Industry wags have long pointed to the shrinking difference between mid-range and high-end mechanical CAD platforms. The difference grew a little smaller recently in separate announcements by rivals PTC (Needham, MA) and SolidWorks (Concord, MA).
PTC threw down the gauntlet at its Feb. 12 analysts' conference, when it unveiled Pro/DESKTOP, a flavor of Pro/ENGINEER-lite with a mid-range price tag. A free version called Pro/DESKTOP Express has been available since January on PTC's web site, and the full version now has a Granite kernel (it had been Parasolid), allowing it to interoperate with Pro/ENGINEER. The company also unveiled improved collaboration tools, including a Groove-enabled, peer-to-peer version of Pro/E, and the Java-based Windchill.
PTC EVP Jim Heppelmann put it this way: "SolidWorks used to say 'We have 80% of Pro/E's functionality for 20% of the price.' Well, now I have a product that's 80% of their functionality for 20% of their price. Or it's 70% of their functionality for zero percent of their price!"
In reply, SolidWorks suggested that PTC was distracted from MCAD by its absorption with Windchill, its collaborative PDM tool: "They should have called it Pro/Desk-FLOP!" said new CEO John McEleney, at the SolidWorks World users conference here Feb. 18.
The company made several announcements of new features:
SRAC (Los Angeles, CA) will now be SolidWorks'new analysis business unit. It was acquired by Dassault just 10 months ago, but COSMOS/Works 7.0 had previously been a SolidWorks partner
EDrawings Pro will now be included as a feature of the SolidWorks Office package. It had previously been the pricy version of the free eDrawings 2.0, a collaborative method of emailing a CAD model bundled with its own viewer.
SolidWorks Collaborative Edition was unveiled as SolidWorks Office plus 3D TeamWorks, the real-time collaboration tool for viewing various CAD formats over a standard browser
3D ProductPage is a template-based method of sharing 3D models online
But before the company could get too caught up in its own success, keynote speaker Will Schoemakers, of Proctor & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH), gave them some stern advice. The company owns brands from dishwashing soap to dogfood; and it is a trendsetter in its use of slick packaging.
Using SolidWorks for both creative and technical design, he pushes it to its limits, often linking it to dozens of other applications, from CNC and RP to graphics rendering and plastics molds. But software developments like SensAble Technologies' FreeForm "digital clay" with its haptic stylus raises the bar—"You can sculpt the most beautiful thing in the world, but you can't make it; you have to recreate it in CAD anyway," he said. "The point is that software must continue to get simpler on the front end but still keep up with this."
He also said SolidWorks had room for improvement in freeform surfacing (to integrate with 3D Studio Max, for instance), faster design (perhaps using the new voice-activated technology), ease of use, consulting skills (his P&G engineers often stump the SolidWorks tech-support staff), and more stable upgrades (even if that means they're less frequent).
And that's good advice for any CAD company.