Communicating via 3D

28 November 2008

The visionary CEO of Dassault Systèmes Bernard Charles recently visited London where DEVELOP3D secured an exclusive interview. Topics discussed ranged from the free 3D Via Shape, PLM 2.0 and entering the AEC market.

Martyn Day: Dassault Systèmes is well known for being a significant player in the automotive and aerospace industries. The 3DVIA range of products, specifically the freely downloadable modelling tool, 3DVIA Shape, would indicate that Dassault Systèmes has aspirations in other markets?

Bernard Charles

"I believe that our customers are all going to have to change the way they develop products"

Bernard Charles: 3DVIA is the newest of the six Dassault Systèmes brands. While the majority of our brands are related to CATIA and the move to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), 3DVIA is specifically trying to spread the usage of 3D so that everybody can use it, either at work or at home, through the web.

As a technology development company, we have so many ideas and need to try them out and see how the market reacts. 3DVIA Shape is a free to download modelling application that is built on years of our development, with a intuitive interface. We just put it out there and have been learning what people do with it. It’s really amazing, we have had tens of thousands of downloads and everyone shares their models online.

We originally thought that it would be just for home hobbyists but we are increasingly finding people actually using 3DVIA Shape for work. One company I recently talked to was using 3DVIA Shape to mock up interior plans of buildings in 3D, so they could quote for all the ducting work required. They would send these back to their HQ, where the models would be used as the start point of their proposal. Customers like this are feeding back what extra features they would like to see in the product – like dimensioning – and we are listening as to what we will put in the final product. At the moment 3DVIA Shape is in Beta but we are already thinking of bringing out different versions, or maybe downloadable add-ons. However, for now it’s about exploring the possibilities, testing technology, learning from customers and spreading access to 3D.

Martyn Day: Products like SketchUp from Google have proved that this market works, albeit while being given away. As a product, SketchUp almost single handedly helped the architectural design market see the benefits of 3D. Now, SketchUp is endemic.

Bernard Charles: We are very aware of the success of SketchUp and are very interested in getting more architects to use 3DVIA Shape. We think that with our underlying CATIA technology and intuitive interface we will provide a better product with all sorts of conceptual design applications.

We have paid a lot of attention to interface design. If you see all our latest products, they share common, intuitive ways of working. We think that using any software should feel fun – from 3DVIA Shape up to CATIA.

But the 3DVIA brand isn’t just about the free Shape tool, there are other products under the brand, such as Virtools for creating real-time experiences with interactivity. The ‘games’ market is fascinating and it’s probably the most intoxicating use of 3D immersing players. This exciting technology now applies to product design and web and you will see more from us in these areas. A number of automotive manufacturers design their cars in CATIA and produce interactive 3D experiences online using the same data and some of our other tools.

For consumers of 3D within a supply chain there’s 3DVIA Live, to navigate through complex product information in a very graphical way and 3D Composer to take all this information and reuse it to create rich 3D product documentation.

As you can probably tell, I’m very excited about 3DVIA, it’s about new markets, new ideas and getting customers, at many levels, to interact with 3D.

Martyn Day: At the Developer’s conference earlier this year, you personally demonstrated interacting with a 3D model using a Wii controller. I hear you may be getting into developing your own 3D input devices?

The next generation modelling is about being able to represent smart objects. Most things are mecha-tronics systems – it’s electronic, it’s mech-anical, it’s software – and that’s what we are doing

Bernard Charles: Certainly, we think live interaction with 3D will become common and this has been proven by the great success of the Wii console. Now, I don’t think that we will get into the hardware manufacturing business but we are experimenting with the devices that are available and working with the leading companies in this area to come up with new concepts and assist in driving these useful input devices.

Martyn Day: Dassault Systèmes appears to be becoming increasingly web-centric, from downloadable tools to online experiences and possibly even sales?

Bernard Charles: The web isn’t only the future, it’s the present – we live in a connected world. It’s an enabling technology for so many things and a foundation for many fundamental business processes, like PLM 2.0. It’s a great way for us to get in front of new customers, to enable collaboration, 3D repositories, model distribution, 3D experiences. There’s a big move to software as a service and we believe it will be important to offer our tools on demand too. We are doing a lot of research as to how we can make this possible.

Dassault Systèmes has come a long way in a short time. Not long ago we just developed software,we were programmers and researchers – all our sales and marketing were performed by our partner IBM. Now we do the marketing and have our own channel and partner with IBM in our major accounts. We have learned a lot and continue to evolve our business model and services, the web is a strategic element to any business moving forward.

As to on-line experiences, Virtual shopping is not that far away. It’s going to require a completely new environment and it will really involve people. Will this technology be for focus groups or consumers? I think this has yet to be decided but what we know today is that many consumer product developers want high-quality web sites, at least to display what they sell. So there is a need there and there is also a need to interact with the products because you want to play with the product to see if you want it. This could lead to on-demand design but the demand for this remains to be seen. We can provide a new degree of sophistication to consumer web sites and it could be a revolutionary way to involve potential customers in the product development process.

Martyn Day: Do you think the operating systems and browsers are really designed to deliver good 3D experiences?

Bernard Charles: I’d say probably not but we have to develop solutions to overcome the limitations. Our 3DXML format is a case in point, where we give customers 3D models with dramatically reduced file sizes, so they can be shared, emailed or embedded. With 3DVIA Shape all the models created can be uploaded to our data warehouse for other users to see or download. There is already a lot of great content uploaded, thousands of models. If you get a chance to go online and see some of the work that has been done in 3DVIA Shape, I think you will be amazed. There are houses, cars, tractors, and furniture. It has become a real community where people share their models.

In fact, 3D content on the web will be a thing you will hear about a lot from us at the CATIA Forum in Paris. We have some exciting new technology that we will be demonstrating. I can’t say too much but we have been working on a search engine for 3D data. You will see it soon.

Martyn Day: In a discussion with Pascal Daloz, [executive vice president, strategy & marketing, Dassault Systèmes] he told me that Dassault Systèmes had come up with the concept of Design DNA, where the software extracts the ‘recipe’ of a design for re-use.

Bernard Charles: Exactly. We will allow designers to create ‘remixes’ of designs. There will be elements of a product that can be reused and to do this you may want to search for the right recipe to recreate. This could be within your firm, or on the web. It’s a very exciting new idea and will speed up design. I can’t tell you anymore, you will have to come to the CATIA conference!

Martyn Day: Dassault Systèmes’ owns SolidWorks, but is it increasingly in competition with CATIA within small to medium businesses.

Bernard Charles: SolidWorks is a great Dassault Systèmes brand; it’s a great success. We don’t see this competitive aspect, both brands serve their markets and appeal to different business needs. It amuses me that people talk as though its SolidWorks vs Dassault Systèmes, when SolidWorks is actually a DS brand. I talked to one customer who told me that he used SolidWorks and appologised for not being a Dassault customer. I had to congratulate him on already being a Systèmes customer! We have made some subtle changes to the branding but this is part of the process of the ongoing task of refining our core identity as a group. There have also been some changes in channel naming and structure where it benefits all DS brands- for instance SolidWorks resellers can now sell 3DVIA products (Composer/ Live). This will always be an evolving process when it makes sense.

Martyn Day: With the launch of CATIA V6, there has been a lot said about PLM 2.0. What is PLM 2.0?

Bernard Charles: I believe that our customers are all going to have to change the way they develop products. It’s not going to be the old way, which is what PLM is about. PLM 2.0 is going to change the way people look at enterprise software. There is no other enterprise software where you can ‘dream, imagine or do’ with this next generation of PLM. The contribution that we will give to industry at large is two fold. Firstly, to provide a better way to connect with their consumers – this is an important avenue for any business. The second is connecting their own product development ecosystem within a single environment. It’s just too complex to send data back and forth and we needed to find a new way to do it and also to use the game technology to make it attractive and fun to do serious work. As I said, Virtools is going to be core in everything we do in the future and the reason why I think it’s important is because young people want to learn and discover engineering differently. It’s boring to read complex books! Instead they will have virtual labs to experiment and discover physics and mathematics through experimentation and this isn’t going to be fifty years from now, it’s happening now. We want to provide that same experience to everyone within the enterprise.

Martyn Day: What do you think of Siemens PLM Solutions’ Synchronous Technology in Solid Edge and NX?

Bernard Charles: Frankly I don’t think a lot about it. I see it as the end of the previous journey. We do much more than that already. The new way of modelling has to be with multiple people, working in the same environment, on the same data. Where designers around the globe all work on the same virtual product. There is so much more than shape modelling involved to solve this particular problem. The next generation modelling is about being able to represent smart objects. Most things are mechatronics systems – it’s electronic, it’s mechanical, it’s software – and that’s what we are doing. On the Shape side, it has to be design style or user-experience driven. We have much more technology than what you have referred to. What they have done is a small thing that will not have a long life.

Martyn Day: We have talked on a couple of occasions where you have expressed more than a passing interest in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction market. Has this developed any further?

Bernard Charles: In this space, a lot of new things can be done. Looking at usage now, Asset management, city planning in 3DVIA and some building design in SolidWorks are all being used in AEC now. With regard to really sophisticated architecture, our relationship with Frank Gehry and Digital Project (which is based on CATIA), is growing very nicely. We are certainly touching that vertical more and more.

I think the next big thing for AEC will be a new type of on-line application for 3D design in architecture. The 3D processes in that industry are far behind and I believe it will change and it will happen online. I can’t tell you too much here as it’s a bit early. At some point it will be worthwhile for us.

Martyn Day: Were your new headquarters designed in CATIA?

Bernard Charles: Unfortunately space allocation and routing were the only parts done in CATIA but all the floors were designed in 2D. When I went on site to see how the building was coming on, every week they would come to the site with a pile of drawings. This was crazy! If they had just put it online with Enovia V6 and a viewer it would have changed everything!

Martyn Day: Did you talk to them about buying CATIA?

Bernard Charles: Yes, of course! We are leasing the building, so we didn’t get to choose the architect.

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