly of accosting the bandwagon and jumping firmly aboard. The marketing output and website read much differently if you replace the word App with Module. It’s no different from Catia, from NX or, increasingly, from SolidWorks or Inventor these days. You choose the Apps/Modules you need, leave the ones you don’t - the smart vendors are the ones that have tight reins on what third party developers can do. Dassault is perhaps the best example.
There’s not a great deal different in the concept of Creo Apps than there is within the CAA developer programme. It’s all a la carte product development technology, with a common user experience across the board.
So, what’s the difference between Creo, PTC’s plans and what every other vendor is doing at the moment? The answer is: not a great deal on the face it. Yet, there some very interesting looking tools on the horizon.
The BOM-driven configuration tools look fascinating and perfect for many of both Pro/E and CoCreate customers, many of whom are developing modular, but custom products. In terms of pure geometry editing, the combination and common-data model approach in the new modelling tools looks intriguing and it’ll be fascinating to see how that pans out once released.
Also, the launch event showed some sub-divisional surface modelling tools, which is something I’ve been dying to see in a mainstream modelling system (other than the likes of T-Splines and Modo) for years - Catia has a variant of it in the form of Imagine and Shape but, as with all things Catia, it’s prohibitively expensive for the masses.
PTC also has a huge arsenal of technology that can be ported to the Creo platform, Arbortext and MathCAD for one, but there was no mention of this except for a sneaky look at a technical publications App presumably coming under the guise of PTC’s Service Information Solutions (SIS) group. Of course, let’s not forget Mechanica and the Division DMU tools.
Ultimately, what PTC has done is take stock of where it’s at, looked at where its customer base is (and perhaps, has gone) and looked at the current state of the 3D technology industry and created a new offering that ticks all those boxes and potentially more.
It’s way too early to comment on the delivery and potential of the technology yet, but I would say this: there isn’t anything fundamentally new here when you look at it from a distance.
Creo gives them something new, something that’s fresh and innovative (as much as geometry creation can be innovative) with some of that special magic that they’ve always had for diving into a problem and actually solving it.
After all, this is PTC we’re talking about, and they should never be underestimated.
At present, Creo is all about potential. What remains is execution. Can they develop the apps to work as shown? Can they bring all of the tools across into this single environment? Will both the direct sales force and channel be ready to deliver it to customers? And of course, will customers want to buy into it? All this remains to be seen, but let’s end this with a final, Jerry Springer style thought which is this: “And they did all this without a single mention of The Cloud.”
Who would have guessed it?