Solidworks 2014 shows CAD Evolution, not revolution
John Hayes posted on September 05, 2013 |
Solidworks unveils product direction at press preview event

At 550,000 seats, Solidworks has more commercial users than any other CAD application.  Next Tuesday the company will release their 2014 version.  Here's what users can expect.

According to Bertrand Sicot, CEO of Solidworks, the total industry has 1.5 million commercial users today with a total addressable market of 4 million.  Their goal is to keep their current users happy while reaching out to more of those 4 million potential customers.

The way that Solidworks plans to get there is through an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary approach to product development.  With this many customers, they aren’t going to take massive leaps and risk a screw-up.  The Solidworks product development path, according to Kishore Boyalakuntla, Director of Product Development, is all about customer input on new features and functionality. 

Solidworks execs are evaluated on the number of customer touch points they make, resulting in around 2,000 over the past year.  That approach leads to a “we listen to our customers” mantra that is repeated by all product development leaders.  And with such a careful focus on the user experience, don’t be surprised to see futuristic apps and cloud-based offerings from other vendors before we see them from Solidworks.

That approach may serve Solidworks customers well.

The top announcement for Solidworks 2014 was increased performance through more efficient use of system resources.  This is not sexy, but it is important for users.  For example, SW 2014 will speed up repeatable designs, ease the design of plastic injection molding, and allow for faster digital validation of designs, including thermal simulation. The Solidworks team is proud of their ability to resist the seductive allure of exciting new features and to focus their energy on functionality that their users really need.

Here is a summary of how Solidworks 2014 stacks up against the big trends in design software

Systems Engineering

There is a trend towards electronics and Internet connectivity in mechanical products.   That trend is driving software vendors to introduce tools for systems engineering. 

In Solidworks 2014 users will see more integrated electrical functionality for real time collaboration between electrical and mechanical design teams.  The Solidworks team demonstrated a bidirectional link between 2D schematics and Solidworks 3D models that allows users to route wires from the 2D schematic within a mechanical model with only a couple clicks.  

Introducing Simulation earlier in the design process

Many software vendors are developing simulation tools that are easier to use so that engineers and designers can do more iterations of concept designs earlier in the design process. 

Solidworks 2014 will include structural simulation, fluid flow simulation, injection molding, and sustainable design / life cycle assessment.  While these tools are not necessarily best in class, they are designed to be easily accessible to engineers and designers who are using Solidworks already.  And that’s a large group of people.

Direct Modeling

Direct modeling allows a digital connection from concept to detail design by paramaterizing the model after the initial design.  While other CAD vendors have either purchased or developed their own direct modelers, Solidworks has remained the lone holdout. 

Last January the company announced that it was working on a product called “Mechanical Conceptual” that would support concept design.   Solidworks now has 10 customers using Mechanical Conceptual and plans to make the product generally available in January 2014.  According to Bertrand Sicot, when Mechanical Conceptual is released users will be able to create concept geometry and then fluidly pass that into the Solidworks detail design environment and back.

CAD in the cloud

Many design software vendors are enabling collaboration through cloud-based apps of varying capabilities. 

Mechanical Conceptual will have hosted data storage to enable easier collaboration, but again, we have to wait until next year for that. 

Mobile computing

While none of the major vendors have introduced a full-blown CAD app for an iPhone, some haveuseful apps that address specific design functions. 

Solidworks did not announce major new mobile functionality for 2014.  They already launched eDrawings mobile, which uses the camera in mobile devices to augment a model by placing it in a realistic context.  As Bertrand said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve been a little bit slow to introduce engineering software on smartphones and iPads”.    

Other Enhancements

Solidworks 2014 will have lots of ease-of-use enhancements and features that will please existing customers.  These are things like easier splines, a new tool for sheet metal gussets, more flexible dimensioning for angular features, improved file management and product cost analysis for manufacturing processes.  

You might think that these features, including being able to rotate a part in an exploded view, aren’t a big deal to most people.  But to some users, any one of these enhancements could be very important.  There are countless enhancements like that across the entire Solidworks product line, from eDrawings to mechanical design, from PDM to simulation. 

Over 90% of the enhancements in this release came from customer requests.  According to Aaron Kelly – Vice President User Experience, almost all Solidworks users upgrade with every release.  Again, while this release won’t be sexy, it’s clearly going to deliver the sorts of productivity and ease-of-use enhancements that their users have come to expect.  

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