SolidWorks World 2013User conferences are always fun: lots of technology to see, interesting and perhaps unusual motivational speakers, user stories galore. SolidWorks 2013 is no exception, as 4,500 of the SolidWorks faithful made the trek to Orlando this year. All of the users I’ve talked to are incredibly excited to be here –more excited than I’m used to seeing at events like these– because it gives them a chance to connect with one another and show off their toughest design challenges. I asked a couple of SolidWorks staffers about this, and the best we could come up with is that these users typically work in small groups or companies and may even be the only SolidWorks user on the premises, so events like this let them reconnect with their tribe. Either that, or it’s the Disney effect — either way, this is a pumped up crowd.

(Interesting side note: I estimate a commercial license base of about 500,000 for SolidWorks. There are about 4,500 people here, some of whom are educators – that means that less than 1% of the active, working user community is here. If you’re a user and you’re not here, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to make your needs known. SolidWorks usually brings a huge developer contingent to its annual event – they want to hear from you!)

This morning’s keynotes were, in general, stronger than last year’s. SolidWorks CEO Bertrand Sicot and Dassault Systèmes CEO Bernard Charlès welcomed the audience, repeatedly said that SolidWorks is an important part of the DS family and joked about increasing the investment in SolidWorks R&D. M. Charlès also did a much better job of reaching the SolidWorks user base, explaining the new compass concept ever-so-briefly and laying out his vision of using science to affect design and, therefore, the products our world relies on.

SolidWorks also made 2 big announcements this morning: the My.SolidWorks website and the new Mechanical Conceptual product. SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual needs a much shorter, snappier monicker, so I’m going to call it SoMeCon just for this post. SoMeCon is the first SolidWorks-branded product built on DS’ 3DExperience Platform and is intended to augment the traditional SolidWorks, not replace it. The way SolidWorks VP, Product Management, Fielder Hiss explained it, SoMeCon is a combination of capabilities that let a designer capture ideas digitally using an intuitive user interface, manage multiple concepts and design iterations and then collaborate and communicate around these concepts throughout early design phases. To me, the most interesting things Mr. Hiss said were that SoMeCon

  • merges the benefits of history, parametrics, and direct editing in one user interface that Fielder called “instinctive”. Of course, users will tell us if that’s accurate but I like the fact that SolidWorks is aiming for instinctive — meaning that we’re moving IT out of the way
  • lets the user work on the design from sketches to 3D geometry to parts and then assemblies, without thinking product structure in a CAD-ish way
  • employs motion simulation to create a better design before too many decisions are locked down
  • uses social concepts and technologies to engage relevant stakeholder, and
  • saves the design and iterations so that ‘you never have to worry about a crash’. I think he said it saved it “on the cloud”; Chad Jackson thinks Fielder said “online”.

During the press conference held this morning, DS executives refused to be pinned down on whether SoMeCon is built on the CGM kernel, but I would guess the odds are good. In May, when SolidWorks opens the Beta, we’ll learn what’s involved in moving a design from concept in SoMeCon to detailed in SolidWorks. SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual is expected to be available to all users in September/October of 2013.

SolidWorks also announced a new web portal for interacting with customers: My.SolidWorks. Since SolidWorks currently maintains a presence in community sites, blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook pages, and YouTube , it can be hard to find relevant content. My.SolidWorks combines all of these using DS’ Netvibes and Exalead technology. It’s  in public Beta now and will fully launch later this spring.

The morning’s motivational speaker was the design team behind Felix Baumgartner, the guy who sky dived from very very very high up last October. The challenges were incredibly complex and very much worth listening to, but best are the videos of Mr. Baumgartner leaping/falling out of a balloon capsule at the edge of space. DS has uploaded the full morning keynote session, here, and it’s well worth a look.

My bottom line from the first 24 hours? SolidWorks may be part of DS but is a very different animal. Lots to be proud of but not much swagger. Loyal, excited users who want to improve the world but aren’t committed to towing icebergs. An audience that listened to a brief 3D Experience message but doesn’t see it rocking their world any time soon. Resellers that are focused on the world of CAD and closely related solutions. In all, it’s a very different vibe than we had at the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum just a few months ago, a few miles away. Best of all, DS seems to realize that it’s got a great thing going here with SolidWorks and may, just may, be backing off a bit to let it evolve as it will.

There are more keynotes tomorrow morning and I have more meetings scheduled, too. Please continue to send in questions, either as comments to this post or on Twitter at @monica_schnitge. Many people are live-blogging and tweeting the event and you can keep up with that by watching the #SWW13 and #SWW2013 hashtags.

Note: DS graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation here but did not in any way influence the content of this post.