Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Over the years, and with considerable interest, we have observed the ongoing consolidation of the technical/engineering software industry, and it continues unabated today. The consolidation occurs primarily through mergers and acquisitions, whether in whole or in part, but consolidation marches on.
We’ve witnessed consolidation in CAD, CAE, and more recently, CAM, and Autodesk has been a major participant in this consolidation. Relatively recently, Autodesk has made it clear that it intends to become a major force in CAM to round out its Digital Prototyping philosophy that also includes design and simulation. As examples to this CAM commitment, in the past year or so it has acquired HSMWorks (a significant, but relatively small step in CAM), and just last week announced its intention to acquire Delcam (a relatively giant leap in CAM).
Monday, November 4th, 2013
Virtually since its inception, the CAD/CAM industry has always had its proponents, detractors, champions, pundits, and naysayers, and this diverse group of industry watchers continues to flourish today.
One of the most heated and opinionated debates that I’ve seen in quite some time came when HSMWorks was acquired by Autodesk a little over a year ago. Rumors circulated that HSMWorks was toast because Autodesk was going to kill it, owing to the fact at the time that the vast majority of HSMWorks CAM customers were also using it as an integration with SolidWorks. Well, as often happens, the rumors turned out to not exactly be as disastarous as claimed (or hoped for).
Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
For many years, all of the major CAD vendors have been stressing the importance of managing the design and manufacturing data created using their software. Surprisingly though, still relatively few design and manufacturing companies, especially SMBs, have a formal PDM system of any type in place beyond Windows Explorer or Excel. Some of the reasons we hear for PDM not being employed include the perceptions (and experiences) that PDM is time consuming and expensive to implement.
While most SMBs have made the transition from 2D to 3D, many are finally exploring how to manage the mountains of CAD and associated product development and project data. These companies are seeking solutions that are more capable and scalable than just files, folders, Excel spreadsheets, and Windows Explorer.
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
While 3D printing gets a lot of attention on the output side of the design process, going from digital to physical; just as important is the converse, going physical to digital, also known as 3D scanning. Like 3D printers, 3D scanners vary in object capture quality (resolution), and associated cost — ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. 3D scanners are also being used for a growing number of applications, including big-ticket industries, such as automotive and aerospace.
The automotive industry has been particularly fertile ground for 3D scanning with applications ranging from reverse engineering to inspection. I recently came across an interesting automotive 3D scanning application using Artec scanners.
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
Mitsubishi Agricultural Machinery (MAM), part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Group, designs, manufactures and sells agricultural machinery. To better meet the needs of a rapidly changing market, Mitsubishi adopted a strategy known as concurrent engineering, using Lattice Technology’s advanced 3D data format called XVL.
Concurrent engineering is a workflow method that promotes a parallel tasks. For example, job functions such as design engineering and manufacturing engineering are integrated, which allows workers to reduce the time needed to bring new products to market.
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
Although it officially launched ThinkDesign 2013 on September 9, and we didn’t receive a press release until September 27, it appears that the CAD enigma, think3, is attempting to resurrect itself — at least in Europe and Asia/Pacific anyway. As for North America, it doesn’t appear likely, at least what appears on their marginally functional website.
I thought I’d witnessed the last of think3 and ThinkDesign because I haven’t seen or heard much from the company for over two years. As a matter of fact, the last time I really thought about the company was May 2011 when we published the following article: Another One Bites the Dust: think3 Declares Bankruptcy
As I said back then and still maintain today, it’s demise was not that the company produced bad products. Rather, I felt it was the lack of focus and continual management turnover that was its ultimate undoing. think3 had developed some very innovative technologies, features, and capabilities that included advanced surfacing and even voice commands.
On the negative side, though, think3 attempted to go up against Autodesk and SolidWorks in production machine design (with thinkdesign), and Alias in the industrial design space (with thinkiD). They both failed miserably in the intended markets. Also, think3 tried to enter the PDM and other MCAD-related spaces with little or no market strategy, presence, or penetration. Again, fail.
think3 did actually play a prominent role in industrial design for a few years, but primarily in education that really didn’t translate into many commercial seats after graduation. Because of the UI, relative ease of use, and ability to generate surfaces, I always felt that the company would have been better served (and maybe ultimately survived) if it had stuck with the ID space. However, bigger minds and egos prevailed, and they felt the ID market to small to focus on, and felt they were destined for bigger (and more competitive) markets. Well, we saw where that line of thought got them.
While it was quite capable for certain types of design, it also had some problematic issues with handling large assemblies, as well as limited interoperability. Counter to what the company claimed, this latter issue prevented wide adoption by organizations using other MCAD systems.
think3 boasted a revamped management team (again) and $10 million in additional capital. The funding came on the heels of winning several major new customers. These customers came from the sector think3 was now aggressively going after – machine design – the most competitive MCAD market segment.
Specifically, think3 targeted mid-sized manufacturers, those with revenues between $50 million and $1 billion (the same market Autodesk, SolidWorks, and others were also pursuing). The company regarded this group as the largest and also the most neglected segment because the higher-end MCAD companies go after the “bigger fish,”. The mid-sized range is also the domain of 2D CAD, which plays to its strength, since thinkdesign is a 3D system embedded with a 2D core — or so it thought Was think3 thinking that no other competitor had this same strategy?
The next release of thinkdesign was made to order for the machine design customer. As company management at the time said, “It’s got everything you need for sheet metal, large assemblies and it’s 3D. There is a large, untouched market within this mid-sized niche – perhaps 40% or more of the mechanical design market itself. So that’s what we’re going after now.” Again, a little late to the party.
Whereas thinkdesign sold as a subscription package for $1,995 per user and ran on Windows PCs, the more established players such as Dassault Systemes, and PTC had more expensive offerings, but well-established sales and support teams. In addition, those programs were difficult to learn and required significant investments in extensive training whereas think3’s software could be learned relatively quickly over the Web, according to the company. The subscription model and Web-based training were innovative for the time, but to compare thinkdesign with CATIA and Pro/ENGINEER (now Creo) was quite a stretch.
Then, think3 offered another advantage – an integrated Product Data Management (PDM) program called thinkteam, that captured, organized, automated, and shared engineering product information, including standard components, documents, part numbers, bills of materials and active projects. thinkteam was available as a standalone product or could be integrated into thinkdesign or into Microsoft Office. thinkteam was an example of how the company was trying to be all things to all customers and the result was a product line that became diluted with diminishing direction (and return).
In 2001, the company brought in about $15 million in revenue. The goal was earning $27 to 30 million, thanks to new accounts from such customers as Buell Motorcycle and Boeing, one of the world’s biggest CAD users, primarily using CATIA. The entrée into Boeing was a good start, but the company never disclosed how many seats were actually installed. Buell Motorcycle became defunct in 2009 and is now long gone.
This time frame was also the high point for think3, and it didn’t last for long.
After the “good” era, the company drifted from Silicon Valley to Ohio with an increasing lack of presence. As a matter of fact, many MCAD industry watchers started counting down the end of think3. As a matter of fact, it virtually dropped off all the radar screens of industry pundits and customers.
A few years later, though, think3 sort of surfaced when the following press announcement was released:
Think3, Inc., a provider of design and modeling software, will join the family of Versata affiliated software companies. Think3 provides technology that links three separate design areas: the concept, its development, and the finished product.
Think3 will continue to operate as a stand-alone corporation within the Versata family of software businesses. Atlas Capital IB LLC acted as financial advisor to Versata on the transaction. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.
Ultimately, think3 couldn’t survive, even after being brought into the Versata fold.
So, although a relatively minor player, another MCAD player rode into the sunset – once again leaving its user base looking for alternatives. Unfortunate, but inevitable given the course that think3 had chosen over the years. Although its technology was always good, it was management that lacked vision and funding that ultimately sank the company, especially in the North American market. With all of its past issues, I don’t expect think3 to re-appear in this hemisphere again soon, if ever.
Monday, September 23rd, 2013
As our readers know, there is no shortage of mechanical CAD tools available for trained mechanical designers. But, I recently discovered a unique mechanical design product, DesignSpark Mechanical, tailored for engineers whose primary role is electronics design, and secondary role is mechanical design for creating panels, enclosures, and machines. I was interested in experiencing how a mechanical design product would translate for electronics designers and conceptual design. Oh, and it’s free of charge.
I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be a very capable mechanical design tool for non-specialists and was pleasantly surprised at its capabilities and potential.
DesignSpark Mechanical is built on SpaceClaim Engineer, 3D design software that offers a short learning curve along with a direct modeling approach that lets you directly pull and move geometry for design optimization.
Using DesignSpark Mechanical consists of the following three basic steps:
- Sketching and pulling to create parts, or importing and opening existing part models from other modeling software, or from the RS Components/Allied Electronics parts library.
- Refining a design using DesignSpark Mechanical’s 2D and 3D editing tools.
- Saving and exporting model data.
DesignSpark Mechanical has comprehensive 2D and 3D sketching capabilities, as well as the following basic tools for creating and editing 3D geometry:
- Pull – This the primary tool for creating and editing models in DesignSpark Mechanical for extruding, offsetting, revolving, sweeping, drafting, and blending edges and faces. This tool sets DesignSpark Mechanical apart from more complex history-based parametric modelers.
- Move – This tool is used for selecting and moving faces, solids, surfaces, or objects in a 2D or 3D model.
- Fill – This tool is used for selecting a model region and then filling it with the surrounding solid or surface. The fill operation in DesignSpark Mechanical is relatively simple compared with most other feature-based modelers.
- Combine – This tool merges and splits solids and surfaces for altering objects. Objects can be added (or merged) together and subtracted (or split) from each other, creating new modified objects that better suit design needs.
With these basic 3D tools, I realized that I had the ability to conceptually model many types of electronic panels and enclosures.
Three Modeling Methods
With DesignSpark Mechanical there are three methods for modeling — from scratch, by selecting components from the DesignSpark library and using them as the basis for a design, or a combination of the two.
With the online library I was able to combine my test design with off-the-shelf electromechanical components (enclosures, relays, switches, etc.) from RS Components’ and Allied Electronics’ 3D library. I was able to select and drop in 3D part models with RS part numbers directly into my test design.
I also was able to import ECAD files from an EDA tool, DesignSpark PCB (RS Components’/Allied Electronics’ printed circuit board design tool), and create a mechanical design around the electrical design.
Design Tools for Electronics Designers
DesignSpark Mechanical has specialized functions and tools specifically for electronics designers – Measure, Dimension, Bill of Materials, and Order Components.
I used the Measure tool by selecting it and clicking on an object (edge or face) for measuring length, area, and perimeter. This was a useful tool for ensuring components or subassemblies would fit within an enclosure.
Selecting the Dimension tool and clicking on an edge or face previews a specific dimension. Clicking a second time, I created the dimension for display. The Dimension tool is useful for calling attention to critical dimensions for collaboration or production.
For design communication, it’s always a good idea to include a Bill of Materials (BOM) as part of a design. In DesignSpark Mechanical, BOMs are automatically populated for both internal and external components that comprise an assembly.
Finally, DesignSpark Mechanical reads in purchasing data from parts downloaded from the RS Components and Allied Electronics webpages and auto-populates a bill of materials (BOM). I clicked the BOM Quote button and the parts list in the current design populated a table in a pop-up browser. By clicking Order Components, I received a quote very quickly.
For all the functionality it provides for designing innovative electronic products, DesignSpark Mechanical is available free of charge.
I have evaluated and used many software products over the years for designing mechanical and electromechanical products. Based on my experience, I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be an easy to use, yet capable tool for conceptual electromechanical design, especially by those who have limited or no experience with a mechanical design tool. The learning curve is short, the 3D component libraries are extensive, BOMs and quotes are easy to generate, and it’s free. When considering all of these benefits, I found that there is a lot to like with DesignSpark Mechanical.
For More Information on DesignSpark Mechanical: www.designspark.com/mechanical
Monday, September 16th, 2013
Immediately following Labor Day, I, along with about 35-40 other CAD and business journalists and bloggers were invited to Dassault Systemes’ North American headquarters in Waltham, MA for the launch of the SolidWorks 2014 products. The HQ is situated across a freeway from the beautiful Cambridge Reservoir, owned and operated by the city of Cambridge, MA, and provides a nice contrast to the perpetual string of office parks that line I-95 in the area.
It was an interesting event because after a general session by SolidWorks’ CEO, Bertrand Sicot, that included all invitees, we were split up into two groups – journalists who witnessed a day of presentations and demonstrations (from SolidWorks employees and some marquee customers), and bloggers who had an all-day hands-on experience with the new products. I would have preferred a little bit of both, but that’s just me.
As you might imagine, the company line for the new SolidWorks 2014 release is that it delivers “major productivity and usability gains for pushing innovation to the forefront.” According to the company, the major new and enhanced features and capabilities fall into the following four areas:
- Advanced Shape Control – New Style Spline functionality, automatic Sketch Picture scaling and Conic Fillet controls allow users to create complex surfaces and organic shapes faster, easier and with more precise control.
- Faster Drawing Detailing – Perform faster and more automated drawing detailing.
- Sheet Metal Improvements – New sheet metal features enable faster creation of sheet metal geometry and improved data output for manufacturing. Users gain improved control over corner treatments, the ability to create stiffening ribs such as the indented design seen on mounting brackets used to reinforce the weight and force placed on the part.
- SolidWorks Enterprise PDM Streamlined Workflow – Easily manage more data with the new Microsoft Office integration and enhanced Web Client with graphical preview.
- SolidWorks Electrical Improved Integration and Performance – Enhanced integration with SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and eDrawings allows users to optimize, share and track electrical designs more easily for improved project collaboration.
- Design Communication and Collaboration – With new support for Android devices, mobile users can expand their viewing choice beyond iOS mobile devices.
- Streamlined Cost Estimating and Reporting – Users are able to cost parts faster with less setup, then share cost data more effectively with their business value chain. For example, key product development data for assembly can now be sent to Microsoft Excel allowing for easy sharing with departments such as manufacturing and purchasing.
- Streamlined Simulation Setup – SolidWorks Simulation automatically leverages engineering data for re-use in simulations, eliminating duplication of effort and improving design collaboration.
- Enhanced Assembly Performance and Visualization – Creates assemblies faster and easier with the new in-context Quick Mate tool bar and Slot Mate. For assembly in section views, users can include or exclude selected components allowing for a fast creation of more impressive section views.
Aaron Kelly, a long-time SolidWorker in a new very visible role as VP of user experience & product portfolio management did a good job talking through the SolidWorks 2014 product lines and answering questions. It’s good to see Aaron in this tough role as one of the company’s primary spokespersons for addressing customers and the press at a critical time for the company.
Granted, there are some nice changes to SolidWorks 2014, but much smaller incrementally than the new features and capabilities found in most previous versions. SolidWorks, of course isn’t alone here, as most other CAD products’ improvements become relatively smaller and smaller the more mature a product becomes. That said, SolidWorks is still an important cog in the DS machine, generating approximately 20% of Dassault’s revenue.
Interestingly, there seemed to be more attention paid to the new kid on the block who has yet to make an actual appearance – SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). We heard from Bertrand that there are “Topics still to address” before it can be released. However, he said that is in production testing now with about 10 customers. Also still in the future; pricing and packaging for SWMC will be presented at SolidWorks World 2014 in late January.
Making it perfectly clear by the product management team, SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual will be a design product for design professionals, not hobbyist/consumers. This hints at the product’s complexity and price point. The management team was also careful to point out that SWMC will be “Mechanical Conceptual”, not “Industrial Conceptual,” so will not compete with Autodesk’s Alias for conceptual industrial design and styling. It still remains to be seen what SWMC will actually be, but it has gotten a lot of attention.
A 2D tool that also deserves some attention is DraftSight 4.0. It will still be available as a free version, but there will also be some licensing schemes that will be paid, and the prices are very reasonable for a capable 2D product that is good at what it does (creating, editing, and viewing DWG files). Not surprisingly, if or when the need arises, DS SolidWorks has also provided a relatively smooth path for moving from 2D with DraftSight to 3D With SolidWorks.
The online pricing and licensing model for DraftSight is new for the company, but has absolutely no plans for carrying this business model over to the SolidWorks side of the house.
Unlike what I had perceived for a while now, the company at this meeting was fairly ambivalent about commitment to cloud-based software, services, or really anything for that matter. Unlike some of its competitors, DS SolidWorks is moving cautiously in this area.
After spending some “face time” in Waltham, there’s no doubt that this is a critical release for the future of SolidWorks, both as a product line and brand for Dassault Systemes. I’m anxious to try out for myself some elements of the SolidWorks ecosystem — SolidWorks 2014 (especially shape control and costing), Enterprise PDM, and Mechanical Conceptual (when it becomes available).
Based on what I witnessed in Waltham, it’s going to be a very interesting upcoming year for the company and I’m looking forward to experiencing the new product line.
Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Last week, Autodesk reported financial results for the second quarter of fiscal 2014. Yes, that’s right, 2014. Although I’ve had this funky financial calendar explained to me, I still don’t quite get it. It’s sort of like cars that are introduced in January 2013, but they are 2014 models.
Anyway, Autodesk had some pretty mixed financial results company-wide for the quarter.
Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO said, “Our second quarter was marked by strength in our Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) business segment and continued growth in suites”. “Growth in these vital areas was offset by mixed contributions from other parts of the business. On the product side, we strengthened and expanded our leading product portfolio with new desktop, cloud and mobile offerings.”
What we take that to mean is AEC is doing well, but other major market segments, such as mechanical is doing OK, while media/entertainment continues to go down, with no prospect for real improvement in these segments anytime soon.
For example, revenue from the AEC business segment increased 9 percent to $177 million compared to the second quarter last year. On the other hand, revenue from the Manufacturing business segment increased just 2 percent to $144 million compared to the second quarter last year. Finally, revenue from the Media and Entertainment business segment decreased 11 percent to $43 million compared to the second quarter last year. Ouch on the last one.
For flagship products (such as standalone AutoCAD), revenue decreased 11 percent to $289 million compared to the second quarter last year, while revenue from suites increased 18 percent to $193 million. Suites are sweet for Autodesk.
For something a little more inspiring, check out the following video that shows some interesting “Behind the scenes” 3D printing news from Autodesk’s perspective.
Now back to Autodesk financial results . . .
Looking ahead to the future, Mark Hawkins, Autodesk executive vice president and CFO said, “With the recent introduction of more flexible license and service offerings that have ratable revenue streams, such as cloud-based and rental license offerings, Autodesk’s business model is evolving. We are currently refining our plans around the pace and time frame for this business model transition”
Admittedly, with the way Autodesk has changed internally, what it offers, and the way it offers its products, these results are not all that bad. The company is into a lot of things for the long haul, such as low-priced, cloud-based apps and subscription software that do not now and may never contribute greatly to the bottom line. Of course, this can’t go on forever, but the company has shown a higher degree of patience than in the past – good for customers, not so good for investors.
For many reasons, and these financial results notwithstanding, Autodesk fully acknowledges that it cannot afford to slip into any state of complacency or stagnation. The company has gambled on a number of technologies for “creators” through in-house development, as well as acquisitions. Autodesk seems to be financially willing and able to continue down this path, realizing that there will be some winners and some losers. In the end, though, Autodesk will have to remain at the forefront of innovation if it wants to maintain the status and stature it has in the many market segments it serves.