Embrace SaaS, reap benefits, says industrial software giant PTC

Software as a service (SaaS) brings faster-than-local software performance without installation or versioning hassles, for CAD, PLM, IIoT and augmented reality development, according to PTC at the LiveWorx 2021 conference.

By Stone Shi January 8, 2022
Courtesy: Control Engineering China


Learning Objectives

  • Understand that PTC software-as-a-service capabilities are helping to transform the physical world with digital in 4 ways.
  • See how PTC expansion of SaaS brings faster deployment, no patches, mobility.
  • Hear PTC tell industry: Industrial SaaS problems are solved, get with it.

With internet access via PC, tablet or mobile phone, just open a browser, and it’s possible to draw with professional computer-aided design (CAD) software without downloading installation files. The speed is faster than having the software installed on a local computer. The software version is always the latest version. There will never be compatibility problems.

Previously, such scenes were only possible in science fiction films. Now, it’s science fact.

Moreover, these capabilities extend beyond CAD software to other industrial software, such as product lifecycle management (PLM), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and augmented reality (AR) development software in a new era of software as a service (SaaS).

The SaaS software application model has innovated usability based on cloud computing. Although SaaS model is applied in some commercial and consumer fields, it has been less widely applied in the industrial applications.

That’s changing. At the LiveWorx 2021 conference, James E. (Jim) Heppelmann, president and CEO of industrial software giant PTC, announced, “PTC will turn to SaaS in an all-round way, including Creo, Windchill, ThingWorx, Vuforia and other product series, and start to become the SaaS leader in this market.”

Perhaps the industrial SaaS era is really on the way this time.

Transforming the physical world with digital: 4 ways

PTC products are well known across many industries. From the early CAD software Pro/E to Creo, PLM Software Windchill, and IoT platform ThingWorx and AR development platform Vuforia (the mainstream in recent years), each software is a benchmark in their respective fields.

At LiveWorx 2021 conference, Heppelmann re-envisioned PTC’s previous products. He believes these products are tools to transform the “physical world” with “digital” in four main ways.

1. CAD uses digital modeling to model the physical world. CAD was and is a digital transformation technology to create digital prototypes. It replaces the need for physical prototypes and drawings and avoids expensive errors and rework. CAD software such as PTC Creo and onshape enable digital modeling physics and digital generation physics, digital analog physics, and even physics.

2. PLM uses numbers to manage the physical world. PLM provides one authoritative data source for enterprises. It is like the digital version of the card catalog in the old physical library. PLM ensures every user throughout the enterprise can access the correct data version and avoid using wrong information. This is digital cataloging physics, a key aspect of any digital transformation strategy. PLM is the product record system, just as customer relationship management (CRM) software is the customer record system. If digital product data is not managed and controlled, the road of digital transformation cannot go far.

3. Then, IoT connects the physical world digitally. With the help of IoT, we can realize the interconnection of all things to digitally perceive physics, translate physics, monitor physics, predict physics, and optimize physics. Various automation systems will be encountered in the factory, but PTC ThingWorx Kepware can connect all equipment of different brands, years and protocols, and convert all data about voltage, current, running time and even consumables into a unified data stream for transmission to the cloud. Then, Thingworx analysis and machine learning technology can monitor and predict.

4. Finally, AR can augment the physical world with digital. AR transforms bits and bytes into insights that can perceive part of the physical world, and just like computer vision technology to recognize the physical environment, AR begins with digital being able to recognize the physical. For example, PTC’s Vuforia can use digital threads to extract digital information from upstream CAD and PLM sources and then repurpose those 3D models to train its artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to recognize real-world objects from any angle and in any state of assembly to guide physical work in the environment. Of course, digital also can support physical work remotely, using the Vuforia Chalk application to enable remote expert assistance, empowering most front-line workers with the superpower of digital.

“PTC’s strategy of digitally transforming the physical is clear, tangible, demonstrable, exciting and very rewarding,” Heppelmann said. “We are focused on the areas of industrial production, process, management, operations, etc., which means we are focused on a nexus where we can have one foot in the virtual world and one foot in the physical world, and that’s where our technology strengths at PTC lie.”

The media sharing session at 2021 LiveWorx conference included explanations of the benefits of software as a service across industries and software platforms. Courtesy: Control Engineering China

The media sharing session at 2021 LiveWorx conference included explanations of the benefits of software as a service across industries and software platforms. Courtesy: Control Engineering China

PTC expands SaaS capabilities

In the process of transforming the physical world with digital, PTC has undoubtedly been successful for performance and for innovative products in their respective application areas. In particular, PTC’s acquisition of IoT startup ThingWorx in 2014 has allowed it to enter the IoT industry and become the world’s leading IoT solutions provider.

PTC’s business model has also been at the forefront of the industry. Shortly after the rise of the “subscription model,” PTC announced its core solutions and new software licenses for ThingWorx would be available worldwide by subscription only starting in 2019. Now, with the advent of SaaS, PTC has announced all of its products will be moving to SaaS.

“There is a trend throughout the software industry to move to SaaS, just as there is a trend for cars to move from internal combustion engines to electrification, and the COVID epidemic has actually materially accelerated our strategy to move to SaaS,” Heppelmann said. The pandemic has shown everyone one of the biggest benefits of SaaS applications, this benefit and new normal has continued until after the epidemic, he said, and many companies have become very accustomed to and like the support given by SaaS to achieve the norm of working at home or splitting time between home and office.

Three SaaS values: Fast deployment, no patches, mobility

Heppelmann summarized three points about customer value with an SaaS transition.

  1. Customers can deploy digital solutions to your work environment faster, without the need to spend time preparing the infrastructure on site, performing software installation and setup or on-site integration.
  2. There is no longer a need to perform on-site patches or upgrades. Everyone is using the latest version, and releases come quickly, which means new innovations are transferred from the keyboard of a PTC software engineer to the production use of a customer.
  3. SaaS enables anytime, anywhere work, enabling collaborative work across functions around the globe and upstream and downstream customers in the supply chain.

PTC has been planning for the SaaS transformation for a long time. In 2019, PTC acquired Onshape, a cloud-native CAD software, and also owns Atlas, a SaaS platform, to start laying out cloud-based industrial software. In January 2021, PTC completed the acquisition of Arena Solutions, a leading SaaS PLM solution, and in April 2021, PTC released two new products based on the Atlas SaaS platform: Vuforia Expert Capture and Creo Generative Design Extension (GDX), a rapid expansion of its SaaS product lineup.

Heppelmann said Atlas will be the common SaaS platform for PTC’s next-generation product line, and now it’s not just Onshape. PTC has re-platformed most of the Vuforia suite of products onto Atlas, including the recently launched Vuforia Instruct application. The first Atlas-based generative design extension for Creo products also has been released, and significant progress has been made in unifying Arena and Atlas, with Windchill and ThingWorx being refactored to Atlas. For customers where SaaS is not an option, such as military and defense, PTC will continue to offer core products such as Creo, Windchill and ThingWorx for a long time.

PTC to industry: Industrial SaaS problems are solved, get with it

Heppelmann also admitted there were many obstacles to the implementation of SaaS in the industrial field at the beginning, such as concerns about network security, concerns about cloud performance, user habits and requirements of laws and regulations. However, with the change and progress of technology, these problems have been solved. He believes SaaS will make industrial software as popular as social media software.

“We are not the first company to create the SaaS concept, but we are the first company to actually implement it successfully in the industrial sector and create good results and performance.” Heppelmann concluded with certainty, “If you believe SaaS is the future, you will find that PTC has paved the way ahead and will lead the industry to this better destination.”

Stone Shi is executive editor-in-chief of Control Engineering China. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Software as a service, industrial SaaS, IIoT


Are you held back by ancient software?

Author Bio: Executive editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China