3DEXPERIENCE Volcano is About to Erupt, Claims Bassi
Verdi Ogewell posted on October 29, 2018 |

“The volcano of 3DEXPERIENCE for SOLIDWORKS has been boiling for some time now, and I feel like an eruption is imminent. You’ll see fireworks!”

These words belong to Gian Paolo Bassi, the SOLIDWORKS chief who continues his crusade to deliver PLM for smaller companies. "A major breakthrough is coming," he said in an exclusive interview with engineering.com, commenting on the launch of SOLIDWORKS 2019.

Dassault's PLM platform, 3DEXPERIENCE, is clearly close to his heart. That said, there are more features in the 2019 version of SOLIDWORKS that supports Bassi’s ebullience, including higher performance for large assemblies, a number of manufacturing-related features, 3D printing enhancements, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) capabilities.

"Recent technology developments challenge everyone in the design arena. This certainly affects us as a supplier of advanced software, but perhaps affects the user community even more," asserts Bassi.

Things that seemed distant a few years ago have now arrived, and SOLIDWORKS is taking this into account. Product complexity—with more mechatronics, software, network connectivity, IoT, AR/VR and 3D printing—is now commonplace. One side effect of this increased complexity is the creation of “mountains” of data.

"Today it’s not uncommon to handle assemblies of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of parts on the product development side. At the same time, methodology changes such as AR/VR, and additive manufacturing impact how to develop and manufacture products,” notes Bassi.  

ON A CRUSADE TO BRING PLM TO SMALL COMPANIES. Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi says the feeling within the SOLIDWORKS community is that there is a breakthrough in PLM and platform thinking, and he points to several new initiatives by the company to make the 3DEXPERIENCE platform available to a broader mass of users.
ON A CRUSADE TO BRING PLM TO SMALL COMPANIES. Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS CEO Gian Paolo Bassi says the feeling within the SOLIDWORKS community is that there is a breakthrough in PLM and platform thinking, and he points to several new initiatives by the company to make the 3DEXPERIENCE platform available to a broader mass of users.

Is PLM in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) about to see a breakthrough? The issue has been discussed for years, but the widespread use of PLM platforms and cPDm solutions has so far failed to materialize as a breakthrough event. Instead, PLM in SME has settled into a sluggish growth curve.

It’s well known that many smaller companies can’t afford to risk tearing down things that work “well enough.” This has resulted in smaller companies gradually easing into PLM, often by identifying one problem at a time, finding a solution and then proceeding to the next problem. This turns the introduction of PLM into a long, protracted process, which is reflected by the fact that there is no forward momentum.

There are several reasons for this approach. To some extent, PLM has been seen as complex to implement and disproportionately costly compared to workgroup PDM solutions and easier collaboration and communication platforms. But disruptive technological development, the general digitization trend and more attractive costing may be able to thwart the resistance.

Bubbling Beneath the Surface

Bassi is not alone in pointing out that something is bubbling beneath the surface. As evidenced by the recent engineering.com report from Autodesk’s PLM event, Accelerate 2018, this sphere is also sensing a change of attitude towards PLM. The technical complexity of products is an obvious reason, as is the complication that distributed production can have on product realization flows. 

AN INCREASE IN DEMAND.

AN INCREASE IN DEMAND. "In our market, we are experiencing an increase in demand for data management capabilities and more comprehensive platform solutions," said Gian Paolo Bassi.

There are other reasons, but the bottom line boils down to the idea that seamless overall capabilities are required to manage advanced processes, methods and workflows. PLM allows you to store and audit all electronic information about the product throughout the life cycle. Furthermore, it integrates resources, data and processes to create an integrated information flow between CAD, CAM, CAE, DM, ERP, Office and many other systems used in product development and manufacturing.

The benefits of having one platform—a "single source of truth"—are obvious. And somewhere on the journey towards PLM, you reach a critical mass that can potentially trigger an even bigger reaction. Right or wrong, this is the overall assessment that both Bassi and competitors such as Autodesk, can see approaching.

“I prefer not to comment on our competitors,” says Bassi, “But in our market, I do sense an uptick in demand for data management capabilities and scope.” The drivers of this uptick are numerous:

  • Our customers are growing their business, and so the complexity of managing data and larger teams is also growing.
  • The extension and proliferation of flexible value networks needs coordination to work inside and outside company boundaries;
  • There is a trend towards Engineering-to-Order, which requires precise processes, better modularization and carry-over capabilities.
  • The trend towards integration and digitalization of processes—for instance, better integration of design BOM, manufacturing BOM, ERP, Project Management, and Requirements Management, means disconnected point solutions, or even no digital solutions, increasingly limit efficiency and consistency.
  • A heightened awareness of the importance of collecting and analyzing data to better manage the business.

Upgrades and Customizations Create Nightmares for CIOs

Despite the existence of these driving forces, PLM developers have been slow and somewhat unimaginative when it comes to responding to these needs. As it appears today, the IT landscape is often designed to suit IT executives more than design teams.

"But this is not without some notable exceptions," claims Bassi. Of course, he believes that the combination of Dassault's 3DEXPERIENCE and SOLIDWORKS is one such exception. However, and it should be pointed out with emphasis, there are also splashes of self-criticism in what he has to say; for example, that “cost and implementation are still problems, as well as the simplicity and usability of the systems often being bad.”

“In addition,” Bassi adds, “Integration and customization create constant nightmares for CIOs and CFOs that avoid updates like the plague and therefore limit innovation and agility.”

The simple problem of collaboration and file sharing has created a cottage industry of limited solutions or the adoption of generic consumer-grade applications not specifically intended for design data (e.g. Dropbox), Bassi continued, concluding that he and his coworkers are on a mission to change all of that.  

“We’ve seen that SOLIDWORKS PDM is increasingly successful in engineering departments, and that usability designed for engineers pays off, but it’s still a solution that requires on premise resources, planning and support and does not respond to the demand of increasing scope for processes other than design. SOLIDWORKS Manage, introduced last year, is a practical and viable answer, but still focused on the engineering department,” said Bassi.  

Harsh Words Against the PLM Industry

These are surprising but insightful words from SOLIDWORKS' CEO. He’s been around for a while and knows that the journey to PLM is not a simple one. SME’s require require different solutions when compared to enterprise users. These smaller companies are not simply smaller versions of the giant OEM companies. So how do you go about it?

Bassi deserves some credit for his unrelenting willingness to find ways around the resistance to PLM. He is not quite there yet, but he has realized that the secret to success is spelled, "constantly growing activity." The more activity that is happening, the better the chances of finding an angle of attack that becomes successful.

One of several bridges between SOLIDWORKS an 3D EXPERIENCE. Through SOLIDWORKS' 3DEXPERIENCE PLM Services, users can access engineering, technology and business process services in the cloud.
One of several bridges between SOLIDWORKS an 3D EXPERIENCE. Through SOLIDWORKS' 3DEXPERIENCE PLM Services, users can access engineering, technology and business process services in the cloud.

Bridges Between SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE

What are the bridges? Of the five initiatives announced during SOLIDWORKS World 2018, three are designed specifically as bridges for 3D CAD desktop users: Social Collaboration Services, PLM Services and Marketplace.

Of these three, Social Collaboration Services and Marketplace are available with SOLIDWORKS 2019. PLM Services has just entered the Lighthouse program. The latter is a program for controlled introduction of new products that SOLIDWORKS operates in a limited number of test companies to understand best practices, fine-tune the product and ensure secure full availability throughout the distribution channel.

"I think these bridges make us ready for a careful, but good, start to the transformation of the SOLIDWORKS community. What is going to change the game is the suite of 3DEXPERIENCE PLM Collaboration Services, designed to support and integrate any file-system CAD, including CATIA V5, SOLIDWORKS and others, into the database-driven world of the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform in the cloud, and therefore without the need of any infrastructure or even the installation of any client software, with the exception of the connectors to the various CAD platforms,” Bassi said.

Bassi describes it as a modular suite of data management applications that starts with simple PDM capabilities all the way up to supply chain management and compliance processes, all on the same data model and therefore very scalable.

“This is key to the strategy of convergence. Imagine SOLIDWORKS desktop parts, full citizens of the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, that can be associatively used in any assembly, without conversion, and fully integrated with every other application including SIMULIA analysis and DELMIA factory automation. In fact, we have quietly started another Lighthouse program with a SIMULIA Product called ‘Structural Simulation Engineer’ to provide advanced nonlinear structural analysis capabilities to desktop users that hit a ceiling with SOLIDWORKS desktop simulation—very strong in linear cases but not so much in the more complex nonlinear domain.”

As Bassi previously stated, "PLM has been boiling under the surface for some time, and now the ‘eruption’ is imminent. You will see fireworks," to reinvoke the SOLIDWORKS boss’s colorful description.

THE COMMODITY LABEL IS BECOMING OBSOLETE. As technology advances, the prevailing idea that CAD is
THE COMMODITY LABEL IS BECOMING OBSOLETE. As technology advances, the prevailing idea that CAD is "a commodity in a mature market" becomes obsolete. CAD is now playing an increasingly important role, demanding new functionalities, performance and connections to data-based systems to keep track of processes, large assemblies, variant configurations, revisions and more. In SOLIDWORKS 2019, Bassi has stated that the bar has been raised to account for this development.

CAD is No Longer “Just a Commodity”

It’s been a regular refrain from PLM developers and analysts over the past decade: “3D CAD has become a commodity, and a staple on a mature market.”

The consequence has been a near "flat" development curve with slightly increasing sales figures and low willingness among users to invest in more advanced solutions.

Bassi begs to disagree. The technological development of capabilities and features in 3D CAD software is moving forward at a furious pace. Among other things, this reflects trends such as digitization, more advanced simulation, more mechatronics within products, IoT connections, AR/VR and additive manufacturing. With exploding data volumes and manufacturing methods, new features are required in CAD, CAE and CAM software, but new connections to older functions are also needed. These platforms need access to modern PLM and Product Innovation Platforms (PiP) to tie it all together.

Desktop CAD, which was a revolution from the mid 90's, doesn’t stand on its own anymore. In short, Bassi claims, it is not enough in the era of digitization and PiP platforms.

Anyone with an eye on Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS sales figures since 2010 is probably inclined to agree. During the period since 2010, SOLIDWORKS has gone against the current in terms of sales growth—until now.

“We have been growing double digits for at least the last ten years with the only exceptions being the 2009 financial crisis, and 2013. In 2017, we grew a record 19% (exFX) in new licenses and added 20K new customers; that was a record year for sure. On top of that, in H1 2018 we grew 12% (IAS-18, exFX) which is not too bad, but our ambition is much bigger considering we are just at the beginning of the Industry 4.0 Renaissance.”

“There are around 510,000 commercial licenses on the market,” said Griffin Securities’ Jay Vleeschhouwer.
“There are around 510,000 commercial licenses on the market,” said Griffin Securities’ Jay Vleeschhouwer.

510,000 Active Industrial SOLIDWORKS Users

These numbers reflect SOLIDWORKS as the market-leading desktop 3D CAD solution. We sometimes hear SOLIDWORKS representatives talking about 2.2 million users. However, Jay Vleeschhouwer, senior industry analyst and Griffin Securities’ Managing Director, states, “In my published reports, I've most recently stated that by our calculation the active commercial base for SOLIDWORKS is in the neighborhood of 510,000—perhaps more, depending on cumulative maintenance reinstatements over the past few years. For Autodesk Inventor, we've calculated more than 325,000,” he said. 

Bassi’s Favorite Improvements in SOLIDWORKS 2019

What are the most important improvements in SOLIDWORKS 2019? Bassi points out his favorites:

1. Large Assemblies. Improved performance clearly reflected in the ability to handle large assemblies.
2. Enhancements to the Mesh technology will support new design methodologies and design for 3D printing.
3. Native Integration into services provided by the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform
  • Social Collaboration Services (5GB of CAD-aware storage)
  • “Marketplace MAKE” offers many types of manufacturing service
  • “Marketplace Part Supply” with more than 10 million of industrial parts models and data

These functionalities are all included in the desktop subscription.

"Today's SOLIDWORKS Users Aim for Full Digitization"

Working with large assemblies was also something that Manish Kumar, SOLIDWORKS' new R&D manager, emphasized as an essential improvement, during engineering.com’s recent interview, published in early October.

Bassi agrees:

“Our customers are continuously pushing the limits of our software. They want to go full digital from design to manufacturing and they also want a fully integrated mechatronic approach, which we have delivered with SOLIDWORKS CAM, Electrical and PCB.”

“In addition, the sophistication and complexity of the machines they design is constantly increasing. The consequence is a very significant growth in data that needs to be simultaneously processed. We detected this trend many years ago, and we have invested in several improvements and innovations on the key critical elements that will help handle such complexity.”

 “You may remember that a few years back, we changed the file format to a more efficient and compact schema. We also started the refactoring of the entire graphics system to take advantage of the latest advances of OpenGL and GPU technology, and the advent of AR/VR.”

AN INEVITABLE TREND. Managing large assemblies is an inevitable trend to achieve full digitalization and is affecting every angle of product development, claims Gian Paolo Bassi.
AN INEVITABLE TREND. Managing large assemblies is an inevitable trend to achieve full digitalization and is affecting every angle of product development, claims Gian Paolo Bassi.

Taking Advantage of the Latest GPU Technologies

Bassi explains that SOLIDWORKS' graphics engine can now process much larger scenarios with "enhanced frame-per-second rendering" and can take full advantage of the latest GPU graphics card technologies. This is a good development, of course, but it's only part of the equation:

"Being able to work quickly and efficiently with large assemblies in the visual context is a great advantage for engineering teams that work in a distributed organizational structure; it is almost the norm today that you work as development partners in larger networks with different geographical locations,” Bassi said.

This is one advantage of the increased performance, but there are others—such as being able to actually design in the context of such large models. “This means being very smart in the management of the level of detail and the amount of relevant geometry and topology data that is loaded simultaneously into memory. We have made this process very transparent to the user.”

“Another aspect is to parallelize and streamline other jobs related to large assembly management, for example the rendering of multiple views for drawing sheets, or the smart handling of numerous configurations.”

Furthermore, Bassi noted there is another trend: that a very large number of configurations are being extensively used to achieve standardization and support Engineer-to-Order processes. “Of course, this further increases the complexity that we need the handle to keep all those configurations current in the most efficient way.”

A Step On the Path Towards Industry 4.0

The bottom line, according to Bassi, is that managing large assemblies is an inevitable trend to achieve full digitalization and is affecting every angle of product development. “The value is the ability to achieve the Industry 4.0 promise of ‘Right to Market’ in addition to reducing ‘Time to Market,’” he said.

In this context, Bassi also mentions another aspect of the increased complexity: “The complete elimination of the WinTel-oriented file system + RAM + GPU architecture of the desktop silos. This is what is achieved in the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform environment, where products are represented in databases rather than files (the same type of distributed databases that today fuel the amazing capabilities of Google or Amazon) and where CPUs and GPUs are allocated dynamically as requested, with virtually unlimited scalability.”

AUGMENTED REALITY IN SOLIDWORKS ENVIRONMENT. “I don’t see goggles fully replacing monitors at designer’s desks, but I don’t exclude that happening soon either,” says Bassi.
AUGMENTED REALITY IN SOLIDWORKS ENVIRONMENT. “I don’t see goggles fully replacing monitors at designer’s desks, but I don’t exclude that happening soon either,” says Bassi. "We introduced AR recently with eDrawings. The 2019 version of eDrawings also comes with ‘plug-and-play’ for VR. You connect a VR device to your laptop and you are in an immersive 3D world.”

AR/VR Laying the Foundation for the Future of CAD Work

Finally, a few words about the AR/VR arena and SOLIDWORKS 2019, and their capabilities to lay the foundation for what CAD might look like in the future.

In Bassi’s view, “There is a lot of interest in AR/VR capabilities, the cost is decreasing, and the quality, convenience and usability are increasing by the day. This is triggering an innovation ecosystem that will invent new possibilities we now can’t even imagine.”

For now, however, interest is mostly limited to "pre-and-after sales," improvement of manufacturing processes (such as assembly instructions), labor training, digitization of maintenance efforts and—in some cases—virtualization. Other use cases are design review and collaboration.

“I still don’t see goggles fully replacing monitors at designer’s desks, but I don’t exclude that happening, either. Our philosophy is simple: we introduced AR some time ago with eDrawings, and with SOLIDWORKS 2019, eDrawings is also plug-and-play for VR. You connect a VR device to your laptop, and you are in an immersive 3D world. All this is cool, but the creativity and the imagination of countless startups and experts out there is unfathomable, so we want to make sure that assets created with SOLIDWORKS are widely available to such communities in the most straightforward way. Therefore, we have introduced the gLTF format that will efficiently and accurately transfer SOLIDWORKS models in whatever augmented or virtual experiences anybody is able to invent.”

PLM Gives SMEs "Shivers of Discomfort"

Overall, Gian Paolo Bassi is positive about the future. CAD software is here to stay, playing a significantly growing and important role in contexts like digital twins, AR/VR and additive manufacturing—and in his assessment the PLM volcano has reached the boiling point.  Obviously, the PLM mantra may not be received positively right away among SMEs, including the SOLIDWORKS community. Rather, the concept evokes a feeling of discomfort and a certain sense of resistance.

The question is whether this picture is relevant today, as much of the PLM resistance is a result of old problems that created an image which has proven very difficult to change.

The PLM skepticism in smaller companies is not unique to the SOLIDWORKS community. The same kind of skepticism and resistance can be found in the Autodesk world, where despite large investments, the company has had a hard time selling the idea of PLM to SMEs.

There are now signs that critical mass will soon be achieved, with a number of smaller companies moving into the PLM world one step at a time—not necessarily because they want to, but more because they have to.

Are Gian Paolo Bassi and his colleagues in the industry correct in their assessment? So far, there’s still some ways to go, but the indications are positive, and the bridges to 3DEXPERIENCE in SOLIDWORKS 2019 can only help.


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