Newton, MA--The stage: the mid-range CAD market.
The players: CAD developers.
The audience: You, the users, who have waited years for something between 2D CAD and the powerful, but many say price-prohibitive, 3D upper echelon.
One of the biggest trends in CAD today is the explosion of the mid-range, says Bruce Jenkins, vice president of Daratech (Cambridge, MA). "We see a very dynamic industry emerging in the mid-range solutions market." Jenkins defines the price range for the mid-range market from $3,000 to $5,000, and says that developers are rushing to supply more functionality at or below that price range. New options for mid-range users:
AutoCAD Mechanical Desktop from Autodesk, SolidWorks '98 from SolidWorks, Solid Edge 5.0 from Unigraphics Solutions, Eureka Gold '97 from CadLab, Design Wave from Parametric Technologies, Artisan from SDRC, Vellum Solids from Ashlar, IronCAD from VDS, Helix Design System from MICROCADAM, and Applicon's Bravo XL Designer.
Jenkins continues, "The field is increasing by leaps and bounds and we expect continued high growth in this area."
One of the newest kids on the block, at least in the U.S. market, CadLab (Santa Clara, CA) released its solution for the midrange market in July 1997. Its product: Eureka Gold '97 begins at $2000. Joe Costello recently became chairman of CadLab in a move to globalize the company and specifically target the mid-range opportunity. As former CEO for Cadence Design Systems, Costello is a newcomer to the mechanical CAD industry. As such, he is quick to offer his insights concerning the playing field.
"The CAD market's been unnaturally stable for years," says Costello. "[Finally] everything is in the process of changing and the most exciting part of this change is the mid-range."
He describes the CAD market in terms of high-performance, high-priced 3D software packages, such as CATIA and Pro/ENGINEER at one end of the spectrum, and less expensive 2D systems at the lower end, with a great chasm in between. And that chasm is widening, he says. There are more functions at lower prices. And while the 2D "stable point" moves down, the "3D guys on the higher end are moving up to the enterprise level by adding product data management to their software," says Costello. This move provides the user with more functions, but at higher prices. "The middle ground is wide open," he says.
"There is a crying need for people with PCs to move to 3D. The hardware is there. Where's the software?" Costello asks.
SolidWorks was the first company to fill that need, says Costello. "They did CAD a great service in moving towards the middle. They pointed the way. They proved the world was ready for something different."
John McEleney of SolidWorks agrees with Costello's assessment of the market, however his company takes a distinct view of the mid-range. "We specifically refer to it as the mainstream solids market," he says. "We don't bound the market either by price or functionality. We look at what mainstream users want and need. If the need is too specific, the developer will address it as an add-on module. The growth in this area is tremendous."
Other players. Also competing in the mid-range is Visionary Design Systems (VDS), which claims its IronCAD software is the "first new modeling architecture in a decade." Among unique features: "handles" that users grab to move geometry around. Analyst Ken Versprille of DH Brown says IronCAD has added flair and the appearance of ease of use to its user interface.
Like IronCAD, Vellum Solids '98, by Ashlar Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA) makes full use of the ACIS 4.0 solid modeling kernel from Spatial Technology. Curves define surfaces in the software--modify a curve and the surface automatically updates. Tim Olsen, lead developer, says the software is easy to use without sacrificing functionality.
Then there's Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC, Waltham, MA)--on everyone's list as a major player in the high-end arena. PTC last fall purchased arch rival Computervision, and got in the bargain a mid-range product the latter developed, Design Wave. The software is based on true context architecture that is assembly centered.
A lower priced high-end product may sound promising, but Jon Stevenson, senior vice president of PTC, says this is only part of the story. "Our target audience is looking for accessibility, ease of use, and ease of learning."
Daratech's Jenkins agrees that engineers look for ease of use in a CAD program. In a recent Design News survey, 37% of the engineers polled said ease of use was most important when choosing a CAD or FEA system, followed by price at 30%, and features and functions at 27%. Surprisingly, interoperability with other software was a distant fourth at 6%.
The scene's been set. The players are ready. So sit back, and get comfortable. The drama in this lucrative and fast-paced market will likely continue to play itself out for some time to come. And only you, the user, can write the ending.
Let the show begin...