Parametric tries to simplify its product mgmt. apps

Though software vendors tout the use of product life-cycle management tools as a way to improve manufacturing efficiencies, many companies are continuing to drag their feet when it comes to adopting PLM products.

Some vendors have responded by trying to make their software easier to use and integrate with other corporate applications. Parametric Technology Corp.’s introduction this week of an upgrade of its Windchill PLM suite is a case in point.

Waltham, Mass.-based PTC said the software was completely redesigned as part of its Windchill 7.0 upgrade. New features include integrated end-user collaboration and data control capabilities, plus hooks for tying PLM data to applications such as ERP and supply chain management systems.

Improved data visualization, support for J2EE and Web services technologies, and PDF-based document collaboration capabilities are also being added, according to PTC. The upgrade is aimed at “reducing complexity and risk” for users of the software, said Jim Heppelmann, an executive vice-president at the company.

Seeking Clarity

Ping Inc., a Phoenix-based maker of sporting equipment that uses PTC’s software, is evaluating Windchill 7.0 for a possible upgrade later this year. Of particular interest is the integration of Windchill’s PDMLink product data management tool and ProjectLink collaboration module, said Dan Shoenhair, an engineering director at Ping.

Melding the two functions would make it easier and faster for Ping’s engineers, designers, purchasing agents and other employees to share product data, Shoenhair said. Currently, Ping uses separate servers and databases to manage product data and support collaboration among end users.

The integration in Windchill 7.0 “simplifies things and lends more clarity to what you’re doing,” Shoenhair said. End users should also be able to modify product data and track changes made by other workers more easily than they can now, he added.

PTC’s Enterprise Systems Integration module for tying PLM data to other applications is another key new feature in Windchill 7.0, said Gisela Wilson, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC.

PTC worked with Tibco Software Inc. to develop connectors between Windchill and SAP’s ERP applications. Wilson said the links will support a bidirectional flow of data between the applications, allowing for even wider collaboration on product development and other activities.

For instance, engineering or product design changes could be more easily communicated to supply chain and procurement systems, Shoenhair said. But he noted that Ping has no immediate plans to use the SAP integration functionality.

PTC will build a similar bridge between Windchill and Oracle Corp.’s business applications and then do the same with PeopleSoft Inc.’s software, Heppelmann said. But he didn’t disclose a development schedule.

Improved integration is needed to boost the adoption of PLM software, said Bruce Hudson, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. “Integration is an ugly secret of PLM,” Hudson said. “It’s the one area where PLM vendors do the least due diligence.”

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