Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Monday, December 29, 2014
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Changes Big and Small Come in SolidWorks 2014 

When a PLM provider touts some 2.1 million users worldwide, the motto that naturally follows is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But in the case of software, updates are inevitable, and treading the line between augmenting a program and keeping its several million lines of existing code in working condition can become a challenge. So as Dassault Systèmes releases the 2014 version of SolidWorks, the question of how dramatic the changes will be is on the minds of many.

At the recent introduction of SolidWorks 2014 at the company’s Waltham, Mass., headquarters, CEO Bertrand Sicot was quick to emphasize balance between keeping their 1.5 million commercial users happy and offering updates that will entice the remaining 4 million potential customers in the marketplace.

So what path did SolidWorks take? Rather than making drastic changes, the development path so far seems to be one of more conservative steps, which the company’s product management team underscored, as they pointed to the role of customer input as contributing roughly 90 percent of the ideas that would eventually lead to added features and functionality.

“Our commitment is to deliver a product portfolio that recognizes user feedback and protects users’ investments,” said Sicot.

With this tight focus on user experience, however, it won’t be wise to hold your breath in wait of any revolutionary changes to SolidWorks or a cloud-based offering of the platform. Still, the changes that users will see are looking to offer some significant benefits, which users can expect to find in dynamic design data sharing, enhanced collaboration, and improved workflows.

On the broad scale, SW 2014 is expected to offer performance boosts thanks to some reorganization of system resources. The sound of it might not make you swoon, but the fact remains that for engineers, speeding up repeatable designs and the validation of designs and simulations is always news worth getting excited over.

And this isn’t the only way that SolidWorks is staying ahead.

Keeping up with the Internet of Things

As the Internet of Things comes closer to becoming a reality every day, the corresponding trend toward incorporating electronics into regular consumer products grows as well. And SolidWorks seems to have responded by bringing systems engineering and simulation to an earlier stage in the design process.

The goal is to offer electrical and mechanical design teams the opportunity to collaborate so that products can seamlessly integrate electrical functionality. To do so, SolidWorks has incorporated a two-way link between 2D schematics and 3D models to easily display how wires will be routed with only a couple of clicks.

Speaking of circuitry, engineers can also examine the thermal characteristics of a circuit board via a new wizard designed to help optimize the board’s layout.

Making sense of product data

One facet of the SolidWorks update that isn’t likely to be called ‘sexy’ anytime soon is product data management. But what this tool lacks in outward appeal it makes up for with sheer utility in this release.

As designs move downstream, it’s essential that all team members know whether the version they’re working with is in fact the latest iteration of the design. Whereas someone working on assemblies needs to work with the final design for each component, a product may have begun manufacturing before a revision was made, meaning they need to have access to an earlier version of a design file.

To cope with this, new features on the ‘history’ tab allows all users to see which version of a file they are working with. While users can control which versions can and can’t be accessed, all users will now know whether the file they’re using is the correct one.

Similarly, enhanced features such as ‘common mates’ (or assembly mates) in the context menu allow designers to easily duplicate parts in their assemblies based on previous usage.

Other areas affected by the update are design tools, workflows and visualization.

Next–Other enhancements->

Other enhancements

In Design Tools, users will be quick to note changes in Advanced Shape Control, Fast Drawing Detailing, and Sheet Metal features.

In Advanced Shape Control there is a new Style Spline function, automatic Sketch Picture scaling and improved Conic Fillet controls that boost the speed and accuracy of design drawings. Similarly, Fast Drawing Detailing has been tweaked to offer quicker, more automated drawing details.

And for sheet metal, manufacturers will note more tools and data output that offer greater control over corner treatments (such as stiffening ribs), as well as tools that can quickly estimate the cost to manufacture a particular design.

CAD Goes Virtual with NVIDIA

For potential SolidWorks customers who are still on the fence, particularly those for whom investing in IT infrastructure remains a stumbling block, there is one significant offering from SW 2014 that could tip the scales in Dassault’s favor.

Six months after SolidWorks joined NVIDIA on stage at the GPU Technology Conference announcing their collaboration on NVIDIA’s GRID GPU virtualization, SolidWorks has certified the GRID Virtual Computing Appliance (VCA) for the latest SolidWorks release.

With so many SMMs barred from entry into advanced modeling and simulation tools, the VCA was designed specifically to bypass the IT maintenance that buying individual workstations represents. With it, designers and engineers can access GPU-accelerated Windows applications like SolidWorks on their Windows laptop, Linux box or their Mac. But the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) revolution hasn’t gone mobile quite yet—devices such as tablets and smartphones have to sit this round out.

Still, at $25,000, investing in the GRID VCA along with the 8 SolidWorks 2014 licenses that it runs comes at no small price. Instead, the savings comes as businesses with traditional workstations have to pay maintenance and upkeep on their IT infrastructure.

For those concerned with intellectual property implications of BYOD that companies must address when outsourcing their IT infrastructure to cloud providers, the GRID VCA offers an attractive alternative. Because the designs and data stay in the VCA, the data remain secure.

Direct Modeling

With the exception of the features offered through the GRID VCA, most of SolidWorks’ changes have been incremental, and won’t be rocking the boat for any of the company’s existing customers. And while this next change isn’t coming with SolidWorks 2014, it is worth mentioning that Dassault has some bolder plans on the horizon—plans that address one gap between SolidWorks and the rest of the CAD market.

Direct modeling has thus far been a feature that other CAD vendors have been able to hold over SolidWorks’ head, as it allows a concept to be parameterized and converted to a detail design quickly and easily. While SolidWorks 2014 won’t address the gap yet, the company announced last January that they had their own direct modeler, “Mechanical Conceptual,” in the works.

SolidWorks currently has 10 customers using Mechanical Conceptual, and it plans to make the product generally available in January 2014 at SolidWorks World. According to Sicot, upon release Mechanical Conceptual will be able to create concept geometry then seamlessly pass it to the SolidWorks detail design environment and back.

With over 90 percent of these changes coming directly from customer requests, it’s understandable why, according to Aaron Kelley, Vice President User Experience, almost all SolidWorks users upgrade with every release. But perhaps by adding some bigger changes through the GRID VCA and Mechanical Conceptual, SolidWorks will make many more than their existing customers happy.

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