Forward-Thinking: What’s Coming Next for Industrial Companies
Written By: Nancy White
12/6/2021 Read Time : 4 min

Technology innovation is at the forefront of our minds at PTC; it’s a part of our heritage and our future. Across four decades, we have looked to invent and invest in the next generation of digital technology that industrial companies need to be competitive.

Disruption is the new normal – and has only amplified in recent years – and all companies need to evolve to stay relevant to customers. At PTC, we are dedicated to not only refining our current technologies, but also defining how technologies will help industrial companies in the future. We stay one step ahead of disruption to be the digital transformation partner industrial companies need to be market leaders.

There was a time when PTC was primarily a CAD company, but our technology portfolio has adapted with the market, first expanding to PLM, then to IoT and augmented reality (AR), and most recently, expanding our capabilities with software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings.

While our portfolio has expanded, our commitment to innovate each technology while looking for what’s next has remained constant. We’re actively exploring how artificial intelligence, SaaS, and the concepts of spatial computing and digital twin can be integrated into our technologies and transform how industrial companies operate now and in the future.

Let’s look at some of the possibilities we’re seeing with these technologies and how industrial companies can (and should) leverage them in the not-so-distant future.

Spatial Computing

The PTC Reality Lab, a dedicated team of researchers exploring the intersection of the digital and physical worlds is at the forefront of PTC”s innovation and is actively exploring how industrial companies could use spatial computing.

While still early days, spatial computing will come into purview for industrial companies as the enabling technologies like IoT, AR, and AI become more widely adopted and new sources of location data are captured and utilized.

Spatial computing is the digitization of activities of machines, people, objects, and the environments in which they take place to enable and optimize actions and interactions. This technology has the potential to digitally transform how industrial enterprises optimize operations for frontline workers in their factories, worksites, and warehouses.

Our researchers are looking for practical ways industrial spaces can better harness spatial computing. Some of the applications being explored include:
  • Enabling seamless interactions using AR to deliver information in-context.
  • Closing the loop on performance management by optimizing the complex workings within an environment through developing a robust picture of movements within a space in real-time, or over a period of time.
  • Improve human-machine interactions by infusing machines and automation to have greater awareness of their dynamic environment.
  • Optimize design and operations through a better understanding of how a physical space is being used to improve utilization, efficiency, and safety.

Spatial computing is the next-generation human-machine interface (HMI). It’s an exciting space to be researching and exploring – and PTC is proud to be at the forefront of innovation on behalf of our industrial customers.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has made its way into our products in meaningful ways from generative design to predictive service, yet we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

In the coming years, artificial intelligence will become more prevalent in our technologies to help solve some of the toughest challenges and yield significant outcomes.

Among them is spatial analytics: Using a combination of artificial intelligence, computer vision, IoT, and more, it’s designed to analyze movements, performance, downtimes, all contextualized in space. For factories, this could be a game-changing technology, offering real-time insights and feedback on process and workforce optimization.

Our researchers are also exploring possibilities at the intersection of augmented reality (AR), computer vision, and AI. PTC’s Vuforia Innovation Runway team put together a demo of a spare part recognition experience using AR. Using AR as the user interface, a user is able to scan a set of spare parts, through the power of computer vision and AI, the parts are recognized and specific characteristics can be shown (i.e. name, SKU, availability, etc.).

With worker shortages and increasingly complex work environments, tech advances that improve and support the frontline worker are critical investments.

Digital Twin

Digital twin is a popular topic right now across many industries and there’s a lot of exciting concepts out there. For industrial companies, there’s a lot we can do now, and there’s a lot of possibility. What we’re looking at is identifying specific, practical, and effective digital twin applications.

We define digital twin this way: Digital/data models that virtually represent, understand, and predict their physical counterparts including products, an operational process, a person’s task, or a place. A digital twin has a digital definition (CAD, PLM, etc.), physical experience (Internet of Things data, real-world telemetry etc.) and an information model (dashboards, HMIs etc.) for engineering, manufacturing, and service workers to consume and take action on. 

We see digital twin as being a way to model and structure data, in particular for frontline workers, to be consumed in a method that’s relevant to the task or through a particular role-based lens. A digital thread provides the foundation for this concept, a powerful way to make sense of disparate data sets and gain valuable insights to drive improvement throughout the business.


Delivering our technology portfolio as software-as-a-service is the most important product goals we have as a company in the near future. Ensuring our technologies are available when, where, and how our customers want them – seamlessly operating within their workflows -- is something we’re cognizant of and much of the software market has moved toward a software-as-a-service model.

Product development is one of the last holdouts in this regard, but we’ve reached a tipping point and in the next 5 to 10 years, our research indicates most industrial companies will be looking to transition to SaaS. The end is to be seamlessly operating in customer workflows, every time they access it.

As a result, PTC is accelerating its transition to SaaS across the portfolio. After key investments in SaaS technologies (Onshape and Arena) in recent years, we are working to build our products on the cloud-native platform, PTC Atlas.

Final Thoughts

Disruption doesn’t stop – and neither can digital transformation. Preparation is the most effective way to fend off disruption. As a trusted partner in digital transformation, we stay one step ahead, so our customers can too.

Learn more about our efforts: PTC Reality Lab, Digital Twin, and Spatial Computing.

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