SolidWorks World 2010 - Next generation picture starts to clear

Published 15 February 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: catia, enovia, dassault systems, solidworks world, delmia, v6, solidworks next generation

Right. This is late. Very late. My apologies. The reason for my tardiness is that I’ve been gallivanting about the place the last week or so, but more that that, I’ve been mulling this over for the past two weeks since I left California, adding bits and bobs here and there, wondering how much to speculate (note: much of this is speculation), but I think I’ve got a good handle of what went down in California. I’ve been going to SolidWorks World for the last 11 years apparently. It said so on my badge. I think I missed one in Boston but that was about it. So I’ve been there for all the major announcements, the major shifts, seen the staff change and evolve over the years. But 2010 saw the most dramatic shift for the company in nearly a decade.

SolidWorks have always avoided showing technology too far into the future. That’s always been a good move. When you have 5,000+ people who’s business is based on a core technology, the last thing you want to do is build expectations of things that are a little too far over the horizon. The same is true of users as it is of resellers (SolidWorks World is a bifurcated event, running a reseller conference and user conference in parallel - hence the big attendee numbers).

Bernard comes to play

For 2010, this changed and on the first day of the event, the company took a bold move on two fronts. The first front came when SolidWorks’ CEO, Jeff Ray, after a brief chat with the crowd, moved aside to introduce someone that should have been at the event years ago. Dassault Systems CEO, Bernard Charles. Yup. The mothership landed in Anaheim. For me, this was fundamental shift in how SolidWorks is presenting itself to its community. Since Dassault acquired SolidWorks over a decade ago, there has been a separation of the two organisations. Dassault does its thing with Catia, with Enovia and Delmia (for factory automation and simulation), while SolidWorks does it’s mainstream thing. The two has an incredibly successful relationship based on separation. things started to merge when Dassault acquired Seemage, reinvented the product and integrated it into its 3dvia business line and the SolidWorks channel brought 3dvia Composer to its customers. This was the first public sign that the Dassault and SolidWorks relationship was anything more than a financial one - but it’s clear that this was the starting point.

Bernard talked to the assembled crowd and while I only heard the occasional “Who the **** is this French guy?” it was deemed a success (apparently, some American’s don’t like French people - usually the ones that couldn’t point to France on a map, I’ve found). He discussed the various business groups, how they interacted and what differentiated SolidWorks from Catia. For those used to seeing Bernard present in the context of a Dassault event, the slide stack shown was dramatically reduced. The content was also simplified. As I sat at the back of the auditorium I was trying to work out why - and it quickly became very clear indeed. And this is the second fundamental shift shown at the event.

Following Bernard and over the next few days, SolidWorks showed what they’re working on. Apparently, it’s a three year project that’s been conducted in extreme secrecy. I’ve spoken to someone old friends that now work in development and apparently, this is the team to work on. The guys building out the company’s future products. But what was shown? Let’s deal with that.

The future?

The demonstration was a mix of video and live demo. there were mentions of everything that’s hot at the moment, from Multi-Touch (Josh has some tasty treats on that front), from OS independence (Yup. there was a Mac being used on stage) and that rather hateful phrase “the cloud”. There were demonstrations involving direct modelling mixed up with more traditional modelling methodologies, direct interaction with geometry, live search and reuse for data both within your organisation and out on the web, there was a whole load of things that looked incredible - as you would expect.

But at it’s core, what was shown was that SolidWorks are building their next generation of product using the V6 platform on which Catia, Enovia et al are being built. So what does that mean? Let’s look at it.

The next generation of SolidWorks will use the same underlying base of technology as Dassault’s V6 products. Taking that further, that means the same underlying product design technology as Catia, but alongside this, it means that it’ll also be built on the Enovia platform.

Now. The reactionaries will read this and think “Christ, they’re dumping Parasolid”. Probably. Yes as a core modelling engine. But Parasolid within SolidWorks won’t disappear purely for the sake of being able to read legacy data. But it’s a lot more simply switching kernel and it’s something to embrace and take some time to understand the immense potential for users.

Dassault’s V6 platform is possibly the first time that the data management backbone for a product development system has been so tightly integrated with the authoring tools - not just 3D and 2D design tools, but everything, mechatronics, digital factory, simulation.

At present, there’s a disconnect between the two disciplines across the board. Whether you talk to Dassault about V5, whether it’s SolidWorks and EPDM, whether it’s Siemens and Teamcenter. The 3D tool creates the data, the data system manages those packets of data. Ever linked, but ever separate entities.

Enovia V6 (although having been around for sometime as MatrixOne) is becoming a new wave of tool where that distinction is fundamentally removed. Within V6 everything is managed to a highly granular level. We’re not talking revisions of parts and assemblies, we’re talking live updated and tracking of data to feature and sub-feature level on a massive scale - both in terms ability to handle huge datasets (which are inherent in the granularity), but also in terms of people creating, editing and accessing that data (this was one of the key reasons for the MatrixOne acquisition). Granularity is something I’m going to talk about in coming weeks.. But for now, it’s this granular platform and the way that it interacts is what enable much of what both Dassault are showing with Catia V6 and this past week with the next generation of SolidWorks.

Geometry engine

Alongside this, looking at the demonstrations of the core modelling tools, it’s clear that the SolidWorks R & D team are using the Catia V6 geometry modelling kernel (though I’m not entirely sure it’s a thing that even exists - it’s all mixed together at a very base level). The tools demonstrated for geometry creation and modification, for data search and reuse, match the same shown in V6 demonstrations in terms of capability and focus. What differentiates the two is down to one thing: user experience.

And for me, this is key.

What I believe SolidWorks showed was the next generation of the product and the future for all Dassault products whether that’s Catia, whether that’s SolidWorks. Everything is built on the same core platform, a very powerful platform and one that has huge resources behind it. In the future, what will differentiate the two business groups will be the focus of the business and the user experience.

  • The Catia product line will always focus on the strategic user where business process is hand in hand with complexity (relating to product, of teams, of supply chain, etc etc).
  • SolidWorks will always continue to focus on the mainstream community, where cost vs functionality reigns supreme.

The user experience will differ between the two. There are different requirements, different tools and capabilities, some of which are unique to each set of users. But for me, the key is that there’s the potential to use technologies from both groups to the benefit of the other. They won’t look or work the same, but they’re converging onto a common technology stack - another key fundamental.

Mixing the tech stack

Take an example discussed this week. Terafugia (we talked about it recently on the blog). These guys are developing a hybrid car/plane (it’s a car AND a plane, not mixing fuel types). The core product, the mechanical design was done with SolidWorks, but when it came time to develop the carbon fibre skins, this was conducted using Catia’s highly specialised tools.

For me, that’s one of the huge reasons that SolidWorks users should be enthused about this shift. Being able to access all of the technologies that exist within the Dassault product range (there’s 190 orso different modules in Catia alone) - whether they’re allowed to remains to be seen, but the potential to make it easy is implement is there.

The Cloud…

I’m trying to avoid the puns. I’m sure there are umpteen of them out there already but in this very instance, the ‘cloud-based’ tools that SolidWorks demonstrated - both in the futures demo and in more immediate tools, ‘the cloud’ was referenced almost to ad naseum. I also believe the definition is something that should be avoided - as should rather hackened analogies with Google Apps.

In this space, “The Cloud” refers to a technology running on a web-server. That’s all. The V6 platform is a server-based architecture.  Your data is stored and served from that server. Whether you’re interacting it with it in a browser-based tool, whether it’s with a thicker client installed on your local workstation (something that might be key for mobile workers or those without higher-bandwidth), or whether you’re doing it through an mobile device. The data is centralised and managed.

The first thing that most people discussed when I asked them about the cloud-based tools shown was “Does that mean I don’t own my own data?” and many seemed uncomfortable with it. No. It doesn’t. Whether you opt for the hosted service (using Amazon’s services for example), whether it’s installed in a privately maintained server from the vendor (Dassault are gearing up for this already) or whether it’s all behind your firewall - it doesn’t really matter. Your organisation will have options. think of it more of “A Cloud”, rather than “The Cloud.” When you do, it becomes far less intimidating.

Pricing?

One interesting thing that was brought up at the event was that the potential to save money is there when you move to a cloud-based, browser-driven environment. Everything is stored on the server. If your client crashes, it’s just the client that goes pop. Not the data. That is a huge time saver and time means money. Another thing to consider is that if these tools are browser data where you’re essentially interacting with data live, your reliance on workstation technology is lessened.

There’s also huge potential for things like simulation and rendering - compute heavy tasks. If you’re working on a server-farm with 100s of core available, you can generate those types of assets immediately and as you need them. Rendering was demonstrated with Luxology’s Nexus engine (the same one powering PhotoView 360) creating photo real images in realtime, on demand. Again, time is money.

Will the tools get cheaper? I very much doubt it. I’d imagine you’ll see a service-based charging structure become the norm. You want to use them? log-in. Buy a license. Away you go. Want your simulation tasks run over 10, 20, 50, 100 cores? You pay for the speed in which you get your results, not the tools you use to create them. Get a job where you require carbon fibre design tools that aren’t in SolidWorks? Log-in, buy the license for the Catia tools and use them. When you don’t need them, switch them off and stop paying for them. What happens if you’ve got your data locked into one vendor’s service, in their own format, in a remote location and you switch it off - this is an interesting thing, but there’s no clear guidance there. I’d imagine read only access would be the default. Otherwise it’s simply not going to fly for users.

Route to market?

But what about the channel? The group of resellers that have built SolidWorks to the point it’s at today? With this new approach, many have asked what their place will be in the grand scheme of things. For me, it’s obvious. They’ll be going nowhere. Yes, business operations have changed, but a product like SolidWorks needs to be sold to people and supported. For me, a cloud-based approach will mean even more engagement with both existing customers and new alike. The technology changes afoot will mean that now, more than ever, having some local to talk to, a group of people to support your workhorse tools, will be more relevant than ever before. Yes, the delivery mechanism might change, but the need to interact both during investment, implementation and use will be more critical than ever. Some people have rather loudly been questioning the Value-Add part of the VAR acronym, but with everything that’s coming, that value will be more justifiable than ever before and more needed by users.

A few final thoughts - on change and on fear

The things discussed where represent a brave move by the company. And it could have backfired in spectacular fashion. The combination of bringing Bernard of stage, talking about how the companies would be working together more closely - alongside a pretty groundbreaking demo of future technology could have gone horribly wrong and for many other vendors, probably would have.

But as far as I can see, it didn’t - a very difficult job, executed almost perfectly.

Let’s cut to the chase. SolidWorks is now over a decade old. We’ve all seen what happens once software reaches a certain age - it starts to clunk, look clunky and perform in a clunky manner. While fixing that code becomes a herculean task, it’s an even braver decision to build something new, built on new technologies.

That’s what Dassault did with V5 and now with V6. Yes, it causes problems with older generation systems hanging on, something that’s plagued Dassault for nearly a decade, but change has to happen. It’s often painful, but the results can be rewarding.

What you have here is that, finally, after it’s been talked about in hushed tones for years, is that core Dassault team and the SolidWorks team are working together. Both have very different requirements from their users and market and the resultant product will always been different to a larger extent.

Do I see a day where it’s all CatiaWorks or some new product? Probably not. Do I see a day were users in both communities are using tools where the influence of both sides of the fence, the strategic vs the mainstream, feed each other to create a set of tools that suit their use case and benefit from each other? Absolutely.

Can a web-based, served architecture support that cross pollination? Absolutely. Have SolidWorks users got a bunch of tools that, in their shear power, have the potential to blow their minds. I can almost guarantee it. I’ve been covering Dassault and Catia for long enough to know that while they don’t like to talk about product and what Catia can do, the thing is quite simply breathtaking in what it can achieve and the limits it can push in terms of what can be done to capture a product, in a digital, in the most holistic manner.

The coming years are going to be one of transition for SolidWorks and it’s users (as it will for the IT world in general) and I’m sure when it settles, many will be asking all manner of questions and queries about what’s coming. There’s also the fact that change often causes fear, particularly if you’re talking about technology products that are a core part of many many organisations daily processes and workflows. But if you’re a SolidWorks user, don’t be afraid. Be Excited. Because when this stuff comes to market, it’s going to be incredible. But the path between then and now is going to be rocky. But sometimes, rocky is fun.

Also note, as I said at the outset. Much of this is speculation, particularly the geometry engine parts. SolidWorks’ team wouldn’t be drawn on the subject and with this being a futures project, things could change. But I think I’m about there with what’s happening, why and how. The only questions are these. When? And are you ready?

Comments:

Thanks for the mention. good GOOD stuff and worth the wait. I've got more speculation on the SOlidWorks cloud angle comin' up... still mulling over the possibilities... I think it will be a, "wow, really?"... and maybe not.

Posted by Josh on 15 February 2010 at 05:52 PM

For this point forth, I'm instituting a 10 year moratorium on the word "cloud" on this site. If you use it, I'm going to edit the comment and replace it with "green bananana" - you will look foolish and a lesson will be learned. As an example, take the following from da 'smack: I know, the last post clearly stated (with images) that SolidWorks and your precious models would get sucked up into ‘the green bananana.’ So, while we’re all getting comfy with that idea, I’d like to destroy it. The concept of it. We won’t use SolidWorks (or any other program) on the green bananana. We will simply use SolidWorks. Here’s why… You dig home boy? Al

Posted by Al Dean on 15 February 2010 at 06:03 PM

I'm still lobbying for "the æther." Because it sounds like magic and unicorns and Terry Gilliam movies.

Posted by Matthew West on 15 February 2010 at 06:16 PM

I so dig. I slap myself everytime I say it. I will, from now on, use an alternate on par with unripened fruit or a Terry Gilliam reference. we will access everything from the jabberwocky one day soon...

Posted by Josh on 15 February 2010 at 06:25 PM

Thanks Al, good stuff. I find it difficult to describe the nebulas nimbus wink Now I can just point my customers here.

Posted by Christine Longwell on 15 February 2010 at 06:28 PM

Excellent synopsis, oh bearded one. I really like hearing (reading) your slant on things. The insight, coupled with your experience, is always informative and entertaining. I, too, will do what I can to refrain from using the 'C' word. Perhaps "floating bunny cotton-tails"?

Posted by Jeff Mirisola on 15 February 2010 at 06:49 PM

Al I was waiting for you to get onto this topic. Like most people I wasn't at SWW2010 so didn't see all this but thanks to the wonders of illicit videoing and YouTube we did (until was pulled). Going by what I saw only I'd say this is definately CATIA v6 based stuff. The modelling interface, the new real behavioural stuff - amazing. The new sketcher reusing existing bots and bobs - I'll hang fire until I use it - Mark B is as slick as they get but the actual reality of using this on a design job would be....where's that shape I'm after, bugger it, i'll just draw it. So the modelling, great....the delivery....via the old water vapour thingy (henceforth called the WVT). I applaud Dassault/SolidWorks for releasing this into the world and being the first to state intentions. But I think they monumentally cocked up by not stating how all this will be implemented. They are saying this is not a technology preview but IS the future and probably start rolling out later this year. OK, but how is this going to affect existing users (of which there are a lot). Interesting you mention Seemage (aka 3DVia Composer). I'm seriously considering buying this - but do I put down the cash now only to find that in 12 months I could have used it via the WVT? Users have real issues right now. We need to make plans right now. April is only a month away - financial year and all that. Dassault/SolidWorks have a short space of time now to demonstrate to users how all this is going to pan out for existing customers. New customers, we don;t really care about - they to some extent will benefit from all this. We are the one who laid down the cash and subs. So many questions, so few answers. People moan at Apple for being secretive, but at least when they announce a platform shift they give timescales when products are announced, and a full breakdown on what will happen. When they launch a new product they say on 1st April this will be available in XYZ countries at XYZ price. Software vendors do not seem to have worked out how to do that yet. Pity. This might sound petty but this is a serious issue of planning expenditure for SMEs. If I am considering buying say NEIWorks (which I am), how will this work under the new cloud environment? Ditto for Seemage. Real issues. Not vapour of any sort. I have been here before with Think3. read Matt's blog for my comments. IGreat technology yes, but great technology or even access to it is not the issue - the ongoing running costs most certainly are, as is the continued rate of development.

Posted by Kevin Quigley on 15 February 2010 at 10:59 PM

Kev. V6 Catia? Yes. I'm 100% sure. Zero doubts. The whole WVT (I'm adopting that) remains and will always remain something mysterious until someone pulls it off and releases it. And even then, it'll be something that's "coming soon". The odd thing is that if anyone can pull it off, with style, it'll be DS and SolidWorks. Look at Catia. It's not hard to use. The shear idea of the SolidWorks guys having access to those tools, that stuff that in many instances, can blow your mind, but adapt it to the easier to use requirements (but let's be clear, Catia isn't hard to use - AT ALL) of their users, is incredibly potent. We've talked about it before. but I have three words for you mate Imagine And Shape Bring it. Yes? I think while quite a few got burned with Think3 (I hear rumours that the company is finally on bended knee, waiting for that Damoclean sword to fall) they did things different, always made much more noise than had the ability to back up and pretty much screwed it up.. SolidWorks (and DS) has a bigger inertia and a bigger amount of funding behind it. interesting times mate. interesting times.

Posted by Alistar Dean on 15 February 2010 at 11:57 PM

Not sure what you're talking about... green bananana? Do you mean SaaS? SOA?

Posted by Evan Yares on 16 February 2010 at 12:08 AM

Imagine & Shape? Mmmmm. I've seen demos of this tech and it is mind blowing for those of us used to old skool surfaces and shaping. Stick that in SW, or allow on demand access via the nebular thingy and I'll never whinge about SW again. Maybe.

Posted by Chris on 16 February 2010 at 01:53 AM

The whole V6 thing reminds me of a tricked out, 21st century SOA version of SDRC I-deas and its tight integration between TDM (Team Data Manager) and the modeler. Something new from something old. Mentioning I-deas to many people though may be like mentioning Gilligan's Island and Hogan's Heroes to college students. I know you are an "old-timer" though so I hope you will be okay with the reference : )

Posted by Jeff Cope on 17 February 2010 at 12:25 AM

Jeff Quite often I look at what some of the mid-range companies do and think. Shit, that's familiar. Yup a lot of it dates back to I-deas and I've run into a few people of late that are stll using it for product design (which the Artisan series sold nicely into as a compliment to Alias). As for Old Timer? I'm 34 dude. I just remember a lot wink Al

Posted by Alistar Dean on 17 February 2010 at 01:04 AM

Al, I think you are spot on with your predictions. The new V6 platform is going to open some new possibilities for many users. The biggest hurdle is going to be the implementation and upgrade path. This is something they are going to have to get right. When you ask folks to shift platforms, you need to provide as smooth of a ride as possible for the trip over along with many "incentive" to make the trip worthwhile. With over a million existing users, there is going to be a lot of motivation in Concord to get this thing right. The thing I'm most excited about is the performance possibilities. Being able to truly spread the processing power out over a server farm is going to allow many companies working with large assemblies and/or complex geometry to get products developed faster. (Not to mention the collaborative and data management advantages.) I couldn't agree with you more on the "WVT" "green banana" or whatever we want to call it (that "C" word is getting a bit tired..). Folks need to realize that DS & SolidWorks knows that some companies would NEVER actively let their data reside on a shared host. Situations like that will I'm sure be handled by internal farms inside the firewall. It seems to me the client to server latency would be even less of an issue on an ultra fast gigabit network. The next few years should be interesting indeed. Ricky Jordan

Posted by Ricky Jordan on 19 February 2010 at 02:53 AM

Evan wrote: >>Do you mean SaaS? SOA? Exactly. Nothing new here except a marketing budget.

Posted by Sean Dotson on 22 February 2010 at 10:05 PM

Hi Al, as always a eye-opening article. I've chewed on the same theme for CAD CAM and am not as convinced as You on the C**** thing, but I also feel SWX is on the right path. I hope DS will keep SWX seperate when it comes to sales, because otherwise it could end like NX/SolidEdge, the latter always caught in the "smaller system, REAL engineers use NX" thing. - Will all the 3rd party apps also be in the C****? - What if the server crashes, then your data is lost all the way (the application and the data are still on the same machine, in the same RAM). - What if You need an older revision of the CAD system because Service Pack xx is buggy or simply because your customer demands it? You know as well as me that engineering service companies often use multiple Catia or Pro/E versions side by side on individual customer's demand. Many questions left. As by now, I take the green banana as another marketing bubble. FWIW, I wrote about that (in German, but with a translation button) in my blog at http://bit.ly/aLJW70 grin

Posted by Ralf Steck on 23 February 2010 at 12:08 PM

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