SolidWorks World 2016: makers, cloud and subs

Feb 16, 2016 | Hot Topics

Kishore Boyalakuntla, SolidWorks Brand User Experience Leader, joked that SolidWorks World is a bit like Disney for engineers — and, you know, it is! This year’s event had a slightly different vibe: it was less serious, more maker and decidedly not DS-centric. Yes, Dassault Systèmes (DS) CEO Bernard Charlès and Chief Strategy Officeer Monica Menghini gave a glimpse into how DS continues to evolve, but more as a way of explaining all that DS brings to the SolidWorks party than as a way of DS-ifying SolidWorks (SW), as had been a fear a few years ago. That’s an important distinction, given how fiercely loyal SW customers and resellers are, and shows that DS’ somewhat tone-deaf approach is changing under new SW CEO Gian Paolo Bassi.

SW made a number of new product announcements at SolidWorks World. Mr. Bassi and Mr. Boyalakuntla ran through a series of product announcements (Visualize, PCB Design with partner AltiumManufacturing Services) and showed off what SolidWorks is calling its X line of products. First up, and available soon to all subscribers, is Xdrive, 5 gigabytes of cloud storage space that will enable SolidWorks 2017 users to more effectively search, store and collaborate around designs. That’s interesting and will (it is hoped) get more people comfortable with cloud-based technologies. Far, far more interesting is SolidWorks Xdesign, a browser-based CAD product running completely in a browser. It is not SolidWorks-in-a-browser (we already have that, SolidWorks Online Edition, virtualized via Frame). Xdesign a reimagined CAD product that includes sketching, features, assemblies and manufacturing directly to a 3D printer. Xdesign, said Mr. Bassi, is intended to target a new type of user, one who may be a dabbler, creating products for funding on Kickstarter, needing to collaborate and so valuing the social aspects of the CAD tool.

But there’s serious power in Xdesign, too. Completely burying what seems to me to be the lead, Xdesign also includes shape optimization in early design, enabling a designer to sketch out an idea, apply loads and ask Xdesign to suggest a shape envelope. Mr Bassi’s example was of a camera tripod. The designer sketches out the three legs and how they attach, then positions a load atop the platform and has Xdesign calculate now thick the legs need to be. This is taking CAD to the next logical level (one that Autodesk also talks about a lot) and using it to help create the best-possible design right from the beginning. It’s moving CAE to early stages of a project, helping narrow down possible design alternatives to those worth pursuing. It changes the question of “will my design break?” to “what’s the best design to meet my criteria?”

The Xdesign announcement felt rushed and a bit premature. The optimization feature within Xdesign wasn’t well explained and the users I spoke to after the session didn’t really understand its import. They’re also not entirely clear on whether Xdesign will replace SolidWorks in the near-, mid- or long-term even though Mr. Bassi told the packed hall that Xdesign isn’t a SolidWorks replacement. The lesson: figure out what you want to say, say it and then say it again in case people didn’t get it the first time. Rolling out the Xdesign preview goggled a lot of people and they didn’t really hear anything that was said immediately after the unveiling.

XDrive, like EPDM (aka PDM Pro), SolidWorks’ PDM product, is file-based. For the first time that I can recall, ENOVIA, the DS brand for PDM and PLM, was also at SolidWorks World in a low-key effort to show SolidWorks users that other DS-branded offerings can be brought in to augment what they already have. I was only able to attend the first “ENOVIA with SolidWorks” user luncheon (there were two on the agenda) but can report that at least that one was packed. Makes sense: SolidWorks customers aren’t all small shops, and even small companies are considering how their businesses will evolve and how technology can support that growth. DS and its implementation partners told the audience that ENOVIA can be implemented in small, bite-sized, problem-specific apps that can co-exist with EPDM or another file-based PDM. To be clear: no one said that PDM Pro or Smart are going away. DS laid out four possible scenarios: retaining PDM Pro or SmarTeam and linking to ENOVIA’s apps OR migrating PDM Pro/Smart to ENOVIA — in each case, implementing one or more of ENOVIA’s apps for BOM management, document control, collaboration, compliance, project management and so on. DS is hosting many more such events if you’re interested — check the DS website.

Speaking of the bigger picture: DS is starting to talk up PLM Analytics, a mashup of dashboarding, big data mining and analysis made possible by its recent acquisitions. It’s an Internet of Things message that will resonate with those responsible for making decisions about product usage and maintenance. I had a truly useful chat with an Exalead rep who ran me through several examples: imagine you make aircraft engines. Your goal is uptime: your customers only make money when their aircraft are flying and face huge penalties when a plane has to be grounded for unscheduled maintenance. How do you look across your fleet of engines to see patterns, discover maintenance needs that can be broadcast proactively to all of your customers to boost their uptime? What if your business model changes, so that customers don’t buy engines but rather uptime? What data do you need to make that possible? Or another example: let’s say you manage a car design program. Your goals are profit and price point: customers won’t buy over a certain price, and you need to make a certain amount of money per vehicle. How do you keep on top of an evolving design and the impact changes have on supplier selection, part cost and availability? In both cases, analysis tools that draw on data from a huge variety of sources, combined in ways that lead to conclusions, can help. Right now, PLM Analytics is a toolkit, but DS is working with partners to create pre-packaged offerings. Terrible name (since this is so much bigger than PLM) but great idea.

Not all innovations highlighted at SWW are product-centric. Mr. Bassi also announced that that SolidWorks is going to be offered via subscription for those users who might benefit from a different commercial relationship with SW. This is still a work in progress, so no pricing or timeline, but is sounds as though one offering might be as short as 3 months. Mr. Bassi made clear that subscriptions are an option and that SolidWorks isn’t moving away from its traditional perpetual license model; both will be available for the forseeable future. The resellers I spoke with are wary …

One last thing: SolidWorks World is about community. It’s meeting in person the people you interact with virtually every day on MySolidWorks, hanging with your buddies from a local meetup, and cheering on the winners of the year’s community involvement and design contest prizes. It’s also about building new communities by engaging with educators — and now, parents. SolidWorks announced a series of apps intended to get kids as young as 4 messing about with design. Kids from 4 to 14 will use the same apps but discover different content and functionality as they get older. For example, little ones will figure out how to push and pull designs, add stickers ad colors. Older kids will figure out how to make mechanisms and perhaps 3D print, depending on what they have available to them. In all, Solidworks’ apps for kids include Capture, Shape, Style, Mech, Show and Print (as of right now; no bets on what might be added in the future). These aren’t SolidWorks-lite; it’s technology created for kids, to enable them to be creative and engaged in the world of design and, later, engineering, with the goal of attracting them to STEM careers. When they hit middle school, they’ll be ready for SolidWorks. Adults can sign up (child protection laws prevent kids from engaging directly) here.

SolidWorks World 2016 was terrific. It had a more old-time SolidWorks vibe, yet pushed the envelope in terms of new technology: cloud, visualization, 3D printing, making, kids … DS seems to have come back to the realization that this brand has huge value, and that the massive DS technology store can bring benefit to the brand, as and when those users need it.

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You can see highlight videos from SolidWorks World 2016 here (no registration) and get each day’s keynote here (registration required). This is SolidWork’s Xdesign debut video but, honestly, it doesn’t show much. And, finally, SolidWorks World Day 3 usually includes a preview of coming attractions: read about those here.

Note: DS graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The title image is of the huge stage for SolidWorks World 2016, courtesy of DS.

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