“We want to make SolidWorks as simple as turning on a light switch”

Computer-aided mechanical designing in three dimension (3D) has become almost
mainstream. To go from 2D to 3D design software took almost an age when compared
to other technology innovations, and mainstream adoption is taking even longer.
While the higher end of design software from companies like Dassault Systemes
and Parametric Technology Corp have been around for years, the lower end is
where the action is. Concord, MA-based Solidworks Corporation, the Dassault
Systemes company addresses the design needs of 3D mechanical designers working
on the Wintel platform. From a market perspective, the company’s sweet spot is
the mid-tier 3D CAD market comprising designers and manufacturers of finished
products or sub-assemblies. As proof of its ability to further innovate in
design engineering the company showcased some of its unique customers who used
Solidworks tools to design innovative products, at its annual event, SolidWorks
World 2007, earlier this year. This included products like SawStop, a saw
machine that cuts wood but stops when the finger is about to touch the blade;
AED, an emergency device that revives the cardiac function; and MooBella, a
fresh ice-cream machine.

In an exclusive interview with Dataquest, John McEleney, CEO, SolidWorks
discussed the metamorphosis and inherent challenges of the design tools
industry. Excerpts

Transitioning from 2D to 3D is more than a one-dimension change. How steep is
the learning curve for 3D applications, and how do you take the pain out of
The learning curve for 3D is not a steep one any longer.

For the first time in any CAD system, SolidWorks 2007 includes a set of
"expert" software tools, not simply to automate rudimentary, common functions,
but to actually solve design problems like the most accomplished CAD expert
would. The goal of these tools, known collectively as SWIFT-SolidWorks
Intelligent Feature Technology-is to eliminate the need for users to learn how
3D CAD software "thinks," and to make every SolidWorks user an expert from the

What automatic transmissions have done for novice drivers, what GPS has done
for travelers, SolidWorks SWIFT is doing for 3D CAD users.

Designers need more time to design and spend less time worrying about how to
operate the CAD system. Regardless of a user’s level of expertise, everybody
needs a little help modeling 3D parts and assemblies, and this is where SWIFT
comes in.

An Elegant Piece of Art and Mechanics: The SolidWorks Bike

How do you contend with the larger mindshare that Autodesk enjoys in design
tools, especially as both of you are chasing the same market?
Clearly, in our view, Autodesk is a significant player. It is a large
company with a global presence. But we think that Autodesk is still mired in the
2D world and most of its business strategy has been centered around the 2D
world. So the company’s ability to take users in with their channel and put them
into production has been a challenge for them. They are a very worthwhile
competitor, and they certainly build good products, but I think our focus on
value, innovation, and our channel has given us significant advantage in terms
of our ability to be able to implement and deploy 3D, which is critical more and
more for people as they move from 2D to 3D.

Autodesk has been primarily trying to give the message: you can make the
choice when you move. My belief is that as people choose and adopt that
technology, in many respects you need to commit to that technology. Sure, people
will continue to use 2D for things like schematics, but that is integrated as
part of SolidWorks. You need to make the choice to move to 3D, and you need to
remove the crutches for people as they make the technology change, because
change is difficult for anybody to make. And so, as a result, I think we have a
huge competitive advantage with our strong channel as we have literally deployed
over half a million users around the world.

The Saw that Spares the Finger : SawStop is an innovative
product designed to reduce industrial accidents

SolidWorks reaches out to the market solely through channel partners. In that
sense, is growth dependent on their numbers and productivity?
We have a very well established set of channel partners. We are constantly
adding to this number to reach new and emerging markets that are opening up for
us. We are challenged with ensuring that we regularly update and train our
resellers to ensure that they are market-ready at all times, with technology to
meet the growing requirements of our customers.

SolidWorks places a premium on innovation and we are constantly looking at
new and innovative methods to enable our partners help us meet the needs of our

Isn’t it hard to constantly maintain the differentiation between tier-1 PLM
vendors and yourselves? How do you do that?
Innovation. Consider our core products and some of the innovations inside
that SolidWorks has included in the past, like the Feature Manager. SolidWorks
has had the patent since 1995. Every modern CAD system today has a Feature
Manager. Consider eDrawings. Now eDrawings are supported on every platform, and
people are trying to build clone-like products. When you look at SolidWorks
2007, what we are doing with Sketch Blocks, you are going to see a lot of other
3D companies now trying to do that. And look at SolidWorks Intelligent Feature
Technology (SWIFT), a whole new technology platform to make people design like
an expert. I think people are going to choose innovation not just for the
current product, but also for a company that has a culture for innovation and a
track record for innovation.

Vehicle Design for the World: SolidWorks co-sponsors MIT’s
global solar car initiative and is the 3D CAD sponsor of the nine-week
Vehicle Design Summit, donating licenses of SolidWorks Education Edition

CEOs sound good when they talk about innovation, but the market asks for a
proof-of-the-pudding. What’s yours?
You already saw many of our innovations showcased here-the SawStop, the AED,
the MooBella and the likes, and our role in MIT’s Vehicle Design Summit. Here’s
one more-three of the four finalists’ inventions on the popular TV show
"American Inventor" on ABC were designed in SolidWorks® 3D CAD software.

How do you foresee the software industry trend of SaaS impacting SolidWorks?
Software as a service (SaaS) is a model of software delivery where the
software company provides maintenance, daily technical operation, and support
for the software provided to their client. SaaS is a model of software delivery
rather than a market segment; it assumes the software is delivered over the
Internet. Software can be delivered using this method to any market segment
including home consumers and small, medium, and large businesses.

This would have a very positive impact on our business in the future as it
would give us access to a wider range of markets and customers. When software
can be delivered over the net, it minimizes the expenses incurred through truck
roles. This allows the resellers to concentrate on activities that need their
direct attention.

the quest for eliminating CAD ‘overhead’, what are some of the challenges not
tackled yet?
Our ultimate goal when we talk about reducing CAD overhead is to make
SolidWorks as simple as turning on a light switch. SolidWorks software, like all
other products in the market right now, requires some training for the user to
be proficient. Some of the areas we’re specifically focusing on to eliminate
that training are improving and leveraging the SWIFT technology, creating better
communication and collaboration tools, better integrating design validation into
design workflows, making drawings faster and easier to create, and assembling
components in assemblies with real world connections (not alignment mates).

Easwaradas Nair,
in New Orleans, LA

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