SolidWorks World 2010: Clouds, Macs, Movie Making, and More11 Feb, 2010 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson
Event report: The annual user conference drew 5,000 to see and hear what's happening and what's ahead for the 3D mechanical CAD platform.
It seemed everywhere you turned an ear at SolidWorks World 2010 in Anaheim, California, early this month, you heard some buzz around cloud-based or Mac-based computing. Roopinder Tara, the much-respected publisher of Tenlinks, is still trying to live down his comment, "Take a shot every time 'cloud' is mentioned," which gained instant fame when SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray repeated it later in a press conference.
On a more serious note, Ray opened his company's annual user conference by thanking the 5,000 attendees who had registered by the morning of Day 1. At a time when many CAD user events are seeing significant drops in attendance or are being migrated to online-only formats, SolidWorks World attendance was up from 4,300 last year.
After welcoming the group to the Anaheim Convention Center near Disneyland, Ray introduced Bernard Charles, president and CEO of SolidWorks' parent company, Dassault Systemes. Charles's appearance at SolidWorks World was a first. Ray emphasized several times over the course of the week that he invited Charles to the event — perhaps an effort to assuage the concerns of some users that the parent company could undesirably influence or hinder the development of this valued CAD solution?
For his part, Charles said, "We are investing in SolidWorks for the long term," including research and development of the technology. "We will continue to expand the scope of the technology to further serve the 3D professional," he added.
ENOVIA, the Dassault Systemes product lifecycle management (PLM) platform, will be on the cloud, and users will share data "just like people today share photos with family and friends." Ray stated in a press conference later that SolidWorks will talk to ENOVIA V6 online beginning later this year.
Taking a look at the evolution of CAD-related technology, Charles noted that the 1980s brought about a transition from 2D to 3D technology; the 1990s was the era of the digital mockup, and the last decade was all about product lifecycle management (PLM). The 2010s, he said, will usher in computer-based lifelike experience, where users will simulate and validate designs "before you ever spend energy or materials to produce anything." 3D worlds will connect communities, including researchers, engineers, consumers, and educators. "Our dream for the next ten years is to use 3D everywhere to invent and imagine," Charles concluded.
When Ray took the stage again, the message was green — design, that is. Consumers are demanding environmentally friendly products, he said, and product development technologies will have to deliver the needed functionality. Ray then introduced designers Jeremy Luchini and Mike North and their amazing electric car built on bus batteries and a race car chassis from Factory Five Racing. Resembling a late '30s-era Ford coupe, the vehicle can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 sec. Charles took advantage of the crowd's attention and demonstrated how — even though the car would not fit on the stage — he could superimpose a SolidWorks-based visualization of the electric car onto a photo of the group on stage and share it instantly using his iPhone and 3D Via Mobile.
The company then announced Let's Go Design, a new web site that will use a community approach to designing products suggested by participants.
Ray recapped the company's success last year with its Engineering Stimulus Package, a program that aims to help unemployed CAD users to improve software skills. Ray said 60,000 downloaded the materials, 22,000 completed the full course load via a reseller, 2,200 reported that they got jobs, and 400 now have Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA) certification.
Drumroll, Please: A Look into the Cloud — and the Mac
Next came the buzz-worthy preview of SolidWorks on the cloud (aka software as a service, or SaaS), wherein software is hosted on powerful server farms and users access it using an Internet browser. "This is designed not for flash, but to solve problems and make your life easier," Ray said, adding that the technology has been in development for three years. Cloud computing overcomes the challenges of software installation and maintenance and, according to the company, keeps data secure. It is multiplatform by its very nature, meaning it is accessible to users regardless of operating system, and it can accommodate touch-based modeling and finger and pen interaction — that is, any wireless-connected device from anywhere could link the user to the full functionality of the 3D software.
Now you can use a Mac to model in SolidWorks, Ray told the audience, which reacted with cheers.
Cloud computing facilitates collaborative modeling because there is just one source of data and one version of a file and model updates take effect immediately, and it better facilitates data sharing and legacy data reuse. On the cloud, users can employ traditional search to locate legacy files quickly and minimize the need to create design sketches from scratch. "[This data] can be your own data, others' data, or template data from SolidWorks," Ray said.
Cloud-based design can be more flexible as direct 3D editing is based on window selects, and the increased power of cloud-based servers can speed design and rendering time and decrease system crashes. Even if a system does crash, you never lose any data because the model always stays where you left it, even if you didn't save it, Ray explained.
In a press conference later in the week, Ray offered a few more details regarding SolidWorks for the Mac. He explained that a lightweight version of the software would reside on the cloud, or some portions of the program might be installed on the desktop. A heavyweight version would also be offered — presumably for installation on the desktop, but Ray didn't state that explicitly.
The company wants to give customers a choice regarding how they use the product, Ray told the press, because "we don't think we should dictate what they do. We want them to be able to do what's best for them."
The economic proposition (savings) for cloud-based computing is so compelling and powerful, Ray said, "That's what will drive its adoption." Responding to questions about the security of intellectual property and other business-critical data stored online, Ray said security is better than on the standard PC today and less of a threat to businesses than employee theft of data.
Ray noted that the company cannot commit to a delivery time, "but we are committed to delivering it. We will start shipping some of these cloud-based products later this year."
Ray concluded the morning session by repeating his reassurance that SolidWorks is here to stay. "Your investments are safe for the long term."
Day 2: Starring James Cameron
Ray opened Day 2 of SolidWorks World 2010 by announcing a new level of SolidWorks user certification: the Certified SolidWorks Expert (CSWE), available immediately. CWSE falls between the existing associate (CSWA) and professional (CSWP) levels of certification. According to SolidWorks, a Certified SolidWorks Expert is someone who easily demonstrates the ability to utilize advanced functions and features to solve complex modeling challenges inside SolidWorks — traditionally the go-to SolidWorks user among colleagues.
Although the CSWE announcement elicited cheers from the crowd, the real thrill for Day 2 was the introduction of James Cameron, director of major motion pictures including Avatar, Terminator, and Titanic. What was a Hollywood celebrity doing on the stage of an engineering software user conference? Cameron is a big believer in and developer of technologies. To call him an armchair engineer would be a major understatement. Cameron, who was a machinist early in his career, is a pioneer in many of the image-capture and facial-performance technologies that have made his movies successful financially and artistically. He told the SolidWorks crowd about the development of the stereoscopic 3D digital cameras used to film Avatar, and shared behind-the-scenes looks at the movie-making process and interviews with the actors. In creating that blockbuster, he said, actors performed scenes without makeup and without cinematic backdrops in place. Using the camera on set in real time, he could view the actors as they would appear on the movie screen.
Cameron also talked about his diving expeditions. Well-known for his dive to the wreck of the Bismarck in the Atlantic Ocean, he is now preparing to explore the bottom of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific. Cameron told SolidWorks World attendees how his team of engineers is developing a spherical vessel for the expedition, using design analysis software to ensure it will withstand pressure in this deepest known area of the Earth's oceans. Cameron and two partners will man the vessel themselves. "I love highly technical projects across a very wide spectrum, and movies are just one part of that," he said. At the beginning of every technical endeavor, Cameron tells his team: Hope is not a strategy, luck is not a factor, and fear is not an option. "Don't be afraid to be bold," he concluded.
Day 3: SolidWorks 2011 — Wishes and Realities
The last day of SolidWorks World 2010 brought a preview of what's new in SolidWorks 2011, to be released later this year, as well as a rundown of the latest Top 10 list of enhancements requested by users.
Bruce Holway, manager of SolidWorks product definition, clarified that not all Top 10 list requests actually make it into a future edition of the software. But, in a video posted on the SolidWorks Blog, he says, "If you took all items on all Top 10 lists, we've implemented about 70% of them" over time. Many are not implemented right off the bat.
This year's Top 10 list:
- SolidWorks should cleanly uninstall itself.
- Increase stability.
- Biocompatibility between different versions of SolidWorks.
- On-the-fly equations.
- Better utilization of all processor cores.
- Allow more types of assembly features.
- Graphical map of references.
- Option to dangle children instead of deleting them.
- Exploded views for weldments.
- Simplify video card requirements, so a user can easily determine if the latest available driver is in use and that the graphics card is SolidWorks-certified.
So what's new in SolidWorks 2011? What can users really expect? That's a different list. Here is a partial rundown of the many updates shared quickly on the main stage:
- Improved reliability, as well as performance. More than 50% of research and development for this version was devoted to this effort, according to the company.
- Revolve command will include Up to Surface option.
- Defeature command, which converts parts to solids.
- Better integration with PhotoView 360 to improve rendering.
- Planar simplification for running simulations on model sections.
- Improved dimensioning functionality, including the ability to dimension an entire drawing at once and dual dimensioning for hole tables.
- Improved design checking.
- Camera-like design walkthrough.
- Feature tree locking to avoid unnecessary feature rebuilding.
SolidWorks World 2011 is reportedly set for San Antonio, Texas, in late January.
See Part 2 of this report for a rundown of what was new for exhibitors in the Partner Pavilion at SolidWorks 2010, including a new 3D printer from Solido, interactive holographic model display technology from Infinite Z, and much more.
About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson