In our annual poll of executives at leading design and virtual prototyping software companies, we found that in difficult economic times, providing customers with easy-to-use, value-added products is even more important. We asked executives to give their views on the importance of 2D to 3D, upfront simulation, and trends that will affect the software market in 2010.

The 2D-to-3D Barrier

Each year, CAD users cite that there are still barriers to migrating from 2D to 3D, and most include ease of use as one of those barriers. But, according to Jeff Ray, CEO of Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, more people than ever before are adopting 3D. “Once they make the change, they never go back. For us, it’s respecting the user’s reality – they still need 2D to get the job done,” Ray explained.

Ease of adoption of a 3D product also continues to be a major concern for many customers. The learning curve, cost, and change in processes all lead to hesitation in migrating to 3D. “Modeling in 3D is a slightly different design process from modeling in 2D,” said Tom Shoemaker, vice president of solutions marketing for PTC. “Users must change their way of thinking about a design from simple 2D tasks like drawing lines and geometries, to something that resembles sculpting or a richer 3D visualization of a shape. 3D products are becoming more intuitive and much easier to use, which helps overcome the ease-of-use barrier,” he added.

Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge product development for Siemens PLM Software, agrees that ease of adoption is critical. “Most 2D users are familiar with product development and refining designs using a certain workflow. Generally, that workflow is to design in each orthogonal view,” he explained. “Then when changes are required, they manipulate specific elements within each view accordingly. The process is simple to grasp and master, but is not automated. Most 3D CAD systems automate by replaying the model’s design steps upon an edit. So, the 2D user has to learn how to program a model so it reacts a certain way during an edit.”

Simplifying the 3D environment also helps in adoption from 2D. “Feature-based solid modeling is conceptually challenging compared to 2D, most 3D CAD systems are overloaded with features, and 3D itself is difficult to conceptualize,” according to Chris Randles, president and CEO of SpaceClaim. “We address the first problem by being fully dedicated to direct modeling, which brings the ease of 2D editing to 3D.”

For Autodesk, the biggest barrier to 3D adoption is the status quo, according to Amy Bunszel, senior director of Digital Engineering. “It’s human nature that when people are comfortable with something, they don’t want to rock the boat. We hear, ‘It works today, why change?’ The downturn in the economy will be the biggest advantage to people changing. It’s not business as usual and old methods simply will not work anymore.” Added Bunszel, “Companies must rethink their design-to-manufacturing processes with fewer people to take on the workload. One way to be more effective and increase productivity is with 3D design.”

But with the down economy, cost also is a factor, although Shoemaker believes it should not be a barrier to migrating to 3D. “There are general misconceptions about the cost of 2D versus 3D CAD products. The price of a 2D package is roughly the same as an entry-level 3D CAD product. The benefits of 3D modeling in a design process can also significantly outweigh the initial cost of the 3D application,” he added. “The higher fidelity, richer 3D model enables engineers to streamline design, analysis, and manufacturing processes.”

Integrating Simulation and Analysis

So, as organizations are required to do more with less due to cutbacks, designers and engineers are being asked to wear more hats – assuming the role of analyst in some cases, and looking for more upfront simulation and analysis capabilities in their design software.

“The trend of designers taking a more active role in performing simulation has been ongoing for the last few years,” said Staples. “The recent economic situation has further escalated the need for engineers and designers to cut costs through reduced physical prototypes and alternative materials. Yet, they can’t sacrifice product performance or quality.”

According to Ray, SolidWorks’ simulation business continues to be one of the fastest-growing products in the company’s portfolio. “Users want a tightly integrated solution that doesn’t make them think about how to use multiple products together.”

Shoemaker agrees that integration is key in upfront simulation and analysis. “True upfront simulation gives designers the capability to perform simulation earlier in the design cycle in order to validate performance requirements as they design. The upfront capabilities should ideally be seamlessly integrated into the design environment so designers don’t need to learn another application’s user interface to import or export data,” Shoemaker explained. “Designers also need access to a variety of capabilities that will help them address a broader range of requirements such as human factors, manufacturing tolerances, and electromechanical performance specifications in addition to the traditional thermal and structural requirements. Designing better products earlier in the process can reduce time wasted in multiple designs and time-intensive back-end analysis iterations.”

“Many of our customers have risen to recent challenges by focusing on what they do best: innovation in engineering and accelerating time to market,” said Randles. “One of the best ways to do that is to separate the concept engineering and detail design phases to ensure that concepts deserve to work before investing in expensive, detailed CAD models. With concept models that incorporate input from disparate engineering teams, industrial designers, customers and suppliers, and engineers can run simulations that prove the concept and create an excellent specification for detailed CAD work,” added Randles.

Virtual Prototyping and Design

Virtual prototyping is a trend that has been the focus of discussion for a number of years. Since CAD and design software are vital parts of virtual prototyping, we asked our executives if they believe true virtual prototyping – enabling a designer to simulate how a product will work entirely in software, without physical models – is possible with today’s software tools.

“It’s interesting how, every few years, a vendor will roll out the ‘virtual prototyping’ mantra,” said Ray. “The ugly fact is very few vendors offer products that actually play well together to provide the complete virtual prototyping experience. Our goal continues to be to put customer needs first. That’s why we were the first to offer integrated analysis. Today, the fit is seamless. We are now at the level of maturity that we have gone past simple stress analysis and have actually integrated flow and event-based motion,” Ray added.

Bunszel added that more of Autodesk’s customers are adopting specialized tools in order to put more detail into their digital models. “Are we capable of getting everything in the model? Yes, of course,” she stated. “We see more and more people working with the single digital model starting with conceptual design and bringing it all the way through to manufacturing. The customers who are greatly reducing their reliance on physical prototyping demonstrate that it is working.”

But as with any application, the success of virtual prototyping is only as great as the tools, and not all tools are created equal. “Some CAD tools are better than others in their ability to support virtual prototyping,” according to Shoemaker. “Virtual prototyping capabilities have been available in software for many years. Continuous improvements in CAD/CAE applications have enabled higher-quality, more accurate results. A few examples of improvements in CAD/CAE software that enable virtual prototyping include higher fidelity modeling of complex shapes and assemblies, better data interoperability between applications, increased breadth of simulation capabilities, and better user experience, which makes simulation capabilities accessible to CAD designers,” Shoemaker explained.

“The feature set in mature 3D systems has been able to provide complete digital prototyping for some time,” added Staples. “You can digitally test fit and function to determine mass properties, interferences, motion, and structural integrity. While most of these capabilities are available in a mature 3D system, the real difference between them becomes evident when it’s time to refine or optimize a product’s function and finish. Physical prototypes are still produced. Digital or virtual prototyping has reduced them by 35 percent from what we have seen at our customers,” according to Staples.

But according to Randles, the true value of CAE is not in virtual prototyping, but in using simulation at the beginning of the design process, before constructing detailed CAD models. “Certainly, CAE technology can successfully model an increasingly broad set of multiphysics problems, which narrows the gap between what can be accomplished virtually and physically. With today’s rapid prototyping technology, the cost of creating a detailed model in CAD is often far greater than the cost of constructing a physical prototype,” Randles explained. “If simulation is merely used to test a virtual prototype, it does not add significant value over testing a physical prototype.”

The Forecast for 2010

While there are some glimmers of hope for economic recovery this year, software vendors are generally cautious regarding what 2010 will bring. Some vendors have adjusted pricing, release schedules, and other aspects of their business, while others are proceeding with business as usual. “The economy has absolutely no impact on our investment in R&D,” stated Ray. “We have actually increased our investment in technology.”

Autodesk also is staying the course with its current release cycle. Said Bunszel, “We are still committed to release new versions of our products as always. We are certainly focused on affordable innovation for mainstream manufacturers, however. Our customers need to be innovative, but they need to do so in a way that allows them to be profitable,” she added.

According to Randles, SpaceClaim has adopted a continuous development process in which they release new functionality every few months. “In contrast to large CAD and engineering software vendors who rarely release significant new functionality more than once a year, we work closely with customers and partners to get them the capabilities they need as soon as practicable.”

Mark Anderson, vice president of software for Concepts NREC, agrees that while the recession is affecting customer demands on the pricing side, it has not affected the company’s product release cycle. “In general, the time cycle of a recession is not significantly long enough to directly impact longer-term product strategy in software. Customers are asking for a lot more specifics about what they can expect and when in the next versions. They are also becoming more upfront about specific demands and requirements,” he added. “The nature of these requests is not new, but the pressure to control costs and get maximum value is definitely higher than I’ve seen in a long time.”

As far as new trends in the software market for 2010, hardware continues to be important, with multicore processing. Added Anderson, “I see hardware changes driving a lot of trends. New and inexpensive multiple-core processors are really starting to change how computationally intensive applications are designed and sold.”

Another trend is the impact of data management within CAD. Said Bunszel, “Due to workforce cutbacks, we’re seeing a trend to invest more in data management. Previously, designs may have been organized on a file system, but now there aren’t as many people to maintain processes manually.”

Staples agrees that data management will play a larger role in selecting CAD products. “PDM and CAD are inseparable. Anyone purchasing CAD today is also making a decision on their next-generation PDM system. The key here is selecting a vendor that can take you from a single user to thousands while protecting your data,” he explained.

“Improved collaboration – making it easier for engineers to share their designs and get help, regardless of technology, time zones, or geographies” will be an important trend, according to Ray. “Products will ‘play better’ together and new collaboration tools will help engineers design great things.”