2011

Industry Update: CAD and Virtual Prototyping Software

In our annual poll of executives at leading CAD and virtual prototyping software companies, optimism about the market in 2011 was widespread. Trends predicted to favorably impact the CAD market this year include new capabilities for cloud computing, online CAD, mobile applications, and other technologies designed to help users be more productive with easier-to-use tools.

A Stagnant Market?

A number of the executives we polled indicated that the CAD market has become a “mature” market, meaning that the number of truly innovative improvements in the technology has leveled off. “For several years, the CAD market had been on a fairly steady and maturing path, with incremental improvements to how CAD tools operated,” according to Joan Hirsch, vice president of product design solutions for Siemens PLM Software. “However,” she added, “over the past few years, there has been somewhat of a revolution taking place. While it may have seemed that the introduction of breakthrough technologies was over for CAD, we believe recent advancements like synchronous technology have opened a new chapter in how products are designed.”

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Chris Randles, president and CEO of SpaceClaim, agrees that while the market has not generated revolutionary technologies in the past few years, that trend is changing. “Although it’s true that the traditional CAD market has become stagnant, recent innovations are changing the role of CAD. Direct modeling, properly packaged, enables 3D to be used by entire engineering organizations, not just highly trained CAD professionals,” he explained. “Everybody shares the vision that someday engineers will edit and pass around 3D design ideas as easily as we do Word documents today,” said Randles.

“If we agree that a mature market is defined by the absence of significant growth or innovation, then, yes, I think the CAD market has matured and become stagnant, with no significant new technologies recently introduced,” according to Brian Shepherd, executive vice president of product development for PTC.

PTC sought to address this problem by introducing last year its Creo® software, which Shepherd predicts will “reinvigorate this market and unlock a new wave of growth. Something needs to change the way people work with CAD tools.”

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But other executives disagree that the CAD market has been in a slump, and believe that innovation has been continuous throughout the past few years. Said Jeff Ray, CEO of Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp., “The market definitely is not stagnant. Even in a down economy, we saw a vibrant market with growth in our subscription model. And there continues to be opportunity to address the real business needs of our customers as they continue to expand and evolve.” Last year, SolidWorks indicated that they would be supporting three new platforms for the future: the desktop, online, and mobile. “We took a fresh look at our users’ demands, and are liberating them once again with the option of a new platform that will enable them to get their jobs done faster and easier,” explained Ray.

Grant Rochelle, director of industry management for Autodesk’s Manufacturing Industry Group, agrees that the CAD market has been evolving through digital prototyping advances. “The broader CAD market has been anything but stagnant,” he said. “I travel the world talking to all size manufacturers, and from what I hear about today’s global competitive environment, 3D is not enough for product designers to compete and win anymore. The ability to work with digital prototypes sets apart the companies who are best in class.”

Optimizing the User Experience

The experience of learning and productively implementing CAD tools has been less than pleasant for users for many years. But improving ease of use seems to be another area in which our executives share much optimism. By incorporating new platforms and focusing on customers’ processes, today’s CAD tools are helping to optimize the user experience.

“Any skill worth learning requires passion, persistence, and perspiration,” said Paul Grayson, chairman and CEO of Alibre. “People forget how much effort they put into learning to ride a bike, become a good swimmer, or learn a second language. That said, I expect touch- and gesture-based interfaces to represent the greatest improvement in ease of use as they become pervasive in future generations of computers,” Grayson said. “As these interfaces become increasingly available, CAD developers will rely on them to make their products more accessible and easier to use.”

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