More than 20,000 product development professionals in 150 countries participated this month in PTC’s LiveWorx 2020 conference, an annual event that explores the latest digital transformation tools, best practices and emerging technologies. Having joined the PTC family in November 2019, this year marked the LiveWorx debut of Onshape and the virtual event provided a state-of-the-union snapshot of our recent milestones and a preview of what lies ahead for our customers.

Since being acquired by PTC seven months ago, Onshape has added hundreds of new customers and tripled its sales pipeline, an indicator of how quickly the product development industry is reaching a tipping point in its adoption of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) design tools. With lower upfront costs and zero IT overhead, Onshape’s SaaS-based CAD, real-time collaboration and data management have helped teams work faster, be more productive, increase innovation and significantly reduce manufacturing errors.

One of the most dramatic examples of SaaS technology accelerating the product development process has been the Rise Emergency Ventilator, which was recently designed, manufactured and clinically tested in only 21 days – a process that typically would take many months.

Onshape’s productivity benefits have been especially invaluable as much of the world’s workforce and educational institutions have been forced to operate remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to “CAD anywhere” on any computer, tablet or phone, has helped thousands of companies forge ahead with their engineering work during the crisis – and has helped thousands of STEM students and educators to save their school year.

So with those landmark developments as a backdrop, what lies ahead for customers and future customers? Onshape founder Jon Hirschtick, PTC’s EVP and President of SaaS, and Michael Campbell, PTC’s EVP, Augmented Reality, shared some hints in their joint LiveWorx keynote session, “SaaS: The Architecture For The New Normal.”

Introducing the PTC Atlas Platform – Multiplying the Benefits of SaaS

“While there are lots of different ways to use cloud technology, Software-as-a-Service is the purest, maximum use of cloud – the way to get the highest amount of benefit out of the cloud,” Hirschtick said in his address to LiveWorx.

“The primary reason is architecture. SaaS has three critical elements that differentiate it from other types of software. Those elements define how the software is licensed, deployed, and most importantly, architected. The true SaaS architecture is what delivers much of the differentiated value and we’re not alone in recognizing the value of SaaS,” he added.

According to Deloitte, 93 percent of CIOs are adopting or planning to adopt cloud-based SaaS platforms for their most critical business tools.

(This blog has extensively covered the core business benefits of SaaS productivity tools. Excellent recaps are the Introductory Guide to Cloud-Native Product Development and PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann’s recent open letter to the industry).

In his address, Hirschtick noted that the reason why Onshape is able to be a real-time single source of truth for product development teams – why multiple engineers, anywhere in the world, can edit the latest version of the design at the same time – is its SaaS database architecture.

The foundational Onshape SaaS platform, recently renamed the “PTC Atlas Platform,” is a powerful set of services that will fuel all future PTC SaaS applications. These core platform services include user provisioning, data management, data translation, cloud deployment and management tools, analytics services, and many other core elements of modern powerful SaaS applications.

“By using Atlas as our PTC SaaS platform, we will be able to build and offer you better SaaS applications faster,” Hirschtick noted. “These PTC SaaS applications will work more smoothly together for you, the customer – using common tools where appropriate – for example, for user provisioning, for version control, etc. – and these SaaS applications will share data very easily.”

Hirschtick revealed that PTC will soon bring Generative Design and the Vuforia Enterprise Augmented Reality suite to its Atlas platform. Stay tuned to this blog for more details and other announcements about upcoming PTC SaaS initiatives.

How SaaS Can Help “Frontline Workers” in Manufacturing

Using Augmented Reality tools, such as PTC’s Vuforia, frontline manufacturing workers can ditch cumbersome paperwork and visually train on real-life equipment.

Citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, IndustryWeek notes that the youngest part of the Baby Boomer workforce will reach retirement age in 2030. In the manufacturing industry, not only are more than 25% of workers over age 55, but those aging workers harbor a higher proportion of critical institutional knowledge.

So how should companies plan for replacing that lost institutional knowledge, which can’t be learned overnight like cramming for a final exam?

At LiveWorx, PTC’s Michael Campbell pointed out that the manufacturing industry doesn’t just need to worry about replacing its most experienced workers. Today’s products have become more challenging to service and manufacture, with increasing numbers of configurations and variations. Factories and service depots are increasingly becoming more complex, too.

Enter industrial augmented reality or AR, which is an especially valuable technology for “frontline workers” in manufacturing, i.e. those without desk jobs.

“By its very nature, AR is all about transferring knowledge and insights,” Campbell said. “Traditional methods of empowering frontline workers – paper documentation, training classes, over-the-shoulder mentoring and shadowing, and face-to-face troubleshooting – are no longer viable. In normal times, these approaches are inefficient, but in a world of working from home, travel bans, and social distancing, they simply don’t work at all.”

Campbell demonstrated the SaaS-based Vuforia Expert Capture, an AR tool for experienced workers to more easily pass down their domain knowledge to co-workers.

“Vuforia Expert Capture makes it super easy for subject matter experts to passively capture their best practices,” Campbell said. “Through digital eyewear, it captures voice, video, and images of each step in a process, and captures supplemental data like bookmarks, and even specific locations as well. And this all happens while the expert simply does their job.”

Then newer workers can access this recorded training material from the best possible teachers on any device and make the experts’ best practices their own standard practices.

Campbell also demonstrated Vuforia Chalk, a live collaboration tool that he called “FaceTime on steroids.” Vuforia Chalk allows experts to remotely offer “over-the-shoulder” guidance to field technicians, enabling them both to mark-up live video of their workspace with “chalk” like a football commentator does to explain various plays with arrows, X’s and O’s.

Watch the short video below to see how it works:

(Access to Vuforia Chalk is free through August 31, 2020. There is no obligation to purchase a subscription once the free access period ends.)