Technologies Of The Year -- Tool For Teamwork

Dec. 21, 2004
Wildfire, a new release of ProEngineer CAD software, features revolutionary collaboration capability.

Collaboration among engineers in a virtual computer-aided design (CAD) space, where each participant can exercise control and contribute to a 3-D solid modeling session in real time, has been a dream of the product-development community for years. In February, that dream became reality with the first production shipments of ProEngineer Wildfire, the latest CAD software release from Parametric Technologies Corp. (PTC), Needham, Mass. The core of PTC's product lifecycle management (PLM) suite, Wildfire also adds convenient browser-based connection to all solutions in that suite, as well as a new interface and model of interaction with the user. "Wildfire is a breakthrough in the sense that it transforms design from a single-user activity to a collaborative, process-oriented product-development activity for all internal stakeholders and supply-chain participants," says James Heppelmann, executive vice president, software and marketing, and chief product officer. According to PTC, the key to Wildfire's collaboration power is the first-ever use of peer-to-peer (P2P) technology in the field of CAD software to connect design sessions of multiple users. In past efforts at collaborative design over the Internet, session partners attempted to share either the actual geometry data of 3-D solid models, or simple graphic representations of the models. In the first case, networks are too slow to keep up with streaming of such data-heavy files. The static images transferred in the second case allow mark-up of designs, but no actual real-time modeling modifications. P2P technology allows engineers participating in design sessions to run their own CAD programs and simply exchange commands, which are much less data-heavy and move easily in real time across networks. "As engineers, we are actually sharing the application, working together on a live model at the same time from different locations," says Heppelmann. "If you make a change, I see it immediately, and I can respond with a modification of my own." The new underlying architecture in Wildfire is a Web-based client server, which connects PTC's PLM applications for project and data management solutions through a common Web hub. The first implication is that engineers can access all of these solutions via the browser they are using to run their design sessions without leaving that environment. No saving in one application, opening up another and transferring files. Secondly, the entire product development team, from supplier to customer, manufacturing to sales/marketing, procurement to service, can selectively access design models and the data attendant to them from a browser as well. Comments and modifications can flow easily between the functions eliminating the need to exchange models via e-mail or hard-copy, speeding and improving the quality of the product development process. While past revisions of ProEngineer typically contained about 10% new code, Wildfire has a whopping 40% new code, much of it devoted to the new user interface and interaction scheme, which was rebuilt from scratch. Previously, ProEngineer used a traditional menu-based approach to modeling. Wildfire now employs a more intuitive, graphical, icon-driven scheme PTC calls "direct modeling." As one user put it, "It seems the model itself is telling the system how to interact with me."

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