MCAD: 2005 into 2006

4 Jan, 2006 By: Jeffrey Rowe

A review and preview of significant happenings in the CAD marketplace

On many different levels and in many different ways, 2005 was an interesting year for the CAD/CAM/CAE marketplace. No single event outshined the rest, but a number of things indicated that this market continues in its perpetual state of flux.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the events that proved significant last year and will probably remain so this year.

Continuing CAD Consolidation

Some of the major CAD players made a number of acquisitions. Among the most notable were PTC’s acquisition of Arbortext and Autodesk’s acquisition of Alias. Like most acquisitions, these two will provide additional breadth and depth to the purchasers’ existing product lines, as well as introduce those companies to new markets and customers. In the next year or so, I fully expect some second- and third-tier CAD vendors to be merged or outright acquired by some of their bigger brethren. It’s becoming a more competitive market for CAD vendors every year, making it tougher to attain and retain customers.

PLM Moves ‘Downmarket’

It was only a matter of time before PLM vendors realized there was a market for their products beyond billion-dollar companies. Many of these same vendors realized in 2005 that it might be easier to sell ten seats to 1,000 companies than to sell 1,000 seats to ten companies -- thus the recent focus on SMBs (small- and medium-sized businesses). In other words, SMBs are getting the recognition and respect they deserve. This move was long overdue, and virtually every PLM vendor has jumped on the bandwagon, finally.

Moving “downmarket” presents a quandary for some PLM vendors with regard to different product lines that will begin competing with each other for the same chunk of business. As products such as SolidWorks and Solid Edge offer increasingly sophisticated features and capabilities -- which could conceivably come to rival the features and capabilities of heretofore higher-end PLM systems-- how will their parent companies, Dassault and UGS, respond? A number of different possible scenarios could result. It will be interesting to observe what actually transpires.

‘Lean’ Takes on New Meaning

We've heard now for many years that lean manufacturing is one of the keys to remaining competitive. However, can some of the key principles of lean manufacturing be translated and applied to other parts of a business beyond manufacturing? Can lean manufacturing leap beyond its historical product context and into the realm of process? In a word, yes.

Lean manufacturing, however, isn't as simple as doing more with less. It’s a very complex methodology with many dependencies that seeks to minimize the resources required for creating and manufacturing a product. The biggest challenge for any manufacturer trying to adopt lean principles is to deploy the concept beyond the factory floor -- affecting process as much as product. Although more and more manufacturers are succeeding in applying lean principles on the factory floor, the idea of applying them to the rest of the organization is still in its formative years.

A relatively new lean concept is emerging as an extension of lean principles: lean consumption relates to process management and production. Lean consumption has arisen in organizations that improve their internal processes through lean production practices and realize that the experiences of consumers seem to be deteriorating. Lean consumption’s main focus is improving processes to ensure that consumers get exactly the goods and services they want. This concept is still in its early stages, but seems to be getting the attention of a growing number of companies.

Interoperability Problems Persist

The two most popular data formats for design data exchange between different systems, IGES and STEP, while far from perfect, are about the best offered today. STEP especially continues to evolve, but still has shortcomings where certain types of complex geometry are concerned. And although many CAD applications are getting better at repairing imported STEP and IGES data, the process tends to be tedious and can create its own problems and errors. Further proof that interoperability is still a major issue: Several companies that provide data-translation services are doing quite well -- and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Data Format Standards Proliferate

As if IGES and STEP weren’t enough, two other proprietary design data standards are vying to be top dog: JT Open from UGS and 3D XML from Dassault Systèmes. Both have inherent advantages and disadvantages -- and both continue to attract supporters to their respective camps. Will either one be the ultimate winner? Doubtful, for the foreseeable future. Expect to see at least one more so-called “open format” standard emerge in the near future.

Engineering Education Decline

It’s been widely reported that one of the biggest problems facing engineering in the United States today is not a true “engineering” problem per se. It involves attracting engineers to the profession in the first place and retaining them once they get there. These aren’t exactly new problems, but they seem to have been magnified in the past few years.

Does the engineering profession hold the esteemed position it enjoyed in past generations? That doesn't seem to be the case in the United States. For whatever reason, we can interest and graduate only a fraction of the engineers that countries such as China and India do, and the disparity grows every year. Why is the number of prospective engineering students so low in this country? I attribute a big part of it to U.S. students slipping downward in math and science.

When no solid foundation is established in math and science, there is no chance for engineering. It’s no secret that American business won’t be able to compete globally without a technically trained and skilled workforce. Although our educational system has managed some advances in primary and secondary schools in the past several years, it’s obvious that many, if not most, math and science curricula are still not connecting kids with the engineering jobsthat will almost certainly comprise this country’s best, most desirable, and lucrative careers for the 21 st century. We cannot afford to fall any further behind as an innovator and leader in engineering.

So, as you can see, we have a lot of work to do on many levels and in many engineering and technical areas in 2006 and beyond.

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