Sharing 3D Designs: Compatibility is the “Word”
In last year’s roundtable, one of our executives predicted that one day, sharing 3D designs would be as easy as sharing Microsoft Word documents today. Ease of use has been a thorn in the sides of software vendors for years, but changes to the user experience are on the horizon, according to this year’s panel.
“The analogy to Word is more about compatibility than ease of use,” said Paul Sicking, Chief Technology Officer at Siemens PLM Software. “Word documents can be easily shared because Word is one program developed by one company. Even if Word were very difficult to use, it would still be very easy to share documents. The reality of the CAD world is that there is no single CAD program that dominates the market the way Word dominates its market,” he added.
“Software that is easy to use is critical to the success of the design and engineering industry,” said Bertrand Sicot, Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. “The question remains: When will this happen?”
According to Grant Rochelle, Senior Director of Industry Marketing for Autodesk Manufacturing, it will happen in the very near future. “We envision a time when 3D design ideas and all supporting product development information will be shared across entire companies, not just among engineers, with a modern generation of easy to use, deploy, and configure CAD and PLM software.”
Chris Randles, President and CEO of SpaceClaim, stated that “traditionally, there have been three barriers to pervasive 3D solid modeling: cumbersome user interfaces, the complexity of feature-based modeling, and the perceived requirement to fully detail models before the engineering is done.”
Mike Campbell, Division Vice President for Creo Product Development at PTC, agrees that understanding how to use cumbersome CAD tools is still a major stumbling block. “While CAD and PLM developers have made great progress, the tools that are used for product development must continue to become easier to use. When I visit customers, I hear about so many different people who want to access and leverage the 3D designs that are created in engineering,” he said. “People in sales, marketing, procurement, and service planning all want to know more about and contribute to the products being developed, but they feel that information is ‘locked up’ in the CAD models, and only a select few – usually only in engineering – have access to that data and the tools to understand it.”
So, added Campbell, it is impractical to expect everyone in the enterprise to use the same tools for working with product design data. “While everyone has access to, and knows how to use, Microsoft Word, the same isn’t true – and shouldn’t have to be true – about CAD and PLM. It’s our job as solution providers,” he explained, “to deliver the right tools for the right people to do their job, without underserving or overserving any of them.”
Another trend that was highlighted by last year’s panel was the concept of mobile CAD applications and cloud-based design. For 2012, the trend is towards higher user expectations about mobility and increasing the adoption of cloud computing, according to Rochelle.
“We’ll continue to see surging demand for mobile applications that enable engineers, designers, and others to access product information from anywhere, anytime. There is no denying the mobility movement,” Rochelle explained, “and embracing mobility is helping us reach a larger audience than ever before.”
Sicking agrees that online and mobile applications are gaining traction with users, especially among those who need to consume, visualize, and interrogate the 3D product information. “We can see the barriers of device, operating system, storage space, and software tools being lowered or completely removed over the coming years,” he added. “And, we believe any security barriers created will be resolved over time.”
While some users are not specifically requesting cloud products, they do want the ability to access their data away from their desktop. Sicot explained that his customers want to be able to access data away from their offices, leverage mobile platforms, and reduce their hardware expenditure. “Customers understand the benefits of moving online, but are waiting to see what everyone delivers. While security has always been a concern when it comes to releasing control of their IP, our customers trust that we’ll deliver a solution with security in mind.”
Campbell agrees that while customers are not demanding mobile applications for CAD authoring, per se, they want the capability to participate in various processes such as reviewing a change request or approving a stage in the new product introduction process. “Customers have expressed more interest in the virtualization of CAD software, allowing it to be installed and run on centralized machines, and simply accessed from lightweight desktop clients. They do indicate that data security is a driver behind this strategy for virtualization.”