Software as a Service Enters Engineering and Manufacturing Circles

June 11, 2020
PTC introduces Atlas, a SaaS-based product development platform, and teams up with Rockwell Automation and Microsoft to deliver Factory Insights as a Service.

The future of manufacturing can be summed up in four words: software as a service.

That was the underlying message from Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO of PTC during his keynote at the company’s annual LiveWorx show. This year, LiveWorx was a virtual event with a livestream of discussions around digital transformation and on-demand educational sessions.

Noting how the cloud and software as a service (SaaS) tools have transformed enterprise applications, like customer relationship management (CRM), Heppelmann envisions a future where product engineering and development—which today remains largely on-premise—will  move to the cloud. This is manifesting into more of a reality given the COVID-19 crisis which has required people to work from home.

“The world of engineering software has to go the cloud,” Heppelmann said. “PTC reached this conclusion well before this latest crisis. And it’s why we completed the $470 million acquisition of Onshape last November before we heard of coronavirus.”

Onshape is the first SaaS product development platform that unites CAD with data management and collaboration tools. It gives PTC a next-generation pure-SaaS CAD and PLM offering, and an underlying multi-user, multi-tenant SaaS platform to use across the PTC portfolio. “We’ve named that platform Atlas because it will, ultimately, carry the entire PTC SaaS world on its shoulders,” said Heppelmann.

Using Atlas, the company will deliver SaaS versions of all of PTC’s main software products. And, it’s a good plan, as industry analyst firms like IDC predict that, by 2022, 70% of manufacturers will use cloud-based platforms and marketplaces for cross industry and customer co-development.

Heppelmann pointed to four categories that are driving SaaS-based offerings in the “new normal,” including: workforce mobility and resiliency, flexible and innovative supply chains, front-line workforce connectivity and collaboration, and remote monitoring of products and factories—all of which leads to flexible manufacturing.

In an example of flexible production, Heppelmann pointed to PTC partner Rockwell Automation, a technology supplier of industrial control hardware and manufacturing software. The two are collaborating with engineering to help factories leverage a digital twin to reduce risk and downtime related to bringing up new production lines or making line changes, which can then accelerate and optimize line performance levels. 

“We’ve seen we can reduce line commissioning and validation times by at least 50% and reduce operator training and validation times by up to 75%,” Heppelmann said. “Given the amount of capital involved, it’s a very strong value proposition.”

Heppelmann described a concurrent engineering scenario that can morph into a digital twin that uses Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR). When deploying or modifying a production line, it usually requires collaborating with many different partners including machine builders, system integrators, and component and technology providers, across geographies to coordinate changes. All of their designs must be brought together, and traditionally, these are delivered as Zip files representing a snapshot in time or using a file share solution like Dropbox. But if everyone’s data could be gathered together in the cloud, it would enable collaboration early and often in the design process. It would make it clear to each engineer what the other is doing in real-time.

Meanwhile, the automation engineers can capture the critical start and stop points in the assembly without having to go back and make changes or create extra copies of standard automation designs. Changes can be quickly reincorporated across other assemblies. And using Rockwell Automation’s emulate 3D factory simulation technology, automation engineers can virtually test the automation controls of the machine vs. having to wait until the machine or the entire production line is built.

“This allows the team to leverage the same agile principles they get in software development right in their engineering designs,” Heppelmann said, noting that PLM is part of the process within Onshape to extend a single source of truth to the entire supply chain in real-time.

Rockwell Automation chairman and CEO Blake Moret also provided a keynote at LiveWorx where he announced the introduction of a new offering from Rockwell Automation and PTC in collaboration with Microsoft. The product, called Factory Insights as a Service, is a turnkey cloud offering that enables manufacturers to achieve speed and scale with their digital transformation initiatives, he said.

Factory Insights as a Service includes many of the key product components of PTC and Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk InnovationSuite,  including PTC’s ThingWorx IoT platform, Kepware factory-wide connectivity, and Vuforia augmented reality products optimized for OT data coming from Rockwell Automation’s industrial control and information offerings. It leverages Microsoft’s cloud, industrial IoT, and edge services, including Azure IoT Hub and Azure IoT Edge, enabling manufacturers to rapidly connect individual sites and implement projects across their enterprise network.

In today’s digital-first environment, manufacturers require products that solve complex infrastructure issues, data accessibility challenges, and reduced resources.  According to Rockwell and PTC, using Factory Insights as a Service, manufacturers can achieve a 90% reduction in development time and cost and as much as 90% faster time-to-value for the most critical high-value use cases underpinning industrial digital transformation.

“It provides real-time production performance monitoring, asset monitoring and utilization, connected work cells, and digital and augmented work instructions to reduce errors and to bring new employees up to speed faster,” Moret said. “Factory Insights as a Service is a perfect onramp for manufacturers interested in improving their operations and embarking on a digital transformation as it provides really valuable intelligence and insights on operational performance, asset utilization, and workforce efficiency.”

Moret also noted that this announcement and much more could be found at Rockwell Automation’s ROKLive event, a virtual event held in conjunction with LiveWorx, that has more than 1,900 free hands-on training labs and thousands of registered attendees. ROKLive will stream live from June 10-19th and will be available on-demand through November.

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