Up in the clouds at SolidWorks World 2010

A new game has taken SolidWorks World 2010 by storm.  Count how many times the word “cloud” (as in cloud computing) is spoken.  At one point, it might seem that entire speeches consist entirely of the word “cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud cloud.”  There’s a message somewhere.  Oh, that’s right.  Cloud computing is the future of SolidWorks and the rest of the Dassault Systemes applications (maybe even for high security customers). 

Cloud computing has many advantages over traditional installed software, according to Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks.  No matter how good SolidWorks is, it is still limited by the computer upon which it is installed.  A significant investment is required to purchase computers that are powerful enough to get the most out of 3D CAD software.  Also, installed software tends to be limited by computer operating systems.  SolidWorks, in its current form, will not likely to be ported over to run natively on a MAC OS.  Instead, SolidWorks will bypass these limitations with cloud computing.  With cloud computing, “SolidWorks” (in whatever form it takes) may run on any platform.  In fact, the user’s computer power will play very little roll.  CAD files (even hugh assemblies) can be accessed instantly and edited on practically any platform, such as Microsoft, MAC OS, Google OS, Firefox, and iPhone.  This is all accomplished without installing any software.   They even discussed SolidWorks running seamlessly with ENOVIA V6, maybe even sometime this year.

According to Ray, the new cloud technologies will be rolled out as they are ready.  The customer will choose when (if ever) to implement.  These improvements represent a “completely new design environment”.  Ray also stated that these new techologies where developed in secret and “run like a start up”.  Technically, all this cloud talk represents nothing more than vaporware right now.  However, if Dassault Systemes delivers, they may have a massive game changer on their hands.

Jeff Ray and CATIA/SolidWorks translator

Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorksJeff Ray recently commented about SolidWorks/CATIA relationship in an interview with R

Customers are fed up with not being able to share data between Catia and SolidWorks.

Grabowski then predicts, “at some point, a translator will be delivered.”  But this apparently is not a comment made by Jeff Ray himself.

Lunch with Jeff RayIn the discussion that Jeff Ray had with the bloggers at the Blogger Event in early August, there was a hint that a translator between SolidWorks and CATIA isn’t good enough. Does this mean that SolidWorks needs to be able to natively use CATIA files (and vice versa)?  Is something really coming that will address this long standing issue?

Deelip MenezeMeneze, in his article commenting on the Grabowski interview, goes on to list several reasons why making a translator between SolidWorks and CATIA is doable right now.  Meneze does this in the context of his statement,

Dassault Systems has made laughing stock out of SolidWorks and its customers.

Matt LombardThis was followed up by Matt Lombard who proposed,

This is of course a business decision, not a technical decision, ratcheting customers toward Catia rather than toward SolidWorks. Just like the version incompatibility ratchet.

Well, I’m not sure these are entirely accurate statements.  I’m under the impression that Dassault Systemes is aware they are losing business because their two major 3D CAD applications do not fully communicate.  Some large customers (who will not be mentioned here…but there’s a clue here) have standardized with CATIA for the high level 3D CAD work, but continue to use a Ralph Grabowskilist of other 3D CAD applications that does not include SolidWorks.  One likely reason is that SolidWorks cannot use CATIA files, where their competitors can, as Lombard rightfully points out in his article.  So, Jeff Ray is right.  Something has to be done to correct this issue.  Thank you to Grabowski for stirring the pot.

Ya’no, if Microsoft ran their business like this, we’d still see Lotus 1-2-3, Word Perfect, and Netscape lining the shelves at the local computer store.  Why as Dassault Systemes allowed this gaping hole in their product line to exist for so long?

SWW09: Monday General Session (Part 2: products to make the world a better place)

Though Monday’s General Session only had two speakers, the content was jam packed.  Jeff Ray gave several examples of SolidWorks being used to design new products that have the potential to improve our world.

The first invention mentioned was a wind turbine by MicroWind Technologies, LLC.  This innovative technology is meant to be installed right at the home or business.  Each turbine produces 3Kw of power derived from the wind.

He followed up that environmentally friendly device with one that has already saved hundreds of lives.  It is a device that is able to recover 100% of the tissue from a donor’s bones.  With current technologies, the process of cleaning bone tissue producers a high percentage of damaged material that cannot be used.  Regenerative Tech’s new machine allows a much higher recover rate.  It even enables the used of the chips and dusk from the grinding process to be used a binding for the core material when implanted into the patient.  This means that the material from one organ donor can be used to save or improve the lives of over a 100 individuals.

From this Ray described how a cable TV salesperson realized that small villages do not have safe drinking water.  This salesperson, named Hank, discovered a technology that bombards water with UV light in order to sterilize it.  His company, Trojan UV Tech, is preparing to install a 56 unit site in New York to produce 2.2 billion gallons of water per day.

At this point, most in the audience was feeling pretty good about being associated with these inventions through the software used to design them.  However, Ray bested even these examples.  He described Design That Matters innovation.  The amazing non-profit organization that developed a method to make infant incubators from salvage car parts that can be maintenance by someone with car mechanic skill set.  This is most valuable in the 3rd World countries where modern incubators may have been donated but have since fell into disrepair due to the lack of qualified individuals to maintain them, and parts to keep them working.  If enough of these incubators are made, there the potential to save millions of infants each year!

This one innovation hit close to home for the Keynote speaker, Sir Richard Branson.  More on that later.

SWW09 Monday General Session (Part 1)

The General Session hall filled up quickly.  As I mentioned, excitement was in the air.  Over 4300 people filed in quickly to take their seats.  This was well over this year’s goal (something like 3500 {unofficially}).  The music started and then we were greeted by Jeff Ray’s enthusiastic and confident entrance on to the big stage.  He presented us with a report card about how well SolidWorks is doing.  Despite his cheerful presentation about the progress SolidWorks Corp has made over the past year, he gave the company suprizingly low markets on their progress.  Of course, there are likely some people that felt he was being too generous.


He stated that customer satisfaction is now 91%, with very satisfied now at 43%.  Customer Portal had 1.2M visits last year with 10M hits.  SolidWorks now supports 16 languages, up from 12 last year.

Ray then revealed that according to customer feedback, SolidWorks is running 65% faster on large assemblies and drawings, giving 8x the time savings with new tools such as Speedpak.

Customer interface has been a focal point of improvement, along with giving a more consist user experience by providing wide screen and multiple monitor support.  He announced that 50% of users now spend 70% of their job time within SolidWorks. 

Ray gave a shout out of sorts to the SolidWorks blogging community and even discussed Twitter’s role in the SolidWorks general online community; even to the point of announcing the SolidWorks World 2009 twitter hash #SWW09! (More about this later.)

He stated that the areas where Solidworks needs to improve are installations, upgrades and managing SolidWorks design data.  The phrasology he used was that they needed to “obliterate” each of these.  I think he meant that they will work on obliterating issues with these.  For example, they want to make it easier to access the design data so that users can focus on why they have SolidWorks (designing) instead of hunting for files.

He then showed appreciation for all attendees, noting that some are here dispite the fact that they are recently out of work or had expense cutbacks at their company.

Challenges in Transitioning from 2D to 3D

The CAD industry is so far along now that the discussion for many is no longer 2D CAD vs 3D CAD, but methodologies within the 3D CAD (such as direct modelling vs history modelling).  However, the adaption of 3D CAD applications such as SolidWorks is still on-going.  Many companies are still using 2D CAD applications.  Why does it take so long for many companies to make the transition when the benefits of 3D CAD seem to be so apparent?

I think Jeff Ray, CEO of DS SolidWorks Corp, properly identified this problem in an interview for the recent article CAD Tools: Breaking Barriers by Linda L. Bell (NASA Tech Briefs, Jan 2009 issue).  In part, he states that when a company considers making the transition to 3D CAD “the pain of change has to be less than the pain of the status quo.”  3D CAD still needs to be easy to access and use.  It also needs to be robust enough to be a design tool for those users that demand more from their applications.  On speaking about how SolidWorks has answered the need to make this transition easier, Ray states, “our last two releases have included a new user interface [where] the workflow predicts which tools the users will need and makes them readily available.”

Even still, there are many challenges to making the transition.  These involve learning a whole new way of working.  For example, when one draws a square, it doesn’t stay a square.  It can become a cube, rectagular rod or a plate.  It can also become a recess or square hole in another feature. 

Once one gets a grasp on these concepts, setting up the new 3D CAD software to work within the company’s documentation system can seem even more challenging.  This is one area that seems to missed (or at least not implemented fully) by many of the 3D CAD applications.  Having the ability to make drawings isn’t the end of it.  Communication with PLM’s and ERP’s is just as important in many companies. 

As my friend Chris MacCormack has recently pointed out, management of the 3D CAD files themselves must also be addressed.  With one or two users, this matter solves itself with simple use of folders.  However, as departments expand and companies grow, solutions for the raising difficulties change.  Of course, this must also be addressed with 2D CAD applications, but it is a much more complex matter with 3D CAD applications.

Most of us first address these issues with wide-eyed innocence. Upon going through this once, that becomes innocence lost.  To consider the transition from 2D CAD to 3D CAD, all of the above must be taken into consideration, and actually other issues too.  To improperly paraphrase Uncle Ben, with the great power enjoyed with the use of 3D CAD comes great responsibility in how it is used.

Now, it is understood that 3D CAD applications are not useful to all CAD users.  But if the field is mechanical engineering, it is very likely 3D CAD going to be worth the transition from 2D.