February 15, 2010
On The Ground and In The Clouds At SolidWorks World 2010
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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We just returned from SolidWorks World 2010 in Anaheim, California, and as usual, came away with a lot of news concerning the company, its products, and its future.

This year's event began on an up note when Jeff Ray, SolidWorks' CEO announced that attendance was up over the 5,000 mark compared with 4,300 last year. Good news for any industry, much less the MCAD industry.

Closer Ties
Early in the first day's general session, Jeff Ray introduced the president and CEO of Dassault Systemes, Bernard Charlès. It's hard to believe that SolidWorks has been a part of the Dassault family since 1997, and this was the first onstage SolidWorks World appearance by Charlès, a mechanical engineer by training who appeared relaxed and dressed for the occasion - business casual and not his typical suit and tie - and that definitely helped with audience acceptance.

He began by naming Dassault's six “Lovemarks” - SolidWorks, SIMULIA, CATIA, ENOVIA, DELMIA, and 3DVIA. I don't know if “lovemarks” was the best choice of words. Brands or product lines might have been a better choice, but regardless of that, Charlès said that Dassault had more than two million customers/users worldwide. He also promoted a new tagline for SolidWorks - “3D for Professionals” - kind of catchy.

He said there would be tighter collaboration between the R&D departments of SolidWorks and Dassault; a good thing and something I think ultimately will allow SolidWorks to break its ties with the Parasolid modeling kernel licensed from arch-rival, Siemens PLM. A tighter integration with Dassault would virtually guarantee (finally) a direct native translation connection with CATIA. Also, I wouldn't be surprised with the tighter link that the next release of SolidWorks would be designated as something like V6 (akin to CATIA), and not necessarily 2011. Not a certainty, but I think a definite possibility.

Charlès concluded his part of the morning's program by demonstrating a 3DVIA iPod Touch app manipulating a SolidWorks model and by saying, “Unlike Autodesk, we do not believe the world is flat [2D].” Most agreed that this was a good first showing for Charlès at SolidWorks World.

Jeff Ray then took the stage and talked about SolidWorks' emphasis on green/sustainable design technology, after which he and Charlès (as navigator) drove a Factory Five '33 electric hot rod onto the stage.

Ray then talked about SolidWorks' Engineering Stimulus Package that saw 60,000 downloads of software, 22,000 participants who took training through resellers, 2,200 who got jobs, and 400 who earned Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA) credentials.

He ended by discussing SolidWorks' increased R&D investment, continued focus on performance, and introducing Austin O'Malley, head of R&D.

O'Malley and his team presented a Tech Preview that briefly discussed what they have been working on the past three years or so and might appear in future products. Although no guarantees were made or timetables given, some interesting things were presented.

Some of the highlights of the Tech Preview included:
  • The availability of SolidWorks products on multiple hardware platforms (yes, including Mac OS), although SolidWorks will become less hardware dependent over time (see cloud computing below)
  • Touch, as in touch screen, could play a major part in the future UI
  • Communication and collaboration will be more highly enabled, inspired by the online gaming community
  • A Google-like search paradigm might be employed for searching on and reusing data
  • Different modeling techniques will be unified and more flexible through such things as direct modeling and editing, among other possibilities
  • The likelihood of SolidWorks ultimately providing some or all of its products via the cloud, and beginning to provide cloud computing technologies later in 2010. This will probably take the form of a product called Product Data Sharing (PDS) supported by an ENOVIA backbone.
It's the last point I and a lot of folks in the audience responded with raised eye brows of optimism (“Cool”) and groans of skepticism (“Yeah, right”). In either case, it was some very interesting news with some very interesting implications, as well as some very interesting possibilities.

So, let's take a closer look at some of the possibilities of cloud computing in the context of SolidWorks.

Looking Into the Cloud and (Possible) Future Products
Other companies have ventured into the cloud space and done OK, while others got in and unceremoniously left, notably Oracle and its Network Computer (NC) debacle. Although cloud technologies have tried to simplify things, they actually turn out to be more a lot more complicated than first imagined. In SolidWorks' case, so-called cloud computing will affect many things on different levels, including hardware requirements via the cloud versus residing on a workstation or server, Internet security and bandwidth issues, and compatibility of cloud versions and previous desktop/sever versions of the SolidWorks core and partner products. All these issues add up to a very tough problem to develop for and deliver on.

The SolidWorks PDS and future offerings will be built upon the ENOVIA V6 framework/ backbone that will provide data storage, sharing access, and workspace control. The cloud computing, software-as-service (SaS) will likely be offered at two different levels over time - one for data sharing through communication/collaboration, and the second being the ability to actually use SolidWorks via the Internet and a browser. SolidWorks' first foray into cloud computing (PDS) will likely affect and ultimately supersede its two currently available PDM offerings - Workgroup and Enterprise.

It will be interesting to see how the business model and pricing shakes out for cloud computing. It's attractive, though, because it is scalable and will probably be easier to administer for most organizations with less associated hardware dependence and overhead.

Will SolidWorks succeed with cloud computing when others have shrugged it off or abandoned it? Based on the preliminary plan, commitment, and historic support of its user community, I would say the odds are ultimately in their favor, although not without some turbulence in the cloud. However, it is a refreshing, new direction for the CAD industry whose time may have finally come.

Exhibit Highlights
We were impressed with the number of exhibitors at SolidWorks World this year, as well as the many new and innovative products they showed. Following are just some of the products that caught our eye:
  • Infinite Z - holographic input device
  • Solido - desktop 3D printer
  • keytech PLM - PLM that manages configurations, concurrent practices, and BOMs
  • ReverseEngineering.com - reverse engineering and inspection software
  • PLM 360 - document management, workflow, and enterprise project management
We'll be covering each of these and other products that were introduced at SolidWorks World in the upcoming weeks and months.

Customer Requests and the Next SolidWorks Release
The last day (Wednesday's) general session is always the one I most look forward to because the main topics are customer requests for future product as well as what to (possibly) expect in the next release with regard to functionality through new features and enhancements.

Here are (most of) this year's Top Enhancement requests from users:
  1. Clean SolidWorks uninstall (this I gotta see)
  2. Increase SolidWorks stability (no specifics given)
  3. Bi-directional compatibility between versions (no specifics on which versions would be affected)
  4. Equations for calculations available and applied during the design process
  5. More comprehensive and efficient utilization of multiple CPU cores
  6. Expand types of assembly features (no specifics provided)
  7. References displayed graphically
  8. Simplified and straightforward video card requirements
No real surprises there, especially since not many details were provided. Still, interesting, and I would agree with most of them.

So, what can we expect in terms of new and improved functionality in the next version of SolidWorks? Here's some of the features and capabilities that might (and probably will) make it into the next release (whatever it is designated):
  • For IP protection, a Defeature capability that lets you choose the features to keep and hide for document sharing
  • Full integration of PhotoView 360. (This is great news since I recently had a bad experience with PhotoWorks)
  • Customizable RealView that gives models realistic representations without rendering
  • Planar simulation for running simulation studies on a model slice of a model and applying the results back to the base model.
  • Feature lock prevents a pre-determined feature tree segment from rebuilding
  • Dimension spacing improvements and options
  • Ability to revolve up to a surface
  • Dual dimension hole tables
  • Weld tables for drawings and lightweight weldments
  • Tube/pipe routing enhancements
  • Walk/fly through for “touring” models virtually, as in virtual world
  • Performance improvements with better CPU and memory usage (this was also a top customer enhancement request and is an ongoing improvement)
Many of these new features and enhancements will benefit most SolidWorks users and point to SolidWorks' continuing effort to make its software more stable and reliable, instead of just continuing to pile on stuff few customers need or use.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

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