In our annual roundtable with executives at leading CAD and PLM software companies, topics included model-based design, the shift in how designers are using mobile devices, and uncertainty about cloud computing.

According to Chris Randles, President and CEO of SpaceClaim, their online software can be combined with online collaboration tools such as GoToMeeting that work with mobile devices. “When you use collaboration tools like GoToMeeting, the worst security risk is that your audience can take screenshots of what you are presenting. That is acceptable to most of our customers,” he said. “Some companies distribute graphics- only representations of their models, but we’ve developed technology that makes it easy to convert those back to precise solids.” Frankly, Randles stated, “If your mechanical designs are a valuable part of your IP portfolio, you should probably keep that data inside your firewall.”

The Morphing of 3D CAD

Paul Sicking, Siemens PLM Software
A few years ago, software vendors were viewed as either CAD providers, or simulation and analysis providers. That line has become blurred to the point that many software vendors do not position themselves as CAD software companies. We asked our executives what factors have led to the shift towards digital prototyping, model-based design, and other terms for what CAD used to be.

According to Thompson, this trend has grown because simulation and analysis tools have improved so much over the past decade that, for many, analyses can be completed with current tools that address the requirement fairly well. “One important way to improve the efficiency of the development process is to make the model information flow seamlessly from one product development task to another. If a vendor can do this, and provide a common user experience across all the applications used throughout that development pro cess, then the customer will have a very flexible, efficient, model-based process for product development,” Thompson stated.

Simulation and analysis tools, in particular, are being used more and more by designers because they have become easier to use and provide information essential to the designer. Said Sicot, “Our customers are doing tasks throughout the design process — such as FEA, CFD, and data management — that used to be handled by analysis professionals or other IT staff. This is partly due to economic reasons, and also because vendors have been making those specialized applications easier to use.” Sicot explained that SolidWorks added simulation to its portfolio in 2003, betting that it would become mainstream. “This technology, that was once so complex that it took a PhD to understand, now runs in the background of our design software for everyone to use.”

Model-based design offers designers an alternative path that lets them choose best-in-class tools for what they need. “They can have the best FEA, the best CFD, and the best CAM, because model-based design allows for the best possible interoperability between systems,” according to Randles.

Sicking agrees that design and analysis have become interwoven, so the associated software and the software industries have become interwoven as well. “Increased computing power and simpler approaches to analysis have made it feasible for a broader group of people to do analysis during design,” he said. “The purpose of a digital prototype is to answer questions. Will the design meet performance and durability requirements, will it look nice, and can it be manufactured economically? Simulation and analysis tools provide one way to answer these questions.”

Trends for 2013

Chris Randles, SpaceClaim
Not surprisingly, the trends mentioned by our panel for 2013 focus on productivity — how they can provide their customers with new tools or capabilities that will enable them to be more productive.

“We are hearing a common theme around improved productivity in 2013,” stated Thompson. “Many customers have plans to grow revenue through new product introductions, but they are charged with delivering these new products at a faster pace with the same, or even fewer, resources.”

These tools include mobile devices, which can help shorten the time it takes designers to get from concept to reality, according to Sicot. “We see the promise of mobility becoming more of a reality. As more people are using mobile devices as tools to conduct personal business, they will expect to use these devices throughout the day. Another important aspect of mobility is the desire to access data anytime, anywhere. This will drive more enhancements in 2013.”

Shilovitsky sees 2013 as the “Year of the Designer,” meaning the world of design is shifting its focus to the needs and impact of the individual designer, encouraging the development of intuitive and collaborative tools that maximize personal contributions to the creative process.

“The definition of what it means to be a designer is in flux,” stated Shilovitsky. “As design tools make their way into the hands of the consumer, and 3D printing becomes an affordable option, everyone has the ability to design and to assert their influence on the world around them.”

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