ProDesktop – the CAD-Reviews independent review

Making Pro/E data more widely available

ProDesktop review screenshot

ProDesktop from PTC

One of the consequences of Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) acquiring Computervision in 1998 was the addition of the Windows native, design centric modeller DesignWave to their portfolio.

Despite the potentially uneasy market positioning alongside the Pro/Engineer product line, DesignWave developed through several versions with the addition of Pro/E routines to the Parasolid based modeller and was subsequently rebranded as Pro/Desktop.

This gradual process of integration has resulted in the latest 2001 version being wholly based on PTC’s range wide componentised modelling technology Granite One.

Significantly this offers compatibility with Pro/E part and assembly data and although feature and dimension information is not accessible once in Pro/Desktop, files remain associative so any modifications in Pro/E will ripple through the Desktop design.

Pro/E surfaces are not supported and although this should be a minor limitation as in most cases surfaces are integrated into a final solid design it is likely that the next release will offer this capability.

Similarly Pro/E 2001 can associatively open native Desktop designs or exported Associative Topology Bus (ATB) files.

Through this associative interoperability, Pro/MECHANICA can be used for finite element analysis (FEA) and Pro/NC for tool paths of Pro/Desktop parts and Desktop can be used to create drawings of Pro/E parts.

The move away from Parasolid also strategically removes PTC’s reliance upon their competitiors Unigraphics for a core technology.

The other major strategic factor with this release is pricing.

The full Professional version is now priced at £700 plus annual support option for £350 that adds telephone support, service packs, and version updates.

The Express version that lacks only Parasolid transmit file compatibility, photo-realistic rendering, VBA and Pro/Interlink capabilities is available as a free 31Mb download or for $15 on CD from the PTC website.

This is remarkable as in all other respects Express is a fully functional parametric features based part and assembly modeller including drafting, 2D and 3D kinematics, configurations and animation.

In fact it is an update of DesignWave that previously cost $3495.

The only cost for activation is to register for each installation machine and to reregister each six months, ostensibly to keep up to date with the latest version but also no doubt to maintain the validity of PTC’s user database.

Little surprise then that Express users only have access to on-line support, including tips and techniques, troubleshooting, and answers to frequently asked questions rather than direct telephone support.

According to PTC the low cost strategy has resulted from a market perception that most modellers are now capable of generating the majority of parts and that the bigger issue is compatibility and data access.

Traditional AutoCAD users are viewed as being cost conscious and Desktop allows such 2D to 3D migrators to both experiment with a capable modeller at low cost and to join the Pro/Engineer supply chain.

This is only part of the story however as at many significant Pro/E user sites many departments outside the principle design facility have not traditionally been able to justify the cost of additional licenses and yet need access to the data for design of associated jigs and tools for instance.

Such users have helped boost the current Pro/Desktop user base to around 25,000 although this may also include a significant numbers of users of other modellers using it to convert Pro/E files to a neutral format such as STEP.

Pro/Collaborate is a Web based service hosted by PTC allowing data sharing both within organisations and across firewalls with external suppliers, manufacturing partners and customers.

Pro/Collaborate projects can be initiated by maintenance paying users of the full Pro/Desktop in the same way as Pro/E users.

Pro/Desktop Express users can participate in projects to which they are invited.

Once involved in a project, parts, drawings, and assemblies can be published directly from within Desktop with additional supporting files also shared as part of the design package.

Non-engineers, suppliers, and partners can view and mark-up a lightweight version of the Desktop data.

Desktop data format compatibility includes IGES, VDA STEP, DXF, DWG plus the export of Medusa, STL and VRML files.

Versions of Moldflow and Pathtrace have been developed as third party applications based on Granite specifically for Pro/Desktop.

Similarly Pro/E part libraries are now accessible to Desktop and PTC has plans to license the Granite technology widely to more application developers.

Desktop has a thoroughly Windows native interface complete with dockable toolbars, online help, recycle bin for deleted features, drag and drop handles for feature sizing and graphical Ironcad style feature palettes.

This interface is currently substantially different than Pro/E limiting acquired skills to solid modelling principles rather than directly transferable modeller proficiency.

This is set to change however with Wildfire, the next release of Pro/E that is said to be Desktop inspired.

The potential trained user base could become huge with more than 1 million senior school students in the United States and United Kingdom using Pro/Desktop as part of their design and technology curricula.

Clearly Pro/Desktop is no replacement for Pro/Engineer that offers significantly wider modelling, drafting and analysis opportunities.

Desktop does however represent a significant opportunity for additional users to access and interact with Pro/E data.

The low cost is a bold move to lock a significantly expanded supply chain into the PTC data world.

Given the ever shifting market and resultant product repositioning, there is the potential risk that Pro/Desktop becomes a Trojan horse such that once the committed user base is sufficiently large the cost begins to rise again.

PTC are adamant however that there are no plans to even start charging for the Express version.

Whilst there is no doubt that Pro/Desktop represents a capable starter modeller for generally geometric components, the attraction for new adopters must remain the platform, the need for access to Pro/E data rather than low cost alone.

Should requirements increase to more complex forms, sheet metal or the need for more extensive analysis tools, the only upgrade route is the full Pro/E suite of products and unless compatibility is the driving issue, other mid range modellers with extensive third party partner offerings may offer better value.

Given the frequency with which Pro/E data is encountered however Pro/Desktop is an obvious, downloadable addition to the CAD arsenal.