February 5, 2016
The ghost of IoT haunts MCAD companies. Once, the M in the MCAD was a mark of distinction. But in the era where software, circuits, and chips account for a large part of the products and their functions, the capital M that—in many cases, unfairly—brands a program as strictly mechanical is an albatross around one’s neck. This year, SolidWorks takes dramatic steps to break the mechanical mould.
Earlier this week, speaking to the SolidWorks World 2016 (SWW16) assembly at the Kay Baily Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas, Texas, SolidWorks CEO Gian Paolo Bassi said, “Innovation is an ecosystem of people, applications, and infrastructure”
Once associated with a single MCAD package, SolidWorks is now home to more than 20 products, Bassi revealed. The latest product to debut at SWW16 is SolidWorks PCB Design, the outcome of a partnership between SolidWorks and Electronic CAD (ECAD) developer Altium. The new product is a standalone package for printed circuit board design, housed in a SolidWorks-friendly interface. Altium’s flagship 3D PCB design package, Altium Designer, is the engine behind SolidWorks PCB Design.
Lou Feinstein, SolidWorks’ portfolio manager for hightech, IoT, and mechatronics products, explained the company’s IoT strategy: “Now, you don’t have to go to two different companies. You can come to us for your cable and harness, PCB, all your simulation and data management, and of course mechanical needs. SolidWorks is now your one-stop shop,” he said.
In his keynote address, Bassi described the flagship product SolidWorks as “an innovation platform.” It echoes the way parent company Dassault Systemes describes its all-encompassing software suite 3DEXPERIENCE as a platform.
Bassi said, “Google, Amazon, newcomers like Uber and Airb&b—they have one thing in common. They all have open platforms that amplify the power of social collaboration.”
In anticipation of a new generation of designers, SolidWorks is developing a series of X-branded products. At SWW16, Bassi previewed X Drive, a cloud-hosted storage system with social collaboration features; and X Design, a browser-based 3D design package with basic elements of topology optimization (Bassi described it as “a baby version of topology optimization”).
X Design, said Bassi, targets “a different category of users with ease of use. There are people who are not experts, but they start companies with Kickstarter. They still need something to show their ideas in digital form to attract collaborators, partners, and investors.” It is a recognition that a standard parametric CAD program like SolidWorks, while easy to use for those with engineering background, may still be a bar too high for a new type of crowd-funded entrepreneurs with wild ideas but not necessarily CAD-savvy.
In licensing, too, the company is introducing more term-licensing options. Many of its products will become available for “rent” or “subscription” for as short as three months. The move to shorter-term licenses and the cloud are dramatic for SolidWorks, but perhaps inevitable. Onshape, founded by former SolidWorks executives, has been gaining momentum with its browser-based CAD program; and Autodesk, SolidWorks’ major rival in the CAD software segment, is betting on subscription licensing as the way of the future.
In the future, Bassi revealed, the flagship SolidWorks CAD product may be available for test-driving from the cloud. It’s a clue that the cloud is set to become a fundamental part of the architecture behind SolidWorks products, both new and old. “Right now we’re planning only to use [the cloud] for online trial for convenience,” said Bassi. “But we’re thinking, if it proves successful, we may use it as the model for delivering specific usages—for example, simulation for a number of months.”
SWW16 also marked the launch of Manufacturing Services to connect designers with local manufacturing shops. The map-driven function to identify and connect with service providers will be integrated right into the applications, Bassi pointed out.
Bassi took the reign of SolidWorks in early 2015. He has evidently shepherded parallel R&D projects at accelerated speed. All of them, through their integration of ECAD, social media-inspired features, and the cloud, push the company beyond the traditional mechanical domain, into the realm of connected devices, makers community, subscription software, and consumer-friendly apps.