Solidworks World has become one of the industry’s most interesting events in recent years – and not always for the right reasons. Ever since bosses at Dassault Systèmes made it clear that they intend (and with good reason) to develop the next generation of the Solidworks application set on the company’s own 3DExperience platform, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan.
For almost a decade, we have seen a gradual decline in celebration among the huge Solidworks community, as it has increasingly been bombarded with more exposition, more sales pitches and more product launches than you can shake a stick at.
We’ve seen company executives take to the stage in front of an increasingly apathetic crowd to wax lyrical about how we are all now living in the “age of experience”.
This year, Dassault chief executive, Bernard Charlès took the opportunity to announce yet another new initiative: 3DExperience.Works. While the messaging around this venture was as clear as mud, it seems that this is Dassault leveraging its very recently completed acquisition of IQMS and its manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to create a brand new set of offerings for the Solidworks community.
3DExperience.Works will include products from various areas of the business: Solidworks, Enovia (PDM/PLM), Simulia (simulation), as well as the newly acquired IQMS, now rebranded as Delmia.Works. Adding ERP to the Solidworks world is an interesting move and one that makes huge sense, even if the announcement seemed to catch both the audience and some staff members by surprise (remember, this acquisition was only completed a month before the event).
According to Charlès and Solidworks CEO Gian Paolo Bassi, IQMS has around 6,000 customers, 60% of whom already have Solidworks in place. So that’s a new pipeline of sales right there, comprising that 40% who are not already using Solidworks. It also addresses a gap in both the mainstream and wider DS group offering, which hasn’t addressed the huge ERP market at all to date.
Elsewhere at the event, there was more to learn about next-generation products. We got an update on how things are progressing with xDesign, the cloud-based, no-installation required, next-generation product. It looks like the team has been cranking through some new features and functionality, in order to add to the depth of the product as it stands today. There was also talk of two new add-ons for the system, in the form of xShape and xStudio (briefly known as xRender).
XShape, as you might imagine, is a sub-divisional modelling add-on, allowing users to create those organic, sculpted shapes that can be a royal pain in the arse to build up with traditional solid/surface modelling systems. The interaction looks pretty snappy, considering that this a cloud-based solution. After all, the dynamic nature of such modelling methods can place a heavy strain on cloud-based systems.
In terms of interoperability with xDesign and Desktop Solidworks, integration between xShape and xDesign is pretty much as you might expect, allowing you to build features on top of the base sub Ds. The integration between xShape and Desktop Solidworks, meanwhile, is more complex, but follows a similar approach, allowing you to build engineering features and detail out a model for production – though the capability to ‘round trip’ any subsequent edits is unclear at present.
Solidworks World is no more
While it’s clear that Dassault is forging ahead with its plans, there’s a real risk that it is becoming disconnected from its Solidworks customer base. For example, some of the changes around this flagship user event seemed to cause more ripples than has previously been the case.
On the first day, the mainstage presentation ended with the news that the name ‘Solidworks World’ was no more and that the name moving forward will be ‘3DExperience World’.
Now, there’s a thing that happens at these user events: media attendees are typically penned in an area at the front of the audience, among loyal staff and resellers – but the smarter reporters sit further back, where it’s easier to gauge audience reactions to on-stage announcements. While the first day’s ‘next-generation’ sales pitches are often met with apathy, or at least, no discernible reaction, I’ve never before heard anything like the audible collective groan with which the news of this name change was received.
This renaming of the event is clearly intended to bring it more into line with Dassault Systèmes’ overall branding, and was perhaps inevitable, but the clinical manner in which the news was delivered (shortly followed by an update on the return of much-coveted free backpacks) raised some eyebrows. The underlying message seemed to be, “Here’s the news. Deal with it, folks.” On the other hand, the straightforward approach might be considered admirable.
But in the days that followed, in the corridors and in conversation, reactions were mixed. Some saw it as a natural progression, with the potential to make the event more appealing to a wider audience (particularly ERP users). Others viewed it as a betrayal of loyal customers.
My personal stance is that much of the negativity is driven by nostalgia around the early days of Solidworks – an easy trap to fall into. Remember, as a brand, Solidworks was built on offering tools that did 80% of the work of existing tools (such as Pro/Engineer) for 20% of the price. The company’s reseller channel also took advantage of the negativity felt at the time towards many incumbent vendors (PTC, in particular, had a dreadful reputation back then for its sales tactics).
Many folks have grown up with Solidworks as their tool of choice and, as their careers have developed, so has the company. As both a product and a company, Solidworks shares a history with its customer base that means a great deal to many. And, in keeping with that, Solidworks World was, until recently, an event at which the community and the company celebrated that shared history – as well as an opportunity to take a peep into the future of those tools. And, just like the other places where we gather to meet like-minded individuals – churches, golf clubs, Warhammer shops – our attachment to a familiar location can make us antagonistic about changes made to it. These changes can sometimes seem like an attack on ourselves. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
But at the same time, designers and engineers are in the business of change, of breathing new life into existing products and older ideas to create new offerings that suit their purpose and audience better.
Yes, Dassault is pushing its next-generation system agenda harder than ever, but the Solidworks Desktop product is still going to be around for a good while longer.
And the rebranded event has a good chance to attract new attendees, looking for fresh information, different approaches and, dare I say it, a new experience.
So perhaps now is a good time to take a break from history and push ahead into new territory? Only time will tell how future changes will be received by the Solidworks community, the members of which will certainly make their feelings known. Some will choose to stick with Dassault; some may explore pastures new, in the form of other systems and other vendors. How many will choose the former path over the latter? We shall see, my friends. We shall see.