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PTC redefines Digital Twin with IoT, big data, and augmented reality technology

Why does a CAD & PLM company invest in the Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, and Augmented Reality? If you are Jim Heppelmann, it could be due to a vision which no longer views a digital twin as a static, albeit perfect, digital copy of the physical product. It could be due to a vision which sees a digit twin as a living digital model of the physical product. A vision where the digital model is not only digitally perfect, but where the digital and the real come together, meet, interact, and are - literally - linked together.

 

PTC pulls together technologies which redefine the Digital Twin

CADplace is in Stuttgart again. It's November and it's PTC LiveWorx. With over 2500 people present, 2015 is the largest pan-European PTC clan-gathering ever. In fact, it is possibly the single largest European event to bring together the Internet of Things, Product Design, Product Lifecycle Management, and Manufacturing. The event, which was called PTC Live! In previous years, has been rebranded as “LiveWorx”. The change is appropriate. PTC is pushing their strategy and almost light-speed and their IoT acquisitions are a critical part of that strategy.

The PTC strategy is far more interesting than just integrating IoT technologies into their CAD and PLM business

If you have been following the development of the Internet of Things, the Industry 4.0 and Smart Factories initiatives as well as observing PTC developments from a distance, you could be forgiven for thinking that PTC was bolting-on IoT abilities to enhance their Design and PLM offerings and add value for their manufacturing customers. Yes, the company's investments in acquisitions and internal development around IoT technologies actually does exactly that. But it is clear to us that PTC is driving the company toward a much more ambitious goal. Let's look closer at their business.

First of all, PTC is, indeed, integrating IoT capabilities into their CAD and PLM business. They announced a major update for WindChill, WindChill 11.0. To the best of our knowledge, WindChill 11.0 is the first-ever, smart connected PLM platform in the world. And PTC has reorganized the company in a way that specifically places IoT at the core of their business. PTC is now organized into two groups. The Technology Platform Group takes the range of PTC technologies for creating, connecting, analyzing, and experiencing and creates a platform upon which developers build solutions. The second new group is the PTC Solutions Group and they, rather obviously, they are using the technology platform from the TPG group to create their next-generation products. So the new TPG develops and markets technology for external clients as well as PTC's own development.

Let's return to look at the concept of a digital twin. Dassault Systèmes CEO, Bernard Charlès, recently talked about the importance of the digital twin. For M. Charlès, CEO of the 3D Experience Company, the “digital twin” is the perfect and complete digital representation of the manufactured product from which a wide and diverse range of experiences are created from the “performance experience” generated by his Simulia products to an immersive “visual experience” created using his 3DXcite technology. And from a Dassault Systèmes perspective, M. Charlès is absolutely correct.

But ... wait a minute.

PTC has a different vision of the digital twin and the company now posses the technology to make M. Charlès digital twin as quaint as a rotary-dial telephone. Using PTC”s ThingWorx IoT technologies, Coldlight's big data analytics, and their newly acquired augmented reality technology, it is possible not only to create a completely accurate digital twin à la Bernard Charlès model, but to link the digital world and the material world, to link the digital and the physical twins, and to allow them to interact, bidirectionally with one another, and to allow everyone who needs to engage with a product to have access to both the material and to the Digital Twin.

The addition of sensors and transmitters transformed a Santa Cruz mountain bike into a smart, connected mountain bike

This works through an IoT foundation: Mike Campbell, who is now driving the Digital Twin initiative at PTC, used the example of a mountain bike, but the concept applies to any smart, connected device. A mountain bike is not typically a smart, connected device – just like most products today. But almost any product can be made smart and connected. In this demonstration, PTC made the physical twin intelligent and connected by adding sensors and transmitters to a high-performance, downhill racing mountain bike from Santa Cruz.

ThingWorx was then used to generate a dashboard linked to the sensors from the mountain bike. The was also linked into a live version of Creo Parametric. Driving the reality of the physical twin into the world of the digital twin allows the development engineer to see the real-world conditions of the bike, verify it's performance, and to run simulations and analysis using live data. And this ability is possible even when the engineer is thousands of miles from the physical mountain bike.

Mike Campbell demonstrated that a user next to the same mountain bike but perhaps thousands of miles from the design data of the digital twin could still interact simultaneously with the physical and the digital twin with the help of an augmented reality interface. Any appropriate A/R interface could be used: headset, smart glasses, a tablet or smart phone, as examples. Via the A/R interface, the user has access to design data, service data, simulation analysis, as well as results from big-data analytics. And that data can be projected directly on the augmented reality view of the mountain bike. It's possible for the user on-site with the physical twin to have direct access a product knowledge base or a live connection to a product expert. These possibilities - when taken together - have the potential to completely change the nature of the on-site interaction with a product.

What PLM was meant to be... and a whole lot more

Until today, PLM, product “lifecycle” management was really nothing more than a product-development-management tool. As far as the “PLM” system was concerned, once the product left the factory, it was out of sight. It was on the dark side of the moon from the PLM system, from the manufacturing company and from the development team.

The connectivity of the Internet of Things links the product back to the factory and the design team. ThingWorx as an IoT application development platform makes it possible for every manufacturing company to rapidly generate IoT applications that the company needs to manage the link for any product and for any number of products in the field. The application development platform makes it simple to link the physical twin with its digital twin and enable design analysis based on real-world use. Big data analytics deliver insights into product behaviors that support customer service and future design improvements. Augmented reality provides the technology to make all of these capabilities accessible and useful for any personal interaction with the physical twin and makes the interaction with the digital twin possible.

Mike Campbell, now spearheading the digital twin business, stated point-blank, “This is what PLM was meant to be”. If you want to really address the “lifecycle” of products, then the PTC strategy is driving hard and fast to true product lifecycle management. And this flavor of PLM is not a program or a suite of platforms. It is a combination of platforms and solutions. It integrates

  • design and modeling tools,
  • simulation tools,
  • data management tools for design files, software, & documentation
  • analytics and predictive analysis
  • connectivity and intelligence,
  • rapid program development, and
  • rich, interactive user interfaces.

The CADplace Perspective

And yes, that makes our “digital twin” of yesterday seem quaintly out-dated... like that rotary-dial telephone. The rebirth of the digital twin stands at the intersection of many technologies. It is clearly a strategy that PTC has thought hard about and the company is restructuring every activity around the creation of technology platforms for themselves and others as well as around their own solutions business. New releases like their IoT-infused release of WindChill 11.0 will certainly be just the first of many, and an Internet of Things technology platform that integrates their connectivity, rapid-programming, big data analytics, and augmented reality technologies will – undoubtedly – be extremely attractive to fast moving companies looking to transform their own businesses.