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Ease of use, interoperability are the major CAD issues today

Ease of use, interoperability are the major CAD issues today

The CAD industry is stagnating today, Morgan says, but he predicts that breakthroughs are around the corner.

Design News: What are the major issues in CAD?

Morgan: First, user interfaces still get inadequate attention. With so many applications to choose from, and functionality becoming comparable across a variety of price ranges, users are looking for the key differentiating feature that makes an application stand apart from its competition. While today's user interfaces are better than they were in the past, they're still not as intuitive as users would like them to be. Our industry needs to make user interfaces point-and-click easy, because today's users don't want to spend time learning how to use an application. They want to sit down and be productive immediately. The second issue is model interoperability. 3D CAD won't be ubiquitous until we solve the great interoperability problem. That's the issue where CAD developers have to bite the bullet, open up, and give up their proprietary advantage. They have to publish their file formats and cooperate with each other. End users are demanding it. They don't want their model data to be held hostage by an application vendor any longer. Many industries faced the same problem with interoperability and have been able to overcome it--look at office-automation and database-software companies. The third issue is affordability.

Q: Where's the "Wow" in CAD ?

A: The "Wow" factor is missing in action in the CAD industry today. For any product to elicit a "wow" from users, it must strike a chord--and the users must get it. Pro/ENGINEER (Parametric Technology Corp., Waltham, MA) had "wow" when it started. The company's Windchill product could be a wow, but it's hard to understand. Moving to process-centric enterprise data management is complex. Some company, perhaps Visionary Design Systems, will figure out how to make an Internet "wow" in engineering. And, of course, the race is on for the next usability "wow," with the West Coast firms in the lead.

Q: The next breakthrough in CAD?

A: Making digital engineering data management integral to the way you run your business. That will transform the way we do business worldwide. Shouldn't it be possible to virtually produce a product before you physically produce it? I see breakthroughs in user interfaces and usability, too. The Internet is vital to organizations today. We already do distributed worldwide development today over the Internet. Now, we have to tie in suppliers and customers. That has to happen quickly. This industry has plateaued. We've nailed individual productivity, but not enterprise-wide productivity.

Q: Spatial Technology achieved 40% growth last year. Why?

A: I attribute it to the fact that people really do believe in our ACIS kernel now. There are five tier-one modeler suppliers, Parametric Technology Corp. (Pro/ENGINEER), Dassault (CATIA), SDRC (I-DEAS), Unigraphics Solutions (Parasolid), and us. We are the only independent kernel supplier, and we don't compete with our customers at the application level. We have done lots of missionary work and it's paying off. Our new Deformable ModelerTM is outstanding and is experiencing phenomenol growth and sales to both ACIS-enabled and non-ACIS developers. Most of all, Spatial is helping make CAD model interoperability a reality.

Q: Spatial's future role?

A: We will address the hard problems, and provide the tools to make CAD interoperable. We'll integrate these tools with PDM systems and be a 3D model interoperability facilitator for developers and end users. Spatial will also develop a strong Internet identification and be a resource for unbiased technical information and services for users of engineering and related 3D application software. One of our big advantages is our neutral image and lack of end-user product bias. Autodesk's Carol Bartz does a great job of seeing where artificial boundaries between CAD and related applications like animation can be broken down. When those barriers fall, sparks will fly, and dynamism will return to the CAD industry.

This is Bruce Morgan's second tour of duty at Spatial Technology. From 1991 to 1995, he was vice president of sales and marketing, developing the OEM business strategy that established the company's ACIS geometric modeler as a standard for geometry creation in mechanical computer-aided design. He left to take a senior marketing position at ANSYS, where he developed the strategy to re-establish the company as a leader in finite element analysis. He returned to Spatial in 1997 as president and chief operating officer, and was promoted to chief executive officer in October 1998.

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