European Catia Forum report

26 January 2009

With an updated vision for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) together with a new generation of Catia, Dassault Systèmes has revamped its Paris-based flagship event. Martyn Day reports.

Late November, Disneyland Paris, it was once again time for Dassault Systèmes’ (DS) European Catia Forum (ECF). This is the company’s biggest conference and product showcase and attracts over 1,200 attendees. Although late in the year, the event represented the first public opportunity for the company to make a big noise about the latest release of Catia, V6 and the PLM 2.0 vision, which was actually launched back in February 2008. With many customers still astride previous versions of Catia, namely V4 and V5, the introduction of V6 has certainly complicated upgrade decisions. 

The logo and branding of this year’s event was called ‘Live!’, based around the concept that this is where the new generation of Catia, called V6, shines in the environment of live collaborative design. The concept of the main stage demonstration was to give the audience an experience of what the new version is capable of, in terms of speeding up data sharing irrespective of distance, new ease to use interface and a powerful new underlying kernel. 

Keynotes

The first sessions kicked off in an unusual, but very impressive, way. While DS may be best known for its automotive and aerospace customers, the main keynote was given by Martin Simpson, Arup Associate Director. Simpson was Structural Engineer Leader at Arup Sport on the brilliant ‘birds-nest’ stadium that hosted last year’s Olympic games.

The spectacular Beijing Olympics Stadium has become one of the most high-profile sports facilities in the world. The 90,000 seater stadium is built from more than 40,000 tonnes of steel and the while it appears to be an apparent random design, it is, in fact, very regular. The geometry of the steelwork was defined using Catia to achieve the required accuracy that both the design and its commissioners demanded. The structure was engineered and analysed in Catia, to accommodate all the wind and other loadings to which the building will be subjected to. It was interesting to hear that parametric and associative design played a major role in developing the cascading stairs and twisted box sections. In fact the building had to be radically re-designed at a late stage to lower its cost. This new design reduced the steel content by 20 percent and necessitated considerable alteration to the building in many areas. The use of a 3D central model made this work much quicker than it would have been by other means and allowed the building to be brought in on time and within the revised budget.

While Catia isn’t a main player in the Architecture Engineering and Construction segment, it is making a name for itself in some of the more demanding and complex designs, providing unrivaled capabilities in steelwork fabrication, which can make or break brilliant but highly bespoke designs such as the Olympic Stadium. 

Next on stage were Jacques Leveille Nizerolle, Catia CEO, and Philippe Laufer, Catia Vice President R&D, who showed off V6 Live. The demonstration highlighted the strategic benefits of V6 within a collaborative working environment. The underlying technologies of V6, the stunning new interface, built-in Enovia management tools and collaboration capabilities, are designed to enable the rapid sharing of engineering knowledge and big models instantly over any distance. DS considers these improvements so significant that they have been labelled as PLM 2.0. The company also highlighted the benefits of reusing data, over the web to expand the visibility and role of digital product data across design teams.

Charlès pondered how the markets would place new evaluations on companies, not just on a profitability metric alone, but on their innovation and products

DS claims that its single PLM platform with online creation and collaboration technologies offer customers something that is unique in the industry, throwing down the gauntlet to both Siemens PLM Software and PTC. With fears of considerable migration issues, experienced in moving from V4 to V5, DS representatives exerted considerable effort to promise a smooth upgrade path for those already on V5. Like V5, Catia V6 is also offered as turnkey vertical industry flavours.

Sustainable innovation

Bernard Charlès, President & CEO of Dassault Systèmes is always the highlight of the event. I think you would be hard pressed to find any CEO more passionate about design technology. However this year’s keynote was delivered in the form of an on-stage interview and was given to the backdrop of the markets in meltdown. While Charlès was upbeat about the technology, you couldn’t help but see that the new reality and recession had impacted his outlook for his customers’ businesses. Charlès spent quite some time pondering how the markets would place new evaluations on companies, not just on a profitability metric alone, but on their innovation and products.

Charlès’ top trends for the key transforming elements to understand and harness, were: making use of Virtual Technologies, Online Communities, establishing Sustainable Supply-Chains, Knowledge Trading (sharing intelligent designs or components) and investing in People & Environment Friendly.

DS is investing in Virtual and Gaming technology to bring designs to life before any tooling has been produced. There’s great effort put into making software easier to use, while gaining power with each release. In uncharted territory, such as freeware and budget 3D, DS has also put considerable effort with 3DVia Shape to capture some of the highly popular ‘Google SketchUp’ market. DS intends to develop these products with the thousands of people that have downloaded it for free and then start to produce a pay version with deeper CAD-like feature sets. It was very obvious that DS saw much to leverage with deeper Web capabilities in its products – from engineers having a chat within a design session to huge 3D online warehouses for people to swap designs and IP.   

It was also interesting to see how much academic research DS was now participating in, especially in developing systems which incorporate biological elements. While these areas are still very much research oriented, there are multi-million European Commission budgets allocated to them and Charlès explained how DS R&D was now at the heart of a number of hybrid research projects.

When listening to Bernard Charlès, it’s easy to absorb the passion he has for the technology and its possibilities. From the earlier presentations, it’s obvious that DS has lots of very cool technology and initiatives in development but I would have imagined that had the event been only a month earlier Charlès’ keynote would have sounded very different and more upbeat. For every CEO who has been successfully executing on multi-year growth plans, giving keynotes with such unprecedented gloomy economic backdrop can’t be easy. We all feel like we have had the proverbial rug pulled from underneath us.

DS Design Studio

Over the previous two ECFs I hadn’t had a chance to talk with the relatively recently hired, Anne Asensio. In her previous roles she had worked for both GM and Renault as an industry-respected car designer. Asensio was recruited to be the ‘DS Vice President of Design Experience’. While that might sound an unusually woolly job title, DS is placing a high priority on user interface and experience and who better to head that up than a well-respected designer? Apparently Asensio met Bernard Charlès on a flight and after a conversation where she complained about software tools, he offered her a ‘open’ position at DS to improve the usability of Catia products. Asensio finally succumbed to the job offer, and returned from America to her native France, to take this newly generated position at DS.

At ECF Asensio announced a new department – the Dassault Systèmes Design Studio (DS Design Studio), to provide an in-house design team for producing anything from event posters to corporate presentations. The team will eat, sleep and breathe DS solutions and evangelise new design technologies, working with developers to ensure that the software interface and ergonomics communicate intuitively with designers.

As you might expect for the DS Design Studio, visualisation is a key area for Dassault Systemes to invest and develop. The Design Studio will work with the Catia R&D team to develop and test designer-pertinent visualisation capabilities for Catia, the aim being to make sure the most useful tools end up in future releases of Catia. For example, designers will be able to generate ‘artistic photo shoots’ of designs within Catia to prepare visuals for customer proposals. Using a simple interface, users adjust the lighting and camera to ‘shoot’ pictures and video animations of virtual products, with impressive lifelike results.

Conclusion

ECF was much more product-centric this year and a lot less about the traditional diet of technology that’s not actually available yet. With the launch of V6, there was a big sales job to be done for V4/V5 customers, to explain what was so different and beneficial about the new generation of Catia. This was a difficult task that was handled very successfully. The collaborative, live demonstration of V6 was really impressive, leaving nobody with any doubts of the richness of Dassault Systemes’ latest generation of Catia technology.

Again, like Autodesk’s event, 2008 appeared to be a great year for the introduction of innovative new products, only to be eclipsed by the cliff that the global economy suddenly decided to jump off. With Catia being so successful in Automotive and Aerospace, 2009 will undoubtedly prove problematic for its key customers and supply chains. However, over the years DS has diversified into many other market segments, like ship building and architecture, as demonstrated at the event with the Beijing Stadium example. However these are still based around projects that require big capital investment, the kind that are proving to be elusive. DS can only argue that its technology will increase competitive edge in these tough times.       

www.3ds.com

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