upFront.eZine 1,096: Dassault's Disconnect with Solidworks Users

Part i (of ii)

The Business of CAD | 17 May 2021

Last year, 3dexperience World was a first, and a last. It was the first time the former Solidworks World conference operated under its new name; it was the last in-person CAD conference before the coronavirus shut ’em all down.

Not just the conference was renamed by Dassault Systemes. The French company added the “3dexperience” prefix to Solidworks, the world’s top-selling mid-range MCAD program.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Dassault Systemes becoming an independent firm. It and its Catia design software were spun out of aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation in 1981. Catia was from the very start a 3D CAD program, initially generating lofts for aircraft wings and bodies. It was written to assist Cadam (made by Lougheed Aircraft), which at the time did only 2D drawings. Later Catia, also gained 2D functions.

Today, Dassault is the largest independent CAD software firm in the world, and continues to sell Catia to large manufacturers. It acquired Solidworks for the smaller manufacturing market.

From ‘Product’ to ‘Platform’

The latest version Catia is V6. A new version number means for Dassault a new hardware platform, and so Catia V6 and its support programs run in the cloud. Collectively, they are called “3dexperience.” Dassault spent a decade trying to do the same with Solidworks, and then arrived at a compromise: it would continue to update the desktop-bound Solidworks while pressing home the message that running 3dexperience is the better future for users.

Changing the names of Solidworks World and Solidworks was part of the Dassault messaging campaign, “From product to platform”: Solidworks is the product, 3dexperience is the platform.

Dassault company says there are big benefits to switching over to 3dexperience:

  • Solidworks users benefit from built-in communications between software programs, designers, and clients 

  • Solidworks accesses Dassault’s big iron software, like Enovia database and Simula simulation software

3dexperience World 2021

Last year’s new ‘3dexperience World’ name gave Dassault executives a reason to concentrate on 3dexperience software and, for the most part, ignore Solidworks. This year’s event proved even more disconnected from the needs of Solidworks users, as CEO Bernard Charles began his opening keynote by boasting of spending six billion dollars on medical software — not CAD.

The reason was coronavirus and running medical trials in Medidata, whose cloud-based software analyzes pharmaceutical trials for drugmakers with names we now recognize, like Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Two years ago, Dassault acquired the New York firm for $5.8 billion and now, together with its Biovia medical software, Charles stated Dassault helped reduce the time to create new vaccines from 15 years to 15 months.

Getting closer to CAD, Charles took time to rebuke customers who still used apps like Dropbox and WhatsApp for file sharing and communication, instead of equivalent services built into 3dexperience. As Dropbox and WhatsApp are universal, I would argue that the two work better for the kinds of smaller shops that are representative of Solidworks users.

For Education and Startups

Instead of hearing on the main stage about what is new in Solidworks 2021, the big announcements this year were for new educational and maker versions of Dassault software collections. Solidworks for Students is US$60 per year and shipped in May, once school is over. The Makers version is US$99/year but not available until the second half of 2021. Both combine Solidworks with two 3dexperience add-ons.

The 3dexperience Lab is a newish program that hosts startups as they try to create products using 3dexperience software in a generic range of categories: city, life, lifestyle, ideation, and fabrication. Some 35 projects are underway, such as a 3D-printed violin (see figure below) and a robot communicator for autistic children.

Startups get mentoring and an opportunity for an international product launch. Labs are located in Pune India, Boston USA, and at Dassault’s head office in Velizy France. 3dexperiencelab.com

3dexperience Works

When Solidworks ceo Gian Paolo Bassi came on the virtual stage (see figure below), he also ignored Solidworks for the most part. Instead, he began with the results of a study from McKinsey Consultants. In 2020, companies either did already, are thinking of, or haven’t yet embraced digital transformation due to the impact of coronavirus. The necessity of digital transformation “is what we have been saying all along, isn’t it?” he asked his invisible audience.

Mr Bassi described a demonstration project involving six hundred people working from home on eleven thousand parts -- the biggest demo Dassault ever attempted. See figure below. The result was a design of a space station measuring two kilometers long. A model smaller than 2km long was still being printed and so was not ready for the conference.

Dassault promised to deliver a full series of products, Mr Bassi said, natively built “on our collaboration platform.” If you thought Solidworks is the platform, you’d be wrong; the collection is named “3dexperience Works.” It consists of 3dexperience-based programs for Solidworks users. Of them, 3D Creator and 3D Sculpture shipped last year, and in the last few months Dassault delivered five more:

  • 3D Sheet Metal Creator

  • 3D Structural Creator

  • 3D Mold Creator

  • Product Document Creator with model-based definitions

  • Product Communicator for marketing materials

The enthusiastic Mr Bassi described them as a “complete set of tools,” but I think we can easily see gaps in the collection. The related Web site at solidworks.com/3dexperience-works lists additional modules, such as Collaborative Industry Innovator and Social Media Analyst. (One of the earliest 3dexperience-based add-ons for Solidworks, XDesign, is no longer mentioned.)

Most of these programs are designed specifically for Solidworks users, but employ technology from Catia-based 3dexperience. They run in Web browsers (including on smartphones), communicate with 3dexperience servers, require hefty annual subscription fees, and are not particularly compatible with Solidworks — due to the different 3D modeling kernels involved. 3ds.com

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Next week in part ii:

  • What’s new in Solidworks 2021 and DraftSight 2021

  • What Dassault needs to do with Solidworks

[This article appeared first in Design Engineering magazine and is reprinted with permission.]

And in Other News

In Japan, Autodesk drops the price of full AutoCAD to the equivalent of US$650/year, and kills off LT. AutoCAD with Toolsets (verticals) remains at the previous price equivalent to US$2,100/yr.

Here is Google Translate’s version of announcement from Autodesk Japan:

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Dassault Systèmes’ Spatial updates its 3D InterOp data translator to 2021 1.0.1 by adding filtering of IFC classes. This means that software using 3D InterOp can import specific data from BIM models, such as just architectural elements and electrical components. blog.spatial.com/news/2021-1-0-1

- - -

Here are some of the posts that appeared recently on my WorldCAD Access blog:

You can subscribe to the WorldCAD Access blog’s RSS feed through Feed Burner at feeds.feedburner.com/WorldcadAccess.

Letters to the Editor

Re: Agility Eats Black Swans for Breakfast

I am getting up to 96% retired but still like reading some of your stuff, especially the less CAD-technical articles. I like this reality-based guy. As with most narratives, it's hard to straddle the middle.
            - Leo Schlosberg

- - -

From the editor: I misspelled the name of the ceo of Aras. It is Peter Schroer, not Schroder. Thank you to reader S. P. for alerting me.

Notable Quotable

“Yes, design automation will put architects out of work. But have you considered how well-designed our homeless encampments will be when that happens?”
- Nihilist Autodesk (@AuNihilist on Twitter)

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