4. Building bridges to CAE. CAE software providers also did not sit on the sidelines when it came to usability. There was a concerted effort to integrate CAE applications directly into CAD offerings -- the goal being to allow engineers to optimize designs using simulation without having to leave their familiar environments. CAD vendors also devoted energy to building those bridges, mostly by adding more sophisticated simulation capabilities to their own tools as witnessed by major CAD upgrades like Siemens PLM Software's NX 8.0, which went heavy on enhancements in this area. (See Slideshow: CAE Goes Mainstream and Siemens PLM Upgrades NX With CAE Enhancements.)
NX 8's high-definition 3D (HD-PLM) environment and visual reporting and analytics tools were expanded in 2011 to enable rich visual interaction.
5. Going mobile. Beyond the usability angle, 2011 was a pivotal year for the design tool segment to keep pace with major trends affecting mainstream business applications. Take mobility, for example, a huge hot button in the enterprise IT space. The trend started to percolate in design tools this year with some of the leading providers, including Siemens PLM Software, PTC, Dassault Systèmes, Maplesoft, IMSI, and, in particular, Autodesk, testing the waters with a handful of early mobile design tool apps meant to test engineers' interest and experiment with what functionality makes sense on a mobile platform. (See: Autodesk Amps Mobile Sim With ForceEffect.)
6. Experimenting in the cloud. The cloud is yet another area where design tools took a step toward enterprise computing. While most major enterprise platforms from CRM to ERP have embraced the cloud format for a couple of years now, CAD and PLM tools have lagged behind, that is until this year when Dassault Systèmes and Autodesk laid out formal cloud strategies for their entire CAD and PLM portfolios. While it's still early in this transition, expect to see a lot more to come in this area. (See: Dassault Makes Major Play in the Cloud and Autodesk Cloud Makes Its Official Debut.)
Despite the fact there wasn't any bang-up technology upheaval this year, 2011 certainly laid a pretty solid foundation for changes that are bound to propel CAD and PLM further away from their niche application roots to becoming key players in the mainstream computing fabric of organizations across all key industries.