Malcolm Gladwell Takes Stage at PTC Live Global

“Things, literally, are changing.”

That was the takeaway from today’s keynote given at PTC Live Global in Nashville. And it’s that change, driven by the Internet of Things, PTC is banking on.

“The Internet of Things is a natural fit for PTC, we’ve been in the “things” business for over 30 years,” said Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO of the Boston-based software company.

PTC made CAD ubiquitous, Heppelmann said, but the technology has its limits.

Products designed in the CAD environment have historically been passed off to manufacturing where the endgame is a physical product in the hands of a consumer.

After the product leaves the manufacturer, there’s little, if anything, known about how it functions or gets used.

“There is no feedback loop. You put things out there and hope for the best,” Heppelmann said.

In this old model, the prototype is exhausted and not valuable anymore, Heppelmann continued. Information about physical things rarely makes it back to the digital world. In this scenario, the digital and the physical are distinct and separate, he said.

But the status quo is changing rapidly.

Thanks to more software intensive products and new IoT technologies, once simple mechanical products have become smart and connected.

“A family of products can share a database in the cloud, and product families can work together in fundamental news ways,” Heppelmann said. “You can even take it a step further with smart farms and smart cities, for example. It’s happening everywhere all the time and all around us.”

Things are becoming both physical and digital at the same time, Heppelmann said. “There is no clear separation between the two. It’s the yin and yang, distinct but inseparable.”

To demonstrate this concept, and it’s business value to both engineering and service, Heppelmann brought onto the stage a Santa Cruz mountain bike, designed in PTC Creo. The bike, fitted with sensors for tracking wheel speed, pressure of suspension, and angle of steering wheel, and connected up to the cloud using an IoT platform, was ridden around the stage while its motions were displayed inside a CAD model in real-time.

This is how you map from the physical world back to the digital world, Heppelmann said.

This “digital twin”, a mash-up using PTC Creo Simulate and other analytics tools, allows engineers to see what’s going on in their product in the language of CAD, said Michael Campbell, executive vice president of the CAD segment at PTC.

“You can capture a trail file and then replay that scenario against future integration of that design.”

And the value extends beyond engineering departments. Service is another area where IoT is making inroads, and one that PTC is touting.

Once products are connected it’s easier to monitor them and provide proactive service, but PTC is taking this one step further aided by the digital twin concept.

In another live demo, Heppelmann and Campbell used augmented reality to project a digital dashboard onto the mountain bike. This kind of dashboard might contain a variety of graphical data captured from the digital twin, enabling service professionals to better understand its unique history.

“IoT and augmented reality is a killer technology for service,” Heppelmann said. You’re essentially creating documentation, but much faster and more efficiently. Graphics is a universal language.”

This is the future, and the new reality for PTC, Heppelmann said.

And the software company is betting money on it.

In the past 18 months, PTC has spent $500 million in acquisitions and organic investments in the IoT space, including acquiring Axeda, ThingWorx, and ColdLight.

This puts PTC way ahead of the game, Heppelmann said. The company can offer an entire technology stack from PTC Creo for the design of the physical product and PTC Windchill which fits the PLM pieces together, to Axeda for connecting to the cloud, ThingWorx for its IoT platform, and ColdLight for analytics.

But the best part about connecting your products, Heppelmann concluded, is you don’t have to wait for the next iteration of things. You can start right now in small ways, and realize big value fast.