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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

2012 — The MCAD Year in Review

December 31st, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

Well, another year is just about over, and what a year it’s been for the MCAD industry. Let’s qualify that statement, though. Busy, yes. Innovative and disruptive? With relatively few exceptions, not so much.

Granted, a lot went on, but the magnitude of the events just seemed smaller this year than in recent years past.

With that said, let’s take a brief look at some of the major things that did transpire in 2012:

Technology Advancements

There were a number of incremental technological advances, but the two that really caught our eye this year were:

Direct modeling that continues to attract proponents from a list of MCAD vendors that continues to grow every year, and 2012 was no exception.

Reverse engineering and 3D modeling contained in one package — Geomagic Spark — an innovative scan-to-cad platform that incorporates SpaceClaim as its CAD engine.


Autodesk acquired HSMWorks (CAM software),Inforbix (PLM software). To complement its “virtual prototyping” initiative, Autodesk also acquired Qontext and its enterprise social collaboration software technology.

3D Systems continued its buying binge that began a couple years ago by acquiring Z Corp., Vidar, Rapidform, Viztu Technologies, FreshFiber, and a couple major service providers.

PTC acquired Servigistics for its service lifecycle management (SLM) software that could change how traditional PLM is viewed.

New Computing Platforms

Although not really new, tablets continued to make their way into the tool palette for designers and engineers. They are still used mostly for viewing and markup, but some interesting sketching, conceptual design, and rudimentary simulation showed up on tables in 2012. The future of tablet engineering software applications is tied closely to the next category, the cloud.

The Cloud

It wasn’t all that long ago that an MCAD executive referred to the cloud as “mere vapor,” but that is rapidly changing as real engineering applications become available.

Autodesk 360 is a cloud computing platform suite of services that include PLM, simulation, rendering, and conceptual design. Will these cloud-based services ultimately replace traditional applications that reside on users’ computers? That remains to be seen, although Autodesk has not made a definitive statement one way or the other.

Kenesto is a cloud-based service for social business and process collaboration. A socially oriented PLM, if you will that is an interesting approach. With Michael Payne and Steve Bodnar on board, this company and technology could be poised to go places.

3D Printing

This segment of the larger rapid prototyping/additive manufacturing industry really took off, thanks largely to MakerBot’s Replicator 2 machine. 3D printers distinguish themselves by being lower in cost (less than $5,000), but also (for the most part) producing less than stellar parts.

A New Kid on the Block?

Several of the founders and early employees of SolidWorks, including Jon Hirschtick, Dave Corcoran, Scott Harris, and John McEleney are back together again. They have formed a company with a venture known as Belmont Technology. What they are up to remains to be seen, but there is strong speculation that they are developing an innovative approach to 3D design (no surprise there). Absolutely no details have been disclosed to date, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a cloud-based platform. This will be one to watch as an encore from some very smart guys.

The Future

That’s anybody’s guess, but look for huge news from DS SolidWorks, starting with the product announcement(s) it is likely to make at its annual user conference in late January. Expect to see more of a presence of Solid Edge in the MCAD market. Autodesk should make its intentions more clearly known on its future software offerings — whether they will be on-premise, cloud-based, or a combination of the two. 3D printing will continue to proliferate because of prices that continue to plummet and quality that incrementally improves. Interoperability will continue to be a major challenge for mixed CAD environments. Look for more native engineering software available on the Mac platform.

Whatever happens in 2013, the technical/engineering software industry will continue to be a fascinating and vital place to be, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

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