January 26, 2004
This Week In Boston
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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This Week In Boston

I just returned from the 2004 edition of the SolidWorks World North America User Conference in blustery Boston, and can report that the company is very alive and doing quite well on several fronts. This conference (now in its sixth year) attracted over 500 users and is always a great opportunity to meet with SolidWorks executives, users, and business partners.

In the keynote session on the first day of the conference, CEO John McEleney briefly discussed some of the new features that will be incorporated into SolidWorks 2005 (due to ship sometime in the early summer time frame). The new features will include (among many other things) radically deformable geometric forms, automatic isometric view generation in drawings, automatic cut lists, and a spell checker. Advanced mold capabilities will include automated side-core creation. The next version of the eDrawings will support SolidWorks Animator. eDrawings support for Unigraphics and Autodesk Mechanical Desktop file formats is also coming. Finally, the size of eDrawings files will be reduced to be
30%-60% smaller than they are today.

On the second day of the user conference, Aaron Kelly, director of product development, took the stage and demonstrated some of the new features and capabilities of SolidWorks 2005. The updated user interface will have Windows XP-style icons with a whopping 256 colors. A new context-sensitive Task Pane will handle file and content management. Working in concert with the Task Pane, a File Explorer (much like the familiar Windows Explorer) will display files residing on a hard drive or network, and their status.

SolidWorks 2005 will incorporate subsketches, which are analogous to 2D blocks in AutoCAD. Kelly imported an AutoCAD DWG 2D block into a sketch and extruded it to 3D. For 2D drawings, the next version also will provide automatic dimensioning. Like AutoCAD, SolidWorks 2005 will repeat commands after you press the Enter key. The Measure function will always be available. Display states will let you specify how components appear in assemblies wireframe and/or shaded, and you will be able to reconfigure library features to better suit your needs.

The adjunct product for more advanced analysis (above and beyond COSMOSXpress), COSMOSWorks 2005, will add Quick Tips (like those found in SolidWorks 2004; nonlinear analysis for plastic and rubber materials; and the capability to set up, run and analyze drop tests.

These are just the highlights of SolidWorks 2005, but it looks to be another release full of new and improved features and capabilities. Look for it this summer.

Admittedly, Boston in January can be a rough place to be, but the announcements made, the products we saw, and the people we met with made this User Conference worthwhile and one we'll look forward to attending again.

SolidWorks Surpasses 300,000 Licenses

At the SolidWorks User Conference, the company announced that Texas Instruments Sensors and Controls had purchased the 300,000th license of SolidWorks, a milestone that documents a steady acceleration in user adoption of 3D mechanical design. SolidWorks sold its latest 100,000 licenses in 16 months - 33 percent faster than it took to sell the previous 100,000.

According to Tim Hickey, managing editor at market research and technology assessment firm Daratech Inc. "Since the company brought 3D CAD to the desktop in 1995, SolidWorks has consistently come to market with innovations that answer the needs of working designers and engineers, and has been tireless in refining these innovations based on customer feedback. Another reason the SolidWorks user base is growing so rapidly is the unique SolidWorks network effect resulting from the company's establishment of communities around offerings like the SolidWorks Manufacturing Network, 3D ContentCentral, and the SolidWorks 3D Skills Program."

SolidWorks continues to grow by adding functionality to its product family. Integrated analysis, product data management, e-mail enabled design tools, and interactive product catalogs are innovations that customers continually demand and receive.

The sale of the 300,000th license to Texas Instruments Sensors and Controls sustains SolidWorks' eight years in the 3D mechanical design market. During that time, more than 35,000 companies have purchased SolidWorks. In the same period, more than 5,000 educational institutions have purchased SolidWorks to train students in the software they will hopefully use as professional designers and engineers.

"We are using SolidWorks not only to design products, but also to design the tooling and production equipment needed to make those products," said Ken Webber, computer-aided engineering manager for Texas Instruments Sensors and Controls. "Standardizing on SolidWorks has afforded us greater opportunity to collaborate between our global design centers." The software will be deployed at locations in the United States, Holland, Germany, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, and Mexico.

"We expect the next 300,000 users to join the SolidWorks community even more quickly than the first as more companies like Texas Instruments discover the value of designing in three dimensions while harnessing the ease of use, power, and collaboration advantages of SolidWorks," said John McEleney, CEO of SolidWorks. "And as we've seen, the benefits to these users are compounded by the network effect: SolidWorks communities offer value to each user, and each user adds exponential value to the community."

This is obviously good news for SolidWorks, but it is also good news for the MCAD industry in general. At this time, fully half of the SolidWorks installed base (~150,000) is educational in nature. This certainly is no guarantee for future sales, but it provides the company a better probability that its products will be adopted and used by their current student users in the future. Several other of the major MCAD vendors also have educational programs in place, but for SolidWorks, their support of education is only a part of the bigger picture in the way that the company respects and nurtures its overall user community.

The company's regard for its user community is paying off, because, according to the company, more than 50% of its customers are now using SolidWorks 2004, with most of the remainder using SolidWorks 2003. In a survey that solicited the top five new features in SolidWorks 2004, users voted:
  1. Weldments
  2. Interface improvements (Quick Tips, etc.)
  3. Assembly notes
  4. Mold tools
  5. Dynamic sectioning
  6. As in the past, improved performance remains the top user request, and one that SolidWorks continues to take very seriously.

    PTC Releases Windchill 7.0

    PTC announced the availability of Windchill 7.0, a PLM technology and critical component of its Product Development System. Given shorter product lifecycles, effective and regular collaboration with the extended global design chain has become more important than ever. However, prior to Windchill 7.0, manufacturers have been forced to choose between control-oriented product data management (PDM) offerings or more flexible collaboration tools. Attempting to use both together necessitated the development of complex and costly integrations that duplicate information in both independent environments.

    According to PTC, Windchill 7.0 provides an integral PLM solution that marries collaborative capabilities with formal control of information and processes. Both capabilities share a common pure Internet architecture to enable communication of information throughout the value chain, as well as a new turnkey enterprise interoperability module that connects to other enterprise systems such as SAP.

    According to Jim Heppelmann, PTC's Chief Product Officer, "With our Product Development System that blends Pro/ENGINEER and Windchill, PTC is the only vendor to offer comprehensive create, collaborate, and control capabilities on an architecture that is integral, Internet, and interoperable. Windchill 7.0 is an important element of PTC's Product Development System strategy that helps remove complexity, cost, and risk from PLM initiatives."

    Windchill 7.0 brings together typically disconnected collaboration and control capabilities (driven by Windchill ProjectLink and Windchill PDMLink) into a single system. Engineers can selectively and securely collaborate while maintaining the appropriate linkages to a formal PDM system. This is accomplished by enabling users to check-in/out or share select information from the PDM environment into secure, self-administered Web collaboration spaces where it is available to other participants using a Web browser. Everyday activities like communicating with external customers and suppliers, resolving complex engineering changes, and performing "what if" analyses are simplified and improved. A
    home page aggregates each participant's tasks, checked-out documents, and activities across projects and products.

    "We applaud PTC's product direction for Windchill 7.0 to provide a seamless user and data environment across Windchill PDMLink and Windchill ProjectLink," said Dan Shoenhair, Director, Engineering Business Manager, Ping, a leading sports equipment manufacturer. "This will enable us to provide controlled access of product data to our suppliers; being able to collaborate with our suppliers securely is very important to our business."

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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

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