SolidWorks World 2014, Part 2: Trends on Display in the Partner Pavilion

25 Feb, 2014 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

New offerings in the exhibit hall emphasize expanded 3D printing capabilities and tools that move the heavy lifting of design and rendering off the desktop.

Click here to read "SolidWorks World 2014, Part 1: Software on Stage."

At Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks World 2014 user conference, the Partner Pavilion drew attendees interested in seeing examples of projects designed with SolidWorks, from the prosaic to the spectacular (nothing garners quite as much attention as the Mondo Spider — an electrically powered walking machine the size of a small car — making its way down the aisles on eight robotic legs).

The main attraction, however, were the vendor booths; more than 100 SolidWorks partners and resellers showcased their complementary solutions and services, and revealed some trends about the industry in the process.

3D Printing Capabilities Expand

The greatest buzz in the exhibit hall was generated by 3D printing, thanks to several product debuts that unveiled new options for customers. Stratasys launched its Objet500 Connex3, the first 3D printer on the market to offer both color and multimaterial capabilities in one machine. “There isn’t another printer on the face of the earth that will do what this printer will do,” said Bruce Bradshaw, director of marketing for Stratasys. According to Bradshaw, greater product realism enables users to make better decisions earlier in the design process.

The Objet500 Connex3 combines three base materials in a variety of ratios to create rigid, flexible, and transparent materials, including rubbery, flexible consistencies suitable to living hinges, overmoldings, gaskets, and other applications not possible with rigid materials. (Flexible color materials won't be commercially available until the second quarter of 2014.)

These glasses were created on the Objet500 Connex3 in one print job. They incorporate opaque and translucent materials with rubberlike and rigid consistencies. Image courtesy of Stratasys.

Various combinations of base resins in the Objet500 Connex3 yield ten palettes of color choices; the first palette in the middle row, for example, demonstrates the colors achievable by combining magenta, yellow, and white base materials. Transparent colors are also achievable (bottom row and at right). Click image to enlarge.

The printer features a new printing block design that enhances print speed; it builds models at about half an inch per hour (in the z axis). The print envelope is just under 20 x 16 x 8 inches, and print layer resolution can reach 16 microns.

Although it’s applicable to all industries, said Bradshaw, target markets for the Objet500 Connex3 include consumer products such as sporting goods, electronics, and toys; education, entertainment; architecture; and service bureaus.

MarkForged also attracted lots of attention with a new type of 3D printer: one that builds with carbon fiber. “You can print parts at your desk with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than CNC[-machined] aluminum,” said CEO Greg Mark. “You get parts that are twenty times stiffer and five times stronger than nylon plastic.”

The Mark One ($5,000) prints parts from nylon and carbon fiber, automating the manual process of laying out fiber in a mold and thereby eliminating a primary factor in the cost of traditionally produced composites. The raw material is another contributor to that cost — “carbon is crazy expensive,” as Mark put it — but it only takes a tiny bit of carbon to make a much stronger part, he explained, “like rebar in concrete.”

Mark One users can reduce that expense by swapping out the material spools to print all-nylon test versions before printing the end-use parts in a combination of nylon and carbon fiber. (An estimated cost comparison for one part on display was $15 for the nylon version, versus $25 for the carbon-strengthened model.)

The market for the Mark One comprises two primary groups, Mark explained. The first is those who are currently using fused deposition modeling technology (found in Stratasys 3D printers) to print tooling and fixtures; with carbon fiber, they can create a much stiffer final product, and “a stiff tool is a precise tool,” he said. The second is customers who want to make parts similar to traditional aluminum versions, but don’t have a CNC machine. The Mark One’s output won’t replace metal parts, Mark clarified — rather, it will extend the applicable range of plastics.

“This technology is inherently scalable,” noted Mark, who plans to create printers large enough to print entire vehicle bodies someday — a process that will take about a week, he predicts.


Mcor Technologies also uses an unusual raw material in its 3D printers, although it's at the other end of the cost spectrum: standard printer paper. The Mcor IRIS creates full-color models in two stages: First, an inkjet printer component dyes the appropriate areas of each sheet (patented inks penetrate completely through the thickness of the sheet, without bleeding out across the surface). In the second stage, each sheet is cut into the appropriate shape and glued into place, becoming one layer in the model (read more about the IRIS here). Mcor is currently rolling out a software upgrade that doubles the IRIS’s print speed, thanks to a more efficient build pattern.

Once the IRIS has finished printing a model, users can pull away the recyclable waste material by hand — or, in the case of more complicated shapes, with the aid of a craft knife. This sphere was made by loading the 3D printer with colored paper. Click image to enlarge.

Conor MacCormack, cofounder and CEO of Mcor, confirmed that the company plans to further expand its service bureau partnership, which enables customers to upload files to Staples Office Centers and have them produced on Mcor 3D printers. The Staples myeasy3D service was launched in Europe last year; MacCormack expects the service to be available in the U.S. in the second quarter of this year.

Dell, known for its workstations, is expanding its hardware horizons to include 3D printing. Under a new partnership with Stratasys subsidiary MakerBot, Dell has begun selling MakerBot Replicator 3D printers and 3D scanners. Andy Rhodes, general manager of Dell’s Precision business, explained that with the new arrangement customers will be able to buy everything needed for prototyping from one vendor — even the printing materials. Dell will be exclusive to MakerBot in the small and medium-sized business channel in North America, said Rhodes.

Off-Site Tools Deliver Power Remotely

Several vendors’ offerings showed that more users are relying on remote hardware and software resources. The Lagoa platform enables users to create photorealistic renderings and visualizations via a web browser — there’s no software installation, and the client machine is not involved in the process, explained Chris Williams, Lagoa’s vice-president of sales and marketing.

Because the tool is browser-based, models are fully coeditable, and guest links give access to anyone the user wishes. With view-only access, a client can rotate a model to view it from new angles, for example. Processing takes place in the Amazon cloud, so rendering is faster than desktop-based options and jobs can be executed in parallel rather than in sequence.

In addition, some customers are using the Lagoa API to build their own web-based 3D applications, such as interactive product configurators that let shoppers visualize their customized products before purchase.

The cost advantages of such a platform can be dramatic — customers don’t need to purchase high-powered hardware, and pricing starts at free for the Community option (the Professional level is $50 per month, and Enterprise pricing varies based on the company’s needs). Lagoa currently supports more than 40 CAD file formats, including assembly and part files; support for kinematic assemblies will be added in the second quarter of this year.

“All this stuff is going to end up in the cloud in the next couple of years,” said Williams, gesturing around the exhibit hall. “The cloud does this so much better.”


On the hardware side, NVIDIA’s General Manager of Manufacturing Industries, Andrew Cresci, affirmed the burgeoning popularity of remoting and virtualization technologies: “Every company you go into is saying, “I’m deploying this.’”

A demonstration at the NVIDIA booth stressed the versatility of virtualization, as a GRID visual computing appliance (VCA) located more than 100 miles away delivered SolidWorks to a MacBook, a Windows 8 Ultrabook, and a Linux-based thin client in the booth. According to Cresci, the experience of accessing the software on a thin client is consistent with that of working at a desktop workstation. “You cannot tell the difference,” he affirmed.

NVIDIA’s GRID is a device that pushes the graphical output from software applications such as SolidWorks over a network to as many as eight clients. Because the graphics-intensive application is running on the GRID, the local client does not need the processing power of a burly workstation. (Read more about GRID here.)

Cresci expects “tens of thousands” of GRID VCAs to be deployed over the next two to three years. He cited the experience of Applied Materials, a shipbuilding machinery company that reported its employees spent 6% more time working once virtualization enabled them to continue their projects at home.

“It’s a huge sea change in IT,” Cresci continued. “You can access the data anywhere, you can design from anywhere.” That provides greater flexibility for CAD users, certainly, but it also extends access to other types of users within a company. “It’s not [just] the CAD guy — it’s the purchasing guy” who is taking advantage of virtualization to access model data, Cresci observed.

Tools Engage More Types of Users

That “purchasing guy” Cresci referred to is emblematic of the widening applicability of many software products, as new developments extend the reach of a tool to less experienced CAD users, or those who have no interaction with CAD.

A new 3DPartFinder application from 3DSemantix integrates with SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and lets non–CAD users in purchasing, quality control, machining, and other departments use the geometric search capability to find CAD files for reference or to locate information about processes, suppliers, costs, CNC programs, etc. “So now, it’s an enterprise solution, rather than just a solution for designers,” said Bertrand Houle, vice-president of sales and marketing.

3DPartFinder v4 is a geometry-based search engine that finds part files similar to a shape input by the user, quickly locating an existing part for reuse, or to serve as the basis of a new design. Image courtesy of 3DSemantix.

Another new option, 3DPartFinder Analytics, analyzes the user’s file database and creates lists of duplicate and similar parts. Users can group them and make plans for reuse, said Houle. A PLM Partner version of 3DPartFinder Analytics will help with cleaning up databases and eliminating redundant files prior to implementation of a PDM or PLM solution.

The Foundry showcased MeshFusion ($395), a new modeling plugin developed by Braid Art Labs for MODO 701, the Foundry’s 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software. The new plugin creates booleans between subdivision surface (SDS) objects, enabling users to add and subtract objects, then blend them together to quickly create a single unified mesh. In most tools, booleans create a hard line, whereas MeshFusion creates smooth edges, explained MODO Product Marketing Manager Shane Griffith. The final mesh can be edited further or exported to STL format for 3D printing.

MeshFusion offers editing modes that give users three ways to visualize their projects: 3D Tree Fusion, Schematic Fusion, and Fusion Strip. “Each gives a different level of control,” said Griffith. “The Tree view is groundbreaking … it shows you the whole ‘assembly line’ [of model components].”

Griffith said the plugin supports users’ “freedom to create,” making the model design process one of “creation rather than construction” — which sounds ideal for those who are more comfortable with the artistic aspects of design than the enabling technology.

SolidWorks World 2015 will be held February 8–11, in Phoenix, Arizona.

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