A New Era: Digital Transforms Physical
Written by: Nancy White

Read Time: 6 min

Digital transformation, which is at the heart of PTC’s purpose, has proved essential in the face of disruption.

Looking back on how life has changed since March 2020, there’s no denying the impacts the pandemic has had on the way we work and how all businesses must prepare for the unexpected.

“What we may think is ‘normal’ at any point in time can be disrupted by pandemics, and supply chain problems, not to mention earthquakes and storms and riots and unrest,” said Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC in a recent keynote. “No matter the nature of the disruption, digital has proven a powerful force to both survive and thrive amidst the chaos and changing conditions.”

At PTC, we know the power of digital technologies and have seen firsthand the incredible opportunities enabled and empowered by our product line-up.

In this post, we’ll map out how PTC technologies are enabling industrial enterprises to increase revenues, improve operating margins, and increase asset efficiencies. This value reverberates up and down the value chain, and across engineering, manufacturing, and service.

Digital Transforms Physical

“Digital and physical aren’t just coming together. It’s bigger than that. The power of digital is being used to transform what is and what must remain physical.” – Jim Heppelmann

Baked into PTC’s logo is the intersection of the physical and the digital – and it’s the core of our strategy and is demonstrated across our technologies.

For industrial companies, the “physical” encompasses the products they design, engineer and manufacture, the places they work (factories, warehouses, and offices) they work in, the processes they perform, and the people (employees and customers) involved in all those things.

“At PTC, we are showing our customers that by embracing digital technologies, you can transform the physical aspects of your business,” Heppelmann said.

Let’s dive into each of PTC’s technologies and how each one is using its digital power to transform the physical.


CAD: Digital Defines Physical

With our CAD technologies, we help customers use digital technology to define their physical products.

At its essence, CAD is all about creating digital prototypes that replace the need for physical prototypes and drawings in a quest to save time and money, while avoiding costly mistakes and rework. With the support of CAD, our customers are able to create innovative new products for their customers.

However, there’s much more depth to CAD – speaking for Creo and Onshape – than ever before. Read on or watch the video below to learn how digital defines physical.

  • Digital Models Physical: Our CAD technologies create 3D models with such high fidelity that the concept we envision becomes completely unambiguous. It enables greater innovation and creative exploration because change is much easier (and less costly) when done digitally. Paired with photo-realistic experiences and simulation, companies can test ideas with customers effectively.
  • Digital Generates Physical: Generative design uses artificial intelligence to produce never-before-seen designs that meet design specifications. With it, companies are accelerating innovation and equipping their product designers/engineers with a novel tool to develop better performing products.
  • Digital Simulates Physical: PTC’s partnership with Ansys delivers simulation that fast tracks design and engineering. Engineers can understand very quickly the consequences of each digital change would imply for the performance of the physical product in the real world.
  • Digital Specifies Physical: With a model-based engineering approach, companies are capturing and communicating incremental information as annotations on the 3D model, in a standard way. The biggest benefit? 2D drawing can finally be a thing of the past.
  • Digital Produces Physical: With additive manufacturing, CAD designs can go from the computer to physical product in short order.


PLM: Digital Manages Physical

“Bringing a product to life isn’t just cross-discipline, it is a cross-functional effort that requires coordinated data sharing across the different tools and systems used by Engineering, Manufacturing, and Service organizations.”

Product lifecycle management (PLM) provides companies with a single authoritative source of truth. It is a home for all pieces of data around physical products. Let’s look at how digital manages physical with PLM.

  • Digital Catalogs Physical: PLM makes sure that every single user throughout the extended enterprise is accessing the right version of the right data. It serves as a system of record for products, just as a CRM is a system of record for customers. It’s a foundational strategic element for digital transformation for discrete manufacturers.
  • Digital Configures Physical: By combining a point in time, with the options companies wish to include (or not), and a perspective in the value chain (i.e. engineer vs. service technician), PLM is a powerful cross-functional tool. It understands the variability in the data and guides users to the right answer.
  • Digital Synchronizes Physical: Bringing a product to life involves different segments of the business – and PLM delivers full traceability from the physical product back to its requirements to ensure that the processes across independent engineering and manufacturing domains have converged and been proven to meet the requirements.
  • Digital Relates Physical: Combined with other technologies, like IoT and augmented reality (AR), PLM understands the product configuration and relates and pulls all of the related data together across different systems. It provides the backbone to a digital thread – and ensure organizations are using the right versions and configurations of the data.
  • Digital Mirrors Physical: A more sophisticated version is found via the digital twin. With PLM’s ability to relate information from multiple sources, including the physical product itself, it can orchestrate how data streams are processed to enable a real-time digital mirror image of what’s happening in the physical world.


IIoT: Digital Connects Physical

Whether you are trying to optimize across a fleet of physical products out in the field at your customer sites, or across all of those physical assets that you use in your own factories, there is no better way to find efficiencies than to connect these assets and leverage their telemetry data. Let’s walk through the capabilities of IIoT to transform how we work.

  • Digital Senses Physical: This is fundamentally what IoT does. With smart, connected products via ThingWorx, we’re able to have all the telemetry data about an asset. This leads to a better understanding by customer and maybe even the OEM of how a product is being used in the field.
  • Digital Translates Physical: In complex environments, like a factory floor, there is a diversity of automation systems – creating a lot of IIoT noise. With the capabilities of ThingWorx Kepware, which can convert all of the proprietary protocol back to a single unified stream that represents the vital signs from all of the different physical assets, organizations can make sense of the different brands, vintages, and protocols found within the work environment.
  • Digital Monitors Physical: Manufacturers can manage what they monitor – meaning with data and related insights enabled with IIoT, organizations better understand activity and trends in real time and over time.
  • Digital Predicts Physical: With the data derived from monitoring, there is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and circumvent problems before they ever occur in the physical world. Using ThingWorx Analytics machine learning technology, businesses are able to help customer avoid unexpected downtime and intervene with timely service intervention.
  • Digital Optimizes Physical: As organizations mature with IIoT, all the previous items (sensing, translating, monitoring, and predicting) can work together in a closed-loop continuous improvement process. Digital performance management software enables manufacturers to continuously monitor a process in a factory, identify bottlenecks, drill down into the details of why and how, and ultimately implement process changes designed to address the bottleneck.


Augmented Reality: Digital Augments Physical

“What excites me most about all those examples is how AR empowers humans, particularly those front-line workers who make up the majority of the global workforce, by giving them the superpower of digital in the right context at the right time.”

Augmented reality is on its way to becoming an essential tool for frontline workers. When remote work and social distancing became requirements during the pandemic, many organizations turned to augmented reality tools to support employees and customers when traditional training and knowledge-sharing methods were limited.

During his keynote, Heppelmann outlined a few ways digital is transforming the workplace with AR.

  • Digital Recognizes Physical: Giving data a sense of place is central to AR. Digital has to recognize the physical environment using advanced AI-based computer vision technology, so it knows where an employee is and where to place the digital information. Like a Snapchat filter recognizing a face, Vuforia Engine has 3D recognition technology. It can draw from upstream data, like CAD or PLM, to recognize a physical object and display relevant information, as well as recognize things from the physical environment like walls, edges, tables, surfaces, distances, and more.
  • Digital Guides Physical: Once AR recognizes an object or place, AR can guide users through processes with step-by-step instructions. AR work instructions are intuitive because they are delivered within a workers’ field of vision and process, instead of referring to a paper manual or computer screen.
  • Digital Captures Physical: Every company has experts with institutional knowledge. This information traditionally was passed on through job shadowing, which costs both time and money. With Vuforia Expert Capture, organizations can digitally capture physical process expertise and share easily with the less experienced workers.
  • Digital Supports Physical: With AR, experts can remotely support the physical work of colleagues in the field using Vuforia Chalk. The worker needing support can share what they’re seeing and the expert on the other end can help troubleshoot the problem through voice, annotations, and more.
  • Digital Virtualizes Physical: The next iteration of AR support for frontline workers is the virtualization of a physical work site where a manager or expert can explore – and even interact – with the space from anywhere in the world. When combined with the power of spatial analytics, businesses can sense, monitor, and ultimately optimize what’s happening there.


SaaS: Digital to Disrupt Physical

“Because all of PTC’s applications would benefit from the advantages of SaaS, we are doubling down on SaaS, and embarking on a journey to be the leader in our market with SaaS deployed across the entire portfolio.”

With the acquisitions of Onshape and Arena, PTC made clear its intention to embrace the disruption power of software-as-a-service (SaaS), not only in CAD and PLM, but across our product line. Heppelmann said that SaaS is a case of digital transforming itself: “The digital technology that transforms the physical world is going through its own transformation,” he said.

Let’s look at the role SaaS plays in digital transformation:

  • Digital Accelerates Physical: Deployment and maintenance of SaaS is practically seamless. There’s no time wasted on on-site infrastructure, software installation and setup, and integration. That’s built into the service. Moving forward, there’s no longer any need to perform onsite patches or upgrades – and customers get the latest version all at the same time.
  • Digital Economizes Physical: SaaS eliminates the need for on-site servers, system administrators, and ongoing maintenance of an on-site software system. The end result is a lower cost of ownership.
  • Digital Mobilizes Physical: Post-pandemic, many businesses are embracing a hybrid, mobile workforce, where employees work part of the time remotely and part of the time in office. SaaS-based platforms support this new normal. Business-critical data can be securely accessed from any device, anywhere in the world.
  • Digital Democratizes Physical: With SaaS, the barriers to entry and participation in the product lifecycle are gone because everybody can participate without any preconditions. Plus, multiple users can work on the same data in the cloud at the same time, enabling a more collaborative and innovative environment.
  • Digital Socializes Physical: With a SaaS-based platform, suppliers, customers and employees can feel confident they are getting the most up-to-date information. It enables companies to work more effectively not only internally, but also with partners, contractors, and more.

Final Thoughts 

Digital technologies have the capability to support enterprises in their quest to maintain the pace of transformation necessary to survive and thrive in a disrupted world.

At PTC, our portfolio of digital technologies transforms the physical world in countless ways across the value chain and all its components: products, processes, people, and places.

“The industry is changing faster than ever right now, and while we are achieving big breakthroughs, I don’t think we are even close to realizing the full power of digital to transform physical across the entire product lifecycle. This journey will continue, and at a faster pace,” Heppelmann said.


Digital Transforms Physical PTC is uniquely positioned to help companies thrive, navigating today’s challenges, while preparing for what’s next. Learn More
Tags: CAD Augmented Reality Industrial Internet of Things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Digital Transformation Digital Thread Digital Twin Industry 4.0
About the Author Nancy White

Nancy White is the content marketing manager for the Corporate Brand team at PTC. A journalist turned content marketer, she has a diverse writing background—from Fortune 500 companies to community newspapers—that spans more than a decade.