PTC Jump-starting the Internet of Things


The evolution of PTC has been fascinating — from CAD to PLM, ALM, SLM, and now the Internet-of-Things. IoT is core to PTC’s strategy going forward, and was emphasized repeatedly throughout PTC Live this year.


The Need for System Engineering – source ChainLink Research

PTC’s CEO, Jim Heppelmann, kicked off his keynote for PTC Live 2014 by focusing on the Internet-of-Things and ‘smart, connected products’ that have sensors, microprocessors, and network connectivity. He talked about how this new world has all these layers of hardware, sensors, embedded software, software on premise or in the cloud, and connectivity. That complexity requires many design decisions on where to put functionality, the costs and tradeoffs, reliability, security, and many more complexities. This increasingly demands a systems engineering approach to design — hence Jim announced PTC’s acquisition (for about $50M) of Atego, a UK-based provider of systems engineering tools for complex, mission-critical systems.

Smart Connected Products to Monitor, Control, Optimize, Automate

Jim described how smart, connected products can be used to monitor, control, optimize, and automate, giving an example of each. The remote monitoring (condition, environment, and operation/usage) example was a BIOTRONIK pacemaker that lets the physician remotely monitor a patient’s condition. BIOTRONIK is considering selling home health monitoring as a service, rather than just selling the device. The example of controlling things and the environment was doorbot, a remote door bell that launches an app when someone rings your door, allowing you to see and talk to whoever is at the door, and, if you want, unlock the door to let them in. Combining these two capabilities (monitor and control) with the right intelligence and algorithms allows a manufacturer to intervene to optimize the performance of the product, such as elevators that are dynamically configured depending on time of day and expected traffic, or heavy machinery that adjusts engine power output to optimize fuel use. Finally, these machines can potentially operate autonomously, such as the driverless mining trucks that have already hauled hundreds of millions of tons of ore as well as autonomous robotic mining drills and many other examples in other domains.

Source: PTC, Image by ChainLink Research

Jim talked about how lifecycle management doesn’t end once the product leaves the factory. In fact, that is when the really important stuff happens. That is why PTC has acquired complete coverage across that full lifecycle from the engineering tools (CREO), to PLM (Windchill), systems integration (Atego), service (SLM/Servigistics) and finally closing the loop with connectivity and IoT (ThingWorx). Jim concluded by saying “This is the most exciting time in our industry that I can remember. There is no Internet-of-Things without the things you design and build.” To attendees, he stated: “You are the headline act.

A Smarter Device for Detecting Hazardous Chemicals

Next, we heard Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Director of IT for Portable Analytic Instruments, David Riddle, describe its award winning “TruDefender FTi,” a handheld device used to identify potentially hazardous chemicals or substances during dangerous incidents such as accidents, spills, fires, earthquakes, and so forth. When entering the ‘hot zone,’ responders need to know what threat they are facing as quickly as possible. They face huge pressures of time, limited visibility, dangers (e.g. collapsing building, explosion, etc.), cumbersome protective gear, and difficult communications. With previous devices, first responders would have to take the reading and emerge from the hot zone before relaying the information. TruDefender FTi transmits the data directly from the hot zone via email or SMS to the commander. For unknown substances, the spectrum data is sent to Thermo Fisher scientists who can analyze it faster than ever before.

Bringing Together Various Technologies, Disciplines, and Services

The TruDefender product is a good example of the blend of disciplines Jim was talking about. It is not just hardware, but also communications, website, back office, and services (e.g. scientist analyzing spectrum data for unknown substances). All these integrations need to be considered during the design phase and when upgrading many of the pieces. There are many dependencies outside of the core product, such as managing the reliability and integration of not just the handheld, but the applications, database, network, infrastructure, and service provider. Security was also a key consideration. Traditional firewalls were not adequate.

David Riddle emphasized that, “Working across disciplines was a critical success factor for this product.” Hardware engineering, marketing, customer support, embedded software developers, IT support, web development, the spectral analysis group, and application developers all needed to work together coordinating on common requirements, common quality assurance, and shared application development lifecycle tools. Getting buy-in from the functional leaders and establishing the right shared tools, infrastructure, processes, communications, and development platforms was foundational to the success of this kind of multi-organizational, multi-discipline product development and service offering. That is becoming more and more the norm.

ThingWorx 5.0

ThingWorx 5.0, the latest release, focuses on deployability and scalability of the platform. These attributes are vital in the IoT world, as some applications will involve many millions of things1 — an enormous amount and variety of data, end point devices, and communication connections, spread across many sites and geographies. ThingWorx takes a hierarchal approach, allowing pieces to be deployed in ThingWorx’s cloud, on-premise servers, edge servers, and embedded in the actual devices themselves. ThingWorx executives also said they have rolled out functionality to make their protocol work in bandwidth-constrained environments.

5.0 also introduced what ThingWorx is branding as their MatrixedMultitenancy™ Security Model. This provides a way to manage very granular security across a complex ecosystem that includes many different entities and roles. Many IoT applications require this (see section below “IoT Often Requires a Complex Ecosystem of Well-Integrated Services and Partners”). ThingWorx also showed off their rapid application creation capabilities, such as the ThingWorx Composer™ and drag and drop application builder.

The Diversity of ThingWorx Applications

Examples of applications built on top of ThingWorx are what make the platform come to life. The variety is mind-bending. A few of them we heard about include:

  • Vital Herd — which makes a high-tech pill swallowed by dairy cattle that will stay in the animal’s stomach for life, monitoring its heart rate, respiratory rate, pH, contractions of the rumen (the first of the cows four stomachs), temperature, and more. This can be used by dairy farmers to optimize feed, as well as be alerted much earlier (compared to traditional visual signs) of impending health issues that need to be addressed.
  • ATI Specialty Materials — a manufacturer of specialty steel, primarily for aerospace, but also for medical equipment and prosthetics is replacing its SAP MII system with ThingWorx, to better connect shop floor and MES up to their ERP systems.
  • All Traffic — a leading manufacturer of traffic message signs, calming devices, and safety equipment, including radar speed displays and changeable signs. It was a natural fit to get their signs connected wirelessly and collect data on the web. Police can just put the sign up on a pole and then log into the internet and access the data being collected.
  • Ericsson/Volvo (Park & Pay) — used ThingWorx to build industry-specific extensions to their Connected Vehicle Cloud. Ericsson helped Volvo create the “Park and Pay” system on their vehicles — a mashup of cloud services that locates an empty parking spot for the vehicle and allows the driver to prepay so that the assigned space is there waiting for her.
  • Ericsson/Volvo (Roam Delivery Service) — this is one I’d love to use. It enables groceries (or other packages) to be delivered to or picked up at your car. The car’s GPS tells the logistics provider the location for the drop off. A one-time ‘digital key’ gives the delivery truck driver access to the car; as soon as the goods have been put into the car, the digital key disappears. No more hanging around the house for hours and/or missing deliveries — no wonder it got rave reviews.
  • Ericsson/Volvo (Slippery Conditions Alert) — Volvo’s cars can already detect slippery conditions, but it only tells the driver once those conditions are actually encountered. Volvo is working on a system where a car that encounters slippery conditions will notify nearby cars headed its way, so drivers can be warned before hitting the icy patch. In addition, nearby city salt trucks can be notified and dispatched to the spot to treat it.
  • RailComm — collects machine-generated sensor data from the rail network (such as from the switches that redirect trains onto different tracks) and is used to predict and prevent failures. They developed the their initial application on ThingWorx in just two weeks. In the future, they will use the data aggregation and data correlation features of ThingWorx to integrate other information, such as current weather, time of day, maintenance history, and conditions of past failures.

IoT Often Requires a Complex Ecosystem of Well-Integrated Services and Partners

A common pattern in many of these applications is the need for an ecosystem of multiple partners to coordinate and deliver their piece of the service. For example, something like the Volvo’s Roam Delivery Service, which delivers a package to your car, involves the automobile OEM, the logistics/delivery company, the retailer, ecommerce sites, communications service providers, location services provider, and more. These multi-entity ecosystems require a number of things to be in place such as:

  • Multi-entity Platform — The ability for multiple different entities (organizations and service providers) to easily connect to a shared, common platform, including an online marketplace (e.g, ThingWorx Marketplace) that enables developers to rapidly find and assemble components and services from the various entities
  • Multi-entity Security – robust, highly granular, rapidly configurable security model that can be set up so each player can only access the data, devices, and services they are entitled to.
  • Multi-entity Agreements — The ability to rapidly set up legal agreements and services between multiple parties, including billing, revenue sharing, liability agreements, etc.

ThingWorx has done a lot to cover the first two. The third is beyond the scope of a technology platform, but perhaps some sort of set of services or shared legal ‘platform’ will emerge from someone, as the need grows.

Creo 3.0

Creo 3.0, which is currently in beta, will have hundreds of enhancements in concept design, 2D and 3D modeling, simulation, manufacturing, and more. PTC estimates productivity gains of 10%-30% on an individual basis. One of the main highlights is the announcement (and addition) of new Unite™ technology for working in a multi-CAD environment, enabling CREO to import from five major CAD formats (SolidWorks, CATIA, NX, Solid Edge® and Autodesk® Inventor®) and natively edit, update, and save in three of those (SolidWorks®, CATIA® and NXTM). Creo 3.0 also has an overhauled ‘getting started’ user experience, including things like more context sensitive tutorials, links to PTC university, and expanding the ‘command finder’ capability — that allows the user to enter a Pro/Engineer command and shows them the equivalent in Creo and now has been expanded to do the same for SolidWorks commands.

Source: PTC, Image by ChainLink Research

Manufacturers Set Their Sights High — Really High for Service Transformation

Cindy Elliott, PTC’s Senior Director of SLM Market Development, presented some interesting research findings, where PTC commissioned Oxford Economics to survey 370 service executives across global geographies, industries, and functions. A series of questions were used to classify the service maturity of companies into one of five levels, which were described as: 1) “Product Model” (lagging), 2) “Service Parts” (formative), 3) Field Services (moderate), 4) Service Contracts/SLAs (progressive), and 5) Outcomes-based Services Model (best-in-class). The most interesting part of the survey was the comparison of the current state vs. where companies predicted they will be in three years.

The overwhelming message here was that companies are incredibly ambitious in where they expect to get to in just three years. Even if it takes longer (as these kinds of transformations do), it points to a real sea change in the business model that manufacturers view themselves to have — the core business that they expect to be in.

ThingWorx PTC Prototype — Looking to the Future

Near the end of the conference, I got to see an intriguing prototype developed by PTC engineers who were tasked with imagining what might be possible by combining ThingWorx with PTC’s engineering solutions. I was told it took just two weeks (one sprint) for a few of PTC’s engineers to build. That rapid prototyping capability was praised by almost all of the various application developers I heard from at the conference. For example, Michael Penza (VP of Research & Development) from RailComm said his engineers loved the ability to do A/B comparisons to let users try out different user interfaces and pick the one that worked best.

Monitoring Part Failures in a Fleet

Source: Photo by Gustavo Fring

This prototype used simulated inputs from a fleet of vehicles outfitted with sensors. The sensor information, along with information about vehicle failures was brought from ThingWorx into PTC Quality to do statistical analysis of the various failure modes — thus providing closed loop information back to engineers of how their designs are actually performing in the field. The engineer can sort the failures by part, to see which parts failed the most often, as well as by failure mode to see the most common cause of failure, and other dimensions, such as where failures occurred by geography, time of day, etc.

This has some huge advantages over the traditional feedback mechanisms, which typically involve receiving and analyzing reports about repairs from various repair shops. First of all this new approach is real-time, so there is no delay. This helps you solve problems much earlier, learn more quickly, and possibly come up with more effective workarounds until a design change can happen.

Playing Back and Analyzing Pre-Failure Conditions

Source: Image by falco from Pixabay

More importantly, you are getting very precise, granular, and comprehensive data about all the vehicles, including the ability to play back what was happening on all the sensors during the time period leading up to the failure. Imagine a program that could analyze thousands of failures, including the detailed sensor readings leading up to the point of failure. That could provide a way to diagnose the cause, as well as provide a template for prediction that could warn the driver and do better predictive maintenance.

Further, we discussed the possibility to incorporate myriad other data, such as the weather conditions, factory data (e.g. lot numbers for failed parts) where the vehicles had been serviced, maintenance history, where the vehicles were stored, and more. This could really help in the root cause detective work.

Directly Observing Product Usage

Just as exciting is the ability to observe the conditions that all your products are being used under. We know people use things in ways the product designer may never have imagined — it happens all the time: “You’re doing what with our product?!?” Further, you could monitor usage to detect whether a part or subsystem was over-engineered or under-engineered, realizing savings by ‘right sizing’ (or is it ‘right-engineering’?) each part to how it is actually used in the field. You could even imagine algorithms that would in-take all that field data and help designers optimize their designs, for example trading off the expected life of the product (for which you will have precise information from monitoring past users) vs. the cost of making various repairs in the field vs. the cost of making the part more robust, to balance them all. To make it clear, this last set of capabilities came from my imagination, not something the PTC said they were working on, but I believe it is probably just one example of the enormous potential of these new capabilities.

I have heard from SaaS providers about the huge advantages of being able to look directly, precisely, in real-time at exactly how their users are using their system (such as which parts of the system are used the most or least, where do people get stuck, and other statistics). With smart connected devices that PTC enables, hardware vendors can now get usage visibility and insights similar to the capabilities SaaS providers have realized.

Summary: PTC’s Strategy Stays Fresh, and Aligns With Manufacturers’ Needs

My overall impression from the conference is that PTC has really kept its strategy fresh and aligned with where manufacturers are headed. They continue to make smart acquisitions and the ThingWorx acquisition in particular looks very promising.


1 Even if they start out with modest scope, many early stage IoT applications need to be prepared to support massive scalability without the pain of switching platforms. — Return to article text above

2 The previous startup of ThingWorx’s founder, Russ Fadel, was Lighthammer, acquired by SAP and formed the foundation of SAP MII (Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence). — Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

Scroll to Top