PTC announced that it is buying Mathsoft, makers of Mathcad on April 26 (see press release). Less than a year ago, it bought ArborText, a move that was questioned in my article, PTC in the Black but Back on Track? On the surface, the Mathsoft deal may look like it makes more sense. PTC paid a only 3 times revenue for Mathsoft, whereas it paid 4.75X for Arbortext. Also, engineers use Mathcad and engineers also use Pro/ENGINEER. So PTC could upsell Pro/E to Mathcad users. Also, PTC could integrate Mathcad technology into Pro/ENGINEER. For those with a non technical background (which covers a surprisingly large portion of analysts, editors and authors in the CAD, CAM and CAE field) this could even look like a marriage made in heaven. Here are two large groups of potential buyers (Pro/E and Mathcad users) who only need to be introduced to each other before the money flows in.
But consider a different reality. What if Mathcad users and Pro/E users are dissimilar groups, oil and water, never to be successfully mixed?
Mathcad will appeal to engineers who like math, are good at math and do math every day. However, these kind of engineers are definitely in the minority. While it is true that getting an engineering degree is impossible without math proficiency, the typical engineer once out of school is immersed in work that is often far from mathematically challenging. The little math they need to do, they do with their trusty calculators and spreadsheets. A small portion of engineers, usually with advanced degrees, do find themselves doing analytical work. This is verified by PTC, who in their press release state they found (only) 900 shared customers between PTC and Mathsoft.
I would have killed to have Mathcad when I was in engineering school. But in the 10 years I practiced as an engineer, I never needed it at all.
Even less likely to touch Mathcad are drafters and designers, who may comprise a large part of the Pro/E user base. Drafters and designers are typically non-degreed and have little math background. To them, programs like Mathcad, bristling with mathematical symbols, Greek letters, graphs, etc. are downright scary.
Getting Less Mathematical
PTC is bucking the trend. The world is getting less mathematical. Stephen Hawking, eminent physicist, was told for every equation he put in his book A Brief History of Time, he would lose half of his audience. In CAD, all of the geometry calculations are done by the software out of sight. Even FEA is going mainstream. I remember formulating stiffness matrices in grad school with pencil and paper but the current crop of FEA products are easy enough to be used by people who have never heard of Von Mises. (I know, it's a little scary). Most CAD and CAE users are in the habit of giving input to a large, powerful and unseen calculation engines, be they CAD or CAM program, which magically give us results while sparing us mathematical churning. So with all our geometry calculations solved sight unseen in Pro/E and stiffness matrices solved in our CAE software, what does an engineer need Mathcad for?
If I Were King...
PTC seems to have money to burn ($224 million in cash according to last quarterly statement) and is on a growth-by-acquisition strategy. I would suggest that it pick companies that are more related to its core product PRO/E. These could be companies that sell less expensive but popular CAD packages, such as TurboCAD or VectorWorks. Acquiring a large number of 2D customers would form a natural base to upsell PRO/E to. This is a strategy that has been quite lucrative for Autodesk, which has been converting Autodesk users into Inventor users. Even a less expensive MCAD package (like Alibre) would create a more complementary relationship. There are also companies whose add-ons and front-ends would provide a valuable service for PRO/E users. Rules based engineering applications and product configurators jump to mind.