Antony Savvas looks at how manufacturers are moving their product development and design to the edge, and need IoT and 5G service providers to help them.
“New-generation access (NGA) will help offset the decline in revenue from fixed and mobile voice services,” says analyst house IDC. It also expects 5G to unlock new opportunities by allowing “massive machine-type” and “ultra-reliable low-latency” communications.
“Telecom operators are completely transforming: from providers of traditional commodity-style services to modern full-stack technology suppliers,” says Kresimir Alic, IDC research director. “By doing so, they hope to become leaders of the digital revolution and acquire a central position in the new digitalised world.”
Such an opportunity can be seen at the telco edge, where cloud service providers are joining forces with telcos to serve the needs of enterprises, and this is highlighted by what is happening the manufacturing vertical.
The recently held PTC LiveWorx customer and partner event in Boston, Massachusetts demonstrated how the whole manufacturing supply chain could be efficiently brought together by communications service providers (CSPs).
PTC specialises in traditional on-premise CAD (computer-aided design) software, and has grown to serve the wider needs of manufacturers, through acquiring firms specialising in product lifecycle management (PLM) and Internet of Things (IoT) services, for instance.
At the show, partners including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Dell Technologies, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise were among those in attendance, in addition to a multitude of global system integrators (GSIs).
PTC is now in the process of delivering all its products to customers through the cloud on a SaaS (software-as-a-service) basis. To get its very heavyweight and complicated design software to customers, including the likes of Rolls-Royce, Volvo and various armed forces, for instance, it, and its cloud partners, need some very fast and reliable communications networks.
Like most CAD platforms in the manufacturing industry, the solutions are still largely deployed on-premise. But $2 billion (€1.83 billion) turnover PTC is now moving towards 25% of its turnover being generated through the cloud with SaaS-based offerings, which spells a big opening for MSPs (managed service providers), cloud service providers, telcos and IoT connectivity and services firms.
PTC is currently rolling out its “+” strategy, which sees its various products being made SaaS-based.
“We certainly won’t be using less partners. We will need them to help with modified and integrated services at end customers’ sites – there will be new opportunities through the cloud,” says PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann.
At the event, PTC’s Creo CAD platform was given the Creo+ moniker, signalling it was now available as a SaaS option. The company already sells the Windchill+ PLM solution.
Creo+ combines the “proven functionality” of Creo with new cloud-based tools to enhance design collaboration and simplify CAD administration. Building on the capabilities of model-based definition, simulation-driven design, and advanced manufacturing, Creo+ includes real-time design collaboration tools to enable multiple team members to review, explore, and edit product designs.
Creo+ also includes the PTC Control Centre application, powered by the PTC Atlas SaaS platform, that enables simple deployment and management of software licenses for cloud-based tools.
“With Creo+, our customers will be enabled to design faster, easier, and more collaboratively than ever before,” says Brian Thompson, general manager of Creo at PTC. “We’ve combined the market-leading design capabilities of Creo with productivity benefits that can only be achieved through the power of the cloud.”
Creo+ users can collaborate on the same designs simultaneously with internal and external partners, which helps accelerate the development process and reduce re-design. Creo+ is also fully upwards compatible from on-premise versions of Creo, and is built on the same core technology, so no data translation is needed.
There is a growing ecosystem around PTC’s products and those from its competitors.
IQNOX is an application lifecycle management (ALM) and IoT services provider in various industries, and its Widget Pack supports PTC’s ThingWorx Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform, which enables the rapid development and deployment of smart, connected devices.
ThingWorx is a set of integrated IoT development tools to support connectivity, analysis, production, and other aspects of IoT development. The Widget Pack promises to speed up deployments further, and IQNOX can provide its IoT Health Check, an evaluation of IoT systems to assess devices, networks, data management and security protocols before full roll-outs.
“We ensure that your team is following best practices and getting the most out of your platforms,” says IQNOX.
In June, 2023, Rockwell Automation and PTC announced an extension of their relationship, focused on the adoption of IoT and augmented reality (AR) software by manufacturing companies. Rockwell Automation will continue to resell ThingWorx, including the Digital Performance Management (DPM) manufacturing solution, as well as PTC’s Vuforia AR software to new and existing customers across discrete and process manufacturing verticals.
“Rockwell continues to leverage PTC software as an important component of our global customers’ digital manufacturing solutions,” says Blake Moret, CEO of Rockwell Automation. “Alongside our best-in-class operations management solutions, PTC’s innovative offerings improve customer value.”
In the Industry 4.0 field, Capvidia supplies both workflow software and comparative validation software.
It offers standalone or plug-in support for various platforms, including PTC’s Creo as well as systems such as CATIA, SolidWorks, NX from Siemens, Inventor, STEP, QIF, and others.
Also, PITERION is a PLM service provider that delivers vendor independent services and solutions.
It offers bespoke software development, multiple virtualised systems and applications at the edge to reduce IT costs and simplify administration. It also delivers data replication, system and application migration, disaster recovery and business continuity, remote infrastructure management, data security, and systems and network optimisation.
In addition, 3HTi provides CAD services, PLM services, cloud hosting services, digital transformation, simulation services and business process audits.
“When a leading cell phone manufacturer needed to keep their products from overheating, 3HTi improved the natural flow of air in their phones,” says the firm.
“Having also worked with NASA and the US National Laboratories, our simulation, FEA (finite element analysis) and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) expertise is second to none,” it maintains.
The issue of network data security is also a key focus for manufacturing firms, and vendors in the space are trying to address it.
Quest Software, the systems management, data protection and security software provider, commissioned research among 300 C-level IT executives at manufacturing firms in the UK, France and Germany. It found that ransomware (22%), industrial espionage (21%), and state-sponsored threats (21%) were the top perceived threats to their business
Notably, 66% expressed the belief their company will be targeted by a cyber attack within the next 12 months.
“It is critical to invest in cyber resilience to be prepared for cyber attacks and disaster recovery situations to reduce the risks of supply chain disruption and manufacturing system downtime,” says John Hernandez, general manager at Quest.
Driven-4 is another player in the manufacturing security space. As well as supplying PLM solutions, it provides security services and frameworks to allow firms to understand risks, and provide a roadmap to a secure product and corporate environment.
Its offering includes penetration testing and vulnerability assessments, risk management and actions for mitigation. While technology is key, Driven-4 stresses: “Educate and make your first line of defence your employees.”
Fishbowl Solutions provides consulting services, add-on software, and customisations for PTC’s Windchill PLM and Creo CAD products, enabling “simple and secure” access, “fast and easy” data extraction and bulk loading, and the efficient publishing and sharing of content.
Collaboration is a key focus of the firm. Many manufacturers are using Microsoft Teams for project/document collaboration, and Windchill for product lifecycle management execution. A key business problem they face is that sharing documents between the two systems is “cumbersome, time-consuming and error-prone”, says Fishbowl.
The document sharing steps can require multiple saves and check-ins that make it difficult to know if the document is being updated in one system and not the other, or if the user is accessing the most current document. “This confusion can lead to expensive issues later in the process”, says Fishbowl.
The company has integrated Microsoft Teams and Windchill to simplify the process of natively accessing and interacting with Windchill from within Microsoft Teams. “We find that heavy Teams users want to do their work in Teams, while heavy Windchill users want to do their work there. This app allows users to choose their interface.
Manufacturers can spend millions on engineering change orders (ECOs). A single ECO can typically cost up to $30,000 (€27,250), according to HCLSoftware. Investing in design for excellence (DfX) technology to address manufacturing and assembly requirements can help save significant time to market, by reducing time consuming design iterations.
HCLSoftware’s HCL DFMPro is a CAD-integrated design for manufacturing (DFM) system. It identifies potential issues and provides recommendations to resolve possible downstream manufacturing problems.
It works with Creo, and other CAD systems like CATIA V5, NX and SolidWorks.
As part of the offering, the DFMPro Cost add-on provides early cost visibility to design engineers from when designs are getting created. It evaluates design choices based on materials, features, geometry and manufacturing regions. And it identifies expensive design features impacting costs due to manufacturability, and provides recommendations for cost reduction.
Manufacturers are moving into the cloud and to the edge to store, manage and process their data to enable more efficient and sustainable product design, and they need the right connectivity services to support them in doing so.
The author is Antony Savvas, a global freelance business technology journalist.