How the IoT will Transform Technical Illustrations

Written By: Jeff-Coon
  • 1/31/2018
IoT technical illustration

If you haven’t read PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann and Harvard University Professor Michael E. Porter’s article on augmented reality (AR), it contains some very compelling examples of how the technology impacts the day-to-day lives of service technicians.

The article got me thinking about the connection between the Internet of Things and technical illustrations. For example, if a connected drill press’s rectifier breaks, the product would send an alert to a maintenance system that assigns a technician to replace that part. When the technician arrives on site, he could pull up an interactive 3D animation detailing how to replace it.

But this example assumes that the system in which the animation resides isn't integrated with the application that manages the drill press's IoT data. What if they were?

Technical illustrations will contain part lifecycle information

Let’s say you manage a dealership affiliated with a major auto manufacturer. The manufacturer has been producing connected vehicles for some time, and each one has its own digital twin. A product lifecycle management (PLM) solution manages the service information associated with every digital twin.

All of the parts in a car have some sort of life-limit, many of which are based on the vehicle's utilization. For example, some parts have a life-limit of 1,000 miles.

Connected technical illustrations could show the current status of every part’s life-limit. For example, if a mechanic were to select a 3D representation of a vehicle's carburetor, he may see that the part has about 300 miles left before it fails. Based on this insight, he may order a new carburetor and schedule a time to replace it sometime towards the end of its lifecycle.

Another similar use case involves processing sensor data to determine how environmental conditions affect each part’s life limit. Two people may have completely different driving habits, and therefore introduce varying levels of stress on their vehicles.

Say a brake pad’s life limit is 12,000 miles. While Jess is a generally safe driver, Marie often speeds and slams on her brakes. Therefore, Marie will probably have to replace her brake pads before Jess, assuming they were installed at the same time. A connected technical illustration could reflect this difference when Marie and Jess bring in their vehicles for service.

Making connected technical illustrations a reality

The situations I described above aren’t quite ready for the mass market. Some organizations may be able to connect their PLM and technical illustration systems, but many others simply don’t have the infrastructure.

For example, one of the problems I’ve discussed is that manufacturers lack much of the 3D technical information needed to deliver 3D content. Putting the IoT aside, manufacturers usually only get 2D drawings of the components they procure from OEMs, making it difficult for them to provide complete 3D content to technicians and end-users.

I’m not going to pretend that bringing this concept to operation will be easy – it will require a lot of back-end integration. Still, it’s an IoT use-case worth mentioning, as it may completely eliminate many of the service information management issues companies face today, which we discuss in the infographic below:

Extend PLM to Service Infographic

  • CAD
  • Industrial Internet of Things
  • Service and Parts
  • Digital Transformation

About the Author


Jeff Coon is PTC’s Solution Management Director, overseeing PTC’s illustration tools. With 34 years of experience in field service, Jeff’s career began as an AH-1 Attack Helicopter Repairman in the U.S. Army. After his time in the service, he worked as a technical illustration specialist at Boeing for five years until he joined ITEDO Software as a technical engineer in 2000. In 2006, he was named PTC’s Principal Application Engineer for the company’s illustration tools, defining implementation strategies for Boeing, John Deere, and others.