The next wave in engineering software will be the move to web-based products, says Grayson. They save engineers money, and they make it easier to get product upgrades quickly.
Design News: Many companies are turning into ASPs. What is an ASP?
Grayson: An ASP is an application service provider. The ASP model is a new way of selling software that combines software and services and a subscription plan as an alternative to a license fee. The Internet is the medium for selling the subscription. All software companies will move to this model.
Q: What's the benefit of an ASP?
A: Lower up-front costs, especially when engineers are becoming used to a new product. Under the old system, it could cost $5,000 to license some software packages, and after paying it engineers might find they don't like the software. Other benefits include such things as the fact that an ASP provides an online connection between the customer and the vendor, which results in higher service and support and more accountability.
Q: What about the issue of software training?
A: Engineers can get training on line. There are web-based seminars where they can sign up at their convenience. They can come into a conference and ask questions, chat with other participants, and see demos of the product. They can download tutorials too. And, they don't have to schedule a class through a reseller, nor do they have to travel. We schedule web seminars on demand, and we can develop training at the same time every day.
Q: How commonly used is 3-D solid modeling?
A: It's used quite a bit. Mainstream computers can handle it. But, the overall use of 3-D solid modeling is low. There are about 500,000 seats, but another 2.5 million engineers doing mechanical design. Eventually, all mechanical designers will have a 3-D tool.
Q: What are the benefits of 3-D solid modeling?
A: The biggest benefit for productivity is the elimination of detailed drawings in several views. With 3-D, you create the model once and generate views easily. You can make a change and it automatically updates. For customers, 3-D solid models allow them to visualize the end product. In that sense, it's a communication vehicle for non-engineers. Also, to do finite element analysis or rapid prototyping, you need a 3-D CAD model. We are a 3-D solid modeling product developed for the web.
Q: Is interoperability still a big issue in CAD?
A: Yes. The industry grew up around strong vertical products with proprietary formats. Cooperation in the transfer of files traditionally did not exist. But, CAD must be a tool to exchange design intent. Working through the Internet, engineers can work more effectively with their partners.
Q: What will be the next big breakthrough in software?
A: Moving CAD from the desktop to the web. That will drive productivity gains and improve the ways companies use engineers as well as the ways engineers work.
Q: What is Alibre's role?
A: As a low-cost alternative to the traditional CAD companies, we are enabling the latent productivity of engineers everywhere, including those who might want to contract out their work. We are creating the opportunity for engineers to be part of the manufacturing process. And, we are enabling entrepreneurship in design, giving more people the opportunity to participate and save on costs.
J. Paul Grayson
Grayson co-founded Alibre in 1997. Previously, he founded Micrografx in his Dallas garage in 1982. He was also the co-founder of Axxis Software. He began his career as a programmer and holds degrees from the University of Missouri and Washington University-St. Louis. He led one of the most successful technology-industry charity programs-the Micrografx Chili for Childrens Cook-Off, for ten years, and has received several awards for his charity work.