10 things I think I think: SOLIDWORKS World 2018

Feb 12, 2018 | Hot Topics

SOLIDWORKS World is always a spectacle of maker-ness, designers competing to out-SOLIDWORKS one another in design competitions and learn from one another. It’s, as one speaker put it, nerd-heaven. This year was the twentieth anniversary event and many attendees proudly displayed buttons from past events. It’s hard to capture in a blog post but here are ten things I thought about as I talked to attendees, SOLIDWORKS and Dassault Systemes (DS) people and their partners:
  1. I never did find out how many people were at this year’s event (5,000? 6,000?) but everyone I spoke with had a specific goal for attending: functionality to uncover, product strategy to learn, business to conduct. But without question, the main and common reason was community. A lot of attendees work in small shops where they’re the only SOLIDWORKS user; meeting others like them is a big deal, a chance to unwind, compare notes and connect. it’s also a chance to network for that next job, which brings up
  2. Certification is a big deal. Quite a few of the attendees I spoke with were there to take a certification exam (for the first time, or to be part of the 20th anniversary of the certification program). It’s a big deal — nervous-making until it’s over, then a little happy-dance while the SOLIDWORKS crew takes the picture and hands over the certificate and swag bag. Without exception, the exam-takers see it creating legitimacy at their current employers and positioning for the future.
  3. The flip side of these conversations: why aren’t more of you using simulation? It’s available in many of the SOLIDWORKS packages you already have! This CAE sessions I attended had 20-30 people, so there are some simulation users, but very few of the casual conversations turned up CAE as part of the typical design process. People over-design, think they don’t have the hardware, feel they don’t know enough to credibly explain the results … Lots of reasons but, honestly, none that really stand up today. It mostly comes down to already having too much to do, and a belief that simulation is for other people.
  4. But the SOLIDWORKS team keeps trying: SIMULIA Structural Simulation Engineer (which I had been referring to as SIMULIA SimDesigner) is for the top end of that crowd and, while not yet generally available, demos well. SOLIDWORKS Simulation can do many things today, but not complex non-linear cases. Enter SIMULIA Structural Simulation Engineer, which aims to connect SOLIDWORKS and Abaqus NonLinear. It’s currently in Lighthouse (ie Beta) mode, but the demo I saw begins to address some of the differences between SOLIDWORKS’ way of doing things like connections and Abaqus’ — it’s a work in progress rig now but with a lot of promise.
  5. xDESIGN, SOLIDWORK’s entry into browser CAD, also demos well (and CEO Gian Paolo Bassi showcased a number of user projects) but I didn’t talk to any current SOLIDWORKS users who were thinking of switching, even if they were interested in trying out xDESIGN. In part, people aren’t convinced that they’ll always have suitable WiFi, even in their offices, and are concerned about lost productivity. One important point: SOLIDWORKS staff typically talked about coming enhancements being in the desktop version and/or xDESIGN — it sounds like both versions will co-exist for the foreseeable future.
  6. xDESIGN, the MySOLIDWORKS community, the cloud-compute component of SimDesigner and many other products discussed at SWW18 run on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, parent company Dassault Systemes’ way to connect applications, users, data and external resources. The SimDesigner demo highlighted both the good and bad of the platform: collaborating around simulation results was easy, fast and intuitive —when it worked. WiFi died during the demo and so did the collaboration session. Not DS’ fault at all, but a reality of expecting to be connected at all times. There’s also still the problem that products on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform use the CGM CAD kernel while SOLIDWORKS uses Parasolid. Bridging the two requires work, a hard sell for long-time SOLIDWORKS users with a legacy of parts and assemblies
  7. The Marketplace is another 3DEXPERIENCE offering that I think can, in time grow to serious significance. It aims to connect modelers to suppliers. Right now, 3D printing bureaus and some types of parts suppliers can offer their goods and services to SOLIDWORKS and CATIA users via in-CAD add-ons. Designers can compare prices, schedules and service options. I’ve asked DS for more details on this and will report back once my questions are answered.
  8. Speaking of, 3D printing was huge at SOLIDWORKS World. Lots of vendors of both hardware and materials, cool debuts of more affordable production printers, in-CAD model checking and design assistance fueled many conversations. In a session on new technologies, the speaker asked for a show of hands of who was interested in 3D printing; just about everyone raised their hands (as opposed to a tiny handful for simulation, sigh.) I spent time with several printer makers and have to say: we’re getting to the point where part orientation, segmentation, supports and other print-specific factors are becoming less relevant. I hope to write in more detail about one supplier, Raze, sometime soon. Cool stuff there.
  9. IoT was represented at SOLIDWORKS World, but not as heavily as I had thought it would be. Perhaps this is an audience of doers rather than new-business-opportunity-seekers, but the concepts of connectedness leading to preventative maintenance still seemed somewhat new. Surprising.
  10. Also surprising was the PLM-ness of the event. DS used to keep separate the PDM-ness of the SOLIDWORKS message and the PLM-ness of its 3DEXPERIENCE/CATIA programs, but there’s more crossover than ever before. Yes, many SOLIDWORKS users use PDM-branded products yet their goals are very PLMish. SOLIDWORKS PLM Services and SOLIDWORKS Manage both start crossing the line into PLM. And that’s not  bad thing, since the benefits of PLM extend beyond CAD model/data management and are applicable to enterprises of all sizes.
  11. (Yes, it’s 11. Still working on the format.) Finally, the users I spoke with are impressed by SOLIDWORKS 2018. Not everyone adopts every version and quite a few people have opted to stay on 2016 rather than move to 2017. But 2018 seems like it has enough in it to warrant the jump. And 2019  promises even more new stuff — it feels like the when to switch calculation is going to get more difficult as we learn more about the 2019 release.
Last thing: Special shoutout to the breakfast guys from Monday. We commiserated about the Patriots loss to the Eagles in a hard-fought Super Bowl and then got down to it: If you’re not a member of a user group, why not? SOLIDWORKS makes it as easy as possible to start or join a group and you get to influence SOLIDWORKS development — while networking with peers and eating pizza. Just GO!
Note: Dassault Systemes 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. 
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