Sunset in Cincinnati, through a dirty hotel room windowSolid Edge University is a treat. These are serious, hardcore CAD guys who don’t have time for a lot of the other stuff that’s crept in around the edges of CAD for the last 20 years. Give them surfacing enhancements, and they’re happy. Give them ways to make drawings faster and they cheer (well, clap — but they’re a low-key bunch).

Also a treat is how Siemens interacts with these users. Not too many CEOs stand up on stage and ask for a show of hands as to whether quality was going up or down. It was a risk that worked: not one hand was raised when Chuck Grindstaff asked if quality was “down” and quite a few went up when he asked if quality up. Also worthy of note: Mr. Grindstaff didn’t act surprised. He knew the news was good.

Audience involvement stayed high, too. Karsten Newbury, SVP/General Manager, Mainstream Engineering Business and Dan Staples, Director, Solid Edge Development, pointed out users in the room for whom specific enhancements had been made, or who had done projects of note. Being singled out led to a lot of big smiles. Also leading to grins: the live demos during Mr. Staples’ presentation. An unseen demo guy raced through enhancements, though not quite all 1300.

The company’s message was that it intends to be “Great CAD that fits YOUR business.” [Their emphasis. — Ed.] That manifests itself in many ways:

  • Solid Edge will include in-product YouTube videos and real-time online communities to help users get up to speed faster and stay productive. Reference books are so old-school. 
  • Businesses want to collaborate more freely but are not necessarily ready to completely jump to the cloud, so Solid Edge ST6 will include a bi-directional link to GrabCAD Workbench. Set up the Workbench, and authorized people will be able to view uploaded content.
  • Cash flow is often a problem in smaller business, so Solid Edge will be available in monthly subscriptions starting in August  for users in the US, the UK and Japan. Go to the online store, pay by credit card or PayPal and the license is yours. The subscription includes support, so a local channel partner call to see how they can help. Subscriptions let companies staff licenses up and down as needed to match workloads, and avoid the heavy upfront payments of traditional license schemes.
  • Engineers always want to make a design better but can be overwhelmed by all the ways they could do that. Solid Edge has had goal seeking for a while but with ST6 adds in new optimization features. If the session I attended is any indication, too many people aren’t doing this. Try it!
  • Everything we model in CAD has to be fabricated, and Solid Edge users have been on the hunt for a CAM solution. No more, as Solid Edge announced a partnership with Geometric’s CAMWorks. Many of the users I spoke with are dropping whatever patched together solution they have and are implementing CAMWorks as quickly as they can. The integration into Solid Edge apparently enables feature recognition that dramatically speeds up tool path generation.

Mr. Staples talked about 1300 user-requested enhancements in ST6, too many to cover in any level of detail. The high points were new surfacing features intended to attract stylists and other conceptual designers; sheet metal enhancements; design optimization and making it easier to work in mega-sized assemblies. Everything Mr. Staples mentioned seemed to be enhancements or features for improving usability and productivity, not at jumping on the newest bandwagon (cloud! browser-based! iPad! shiny!). Have to give the Solid Edge team credit for sticking to their strategy.

Over breakfast, a bunch of us got to talking about whether 1300 enhancements is a good thing or a bad thing. The R&D organization is clearly on overdrive and focusing only on Solid Edge — that’s how you get to a number like 1300. But it also makes it sound as though Solid Edge has a lot of catching up to do and the users I spoke with don’t see it that way at all. Every CAD package (heck, every product of any kind) has things that could be better/different, and so it is with Solid Edge. But don’t let that number mislead: users tell me that Solid Edge is ready for production use.

You can read more about the 1300 here. That automatic drawing cleanup, where balloons are aligned to a spline is here. Worth a look — it’s actually cool and I haven’t made drawings for a living in a very, very long time.

One last thing: SEU had two great outside keynote speakers. Adam Steltzner, NASA’s Lead Landing Engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project went though the landing design — how, why, what led to the idea of the sky crane. You can see a much more buttoned-down version of the talk here (in Cincinnati, he wore boots, jeans and prowled the stage).

While I’m a space junkie, the second presentation was the stunner: Bernard Amadei, the founder of Engineers Without Borders spoke about the opportunity to both do good and generate profit by serving the 5 billion people on the planet who lack safe drinking water, good shelter — or both. You can see a TEDx version of Dr. Amadei’s presentation here and learn more about the organization here.

Solid Edge knows its customers: the CAD guys. They make models and clean up drawings. Without them, we wouldn’t have cars, airplanes or the computer I’m typing on. What do they need? That’s what Solid Edge wants to give them. Nice.

Update: KeyShot! I almost forgot that Luxion announced the availability of a plugin that tightly integrates KeyShot with Solid Edge. KeyShot can be launched directly from the Solid Edge interface, automatically sending both the design and material appearances to KeyShot. The plugin is free and will be available for download from the KeyShot website.

Image credit: Monica Schnitger

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