Product Design

The Silent Partner Speaks

18 Sep, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Dassault Systemes Takes Center Stage at SolidWorks Press Event.

From the simultaneous explosion of camera flashes in the room, one might think the special speaker at SolidWorks' press event this week in Barcelona, Spain, is a celebrity. He's the man SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray calls "boss". As CEO of Dassault Systemes, the 3D software giant that snatched up SolidWorks in 1997, Bernard Charles has always been behind the scenes. For some reason, he didn't feel the need to make his presence felt — until now. This year, he shared the spotlight, literally, with Ray. Undoubtedly, the two consult with each other on critical matters, but their appearance together in Barcelona might be the first time they'd ever faced the industry press jointly. Hence, the attendees' rush to photograph the pair. The unprecedented sight speaks volumes; it says the relationship between SolidWorks and its owner is about to enter a new phase.

Setting the Record Straight
For a long time, Dassault left SolidWorks alone, so much so that many don't associate the latter with Dassault. Over the years, the SolidWorks management team ran the company and the business as they saw fit, much like an independent entity. But things are about to change. SolidWorks users can expect to see Dassault's technological and cultural footprints in their beloved product, beginning with the availability of Dassault's 3DVia Composer through SolidWorks' sales channel.

"People used to think CATIA was an IBM product," Charles quipped. The misconception can be attributed, in part, to Dassault's reliance of IBM as its primary sales force and systems integrator for its product lifecycle management (PLM) suites. "In fact, SolidWorks is Dassault's, just as much as CATIA is Dassault's — not IBM's," Charles declared.

Devon Sowell, the principal designer at 3-D Design Solutions, said, "As a SolidWorks user since 1999, I have mixed feelings about the new relationship between Dassault and SolidWorks. I see a disconnect between SolidWorks and its users. Take SolidWorks 2008, for example. It contained so many changes to the user interface and added so many new features that many companies decided not to upgrade to this version, including many of my clients. I hope the new relationship between Dassault and SolidWorks improves how SolidWorks respects its users, especially long-term users."

Ray explained, "It's important to be customer driven, but you can also become very myopic. [SolidWorks] would seek to understand industry trends and sometimes give [customers] something they might not think they need," but he assured Sowell and others that SolidWorks' corporate culture would be guided by "a deep respect for the customers."

In SolidWorks 2009, Dassault's 3DVia Composer provides technical illustration features. The tight integration between the technologies is another indication of SolidWorks' evolving relationship with its owner Dassault.

The Makeover
Sharing his vision, Ray promised to align SolidWorks more with Web 2.0. He has, in fact, hired someone to figure out ways to inject a dash of Facebook, MySpace, and blogs into the SolidWorks' outreach efforts. Matthew West, SolidWorks' social media manager, is an active Twitterer (as users of the Twitter platform are called), a Facebook user, and a citizen of the Second Life virtual world. He also maintains a blog, simply named "Hi, I'm Matt, and I work for SolidWorks."

"Engineers are looking to different venues [for example, online discussion forums and blogs] to obtain the kind of product information they need," observed SolidWorks' Jeff Ray, "because they see these sources as unbiased." For his part, Charles said, "Enterprises will not make major decisions without consulting its community," such as user groups, part of the social networking phenomenon.

Gabriela Jack, who maintains the Gabi Jack's Blog, was among the bloggers invited to the press event. She observed, "Personally, I think SolidWorks is onto something good here. This is a company that truly respects and seeks their customers' input more than any other I had seen before. This effort to reach out to their users through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other similar means is the proof. They want to hear from their customers, but even beyond that, learn what they really need."

Enterprise PDM
The latest version of SolidWorks' data management platform, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM 2009, offers what the company describes as an item-centric bill of materials (BOM). It promises an easier way to transfer electrical and mechanical data maintained in SolidWorks to enterprise systems, such as SAP or Dassault's ENOVIA. According to the company, Enterprise PDM is intended for "companies that span multiple geographic sites, desire the benefits of automated workflow, or require the rich database functionality provided by Microsoft SQL Server."

Solidworks Enterprise PDM and SolidWorks Workgroup PDM share the same icons and interface elements for many tasks, such as marking file status. (Workgroup PDM is inexplicably missing from SolidWorks' product listing at its site, but the company's press office verifies it is still available.) Enterprise PDM features, among others, automatic updating of BOMs to reflect changes, consolidated update notifications for multiple files, drag-and-drop file transfer between SolidWorks PDM Vault and Item Explorer, direct access to PDM features from the SolidWorks CAD interface, and support for custom drawing and assembly BOMs created in SolidWorks.

Though historically known as a CAD company, SolidWorks begins offering more sophisticated PDM features to cater to enterprise users. The new version, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM 2009, lets users access PDM features directly from the CAD environment.

A Peek into SolidWorks 2009
The press event also included a preview of SolidWorks 2009, a version that its development team claims would result in time savings as high as 65% compared to SolidWorks 2008. Debuting in the upcoming release is SpeedPak, which gives users the option to employ simplified versions of assemblies. By selecting and specifying only the relevant faces and holes, the user can create and work with SpeedPaks that consume less memory but accurately represent the source components in graphic details.

SpeedPak, introduced in SolidWorks 2009, lets users employ simplified assembly components that consume less memory but retain graphical accuracy.

The new release also promises enhancements in plastic and sheet metal modeling. The show-and-tell included an example in which the presenter was able to automatically create a sheet metal enclosure by selecting the relevant faces and executing a few simple commands.

SolidWorks 2009 also includes these features:

  • the ability to create technical illustrations linked to original CAD files with Dassault's 3DVia Composer

  • support for IDF files to enable data exchange between mechanical and electrical engineers

  • a new rendering feature called PhotoView 360, developed in conjunction with Luxology

Dassault and SolidWorks may be adopting a new policy of shared vision and destiny, but marrying the technologies from both may not be so simple. When asked if users can look forward to easier data exchange between CATIA (a Dassault product) and SolidWorks, the development team said, "Currently, that's handled by solution partners and that's the way it's going to be for the foreseeable future."

SolidWorks users can use the services of Datakit,, and other certified SolidWorks partners to shuffle files back and forth between CATIA and SolidWorks.