Imagine being dropped smack dab in the midst of 4,300 die-hard nerds, geeks, and various other odd-looking characters from over 50 different countries where all they care about is gaining more knowledge on anything and everything SolidWorks. Hardly the group you would trust with the keys to the Maserati, but exactly the people you would like to meet to find out more about your favourite 3D design and modelling application.
This year SolidWorks World 2009 stood out among the events of years gone by. Why? The people. Cliche? Absolutely. It’s always the ‘people that make the difference’ right? However, these people are actually… insanely passionate users. Combine that with huge events and in-depth technical sessions and you’ve got a lethal mix of SolidWorks user methodology and intensity.
If you could view a video on SolidWorks World 2009 right now, it would be a cheesy montage of people smiling and interacting with each other… then as a hole burns right through that footage it would be replaced by SolidWorks users transfixed on the sessions they were watching and the activities they were involved in. Why would they look as if they are trying to squeeze every second out of a four day event? Because many of them sacrificed something to get there this year. For some it was vacation-time. For others it was the cost of a trip that would have paid for a nice vacation. And sadly, for others, it was their only option, having just lost a job.
Those fortunate to have their attendance paid for didn’t take it for granted either. If you didn’t hear about how people got there at the General Sessions, you were sure to bump into someone that had a good story. The one story that stands out for me was the attendee who guessed the email of Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks, to ask for a conference pass… he got it. Not your typical people.
The Keynotes certainly inspired many attendees. You had Jeff Ray, Jon Hirschtick (founder and ex-CEO of SolidWorks) and special guest Richard Branson, of the Virgin mega-brand of companies, in an enormous room of thousands. Yes, inspiring, all of them, but the real ‘keynote’ experience was away from the main stage. Events like the Saturday night Tweet-up, where people on Twitter, including company executives got together to hang out. And spur of the moment get-togethers like joining a bunch of users in Jon Hirschtick’s suite for drinks and a Black Jack lesson. Or, when hundreds of Certified SolidWorks Professionals (CSWP’s) joined forces with one another to geek out and build magnetic roller coasters.
The floor of the Partner Pavilion was no different. The software blitz of third-party apps and tech-toy lust was the background to an impressive layout of SolidWorks user-generated product. An environment totally enriched by sales associates demoing their hearts out… Perhaps not totally enriching, but it certainly added that casino-like ambiance to the attendees trolling the isles in search of anything to stick in their bags.
Among the aisles were new technologies edging their way into the world of SolidWorks. Vuuch is finding ways to bring a better, web-based discussion method for engineers and design groups. IdentityMine, in partnership with SolidWorks, introduced Multi-touch to attendees using Microsoft Surface and a ported eDrawings UI.
If you didn’t feel it in your aching bones at the end of the day, you were probably dead
A full aisle of 3D printers displayed the growing possibilities of what we will easily be using to represent design ideas and prototypes in the future. All the while, CAM software, CAD hardware and SolidWorks shirts floated around in a group of users curious about what products could provide solutions to issues they may not have been aware of. The booths and product areas provided the setting and all throughout attendees shared their own experiences to reach others in ways that put any sales pitch to shame.
In terms of technology, the big bright shining star of the event was a sneaky peek at some software that the SolidWorks team has cooked up that relates to the really hot topic of sustainability. Project Sage is the result of a co-operative effort between SolidWorks and an organization called PE International a global expert in sustainability and materials research.
The software is still in its infancy, and the beta isn’t due for a while, but the basic premise is that it gives real time feedback on the environmental impact of SolidWorks parts and (we presume) assemblies. As any SolidWorks model already knows the basic material of the design, the user then gives it three additional pieces of information: how it’s manufactured (in terms of machining, casting, mould etc), where it’s manufactured and where it will be used. By extrapolating those inputs which then link into PE-International’s extensive database, four basic indications for the sustainability of that part are then fed back to the user: Carbon Emissions, Energy Consumed, Air Acidification and the Potential for Water Pollutants.
Once the information is in the hands of the user, the interesting part is what they can do with it. Because of PE’s wealth of knowledge about materials that data can be used to find alternative materials which have similar mechanical properties and other characteristics, but not such a big impact on the environment.
Never mind the sustainability tools (which are definitely a good thing), Project Sage looks like it might deliver the first solution that properly connects 3D digital design with material science and selection techniques. As you’d expect there will be two variants – the Sage Xpress version, that’s free for everyone, but has limited functionality and Sage Professional which will be bundled in with SolidWorks 2010 Professional. This will calculate the environmental impact of a product across its entire life cycle and also include information on energy consumption. To see this type of tool, even at these early stages, made the trip worthwhile.
Comparisons are sure to be drawn with Autodesk’s Sustainability tools for Inventor, which were released on Autodesk Labs last year. From what we can see, the main difference is that Project Sage includes a usable database of real, up-to-date information, rather than relying on the user to discover it themselves (which is near impossible for the majority).
In light of harsh economic conditions, SolidWorks rolled out one of the most successful events in their history. The amount of people that ended up coming was a surprise, but how they got there and why they wanted to be there was even more a surprise. These people care about something and, for many, it’s more than just using some software. That’s what made this year’s event an amazing experience and if you didn’t feel it in your aching bones at the end of the day, you were probably dead.
Nerds, geeks, Josh Mings and Al Dean turn out for Solidworks World 2009