Event Report: SolidWorks World 2006

1 Feb, 2006 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Viva Las Vegas! A look back at the user conference and a look ahead to the next product release

OK, I’ll admit it up front: Las Vegas is not one of my favorite places. I don’t gamble, I don’t smoke and I generally try to avoid situations where I might make a spectacle of myself.

Yet despite my general disdain for the venue, I really enjoyed SolidWorks World 2006 International User Conference and Exposition, held January 22-25 at Caesars Palace. And I wasn’t alone. More than 3,700 attendees and approximately 90 members of the international press found their way through the intentional labyrinth that is Caesars to convene for what SolidWorks claimed to be the largest mechanical CAD conference in the world to date. The Partner Pavilion was packed with more than 100 exhibitors -- not surprising considering that SolidWorks reports that it now has around 1,000 third-party partners.

During the course of the event I talked with many members of SolidWorks upper management and was reminded how approachable and forthcoming they are about most issues raised and questions asked. The only questions that anyone seemed to hedge about were those regarding SolidWorks’ current and future relationship with its parent company, Dassault Systemes, causing one to wonder about the long-term standing of this marriage.

Unlike most of its competition, SolidWorks is staying true to its roots: mechanical design and analysis, not PLM. To a large extent -- and wisely, I think -- SolidWorks relies on its partners to fill in the PLM picture. According to the company, its customers are not asking for PLM. Instead, PDM (project data management) is the more significant pursuit for SolidWorks, as its customers take on bigger projects across multiple sites -- what the company terms as putting “3D into production.”

Solid Works 2007

The announcement of new features likely to appear in the next release of any software always elicits the keen interest of current users, and SolidWorks is no exception. As a matter of fact, the announcement of future software features and capabilities is probably the most anticipated aspect of a user conference such as SolidWorks World and usually arrives with much fanfare.

However, this year’s SolidWorks World took a relatively low-key, understated approach to announcing the highlights SolidWorks 2007. Yes, there were some significant things to reveal, just not as many this time around.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. SolidWorks 2007 includes a number of existing features and capabilities made more usable and stable. When I spoke with Chris Garcia, SolidWorks’ vice-president of R&D, he said that SolidWorks is on a 10-month release cycle, and that each release averages approximately 250 upgrades from the previous version. He also said that customer “Top 10” enhancement requests are very important and pointed out that in the past five years, 42 of the top 50 enhancement requests (84%) have been implemented in SolidWorks.

If there was a theme for SolidWorks 2007, it was the company?s continuing effort to reduce CAD overhead -- that is, concern users less about the tool so they can concentrate more on design.

New Features to Come

Because a lot of details were not provided, what follows is a brief list of some of the major features and capabilities that are likely to appear in SolidWorks 2007. As the actual release approaches, I will provide more detail.

  • SolidWorks Intelligent Feature Technology (SWIFT) -- consisting of SketchXpert, FeatureXpert, MateXpert and ToleranceXpert -- will provide design guidance and decision-making tools that will speed the design process in these areas.
  • A push/pull freeform feature that provides control points for shape manipulation and works with native, imported and scanned data.
  • Model file sizes as much as 50% smaller.
  • COSMOSMotion at no extra cost in SolidWorks Office Premium.
  • COSMOSWorks support for beam analysis.
  • COSMOSXpress help for optimizing designs.
  • A new Copy Design command.
  • Relationships in sketches, such as those for belts, cams and chains.
  • Drawing automation that will let you display a graphical palette that shows all drawing views: Just drag and drop to place the views in a drawing. When dimensions are added to layouts, they are automatically spaced and will not overlap.
  • Drawing annotation to enable improvements for hole tables; balloons that can be linked to attributes beyond part numbers; and notes and leaders that provide more comprehensive information.
  • Multimating for mating common components with common references.
  • In sheet metal, the ability to unfold complex flanges on curves.

SolidWorks 2007 beta is due out in April; the full release will ship sometime in the summer.

New 64-bit Versions

During the conference, the company also released the 64-bit versions of SolidWorks and COSMOS design analysis applications for working more efficiently with very large assemblies. Together, the 64-bit applications leverage the performance and scalability of the Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition operating system that supports up to 8 terabytes of memory. This is a big deal for customers who design big things, such as heavy equipment, packing plant machinery and other large assemblies.

The SolidWorks 2006 x64 Edition and COSMOS 2006 x64 Edition support the Intel Xeon EM64T and AMD Opteron processors. SolidWorks also will continue to support SolidWorks and COSMOS versions that run on the 64-bit operating system in a 32-bit mode, with full compatibility for all SolidWorks and COSMOS files, regardless of the operating system used to create them.

The next SolidWorks World will be held in New Orleans, February 4-7, 2007 -- extending a financial boost to this region as well as a shot of confidence.

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