First Real Look – Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual
John Hayes posted on January 27, 2014 |
Solidworks users will get direct modeling and collaboration tools this April

At Solidworks World 2014 we got a first real look at the new direct modeling and collaboration tools coming in April.  As I wrote last September, while other CAD vendors have either purchased or developed their own direct modelers, Solidworks has remained the lone holdout.  Now users can look forward to a firm release date of April 2, 2014. 

Kishore Boyalakuntla, Director, User Experience, pointed out that Solidworks has the world’s largest user community.  To protect that community, their development team prefers to be extremely careful about introducing new functionality, preferring proven new products over rushing to be first with new features.  Direct modeling and cloud enabled collaboration are two clear examples of functionality that Solidworks users have had to wait a while to see.

The Direct Modeling tools

Aaron Kelly, VP User Experience for Solidworks pointed out that this is a tool for mechanical component conceptual design.  He said their research showed that 30% of design time is spent in the conceptual phase, a place where Aaron acknowledged Solidworks was not historically strong.  Rather than speed development to create a uniquely Solidworks solution, they collaborated with the rest of the DS team to leverage the 3D Experience platform to deliver this new product.  One of the product team members said that this new functionality is “Dassault powerful, but Solidworks easy”.  

Most users are familiar with the benefits of direct modeling, particularly how users can sketch parts without having to parameterize the model as they go.  This allows much faster iterations in the conceptual stage before refining parameters and features. 

The interface in the demonstration for direct modeling looked smooth and easy.  While what we saw was a video demo (ie, not live) the UI did look as easy as any other direct modeler.  The beta customers who took the stage after the demo confirmed that they had a very short path to value. 

The Collaborative Features in Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual

The collaborative features that you might expect in 2014 are all there.  Users can store a model, share it with others, annotate it, store requirements, chat live about it and so on.  They can give secure access to other users to develop their model further.  The UI looked straightforward for anyone who is familiar with social media tools. 

A cool part of the demo was the animation of a simple mechanical assembly that could be shared and improved by other collaborators in the secure cloud-based environment.   To make collaboration easier for users who don’t have Solidworks, the Mechanical Conceptual product can use imported geometry from other CAD files.  It writes to a neutral file format, but users who have Solidworks can use their CAD system to save a wide range of popular file formats.

For users who have other DS solutions, like 3DVia or SIMULIA, the user interface is common across all products.  For those users, navigating the new tool should be quick to learn.  The demo showed a stress analysis using a SIMULIA add-on.  The analysis tool worked natively within the Mechanical Conceptual environment.  

The Price Point may Surprise You

Mechanical Conceptual users do not need a Solidworks license to access most of the features.  The price point for Mechanical Conceptual is $249 per month or €249 per month for customers in Europe.  Apparently this includes the storage and data transmission required to collaborate with others, along with all of the 2D and 3D sketching tools and animations mentioned above.  There is an extra fee to get access to the simulation tools. 

So that’s $3,000 per year for a direct modeler and collaboration solution, a price that may be a bit steep for the Solidworks user community to absorb. 

That said, I’m happy that the loyal Solidworks user community will soon have access to Mechanical Conceptual.  Some might say that they could have got this functionality a while ago through a combination of 3rd party tools like SpaceClaim plus GrabCAD.  However, not all users are first adopters.  

From what Solidworks users told me, Kishore is right.  Most will wait for Solidworks to give them the tools in a way that is “Solidworks simple”.  

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