A Class A Acquisition: Dassault and ICEM

Dassault Systemes (DS) and ICEM, a provider of styling, high-quality surface modeling and rendering solutions, announced an agreement pursuant to which Dassault Systemes would acquire ICEM, thus extending CATIA leadership to the broad and highly diversified styling communities. The proposed acquisition, for an estimated price of 51.4 million Euros, should be completed in June subject to specific closing conditions. The transaction, to be paid in cash, is expected to be non dilutive on DS non-GAAP earnings.

"Aesthetics and design quality create emotions and are key contributors to product success and brand recognition. With ICEM's unique set of technologies and expertise in this domain combined with DS's recognized leadership in 3D and PLM, customers will benefit from a new level of integrated process performance from styling concepts to final shape," says Bernard Charles, president and CEO, Dassault Systemes. "High quality design is an opportunity for DS's customers to innovate and differentiate themselves. CATIA's cutting edge shaping capabilities provide unique competitive advantage for our customers in all industries."

The automotive industry has spearheaded putting aesthetics at the heart of the engineering process. One of the most critical steps is the "Class A Surface" process, which creates perfect surfaces from styling sketches. ICEM is recognized as an undisputable leader in this domain, providing top-end solutions. ICEM's customers are prestigious automotive OEMs (including Ford, VW, BMW, Porsche, PSA, Renault, Nissan), design companies (such as Guigiaro/ITALDesign, Pininfarina, Bertone) and consumer goods companies (such as Polaris and Electrolux).

"The transaction results from a strong partnership built upon our joint passion for design, innovation and commitment to customer excellence," says Lee Cureton, president and CEO, ICEM. Marrying ICEM's automotive and industrial design know-how with DS's PLM savoir-faire and market penetration is an exciting opportunity to expand the reach of ICEM's technologies to strategic markets, including aerospace, high-tech, luxury and consumer goods."

DS has invested massively in "Capture and Reuse" technologies allowing customers to create alternative designs and innovate at the speed of light. This generative approach, aligned with ICEM's unique technology, will bring real competitive advantages to customers. The joined R&D forces will work together to create the next generation of concept styling and production surfacing solutions.

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

With this acquisition, ICEM looks like it has, at long last, found a permanent home after being passed around a bit the past several years. First, a standalone company that became a PTC property, then back standalone, and now the acquisition by Dassault, a company that tends to hold on to what it acquires. To be honest, this move was not all that surprising since ICEM had increasingly based its product line on Dassault Systemes’ CAA V5 architecture that it integrates with CATIA V5, but more about that a bit later. More than anything, however, is how this acquisition will affect ICEM’s two biggest markets – automotive and aerospace – as well as at least one competitor.

As an industrial designer and mechanical engineer originally from the Detroit area, I have always held a special place for automotive design, especially exterior styling and the tools used to make it happen.

One of the things I’ve noticed over time is the increasing complexity of the surfaces on vehicles. These increasingly complex surfaces require increasingly sophisticated software to create and visualize them. All automotive manufacturers realize that complex surfaces are one of the “emotional” cues and aspects that differentiate their products from the competition, therefore, the continuing interest in digital design products that assist toward this end. Scale automotive clay models are by no means extinct in the styling studios, but digital styling methods are becoming increasingly prevalent. The two most popular styling tools today are AliasStudio (now owned by Autodesk) and tools from ICEM.

ICEM grew out of an internal software development program that took place back in the mid-1980s at Volkswagen in Germany. The intent was to develop surface modeling software for use by the company in car body skin design and engineering. That software was then made available commercially through a joint-venture company called ICEM that was set up by VW and Control Data and the software itself was given the name ICEM Surf.

Since its earliest days, ICEM has concentrated on developing advanced surface modeling, surface model validation, and design visualization software. Historically, the main market for this software has been the automotive industry, although it is also used by aerospace companies, like Airbus Industrie and Delta Air Lines, as well as sporting goods and consumer durable goods manufacturers. Increasingly, markets and products where aesthetics and surface quality are key.

The company’s original product, ICEM Surf is used today by the majority of automotive OEMs and their Tier 1 suppliers in the design development of what the company calls “customer visible surfaces,” that is, the body skin and exterior components, such as radiator grilles, headlamp assemblies, wheel trims, and the interior components of a vehicle, such as the centre console, instrument panel, and door and head linings.

In 2005, ICEM Surf was joined by a new software sibling, ICEM Shape Design (ISD) that introduced a number of capabilities not previously part of ICEM Surf, such as parametric modeling. ISD was developed on the Dassault Systemes CAA V5 architecture so that it integrates with CATIA V5 and other Dassault Systemes’ V5 PLM environments.

When asked what makes ICEM unique and sets it apart from the competition, Pete Moorhouse, director of product marketing at ICEM Ltd., said there were two things. “First, the company concentrates on what it’s always done and therefore, what it knows best – that is, software for modeling and visualizing high-quality complex surfaces with compound curvature.” (In the automotive industry, these are known as a Class A surfaces).“Second, with ICEM Shape Design, CATIA V5 users are able to use native V5 data from the initial vehicle body and interior design sketches stage right through to tooling design, with no data translation required anywhere along the way.”

ICEM’s principal target market has always been, and still is, the transportation industry. That includes private cars, motorcycles, commercial vehicles, trucks and buses and agricultural and construction vehicles, as well as associated areas such as tire design.

It’s difficult to put a figure on the ultimate size of the markets ICEM could serve, but Moorhouse thought that for every 10-15 engineering CAD/CAM seats there could be a need for one dedicated to advanced surface modeling – so it’s a fairly sizeable potential market.

A relatively recent convert to ICEM is the Ford Motor Co. Ford’s enterprise wide PLM initiative is known as C3P NG, that involves enhanced tools, methods and work practices. CAD/CAM/CAE (C3) and PIM (P)-New Generation (NG) is a universal process and is regarded as the basis for development work that began with the 3D CAD system IDEAS (acquired by UGS several years ago), and is being further realized with Dassault Systemes’ CATIA and UGS’ Teamcenter. In theory, C3P-NG will more effectively manage product and manufacturing data assets between global vehicle programs, departments, and suppliers.

Admittedly, while other of the major North American automotive companies do have a wide variety of software packages that they use to design, engineer, and manufacture their products, most have at least attempted to standardize on a single primary platform. For example, DaimlerChrysler chose CATIA and the rest of the Dassault Systemes line, and General Motors uses UGS NX and other software applications in the family. Ford, on the other hand has seemed reluctant to more or less standardize on a single CAD/CAM/CAE platform. As a matter of fact, Ford is still trying to wean itself from a CAD system known as PDGS that it developed in-house way back when.

Ultimately, Ford hopes to implement what C3P-NG is all about, namely to eliminate its legacy tools, including StudioTools and IDEAS, to a single environment consisting of Dassault Systemes direct and associated applications, including ICEM ISD.

Anyway, as interesting as the acquisition is, I’ll be as interested to follow if or how ICEM surfacing will connect with another Dassault acquisition, SolidWorks. The competition, namely Autodesk, continues its efforts to more closely connect the data generated in its advanced surfacing package, StudioTools, to Inventor. Will Dassault follow suit with ICEM and SolidWorks? Probably not right away, but ultimately, I would venture that it will as a means to stay competitive with Autodesk in the Class A surfacing arena.

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