Small companies will have a role, according to Bean, in advancing the capability of today's design engineering software.
Design News: What advances do you see coming in CAD that will change the way engineers do their work?
Bean: One is the emergence of the Internet as the primary communications tool for a company's supplier and vendor to collaborate via CAD models. And smarter, more intelligent CAD models that have properties and know how to behave. Solid models will be completely defined, not just given their dimensions, as is currently the case. They'll include tolerances, the material the part is made from, how it will be used--that sort of thing.
Q: What can be done in CAD to increase productivity?
A: Ease of use is critical. Time is becoming the most valuable commodity engineers and designers have. So ease of use spells productivity. Improving productivity also requires improved data translations between CAD vendors. That's coming as a lot of CAD systems standardize on several kernels for their design systems. It will be a lot easier to transfer files between vendors; less data will be lost. Also, interoperability between engineers, manufacturing, and non-technical team members will be important. In CADKEY 7.5, the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) output allows a readable 3-D model to be passed around an office.
Q: Will non-technical people be able to change the model?
A: No. And that's as it should be. But this system encourages collaboration, allows people to look at a design as it gets sent to the shop, and enables them to visualize how it could be used--that sort of thing.
Q: How much consolidation should we expect in the software industry?
A: We will see some consolidation, especially involving CAD vendors that either don't have a large customer base--a large user base--or next-generation technology. If a company today doesn't have one of those: a large user base currently using the product or next-generation capability at a reasonable price, they're going to get gobbled up or disappear.
Q: What role do you see in the future for the small software company that produces a niche product?
A: Companies in a niche product area will be able to compete by focusing on their niche areas exclusively. It's very difficult for a large company to succeed in a niche market. And similarly it's im-
possible for a small company to succeed with a general-purpose product in the broad marketplace. So companies that focus in specific niche areas will be much more likely to compete and succeed.
Q: So there will be room for the small software company?
A: Yes, particularly as software becomes more componentized. For instance, you can go out and license the ACIS solid modeling engine and buy husks, which are add-ons to it, for everything from sheet metal unfolding to photorealistic rendering. And they're basically plug-ins. So companies that want to focus in a particular area can pick and choose. You no longer need a 100-person programming staff to succeed.
Q: How will the development of very powerful new microprocessors affect your business and product line?
A: I'm by no means an expert in terms of what's coming after the P6. But just in terms of the raw compute power, new processors will allow virtually every customer to push their software to the limit. Customers will be able to accomplish much more sophisticated work with the software they already own. The new processors will also allow engineers to accomplish more complex tasks, like running FEA, that formerly were farmed out.
Q: What advice would you give to an engineer contemplating starting his own company?
A: Look for existing opportunities, try to leverage those, and niche. If you can, select a niche where the big guys won't be competing aggressively. I'm speaking of the software area, but in any area know your market niche. Select a market niche and focus on it, and if you can ride the coattails of a bigger company, whether it be an AUTOCAD or a CADKEY or a specific niche product or niche area, then you really have your market carved out for you, and you can much more easily find your customers. So focus and know your customer, your market, and your product.