Co-founder and Group Executive John Hirschtick mesmerized the 4,300+ attendees at the Tuesday General Session of SolidWorks World 2009 with four predictions ranging from user interface technology to prototyping.
Although he did start out with a disclaimer that these were not "product announcements," the company is clearly taking a deeper look at some of these areas, as evidenced by video footage shown during his presentation.
The first trend Hirschtick described was user interfaces using touch and motion - something he said has already been exploited by mobile phone makers and tablet-type displays. Hirschtick said touch-and-motion capabilities based on using the hands as they were meant have important implications for CAD designers, as they will allow designers to work more naturally with creating and viewing models.
A video of an active research project of a table-top touch screen computer at SolidWorks showed users creating a line with a simple touch-and-hold function, an arc with a two-finger touch and a spline with three fingers. Even more impressive was seeing the user manipulate the view using touch.
Attendees will have a chance to experience a live demo of the touch-and-motion technology at the event's Exhibition Hall this week.
With touch and motion, Hirschtick said CAD will become a hardware business again, and users will migrate to more CAD-specific devices. He said SolidWorks was not necessarily going to get into the hardware business, instead partnering with others with that core expertise.
Next, Hirschtick said there will be online applications for 3-D CAD in the future. While he doesn't think it will happen overnight, he said this isn't some crazy futuristic trend but is in fact mainstream in other applications like email today. "The fact that there is no need for backups or device drivers is very compelling," he said.
Hirschtick also expects CAD in the future to exploit video game technology, which he said has the very best standard-mode graphics. The industry has made enormous advancements in terms of quality and speed, he said, and "we need to pay attention to it." He mentioned a capability in Solidworks called "Ambient Occlusion" that currently allows designers to add more realism to their drawings, saying it will get even better in the future.
3D printing was the final trend that Hirschtick discussed, saying here that while it isn't a new concept, it is getting a whole lot better and will in fact become a key part of the CAD designer's daily experience. "If you haven't seen 3D printing lately, you haven't seen it," he said. "There have been amazing improvements in color, speed and quality of the models, and the cost of models is going down."To wit, Hirschtick then interviewed two Solidworks customers who use 3D printing extensively in the design process. At New Balance, the design team produces dozens of 3D models per month, applying them in novel ways such as to produce simple molds to produce running shoe parts for testing. After only a few hours of CAD design work, Sony Ericsson produces 3D models in order to get mobile phone prototypes into the hands of designers to test for scale and ergonomics.