It’s been 13 years of Solidworks users stubbornly sticking to the desktop, as attempts by Dassault Systemes to tempt them to the cloud have not succeeded, not even with promises of “effortless, easy design” products that ought to replace Solidworks.
So, at this year’s 3dexperience World 2023, Dassault handed out more candy. Senior vp of 3dexperience Works Gian Paolo Bassi said that “everyone in the Solidworks community should be taking advantage of all that 3dexperience Works has to offer,” and so as of July every seat of Solidworks will include cloud services. It turns out he meant Collaborative Designer for Solidworks, and not the entire Solidworks Cloud stack or all of 3dexperience.
What’s included is
- 3dexperience Connector for Solidworks (for product data management)
- Collaborative Industry Innovator role (for document collaboration),
- 3dsWymer (a link to 3dsWym for social collaboration)
To get this US$1,500/yr worth of software, new customers have to buy two years of maintenance; existing customers pay US$300/year. Document sharing and marking up through Web browsers is something other CAD vendors already offer at no added cost.
The Solidworks-3dexperience Link
Solidworks is file-incompatible with Dassault’s other software, and so the company has struggled with bridging the gap. So, at 3dexperience World, Solidworks CEO Manish Kumar came on stage to explain how easily Solidworks links with 3dexperience: “Your admin invites you, and you get an email with a link to get started... you install everything that’s needed.” Given that most Solidworks customers are one- and two-user shops, it’s not clear to me where the admin part fits in.
Once you log in to 3dexperience, you get access to a certain number of specialized design, analysis, and other programs. To reduce confusion, Dassault bundles the apps as “roles” related to your discipline, like sheet metal design. Your role gives you access to some apps, but blocks others, because using more apps costs more.
A portion of the 3dexperience environment is available to desktop Solidworks users under the name of Solidworks Cloud. To link the two requires that you
- First be assigned the Collaborative Designer role by your administrator.
- As the second step, you launch Solidworks Connector to so that Solidworks desktop can communicate with 3dexperience/Solidworks Cloud.
- Next, you load an assembly into Solidworks, and then upload it to the cloud.
- At this point, the Derived Format converter kicks in to create a copy derived from your Solidworks model.
Derived means that equivalent parts are generated for 3dexperience in a sense like 2D drawings are derived from 3D models. Solidworks’ native sldprt part and sldasm assembly files are not converted in the traditional process of file translation, and there is no round-tripping.
Although the process is one-way, you can work in both environments. The derived parts update when you change the originals in Solidworks; at the same time you can be editing and analyzing parts with apps provided through Solidworks Cloud.
What’s New in 3dexperience
With the metaverse and ChatGPT being in the news, Dassault Systemes CEO Charles Bernard opined, “I think the [Facebook] Metaverse runs the risk of illusion.” To contrast, he said, “What we do is a virtual twin of the real world.” Virtual twins are CAD copies of finished products.
He described the ways in which his 3dexperience software already does AI, such as predicting mates, recognizing sketch entities, guessing the next command selected by users, and generating specs of any 3D model from any source, such as 3D scans. However, “In order that artificial intelligence help you, it needs to learn from data -- so, this is aggregated data -- it gives us more ways to serve you.” Autodesk also remotely records user actions to feed AI-like capabilities. The American FTC, however, has warned software companies against claims that AI can make predictions.
One new function is branching: 3dexperience keeps track as you create variations of models. Some of the revision interface looks not too different from the one pioneered by PTC’s Onshape. Parts are centralized so that drafters cannot invent their own special ones, with bookmarks for accessing oft-used parts.
One conference session was tantalizingly titled, “Solidworks Cloud on a Mac?” but wasn’t about Solidworks nor about Mac. It demo’ed Dassault’s cloud-based X-series software (not Solidworks) on an iPad (close enough), which, because the software runs in Web browsers, works on “any” computer “anywhere.” The anywhere aspect was shown by Germany’s X-Custom Engineering, whose owner reviewed a design at a picnic table north of Norway’s Arctic Circle.
What’s New in Solidworks 2024
At 3dexperience World, we get an early heads-up of some of what will be new in the next release of Solidworks, with the full reveal coming later in the year. Dassault said that out of all users’ wish list requests, about ten are added to each release.
In 2D drawings of assemblies, you will be able to open linked drawings with a new right-click option, as well as open them from BOM lists [bills of material], and from drawing views.
BOMs can be filtered like spreadsheets, to reduce the number of rows and so list only specific parts; linked balloons hide to match. Overridden BOM cells are shown in a different color on the screen, but are printed in black, and can be restored to original values.
In the meantime, Dassault is still adding features to last year’s release through service packs. For instance, broken mates are now resolved automatically, and large assemblies are easier to manage through an automatic lightweight display mode. Similar corners can be grouped together for frames generation. And PDFs are extracted better.
What Customers Want
It seems to have become a tradition for this event to feature accidental showdowns between future directions emphasized by upper level executives through their finely-tuned presentations, and what paying customers are looking for.
A manager from Sealed Air broke the spell of the keynote’s all-3D-experience when he matter-of-factly stated, “As of today, we probably have about 60% of our design still in 2D.” Solidworks CEO Kumar responded, “Okay. That’s impressive.” The 60% figure is probably indicative of the entire CAD industry.
Every 6-8 weeks, 3dexperience users receive updates so that everyone is on the same version; there are no forwards or backwards file compatibility problems, Dassault says. When a user asked how Solidworks desktop would keep up, when the 3dexperience format changes every 6-8 weeks, CEO Kumar told him, “It’s up to you to keep desktop up-to-date.” When the user pressed the question of knowing when changes become available, Kumar joked, “That’s your top-ten [wish list] number-11, I guess.”
When another user said his firm prefers to upgrade every other release due to bugs, Kumar told him, “We realize the pain, we realize the problem, but if you do not upgrade at a faster pace-- you believe the risk is low, but the risk is higher.” The risk, he felt, is from there being more issues with a big jump than if you install every service pack. On the other hand, he admitted, Dassault has not allowed any employee to upgrade to the 1.5-year-old Windows 11.
Even though the overwhelming message at the annual Solidworks user event is “experience 3D,” it is a relief to users to see Dassault giving up on deep-six'ing the world’s most popular MCAD program. It does, after all, earn the company over a billion dollars a year.
But the urge to cloud-ize seven million Solidworks users is strong, and so each year the French company’s throws them a cloudy tidbit, like this year’s 3dsWymer. Digital Engineering’s Brian Albright explains, “Traditional Solidworks users have largely not made the transition to the cloud-based 3dexperience platform, so the offer of free cloud access is likely a way for Dassault to help accelerate adoption.”
With Solidworks gaining 60,000 new desktop customers annually, the switch to cloud-only won’t be happening in our lifetimes. So, it’s good to see Dassault strengthening Solidworks -- solidly, and now several times a year.
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