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Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: John McEleney, Head of Strategy, PTC (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 8th 2020

We discuss the Mechanical Design industry’s transition to the cloud.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to your background as well as PTC’s work in cloud computing.

John McEleney: I have been in the design and technology software space for the better part of almost 40 years. It started when I had an internship as a mechanical engineer at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester.

I did mechanical design for the targeting area of this trillion-watt laser. It was a massive facility, almost three football fields long. They were doing nuclear fusion research. That summer, I was an intern. I was doing mechanical design work.

At this time, PCs were just coming out. We had lots of drawing boards and manual drawings. I helped build a CAD system. I helped in using dBase to write an application to help organize and structure all the drawings.

Here I am 40 years later after a lot of career iterations from Computervision through to Solidworks where I joined early on and was a CEO for seven years. Then I was at a cloud computing company called CloudSwitch. I’m currently helping people find CAD systems, organize information, and try to improve their product development process. It’s a full circle from where I first started this.

Onshape got acquired by PTC in November of 2019. PTC had a global presence with a focus on various technologies related to not just the design environment but also the manufacturing environment. It was everything from IoT to augmented reality (AR).

Their view of the world was that everybody is moving to the cloud. The long-term vision is that things will be SaaS, cloud-based solutions. Onshape could provide a platform that could be used for all of PTCs applications that were all moving to the cloud in terms of IoT and AR.

That platform itself is being internally called Atlas, which is most of Onshape is at its core. We’ll continue to have Onshape as a cloud-based, mobile-based CAD solution but all of the other applications will now run on top of Atlas over time.

Our view is that people want to be able to iterate and design in a fast and efficient way to the extent that we can simulate things on a computer screen versus having to create physical items. We can make the mistakes in a less costly fashion and earlier in the design process, which benefits everybody in terms of time, cost, quality and schedule. We’re very excited about the progress we’re making.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s double-click a little bit on what was PTC pre-cloud. What does the transition look like for a company like PTC, which was very heavily on-site and desktop-oriented? What does it take to move to a cloud architecture?

John McEleney: Great question. Most companies never make those types of platform shifts and transitions. Those transitions ultimately become fatal blows to them. It turns out that the current CEO, Jim Heppelmann, came to PTC via an acquisition.

At that time, PTC was an install-based, legacy 3D CAD system. In the late 80s and early 90s, they were the first real 3D CAD system that metaphorically put a spreadsheet into the design to allow you to iterate and make changes very rapidly. They ultimately acquired a company called Computervision. That’s where I met Jon Hirschtick. 

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: John McEleney, Head of Strategy, PTC
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