SolidWorks Looks Beyond PLM

There was little talk of geometry, and I'm not even sure CAD as a category even came up in the discussion. Rather, when the bigwigs gathered on stage during the SolidWorks World 2012 user conference in mid-February in San Diego, it was quite clear that the long-term vision involves moving past individually focused CAD tools in favor of an Internet-based 3D paradigm that is all about collaboration across design networks of people with diverse knowledge bases and skill sets.

In what may have been a stretch in making the connection (to me, at least initially), Dassault Systemes CEO Bernard Charles invited Maia Hoeberechts, research theme integrator for engineering and computational research at Neptune Canada, on stage to talk about its cabled ocean network in the Northeast Pacific. Neptune Canada takes a different approach to ocean science via its underwater ocean observatory network, which plugs directly into the Internet. Hoeberechts said the network lets people anywhere log on to surf the seafloor and help scientists sort through data. It also allows scientists and researchers to conduct deep water experiments from the comfort of their labs and universities.

I found myself asking a question: What could this example, as interesting as it sounds, possibly have to do with a company that sells traditional CAD and PLM tools? The answer: Nothing, but everything, as Dassault/SolidWorks started hinting at its vision for a next-generation design platform. (Dassault acquired SolidWorks in 1997.) What's so compelling about Nepture Canada's approach, according to Charles, is the theme of collaboration and community -- a foundational element of innovation projects of the future, as well as his company's future after PLM.

"This is an amazing way of working," Charles said in his keynote. "What is happening is this level of collaboration between different disciplines. It's the definition of the new world of collaboration, where people can benefit from different sources of knowledge. This is the future of design innovation that will impact the way all of you work every day."

Using the power of 3D data as a universal language, as well as the Internet as a connecting glue, Dassault appears to be moving its product lines toward some sort of Web 2.0 embodiment that leverages everything from social media tools to "big data" analytics to draw experts together to foster innovation and product design. I'm sure the actual nuts and bolts of creating complex 3D models and assemblies is still part of the game plan and, obviously, his company's heritage, but Charles kept bringing the talk back to the concept of leveraging the collective wisdom of the crowd as part of the design process.

"If the biggest innovation of the 20th century was the computer, in the 21st century, it's all about collaboration or connecting individuals, not just businesses, together," he said. "This is what we want to bring to you in an affordable way."

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