In the SolidWorks community, Jeff Ray, John McEleney, and Jon Hirschtick are celebrities in their own rights. Users recognize the company’s current CEO (Ray) and his predecessors and cofounders (McEleney, Hirschtick) by sight. Should they come across one of them in the hallway or on an escalator at SolidWorks World, they’d introduce themselves, praise the enhancements they like in the latest release, and air their grievances about what they don’t. But Bernard Charles, the courtly Parisian CEO of Dassault Systemes, the man SolidWorks CEO Ray calls “my boss,” has long remained an enigma for SolidWorks users — till now.
This year, to introduce an electric vehicle they commissioned for the conference, Ray and Charles literally drove up to the stage together. Charles also demonstrated a feature in Dassault’s 3DVIA on iPhone, by instantly merging the 3D digital model of the electric car with a photo of the engineering team and Ray.
“We’re expanding the role of SolidWorks from the initial promise … where we said 3D mechanical desktop on every professional desk. Now it’s 3D for professionals. We’re broadening the scope and we will continue to expand the portfolio of SolidWorks …,” said Charles.
Charles has been running Dassault, a household name in PLM (product lifecycle management), since 1995. He was responsible for engineering the acquisition of SolidWorks. He’s a firm believer in the power of social networking, crowd sourcing, cloud computing, and virtual universes (3DVIA Scenes, a Dassault product now in public beta, lets you create virtual environments that mimic Second Life for commercial and professional purposes). Right or wrong, his vision might invite snicker and scorn from some hardcore engineers.
Even though SolidWorks has been a subsidiary of Dassault since June 1997, Dassault let SolidWorks run its own affairs like an autonomous company. Charles’ appearance at SolidWorks World foretells an initiative to bring together Dassault’s style with SolidWorks’ tradition — something that makes certain SolidWorks users uneasy.
Professionally Linked, Socially Connected
As the conference drew to a close, Ray once again took the stage for his final keynote. “We will be delivering more new technologies in the next two and a half years than we have in the last 15 years,” he vowed, “but we’ll do it in a way that respects the way you design.”
One of those you can look forward to is a web-based bridge (through the cloud, as it were) to connect SolidWorks to Dassault’s ENOVIA V6, a collaboration platform. The approach is expected to eliminate some of the awkwardness and frustrations associated with communicating design changes via emails.
SolidWorks PLM is to be augmented with online services. The first to be released is SolidWorks Product Data Sharing. Equipped with a thin client as well as SolidWorks-integrated access, the system bypasses the need to copy files onto a shared server in order to collaborate. Instead, users log into a secure workspace, hosted on the web. (The workflow is similar to what can be done with Vuuch, a SolidWorks plug-in developed by former CEO of Seemage.)
SolidWorks Product Data Sharing also solves the collaboration conundrum between those who have SolidWorks installed in their machines and those who don’t. For the latter, the system displays assembly information in a dynamic (expandable, collapsible) assembly tree, complete with thumbnails for each sub-assemblies.
Beyond formal file exchanges, SolidWorks PLM may also be reinforced with social networking features, facilitated via a new platform called 3dswymer (currently in private beta). Complete with real-time news feeds, articles, blogs, 3D visualization windows, and user profiles, the portal appears to be put together with many features currently found on Dassault’s 3DVIA.com and SolidWorks’ 3D Content Central, with elements of YouTube and Facebook thrown in for good measure.
Can’t Stand Still
“We cannot afford to stand still at a time like this,” said Ray in his closing talk. “This is no time to relax and take it easy, not time to give up and wait for this economy to turn around. We have no choice but to get more committed to delivering great technologies and support for you … we’re not standing still; we’re committed to continue to make a difference.”
In the last few years, as Autodesk and Siemens forge ahead with their own versions of direct modeling and Mac-compatibility, as PTC advocates social product development as the new approach to PLM, the silence from SolidWorks at times seems almost deliberate. Some industry watchers, too, begin to wonder if SolidWorks has grown stagnant, has become too accustomed to doing things the way it has always done.
The technologies previewed at SolidWorks World 2010 reassure dedicated fans that the company is getting ready to kick into high gear. To those hardcore SolidWorks fans who are concerned that Dassault’s involvement may deprive their beloved company of independence, perhaps it’s worth noting that, when the two CEOs drove up to the stage together, SolidWorks’ Ray was in the driver seat.
Note: After this post was published, SolidWorks cautioned it had no specific time frame for delivering a version of SolidWorks that would run in Mac OS. For more, read “SolidWorks: Exploring Mac OS But No Timetable for Delivery,” Feb 22, 2010.
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