25 March, 2014 Brent Balinski
The big announcement for SolidWorks World 2014 was a product that the software company hopes will change the way its customers get their projects underway.
Mechanical Conceptual was also the main announcement at SolidWorks World the year before, but the 5,000-plus attendees this time around got something that 2013’s guests didn’t: a release date, at least for North America and Europe.
“We were really surprised, almost four years ago, actually, to find out that – okay we knew they did conceptual, but we realised they didn’t use SolidWorks to do conceptual, even if they had SolidWorks in-house,” explained Kishore Boyalakuntla, director of product management for Next Generation Products, at Dassault Systemes SolidWorks.
The popular mechanical engineering software, which claims well over 2 million customers worldwide, believes that its users specialising in industrial machinery will benefit hugely from the upcoming release.
According to the company’s figures, 31 per cent of project time is spent in the concept phase of a project, with an average of six different iterations during this. Mechanical Conceptual – the first SolidWorks product using parent company Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform – aims to radically boost productivity in conceptual design. How? Through collaboration.
“With Mechanical Conceptual you can have an unlimited number of communities,” Boyalakuntla told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“If you buy SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual you can create, let’s say, Project A – you can create a community with just two of you on it. And all communication between both two of you is confidential.
“Then you can create a community with your marketing. You can create a community with your director. You can create a community with your educators, you can create a community with your supply chain. You can create a community with your procurement, and with your end customer.”
The product enables concept-level designs to be shared in real-time at a project’s earliest stages between stakeholders, who need only have a subscription and a reliable internet connection. 3G speeds are sufficient, says the company, so long as the connection is reliable.
“Stakeholders can take advantage of the same tools that have built social networks,” explains a white paper from SolidWorks, with instant messaging, chat, like and dislike judgements etc. used to give feedback during the process. Social innovation during product development offers benefits like feedback from a market way before anybody has even thought of prototyping, for example. The company says it will be no less than a “game changing” offering.
The upcoming release is, as SolidWorks World 2014 attendees were repeatedly reminded, complementary to SolidWorks, and not something to replace it. With around 2.2 million users, many of whom are very happy with their product, the company doesn’t want anybody to think their favourite 3D design software is going to be changed or switched out.
There are similarities and differences between Mechanical Conceptual, which uses Dassault’s CGM kernel for Catia software, and SolidWorks, which uses Siemens’ Parasolid kernel. Some users have raised concerns about translating models from the new product to SolidWorks.
SolidWorks believes moving from one product to the other is simple, with many of the features in SolidWorks 2014 added with Mechanical Conceptual in mind.
“For example the viewing tool in 2014 when you hit the spacebar and you get this nice cube and you click, that comes from Mechanical Conceptual,” explained Boyalakuntla.
And this switch between different products wasn’t that big a jump to make, with very “porous walls” a user could move through.
“Today in aerospace companies they have, for example, for machine design they use SolidWorks and they use Catia for systems,” he noted.
“We have customers who do that today – a mixed environment… Mechanical Conceptual makes it really easy to open Catia files, because it’s the same format… So we see a mixed environment, depending on what the customer is doing.”
Another major consideration is cost. There has been no price given for Australian users wanting to use Mechanical Conceptual yet. The US price on the April 2 release date will be $US249 per user per month from SolidWorks’s selected Value Added Resellers.
Assuming a similar price, would Mechanical Conceptual be attractive to an Australian business that might see a benefit from it?
“It’s the old price/value equation and quite frankly I don’t know how much it will cost to do a conceptual design and share that on a monthly basis,” Mark Deere-Jones, director of Sales & Marketing at Intercad, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“But I would see the ROI to be very quick on this. I think if you’re doing conceptual and want to share it, I don’t see price as a barrier.”
He added that Australia, with its geographic spread and distance between many stakeholders within some businesses, could be an environment where such a remote collaboration tool might be very attractive.
“In Australia one of our penalties is distance, so I think that’s a huge benefit and opportunity for the customer,” he said.
“And from where I see some excitement is I think it will bring a lot of new people into the 3D CAD space in the Australian marketplace.”
When asked about the whether the price might be too much to bear for potential Australian customers, SolidWorks CEO Bertrand Sicot also responded in terms of price vs value.
“You have to understand that Mechanical Conceptual is aiming at the conceptual phase of the project, where all the innovation happens, where if you do a big mistake, you take the wrong option, it costs you a lot of money down the road,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“I understand your question when you look at the price. But the challenge for us is to make sure the customer understands the value in front of that.”
There was also a saving to be recognised through the cloud-based nature of Mechanical Conceptual, according to the company.
“We are moving part of the cost to us. Because you can basically run Mechanical Conceptual from a desktop, which is much cheaper than the one you have to buy with a big graphical card etcetera so the cost of ownership is shrunk.”
And like any other product released, the cost of Mechanical Conceptual was the result of careful consideration.
“There is a reason we have come out with $250 a month,” said Sicot.
As for when Australian users might be able to add Mechanical Conceptual to their armoury of design products, when the question was asked during SolidWorks World 2014, Sicot said Dassault had yet to establish a local cloud for Asia Pacific, and was looking for suitable locations to host it.
“I would say late Q3. It’s a question of having the local cloud available for Asia Pac. The project is ongoing. We are looking at places either in Taiwan or Hong Kong to host it. So that’s exactly where we are.”