As more 2D CAD users add an extra dimension and learn to design in 3D, their hang-ups and complaints reveal how solid modeling changes their jobs.
SolidWorks is one of the CAD companies that's most focused on this market segment, since 60% of its installed base are transitioning 2D users. And 70% of its software revenue in Q3 2001 came from new customers, COO John McEleney said at the company's annual press/analyst day Nov. 2. (McEleney was promoted to CEO a week later, replacing founder John Hirschtick).
A good way to trace the new-user experience is by examining SolidWorks 2001 Plus, which shipped in December. The company boasts that 90% of the application's 150 enhancements were customer requests, so a list of the most popular ones should reflect their work habits. (Since this mature product is now in its 10th release, we'll assume they're beyond bug-fixes.)
The #1 enhancement request was to create trail-lines in exploded assemblies, says SolidWorks' field marketing manager, Joe Dunne. This marks the path of each part's position with its own breadcrumb trail, easing the tasks of fabrication and maintenance.
Another heavily-requested change was the ability to export models as Pro/ENGINEER files (geometry only, not features).
SolidWorks also tries to ease "the pain of trying to communicate," says Ilya Mirman, web business development manager. Features that aid in collaboration include: PhotoWorks (creates photorealistic images), SolidWorks Animator (creates AVI files from SolidWorks parts), 3D Instant Website (publishes live web sites with 3D interactive content), eDrawings 2.0 (email-enabled 2D and 3D file sharing), and 3D PartStream.NET (integrates dynamic 3D models into custom online catalogs). Live online catalogs built with that last feature include De-Sta-Co, Emhart, and Enerpac.
Of course, SolidWorks couldn't fulfill every user request. The toughest demand to meet is speed, says Dave Corcoran, EVP of R&D. "It's always performance, and you can never actually satisfy that," he says. "For instance, back in 1996, we were proud we could handle a 1,000-part assembly, so the standard's always changing."
Another annual customer re-quest is backward-compatibility, which is tough to fulfill since many new features have no equivalent in previous releases, he says.
SolidWorks gladly admits its reputation as a one-product company, saying it chooses to focus on speed and ease of use. The challenge is to balance innovation with reliability. On the continuum of Research and Development, "We're more D than R," Corcoran says.
He points to add-on modules as the opportunity for its users to diversify. In fact, one-third of SolidWorks seats ship with at least one of the company's nine add-ons, and one-third ship with at least one add-on from an external software provider (these portions may overlap), says Mirman.
The popularity of these modules also points to user trends.
Among SolidWorks' 30-odd Gold Partners, the top three attach-rates are: COSMOS/Works (design analysis from SRAC, Los Angeles, CA), SmarTeam (document management from SmarTeam Corp., Beverly, MA), and PDM/Works (project data management from DesignSource Technology, Westborough, MA), Corcoran says.
And among SolidWorks' in-house, branded modules, the favorites are PhotoWorks, Animator, Toolbox (automates assembly tasks with a parts library), and FeatureWorks (simplifies data reuse).
Outgoing CEO John Hirschtick reiterates his pledge to keep the company focused on its newest users: "The challenge now is to bring existing technology—3D solids—to the masses. Because it sounds to insiders like this is old news, but it's not yet deployed at every engineer's desktop," he says.
That new wave of buyers is less interested in technical fireworks than they are simply eager to graduate from 2D to 3D modeling. New products launched in 2001 include: SolidWorks 2001, 3D PartStream (revs. 1-3), eDrawings 2.0, SolidWorks Office, and SolidWorks 2001 Plus. All follow the goals of single-day productivity, intuitive use, minimizing training, and exhaustive customer support, Hirschtick says.
Additional features in SolidWorks 2001 Plus include:
heads-up display, removing the distraction of pop-up dialog boxes
large-assembly mode, enabling users to spin an assembly quickly, by culling some parts and resolving them only when motion stops
physical dynamics, which moves beyond collision detection to mechanical interaction and full assembly motion
configurations, in which a part "knows" it can be built in slightly different ways, such as a left and right handed computer mouse. This aids in design reuse and iterative design.
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