SOLIDWORKS World 2018: In an Era of Mature Design Software, 'Harder Problems' Beckon

16 Feb, 2018 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Once CAD is finely honed for its original purpose, what’s left for a developer to tackle? At the annual SOLIDWORKS user event, Dassault Systèmes shows where its focus lies now.

There’s a certain breed of complaint occasionally voiced by CAD users who have to learn new software versions, or the CAD managers who have to implement and support them: The updates are not significant enough to merit the investment of money and training time. CAD companies aren’t innovating anymore. CAD software hasn’t changed in years.

This type of comment is heard more often as time goes by and we get ever further from the first days of CAD. As the software has matured, incremental changes have become less dramatic — tweaks and refinements are certainly far more common than massive leaps in capabilities. But does that mean that CAD software development has slowed to a point of minimal improvement? “My take on that is ‘No,’” said Suchit Jain, vice-president of strategy and community for SOLIDWORKS. “There is new stuff coming all the time. … I don’t think we have slowed down the pace of adding new things inside SOLIDWORKS.”

And those “new things” are not necessarily small or subtle; “It’s a big year for us,” said Jain. SOLIDWORKS World 2018, held February 4-7 in Los Angeles, kicked off with the following announcements from CEO Gian Paolo Bassi:

  • 3DEXPERIENCE Social Collaboration Services. Available to all SOLIDWORKS users now, this social media–style collaboration and file sharing environment is designed for the creative, but chaotic, early stages of a project. “Think of it as a Google Drive that understands how SOLIDWORKS builds knowledge,” Bassi explained.
  • 3DEXPERIENCE PLM Services is “a very easy and convenient way [to manage collaboration],” said Bassi. “You don’t need to store anything … everything [is accessible] from the convenience of your browser.”
  • SOLIDWORKS Product Designer, “a complete suite of applications for the design of mechanical objects,” is natively built on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, fully integrated with other products in the portfolio, and provides simulation results in “a few clicks,” he said.
  • 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace Make is intended to help users find qualified contract manufacturers. “The real game here is, [an end-to-end experience] from dream to doorstep — we are drastically widening our ambition and the services we want to make available to each of you,” Bassi said.
  • SOLIDWORKS xDesign promises 3D CAD that “runs in any browser, any device, anytime, anywhere.” The beta group is being expanded to about 50 now, and to several thousand by the end of this year. “We have talked about it for some time, it is ready now,” Bassi asserted.

Ed Gebo, founder of the Digital Detail & Design mechanical design firm, was one of those who provided an early evaluation of xDesign. “The performance was fine, I didn’t see any major difference to a SOLIDWORKS desktop session” when using it with a smartphone-hotspot Internet connection, he reported. “The product’s not as complete as SOLIDWORKS, but it’s close, so I have faith that it’ll get there where it needs to be.” Features Gebo would like to see, including 3D sketching tools, more surfacing tools, and splines, are in development.

The Challenges That Remain

Jain acknowledged that “there is no new technology that has suddenly emerged for design, but there are new challenges we need to solve, [and] those needs keep on coming.” Because “people can already do their jobs” with the current software capabilities, he said, the company’s focus now is on “harder problems” such as increasing speed, building bridges between products, honing design for 3D printing, and making 3D CAD functionality available via a browser. “I think we are at the top of the Maslow triangle,” Jain said, likening the development of CAD to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (typically represented as a triangle with basic human requirements at the base and more advanced motivations toward the peak).

Jain explained the importance — and complexity — of developing 3D CAD for both desktop and online platforms. “Our customers have said, some are ready, some are not ready [to perform their CAD work through an online platform;] now, whenever they’re ready, they can use xDesign to do what they need to do.” Providing this flexibility for users requires the creation of “bridges” between xDesign and the desktop SOLIDWORKS experience, such as the new 3DEXPERIENCE Social Collaboration Services, said Jain. “People can take both highways … when they are ready to move, we will have bridges for them to move from one highway to the other,” he explained. “We are the only ones providing that flexibility.”

He stressed the value of the xDesign data model, which is shared with other applications across the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. With this integration of products, users can focus on creating complete products, not just shapes; “it opens this whole world,” he noted. “We’re really enhancing the 3DEXPERIENCE platform for our users … it’s about solving harder problems and giving all the tools to our users.”

And how does the development of xDesign position the company in terms of a different kind of challenge: facing off with the browser-based competition? “We don’t really hear about Onshape,” said Jain. “On my Maslow triangle, Onshape is at the bottom, trying to solve the mundane things.”

Another of the “harder problems” — and one that Jain is passionate about addressing — is making the software products available to, and affordable for, more people. “There is a higher purpose,” he commented. Gunther Barajas, vice-president of Dassault Systèmes Mexico, concurred with Jain about the importance of this goal: “We may have technology maturity — but accessibility maturity, we are not there at all.” The company’s FabLab program is an accessibility initiative bringing tools, training, and “social innovation” to makers and entrepreneurs who are rich in ideas, but lacking in resources. “We want to help improve the quality of life,” said Jain.

Looking to 2019

In addition to Bassi’s big announcements, the event also featured a technology preview showcasing new capabilities that are planned (but not promised) for SOLIDWORKS 2019. In keeping with company tradition, the “sneak peek” at upcoming features was presented in the form of an elaborate recorded skit. This year it took the form of a behind-the-scenes look at making one of these “movies”: Demo-lition.

The preview included the following updates:

  • When saving an assembly as a multibody part, users can decide which components are included by using a slider bar, or by specifying a component’s individual bounding box; all toolbox components can be excluded with a single selection. Original assembly mass properties can be transferred through to the resulting part.
  • Users can run interference detection checks within multibody parts.
  • A new external references dialog is designed to make it easier to find and visualize references. With the dynamic references tool in the Feature manager, users can break or lock xrefs.
  • SOLIDWORKS Visualize now incorporates a de-noiser tool (pictured in action below, at right) powered by NVIDIA artificial intelligence technology, which can help render images 10 times faster than before. “Visualize uses machine learning to anticipate and eliminate noise in the scene,” explained Ian Pilkington, senior product introduction manager.

  • Users can apply an appearance onto a part or face, size and orient it, then use a new texturize body command to turn that appearance into mesh geometry; controls allow for adjustment of mesh size and refinement, plus inversion of the texture.
  • A new partial chamfer/fillet option eliminates unwanted material in areas of interference. It uses the existing chamfer/fillet tool, and provides distance, percentage, reference, and drag handle offsets.
  • User interface enhancements include support for the Microsoft Surface Dial, a wireless knob that rests on the Surface screen and enables panning, zooming, and rotating models; automatic conversion of pen sketches to splines and slots; handwritten 3D markups saved with the model; and support for virtual reality (VR) in SOLIDWORKS eDrawings.
  • SOLIDWORKS Simulation is getting topology optimization updates; users can add stress/factor of safety goals and frequency constraints.
  • A new mesh slicing tool (pictured below) creates multiple intersection sketches on any imported mesh; these sketches can be dynamically edited for exact positioning, and can be used like any other sketch to create additional reference features or geometry.

  • Improvements aimed at machine design professionals include:
  • Group mates [in assembly] by status “grouping mates by status makes it really easy to find and clean up the mates in your assemblies,” said Jeremy Regnerus, senior portfolio introduction manager.
  • Enhancements to the component preview window enable users to select multiple components and view them side by side, or sync them together. “This makes it really easy to do day to day tasks, and gives you a lot of flexibility,” said Regnerus.
  • Concentric mates rotation can be automatically locked using a new option for toolbox components, saving users the step of locking components and adding parallel mates to toolbox components.
  • A new way of using the defeature tool lets users create “silhouettes,” making geometry in their designs as simple as possible while preserving the shape (pictured below). “You’ll notice a huge performance increase, and more importantly, simplicity when working with these defeatured files,” Regnerus asserted.

Editor’s note: Click here to read Part 2 of Cadalyst’s SOLIDWORKS World 2018 coverage.

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