New releases are funny things: companies pour their hearts into delivering bug fixes and new features that they hope will make customers happy, yet many customers don’t even know about most of the new features/fixes — they’ve found their favorite work methods and stick to them, no matter what. But new releases also serve to let the company dish a little on its future direction, where it sees its customers going and, if it’s doing things right, how it can help customers get there.

Dassault Systèmes (DS) SolidWorks introduced its 2015 release a few weeks ago, with soft launches to the media and analysts and a lot of YouTube-style video teases. The 2015 launch answers some important questions, about both the company and the product:

  • Will my SolidWorks continue to be my SolidWorks, or is it going to be DS 3DExperience-d out of recognition? DS has invested mightily in its new platform and sees it as adding significant benefit to all of its users, regardless of where they sit in the value pyramid. That said, it seems to finally get that SolidWorks users are very happy with what they have and so DS will integrate into SolidWorks those parts of the 3DExperience platform (3DX) that are technically feasible. Other new 3DX-based offerings will be marketed as adjacent products. The first of these, SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual and Industrial Conceptual, are very cool and worth your investigation, but are in no way replacements for core SolidWorks.
  • What are Mechanical Conceptual and Industrial Conceptual? These 3DX-based products intend to make social design more central to the SolidWorks communityʼs processes. Respectively, they enable users to develop conceptual and industrial designs with internal and external partner collaboration in more intuitive ways than a package meant for detailed design can support. The 3DX platform includes search, parts re-use, collaboration and other technologies — all at levels more sophisticated than SolidWorks’. Yes, Mechanical Conceptual and Industrial Conceptual create parts using the 3DX CGM kernel, but the company’s Lighthouse (early adopters) customers reported no significant problems migrating parts to SolidWorks for downstream processes.
  • I like my current SolidWorks community. What’s this portal? It’s a good thing. It coalesces all of the SolidWorks-related content out there onto one site/source, with free and premium content. Discussion forums, wikis, company and customer blog posts, lots of tutorial and training videos, reseller-generated content (in the paid versions), and more will be better organized and searchable. The premium versions also include an interesting twist: the ability to link the user’s account to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage to enable file sharing with partners and view designs online via eDrawings. Finally, the portal will also host the Manufacturing Partner Network, which lets the community rate manufacturing partners and facilitates quotes. I think DS means to be a one-stop site for both serious work and a little goofing off, keeping SolidWorks users digitally connected to one another, their community and the company.
  • What’s new in 2015? Far more that we can cover here; at the bottom of the post I’ve linked to a number of sources of much more detailed info. But take a look at this slide, from Aaron Kelly, SolidWorks VP of User Experience/Product Portfolio Management for a strategic overview:

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  • Main takeaways? The new Model-Based Definition (MBD) solution addresses both a buzzword in manufacturing and a real need. Companies following an MBD strategy add more information into the 3D model –such as GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing), material info, configuration info– with the goal of removing 2D drawings from the mix to cut down on duplication and confusion. This is, in part, in response to the 2013 release of the US Department of Defense MIL-STD-31000 that codified MBD as a requirement for technical data packages. I’m not sure how many SolidWorks customers are already trying MDB, but this should spur adoption. Treehouse is also seriously cool …
  • What’s Treehouse? SolidWorks Treehouse is a visual catalog of parts available for creating an assembly. Working from the top down, bottom up and in any other direction you like once you get started, you select existing CAD models for your design without worrying about exact connections — it’s a nifty, visual way to jumpstart new designs while reusing old components. Learn more here.
  • Limitations? Yes, at least one biggie. SolidWorks 2015 model files will be compressed to improve performance and make file sharing easier — but that means they cannot be opened in prior versions. Supply chain implications …

Finally, how’s the SolidWorks business doing? SolidWorks CEO Bertrand Sicot seems happy. SolidWorks is a significant brand within DS, accounting for about 20% of the parent’s overall revenue, or $555 million, in 2013. Customer satisfaction surveys show a 90%+ rating since 2010 — and the 2015 release, which includes over 200 new features and enhancements, 90% of which are directly requested by end users, should boost that rating even higher. From a channel perspective, M. Sicot sees his resellers growing with SolidWorks, as the product line and the opportunity to sell training and other content via My.SolidWorks. SolidWorks has about 350 partners worldwide, many of which have been with the company since 1997, others are newer; some are bigger than others — but all continue to be “the voice of SolidWorks and bring a lot of value to the community. They bring a lot of value to us and our customers”.

The channel is stable, customers are happy, the company is growing, SolidWorks 2015 is finally out — it’s good to be SolidWorks.

You can learn a lot more about SolidWorks 2015 at DS’ official site,  CADWorld, Develop3D, Graphic SpeakMCAD Cafe, SolidSmack — and I’m sure many more that I haven’t listed here. I’ll update as I find more.