Bridging the divide

Justin Cunningham talks to PTC about the thinking behind bringing software engineering in to its PLM offering and the imminent release of Creo 2.0.

The recent PTC Live TechForum in Copenhagen gave the chance to find out some of the newest innovations and developments plans by the company. Perhaps one of the most striking is that of MKS Integrity. PTC acquired MKS earlier this year with the aim of bringing software engineering into product development and therefore as a wider part of PLM.

Software development, management, procurement and testing will now be able to have the same level of scrutiny applied to it as similar hardware processes. Software engineering has therefore become part of PTC's PLM solution and is no longer developed as a separate and distinct entity using an ALM system as it has been in the past.

Although this might appear superficial and perhaps a case of semantics, chief technology officer of the Integrity business unit at PTC, Andrew Wertkin, is keen to explain just what is on offer. "There are other tools and processes for managing software engineering that were never a part of the PLM system, where the end result is a binary code on a bill of materials," he says. "So the problem is we are not applying that same amount of engineering rigour to software as we are to hardware. We are not able to do any cross-disciplinary change management and there can be very little visibility of release readiness."

For many industries software is driving innovation in its products. From vehicles to machinery, innovation in features, functions and improved capability is often the result of clever software. But software is also driving complexity. And this can have a knock-on effect resulting in quality issues, defects and other concerns. It seems to be a lot easier to test if hardware is set for release than it is for software.

Wertkin adds: "If you are not applying that same rigour to software when it is driving that much complexity, innovation and can often be responsible for safety critical functions, then you are setting yourself up for failure."

PTC believes it needs to bring together software and hardware engineering processes bridging the development gap to allow for a more holistic approach to product design. Engineers need to understand, be able to quantify and manage the trade-offs between hardware and software requirements. PTC believes these entities should be integrated and developed in parallel and not treated as two distinct activities that are brought together at the latter stages of product development and integration.

This philosophy is about taking a 'systems' view of product development to allow design engineers to see what effect trade-offs made between hardware and software have on the overall outcome of a mechanical product, be it reliability, performance or capability.

At the moment it seems to be that in most cases hardware is driving the software requirement. For example car and aircraft turbines engines have had vast amounts of software added over the years resulting in new levels of optimisation, control and flexibility to the mechanical system. But, moving forward, it is quite plausible that in some cases software will drive the hardware and mechanical aspects of products. PTC views this relationship as vital and something that needs to be understood, quantified and embedded in the capability of Integrity and its PLM system.

The combination of MKS Integrity and PTC's PLM products is intended to bring multiple benefits to manufacturers, including enabling best practices across hardware and software development lifecycles, increasing engineering visibility across the entire development process to improve product quality, traceability and long-term serviceability.

The other big announcement at the TechForum was the release of Creo 2.0. The release follows hot on the heels of Creo 1.0. In many respects Creo 1.0 was used to introduce to the company's latest CAD design package and prove its capability to the market. Given its very short development cycle and the short period between the releases of Creo 1.0 and 2.0, PTC expects most of its customers to go from Wildfire 4 and 5 straight to Creo 2.0.

Vice President of Creo product management at PTC Brian Thompson says: "Creo 2.0 had such a short development cycle we had to really focus down on what we wanted to do. We will significantly improve Creo Direct and introduce our 'any BOM' technology."

This will link complex Bill of Material management in the Windchill options and variants to a new app in Creo. More details of new and improved functionality are to be release in coming months before its official unveiling in March 2012.

Justin Cunningham

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