DS SOLIDWORKS introduced a brand new product for mechanical design at its recently held annual user meeting. SOLIDWORKS Xdesign, which is not yet scheduled for release, is quite unlike the company’s flagship and chief money maker, the desk-bound SOLIDWORKS. Xdesign runs on any laptop or mobile device from a browser—and it’s cloud-based.
Xdesign on an iPad. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
Xdesign is not to be confused with SOLIDWORKS on the Cloud, which was simply the standard SOLIDWORKS desktop software “virtualized” on a cloud server. Xdesign is a 3D, parametric solid modeling program freshly minted by Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS. It leverages the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, a different modeling kernel than the Parasolid in SOLIDWORKS. Further differentiating the systems is that Xdesign will store its data on a database on the cloud. That database is not based on files and does not share the SOLIDWORKS desktop file format.
SOLIDWORKS launched two cloud-based products in the last three years, Conceptual Designer and Industrial Designer. Xdesign follows the launch of these two products and incorporates learning from the last few years.
Xdesign follows Autodesk’s Fusion 360 and Onshape, both of which are 3D mechanical CAD applications that run on mobile devices from a browser and are cloud-based. Fusion has been around for years but it was Onshape, with the original founders of SOLIDWORKS and funding of $144 million, that has made sure the world is paying attention to this new class of CAD software.
Xdesign is not a cloud version of SOLIDWORKS
Xdesign is a browser-based CAD application that is intended to work well on mobile devices. When launched, it will be fully browser-based with no download.
Kishore Boyalakuntla, senior director of Product and Portfolio Management at SOLIDWORKS.
The goal for Xdesign, according to Kishore, is to deliver a “fully fledged” CAD system. “We want Xdesign to be 100 percent as functional as the desktop version,” Kishore said. “It has to allow a customer to do an end-to-end design just like they can on a desktop. It will take a few years to get there, but we are going to push as hard as we can to get there as fast as possible.”
Putting CAD into a browser is a massive undertaking, according to industry analyst Monica Schnitger. “Xdesign is a huge project because SOLIDWORKS is so full-featured. Virtualizing the existing functionality appeals to some users, but to truly run in the cloud and take advantage of all that this offers means that they have to develop a new way for users to interact with the software.”
Xdesign is a new code base and a different geometry engine.
Rather than being SOLIDWORKS on the cloud, Xdesign is based on Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform. That system stores data as objects in a database rather than in a file system the way SOLIDWORKS does. Xdesign is a new code base and a different geometry engine.
Having a different code base raises an issue of interoperability between Xdesign and SOLIDWORKS on the desktop (“SW Desktop”). According to Kishore, “The interoperability will be best in class. We have been working on interoperability with SOLIDWORKS Industrial Designer and it is already best in class between two products in the market place.”
This will be an interesting communication challenge for SOLIDWORKS. The company announced Xdesign as a SOLIDWORKS solution, yet it may struggle to provide backwards compatibility to earlier versions of SW Desktop. The challenges of data management associated with the disparate systems will be bigger still.
Xdesign will include CAD plus Sketching and “Design Guidance”
When Xdesign is released, it is intended to be a full design product that works in a browser. Beyond that, it will also have some new features selected from the big software vault that is Dassault Systèmes. Here are a couple of examples.
Scribble Sketch will turn sketches into models.
Xdesign will include sketching based on the same technology as the SOLIDWORKS Industrial Design product introduced last year. That feature set allows users to sketch in a free form way and then apply design intelligence to their sketch. For example, approximate circles will become actual circles and lines that “almost touch” will snap to each other. The industrial design product introduction was big news in 2015, but has not enjoyed widespread adoption as yet. That may be due to its hefty $190/month price tag.
Scribble Sketch in Xdesign. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
The Xdesign version of this functionality, called “Scribble Sketch," will allow users access the simpler sketching features of Industrial Designer. It will also capture sketches drawn with fingers on a mobile device rather than a stylus. The intelligence to recognize a circle or an arc is particularly important for any mobile users who are using their fingers for data input.
Once a user is satisfied with a sketch, they will be able to save it as a model and then extrude it and add features. This means that tablets can realistically become a useful tool for capturing the initial stages of a design concept.
Kishore said that SOLIDWORKS is leveraging the development efforts of teams from other brands within the Dassault Systèmes family to speed the development of Xdesign. The Industrial Design functionality already existed, for example, and was developed with a browser in mind, “So the transition was relatively easy.”
We can’t say yet how much of the Industrial Design functionality will be in Xdesign, but there will be some features included in the base license. There is no indication at this time as to what the base price of Xdesign will be.
Design Guidance will put the “Aided” in Computer-Aided Design
Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO of SOLIDWORKS said, “We are trying to put the A back in CAD,” which is the “aided” part of computer-aided design. To illustrate this point, Kishore demonstrated a new feature within Xdesign by referring to the design of an attachment for a camera to a tripod. In the example, he was able to change the load requirements. Xdesign then suggested a heftier part.
Xdesign Design Guidance showing load on the tripod attachment. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
The user could then take that design guidance and sketch a shape to the part that met their design objectives.
Monica Schnitger commented, “I think the design guidance aspects are the most exciting thing about Xdesign. There is tremendous value in getting suggestions on how to modify your model to accommodate additional loads while you are designing rather than simply having the software tell you that there is a problem.”
However, Xdesign as it is currently conceived will stop short of offering topology optimization or generative design.
Industry analyst Joe Walsh pointed out that, “Dassault Systèmes has some of the best topology optimization software on the planet in the form of the Tosca application within their SIMULIA portfolio. I didn’t see that in the Xdesign demonstration.” We may see more of this functionality in future product releases.
Xdrive is a collaboration tool, and a bridge between the desktop and online design environments
Xdrive is more than Dropbox for SOLIDWORKS. It is also the collaboration bridge between Xdesign and SOLIDWORKS for the desktop.
Xdrive is an app that is built on Dassault Systèmes' 3DEXPERIENCE platform. It will behave something like Dropbox in that it will provide easier cloud storage and file sharing through a desktop app. Users will be able to drag and drop files into Xdrive and have them automatically pushed to the cloud, subject to a 5GB limit.
Xdrive feature to be delivered with SOLIDWORKS 2017 subscriptions. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
Kishore promised that this functionality would be included with SOLIDWORKS 2017 when it is released in the fall and it will be part of the standard subscription package.
Cloud-based file sharing naturally enhances collaboration and Xdrive is no different. When a user logs into Xdrive the system will replicate updates to any files between the desktop and the cloud. While the user is in the system, it will regularly update the Xdrive in the cloud so that other users with whom the file is shared are able to stay synchronized.
Unlike Dropbox, Xdrive will be integrated with SOLIDWORKS and will allow users to share file viewing through the company’s popular eDrawings application. That feature allows users to email a link to a file to anyone. The recipient does not have to download anything or even log in to view, which removes a lot of the friction from simple collaboration. For users who want a bit more control, the system will allow users to give view only permissions rather than full editing rights.
Xdrive is also intended to be the bridge between the cloud-based design environment found in Xdesign and the traditional SW Desktop. Specifically, if a design team has both SW Desktop and Xdesign users, they will be able to share files through the Xdrive. There will be some file incompatibility issues, but the “world class” interoperability promises to recognize features from one system to another.
Will SOLIDWORKS abandon development of SW Desktop in favor of Xdesign?
Once Xdesign launches, the company will have a second CAD application to develop and support. That means it will have to prioritize every enhancement, deciding which will go in SW Desktop, which in Xdesign, and which in both. Kishore pointed out that certain functionality, like collaboration tools, naturally favor Xdesign. He also said, “Depending on what users tell us, the development paths may converge or diverge between SW Desktop and Xdesign.”
He underscored the company’s commitment to SW Desktop by pointing out several major enhancements that were recently announced, including PCB design and part supply.
Gian Paolo Bassi said that the company is intent upon offering customers a choice in how they buy and use their software. He referred to Xdesign as an alternative for SOLIDWORKS users who choose to work on a browser or on a mobile device.
Kishore confirmed, “Our goal is not to tell the market that this [cloud-based CAD] is the right thing to do.” He and Gian Paolo both said that SOLIDWORKS does not intend to ask customers to replace their desktop applications or otherwise force adoption of the cloud tool set. Kishore said that some customers will want desktop applications indefinitely stating, “Some countries may never allow browser-based CAD because they don’t want the designs to leave their shores.”
The company also plans to offer flexibility in terms of licensing. It currently offers perpetual and subscription pricing for SW Desktop and with the release of SOLIDWORKS 2017 it will add term licensing. When Xdesign is released, it will be offered as a subscription only, which is consistent with all other software that is offered as a service and delivered through a browser. According to Kishore, this flexibility “allows customers to decide what system (SW Desktop or Xdesign) and license model is best for them.”
Look for a public beta of Xdesign this year
Kishore advised that the launch date for Xdesign is flexible; “The Xdesign features are not tied to the launch of SW 2017. There will be a private beta in May, which will be followed by a public Beta. We fully hope that public beta will be this year.”