The Word of Day One at the SOLIDWORKS Conference is Imagination

Day One of the 3DEXPERIENCE World 2023

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

According to the 3DEXPERIENCE World Live! podcasters, more than 10,000 attendees travelled to the 3DEXPERIENCE World Conference being held in Nashville, TN this week. Of course, those numbers are pumped up with Dassault and SOLIDWORKS employees as well as resellers and vendors. Do they count? Should they count? Why not? They are, after all, participating in the parties, the events, eating the food, etc.

I am attending the conference remotely as I am wintering in Florida with my horses. I assume all the virtual attendees are also being counted in that 10,000 number.

Dassault Systèmes took a three-year hiatus from hosting an in-person conference during the COVID pandemic. I am sure there was some concern whether the trend toward remote work would reflect in lower attendance, but given the size of the crowd, it appears that there is a pent-up demand for in-person networking events.

I am hearing from some of the attendees that the number of booths in the vendor area is notably lighter than previous conferences. This is a trend I am seeing at all conferences, not just the tech ones. Many companies don’t see a high enough return to ship marketing materials as well as staff to an event.

A tradition at these conferences, there is the “Running of the Nerds” at the General Session. After breakfast, the attendees gather outside the closed doors of the main ballroom, where the opening General Session is held. When the doors are opened, the attendees run into the room to grab their favorite spot to view the presentations. This year, attendees were not allowed to run into the room. Instead, they were required to allow their badges to be scanned prior to entering the area. This meant the entrance into the area was slowed down significantly and there was a loss of that energy and excitement. Tracy Wilson, an actor and writer/director/podcaster/comedian, returned to work as the conference’s MC. She is an excellent choice to manage a crowd of self-proclaimed nerds and makers — high energy, entertaining and balances out the stodgy tech talk of some of the presenters.

Gian Paolo Bassi, Executive Vice President of 3DEXPERIENCE, formerly CEO of SOLIDWORKS, opened the first day’s general session talking about climate change and ping-ponged around an assortment of ideas and topics. He said, “The most successful ecosystem in this world is our users – not their tools.” I appreciated the sentiment, but like a lot of throw-away lines at this conference, when you think about it, it doesn’t really make too much sense. Engineers, designers and manufacturers rely on their tools – whether it is software, a CNC machine or a caliper – in order to get the correct result. Even if you are just using a pencil and a piece of paper to create a sketch, you are still using tools to communicate and develop your idea.

Over the past four years, this conference has become a gateway to the 3DEXPERIENCEplatform, which is the Dassault Systèmes platform of the future.

Bassi showcased a new and improved factory layout platform inside of 3DEXPERIENCE, stating that by “leveraging off the cloud, you can create a complete factory layout, something you would struggle to do using a workstation.”

I worked at NUMMI, aka New United Motors, in Fremont and was part of a team of very talented engineers. We designed an entire factory layout for a truck assembly plant using AutoCAD. This was decades before the cloud. Our workstations and servers were more than adequate to the task, and we were working in 2D.

Working in the cloud does allow you to leverage the power of remote servers but that relies on Internet speed. If your Internet connection is slow or lagging, you are better off working with an internal server. Working in 3D does require a workstation with higher performance features, but our hardware has improved right along with the software.

Bassi threw up a quote from Leyla Acaroglu on one of his PowerPoint slides: “The things we design, in turn, are the ones that design us.”

It would be wonderful if Acaroglu was invited to speak at the conference. She says, “I am obsessed with design, because most of the world around us is built.” This is why I was attracted to mechanical engineering and think it is such a wonderful career choice. When everything around you requires design, this means there is always work for talented and committed designers. The importance of paying attention to the real possibilities of design conditions, which affect us as human beings—physically, cognitively and socially—cannot be ignored. This really should be a required class in all engineering programs.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

From that Bassi segued into climate change, but the presentation went so fast, many of the more important messages were missed. As designers, we could design with less plastic, with more compostable or recyclable products. He showed for a few seconds how 3DEXPERIENCE can be used to compare the carbon emissions from designs, so companies can meet or surpass the current EU requirements.

In case attendees weren’t already experiencing whiplash from the constantly changing topics, the next presenter was Fabio Pizzato, the managing director of Weart. This product has nothing to do with climate change, but they are a SOLIDWORKS and a 3DEXPERIENCE customer. They manufacture a haptic glove that tracks the user’s hand movements and applies forces, textures and thermal cues. Like a lot of VR products, they are a solution waiting for a problem. Without a software partner, they are just a novelty item. Will they go the way of Google Glass? It’s a matter of timing.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Then, back to climate change. Next in the presenter line-up was Salvador Garcia, chief revenue officer of Ocean-Based Climate Solutions. Garcia’s main focus is applying for government grants and funding to pay for their products. The product is a marine device, powered by ocean waves and on-board solar panels, which brings cold seawater to the ocean’s surface. This facilitates the growth of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton absorbs CO2. Phytoplankton are responsible for producing up to 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe. They also are an important food source for shrimp, sea snails and jellyfish. The company uses SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE to develop their products.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)
(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Bassi returned to the stage to announce that starting July 1, 2023, every new seat of SOLIDWORKS would include free access to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. There was a brief moment of silence before the audience realized that they should clap.

The majority of SOLIDWORKS users have little or no interest in the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. If they want to manage their CAD library on the cloud, they can use the cloud-based PDMWorks or some other software. If they have an internal server, they can use PDMWorks or another PLM software. About 70 percent of SOLIDWORKS users are small shops with only one to three users. They use external hard drives to back up their work, or cloud-based services like Google Docs. Most of them have looked at 3DEXPERIENCE, checked the price tag and decided it wasn’t a good fit for their needs.

That being said, having failed to get users to buy their product, giving it away is a good option. If they can get enough users acclimated to using their product and relying on it, they may be able to convert those users to paying subscribers and finally start gaining some market share. As more and more companies move over to 3DEXPERIENCE to manage their CAD libraries and revision control, more and more users will have no choice but to follow.

Bernard Charles, CEO of Dassault Systèmes, made his obligatory appearance on the stage. He announced, “We want you to discover magic in the 3DEXPERIENCE platform” which Daniel Herzberg, a popular SOLIDWORKS user group leader, interpreted as “You’ll be on the cloud and you’ll like it—or else!”

Charles then did a brief introduction to a new product called Business Experiences that will be added to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Since there were only one or two engineers in the audience with MBAs, most of the attendees were left wondering why they were seeing this.

Tracy Wilson returned to the stage to acknowledge all the attendees who had done the hard work of earning a certification, either in SOLIDWORKS or 3DEXPERIENCE and the crowd’s attention and mood was restored.

Manish Kumar, SOLIDWORKS CEO, came to the stage, said a few words and gave way to Suchit Jain, SOLIDWORKS VP of Strategy and Business Development. Jain was greeted with warm applause as many users consider him a fellow nerd and sympathetic ear.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Jain announced that there are now seven million designers, engineers and students using Dassault products around the world. This is a pretty amazing achievement. He then brought on stage four innovating start-ups to highlight the 3DEXPERIENCE Works for Startups Program. Each start-up was given about five minutes to introduce their product.

Verve Motion designs exosuits for industrial workers. These light-weight backpacks take 40 percent of the strain off workers who have to lift heavy boxes or machinery, reducing injuries.

Titans of CNC, based in Texas, provides curriculum to train machinists on CNC equipment.

Exosapien Technologies designs and builds large-scale mechanical suits. You can purchase time to drive one of their robots. At $1,500 for a 90-minute introductory session or $9,900 for a full 8-hour day group of four booking, this is out of most people’s budgets.

The fourth presenter was Dr. David Hoganson, Assistant in the Department of Cardiac Surgery and Director of the Computational 3D Visualization Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. This is a very different application of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. They are using the platform to plan very intricate cardiac surgeries on children, including designing any artificial parts used to repair the heart.

Next came an inspirational talk by Jamie Siminoff, the CEO and inventor of the Ring doorbell. The product is designed using SOLIDWORKS. Siminoff’s Ring product continues to be a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) field. More recently, they are looking at incorporating AI in their security products.

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

(Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

There has been a tradition at these conferences to include a parody presentation to introduce new features for the next release of software. This year’s parody is entitled, “Platform Jones and the Lost Features.” This will be a three-part mini-series, featuring Platform Jones as a CAD-exploring Indiana Jones-style adventurer and his sidekick, Markup Brody.

In a segment that may as well have been titled, “OK, Boomer,” Platform Jones and Markup Brody break into an office building, where we see laptops and computer mice covered in cobwebs. Jones explains to his sidekick that, “R&D is where fortunes are made and dreams come to die.” As they explore, they discover an old disk, circa 1990…and return to their lab where they discover that they can bring the data into the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and transform the SOLIDWORKS model into something useful. 

The dynamic duo showed off a few of the more recent feature upgrades that have been introduced in SOLIDWORKS 2023.  One enhancement is the ability to select the Fix/Float option before you insert a new component into an assembly. In prior releases, users would enable an option in their User Settings to fix/float new components, but then if they didn’t like the default setting, they would have to reset the component after it was placed. Another enhancement improves the auto-mate feature, so that you can name your mates to make it easier to match components while building assemblies.

Left unsaid was that these new improvements are available in the standard desktop SOLIDWORKS application. You do not need to engage with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to access these new features. It was a very brief demo of what is now available in SOLIDWORKS 2023, rather than a preview of what users can look forward to in the next release of SOLIDWORKS 2024.

It is free to attend this conference remotely. I thought I would miss the energy of seeing my colleagues in person and the fun of the various events. While nothing beats face to face communication, being able to at least see the general sessions as well as some of the presentations on-line makes being a virtual attendee quite palatable.