Scenes from the MCAD event of the year, the SOLIDWORKS annual user meeting

What you missed at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2024

What every software answer to first? AI, of course. Image Dassault Systèmes

AI hijacks another CAD conference.  AI dominated presentations and media Q&A at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2024, as it has every CAD conference since ChatGPT sensationalized AI. Image Dassault Systèmes. 

The biggest event for the mechanical design community in the world is 3DEXPERIENCE World, an annual user meeting for SOLIDWORKS users. The event started 25 years ago as SolidWorks World, as much a celebration of solidarity of solid modelers as a schism between AutoCAD and 2D CAD. At that time, the latter was the lingua franca of design. Reports state ten thousand attended this year, but from the look of things, this count probably included virtual attendees.

In the early days, founder Jon Hirschtick held court in hallways along with John McEleney (Johnny Mac) rode on to the stage on an Orange County chopper.

Gian Paolo Bassi rides to the stage in an electrified Shelby Cobra. Image: Dassault Systèmes

Gian Paolo Bassi rides to the stage in an electrified Shelby Cobra. Image: Dassault Systèmes

The event is considerably quieter now. There’s no guttural rumble of a Harley Davidson. This year, 3DEXPERIENCE Works senior VP Gian Paolo Bassi rode to the stage in a Shelby Cobra

 propelled by quiet electric motors. The 625-hp car goes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.3 seconds — the look of a lion but without the roar. A sign of the times, for sure. The world, and SOLIDWORKS World, has changed.

Changed for the better — and for worse. We have better technology (including the cloud, AI, and 3DEXPERIENCE) but all around us, much has deteriorated (as evidenced by climate change, a burgeoning population, war, and a recent pandemic).

At the event, chairman of Dassault Systèmes Bernard Charlès called the SOLIDWORKS community the “most vibrant design community on the planet.” Dassault Systèmes acquired SolidWorks in 1997 and the French design software company (progenitor of CATIA for designing planes, trains, and automobiles) suddenly became a supplier of software to design consumer products of all sorts. These products are those that high-end CATIA, with its five figure price tag, could not service. After the $310M acquisition, Dassault Systèmes floated down from the stratosphere into the software mainstream. 

Charlès appeared at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2024 because appointed Dassault Systèmes CEO Pascal Daloz had to attend to a family matter. Charlès, now in a non-day day-to-day role with SOLIDWORKS, was affable, joking, and relaxed. He is leaving the wholesale acceptance of 3DEXPERIENCE to CEO Manish Kumar and EVP Gian Paolo Bassi .

Charlès explained how software helps engineers design in a more natural manner. Bike frames are now generatively designed. Interior spaces are now 3D modeled with little effort. (Of course, Polycam also allows this functionality, so it’s not a novel concept.) 3DEXPERIENCE is changing workflows. In fact, every SOLIDWORKS license now includes cloud services in an effort to convince SOLIDWORKS users of the inherent advantages of cloud computing as well as treating models as data not files.

Attendees of 3DEXPERIENCE World were also presented with case studies.

The brain trust of Japanese Nagano Automation (NAT) flew in from Japan to detail how NAT has been on CAD since 1992 and SOLIDWORKS since 2014 — and recently adopted use of 3DEXPERIENCE.

CEO and founder of Germany-based ARTHUR BUS Philipp Glonner detailed how his hydrogen fuel-cells bus company uses SOLIDWORKS software.

Do we have an electromechanical software coming? Michael Jackson (no, not that one) announced an upcoming Cadence Design Systems/SOLIDWORKS partnership — though the engineering community will have to wait until July 2024 for details. Cadence was the last remaining big electronic design automation (EDA) company left standing after Mentor Graphics was acquired and Synopsis was acquired by Ansys.

The first keynote took almost an hour to mention ChatGPT — the AI sensation that has changed the conversation at every software conferences since Microsoft invested in it. It’s as if every software company, including some of the biggest (Google, for example), has had to answer for it.

In the lab. Want a shelf or table? SOLIDWORKS will do it. Image: Dassault Systèmes

We do bookshelves–in the lab.  Image: Dassault Systèmes

So, what is SOLIDWORKS’ answer at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2024? Their AI can make shelves and coffee tables. Given just the outside dimensions, the design envelope, they will make a model automatically, says Kumar. Kumar, who in his free time is a woodworker and an artist, according to the bio supplied in the media kit.

Current SOLIDWORKS users number 7.5 million, according to Dassault Systèmes VP of strategy and business development Suchit Jain.

Dr. Lonnie Walker, inventor of the Super Soaker. But wait, there's more. Image: Dassault Systèmes.

Dr. Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker. But wait, there’s more. Image: Dassault Systèmes.

The final 3DEXPERIENCE World speaker was perhaps the most inspiring — Dr. Lonnie Johnson. Best known as the inventor of the Super Soaker, Johnson has more than 100 patents, many in the realm of batteries and energy. His commercial success with the Super Soaker, an accidental hit. Proceeds from the Super Soaker allow Johnson to “support his habit,” which is nothing less than saving mankind from itself through mentoring and philanthropy.

The low-key Johnson took attendees through his journey from a youth of 12 when he heard John F. Kennedy promise science would bring a moon landing to what followed next. This included assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Cities were on fire after King was assassinated. 

Despite being a winner of a science prize, Johnson was denied entry to the university of his choice (University of Alabama) because of his race. He settled for all-Black Tuskegee University, a development he no longer regrets. There he earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in nuclear engineering. He went on to jobs at NASA and USAF. In the twilight of his career, Johnson frets on the fate of humankind, which after 3.5 million years of existence, seems hell bent to self-destruct.

The trick might be to assimilating technology, said  Johnson. We’re living in time when technology evolution. Added Johnson: It took half a millennium to evolve from Columbus’s ships going an average of 2.5 mph to reach America to today’s rockets travelling 25,000 mph to get to space. It took 125 years to go from the phone to the iPhone. It took 30 years for the Internet to transform the way we search, shop and gather information. So, there’s simply no way to predict how  future technology will change us, concluded Johnson. The latest Earth-changing technology is just too smart. Einstein may have had an IQ of 200, but AI will have an IQ of 10,000, says Johnson quoting SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son. We can only hope to change its direction.

3DEXPERIENCE World packs the Dallas convention center.

Pack the halls with crowds of mechanical designers. 3DEXPERIENCE World 2024 held at Dallas convention center.