You may have suddenly gagged on a dry crumb of muffin just now, so just give yourself a nice hard wallop in the chest and take another swig of scalding hot coffee. We’re actually about to expel muffintop all over SolidSmack with some tidbits I took away from the PTC/USER 2009 event I’ve been at over the past few days.

I didn’t see any mountain lion wrestling, body slams or other teeth-gritting activities you might think you would see at such events, but I did find 5 things you may be interested to know about. They have a lot to do with why you would even go to a 3D CAD/PLM conference in the first place… minus the headbutts.

So what are they? Let take a little walk…

#1 More Friends, and Yes, More Headbutts

If I had written this at 2am Monday night, it may read a little different. We’ll just say, Mr. Jim Brown has a greater appreciation for the existence of his head bones.

Beyond that and a bit more seriously (yes), there’s a great outcome of attending these events at all, which is the opportunity to hang out with people that do the same kind of stuff you do, even if they do it with a different program… but wait. I actually meet quite a few that not only used Pro/E to design products, but also used SolidWorks or work with vendors/customers that use SolidWorks. I also meet people in the job market, switching companies that use one or the other and were trying to network or learn more. What was their take? It’s great just to be in an environment where you can use 3D modeling and learn different ways of modeling, even when there are similarities between products.

The community board at PTC/USER. (Not all the same photo of one person. ;) )
The community board at PTC/USER. (Not all the same photo of one person. 😉 )

I can’t leave out all the PTC peeps I had the chance to meet, or the industry and media people and some of the exhibitors I’ve gotten to know. I would say, if you’re a user, go out of your way to talk to with people in the thick of it. They have a unique perspective on the companies, the drama and a load of behind-the-scenes stories.

Jeff Rowe of, Roopinder Tara of, and Leslie Gordon of Machine Design
Jeff Rowe of, Roopinder Tara of, and Leslie Gordon of Machine Design
The bar area - where some media, developers and PTC execs tended to be.
The bar area - where some media, developers and PTC execs tended to be.

#2 An Understanding of What’s New… In Other 3D CAD/PLM software

Pinch yourself, there were new features shown at the Pro/Engineer Core Design Session for WildFire4.0/5.0 Pro/E users have wanted so badly, they may burst tears. Honestly though, as a SolidWorks user, I can”t even imagine many of these just now being added to the software. (I actually felt sorry for the users and amazed at how they’ve had to create certain geometry. Reminded me when the Slot Sketch tool was finally added to SolidWorks.) Check out the images of the presentation to get a better understanding.

[nggallery id=3]

#3 The Overwhelming Influence of Thought and Technology

As you’ve see in the images above, there’s been plenty of new features added to the core Pro/E product, but there’s a few additions to make your eye twitch and impart some import and model manipulating sweetness to Wildfire. These are features that, to me, make Pro/E and what PTC is planning interesting. and if you’ve seen what or heard the droning buzz in the CAD world about ‘Direct Editing’ or ‘History Free Modeling’ you’ll see how this becomes relevant for a product like Pro/E that’s competing with SolidWorks, SolidEdge, and SpaceClaim that have their own special flavors on moving geometry around without going down into the sketches.

  • Open SolidWorks and Inventor parts
    There’s no charge for this added function. There’s also no feature data. But with the next feature being implemented to certain degrees over the next few releases that won’t be all that important. Kind of like if you were able to bring a model into SpaceClaim today.
  • ‘Flex Move’ for Direct Editing
    This is a feature, the feature, brought over from CoCreate, making it possible to work easier with foreign data and manipulate existing history-driven features without the overhead of having to recalculate the changes (think rebuilding and a little how Instant3D work in SolidWorks). Originally, there wasn’t going to be any convergence of the CoCreate and Pro/E, but with ‘Direct Editing’ now in the forefront of CAD Tech, there was bound to be some sucking from the CoCreate code. Having only viewed the tech that’s due to come out in WildFire 6.0 all I can say is YES, it’s a good approach to manipulating geometry. I’m liking what I see with Inventor Fusion a tad more, but this has potential.
  • Rendering in Pro/E
    yep, that’s right. Mental Ray in WildFire 5.0. This is the same ray-trace rendering used with Autodesk products and Catia V4/V5. Althought it’s not real-time rendering like if you ported a model out to PhotoView360, it’s inside the Wildfire environment, accessed through a easy pull-down, drag and drop. To me, this wasn’t as classy as an approach as RealView in SolidWorks, but MentalRay is a nVidia technology so it’s going to be really interesting to see how this advances along with the GPU manufacturer’s plans to dominant graphics and rendering.
  • Social Product Development
    This is PTC’s trademarked (yes, don’t touch it with your greasy social tendencies) name for you, collaborating way easier in Pro/E. The product making it all happen is called ProductPoint It’s Collaboration in Wildfire through WindChill built in a Microsoft SharePoint backend (WSS 3.0 or MOSS 2007). The idea is that the part controls everything, It has it’s own page, captures it’s activity and stores it all in the cloud. Technically, it’s not really the cloud since it on your own SharePoint server, but semantics aside, PTC is the next company, behind Dassualt with V6, that is taking a look and innovating ways of collaborating easier within the actual design environment. It’s built on Windchill because Microsoft says that there are 100 million seats already in the market. That’s cool, but it’s also an added cost. I’m not sure to what extent it will work with the free SharePoint version however. Sharepoint isn’t the ideal ‘Social’ platform if you think of it in terms of Web2.0 and especially Web3.0 and the 2010Web (which only a few industry developers I’ve talked to are even aware of).The hope here is that SharePoint will has implemented more social media-like functions into the application.

Here a taste of the ‘Flex Move’ feature in a video yanked blatantly from Al Dean’s coverage of the PTC/User Event

Pro/Engineer 5.0 highlights + Direct Edit sneak peak from DEVELOP3D on Vimeo.

#4 Hanging Out with Exhibitors

You may go to these conferences to renew your supply of leaky pens and magnet toys, but the real value with the exhibitors lies beyond their buckets of bling and in the depths of their souls. There’s a lot you can learn about how third-part software and hardware can add value to your business, but after trading business cards, the real conversations that go on can be even better. You get to know them and, if you go to more than one tradeshow, you’ll notice the overlap of their services and meet-up with exhibitors you’ve meet elsewhere. This has been the case for me with vendors like Vuuch, Bunkspeed, HP, Dell, ZCorp and others. The value in friendships and finding out a little more history about CAD is amazing.

The PTC area at PTC/USER (taken from the Vuuch booth)
The PTC area at PTC/USER (taken from the Vuuch booth)

#5 Seeing the differences (and similarities)

Probably the most common question I got from PTC user exec, other SolidWorks users and random people that know me is, “What’s the difference between PTC/USER and SolidWorks World.” At first I wonder why people are interested in this and have to chock it up to inherent competitiveness and pure wonder. Right off the top, PTC/USER is much smaller. Reportedly, there was approximately 1500 (registered users) in attendance. The last SolidWorks World had approximately 4300 in attendance.

So now, you can imagine the energy level was much lower. There wasn’t the cheers in the first general conference of PTC/USER like there was throughout the one’s at SolidWorks World. BUt being a smaller user crowd, there was definitely more room to focus on each attendee, which really seemed like a new face PTC was trying to put on and did an effective job with mentioning more focus on the user needs from Jim Heppelmann, PTC COO. That was a similarity so akin to SolidWorks World and the SolidWorks mantra that you would have thought they used ProductPoint to collaborate together on ‘What the users want’ phrases. I joke, but that’s a genuine effort from both and, with PTC’s prior rigid (mean?) disposition, one they look to honestly be making a big push towards changing.

Let’s see, other differences? The sessions (ones I went by) were smaller at PTC/USER. There wasn’t any sort of Off-site event or Certified User event (that I knew about) at PTC/USER. The food was better at PTC/USER but I really, really like a good hamburger and some good pasta. If you can believe it, there was no open bar at PTC/USER. Well, actually the media/analyst dinner had an open bar. The Exhibition hall receptions had open bar for an hour then it switched to cash-only… cash. That was a VAST difference from the magnetic-coaster insanity of the SolidWorks World 09 CSWP event that had all the roast beef, bar drinks, loud music and toys you could throw at a huge crowd of engineers.

There was a lot more talk of “dotting i’s and crossing t’s” at PTC/USER about what was and wasn’t allowed to be posted. Some video by Ben Eadie of SolidJott wasn’t allowed to film some sessions, kind of like the 2008 SolidWorks World. After hours was about the same (for me anyway) although there were definitely fewer users that I knew or bumped into.

The Smack

I’m a SolidWorks user, which made it a bit odd for me to be at a Pro/E user event, right? That’s due to having this blog, a place where we can discuss all the interesting drama and technology going on in the CAD/PLM industry. It was a blast to go, and I’m glad to be invited. The best part for me was meeting new people and catching up with others I knew from online and other events.

When I try to explain these types of events and product to people I try to answer the question, “what was it for?” (I try to answer this for myself before I go as well as for others that ask how it went.) Just saying, ‘It was the PTC/USER conference.’ doesn’t explain a lot. Saying it was a conference about explicit modeling and social product development get’s the right buzzwords in, but still, that’s a bit generic of a description. This was a conference looking at new ways to collaborate with engineers and provide a learning environment to focus users on becoming more efficient at CAD and data management products… and for some this may still be to generic and unclear. For them, all I can say there’s a nice hard headbutt waiting around the corner from a company showing some innovation in collaboration and getting on track with users again.

I think that’s a pretty fair assessment, because on thing I see lacking in all the CAD companies is innovating past what’s mainstream consumer/business buzz and tech to differentiate product design within programs that are not mainstream consumer/business programs. We can give CAD/PLM programs aspects of web tech and gaming, but the real innovation is going to be in creating a future environment where design happens seamlessly between design, engineering, and manufacturing. Ya know, in my opinion 😉 More on future CAD/PLM stuff that no one is doing later. This post is dang too long. Anything else you want to know?


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.