I get contacted every now and then by people or companies doing research before buying a new CAD package.They are interested in the story of a prominent user changing camps. Since I took down the Dezignstuff blog, most of the story that took me from SolidWorks posterboy to Solid Edge employee has been lost. I just want to have the real story on the record and available to those who are curious.
Part one of this story is how I came to this decision, and why I made the choice I made looking at the companies involved. Part two will be why I made the choice I made looking at the technical realities. This is of course mainly my opinion, and what I saw from a particular point of view, but I based a huge career change on these opinions.
The first version of SW I saw was SW96. I joined a SW reseller in 1997. As a SW reseller, we competed against Solid Edge from time to time, but were primarily focused on Pro/E and Autocad.
We were winning deals with SolidWorks for several reasons:
- we were energetic and eager to please
- the SW software was affordable, easy to use, relatively powerful, and run by people who understood the engineering process
- The PC revolution was finally ready to run technical engineering applications with the advent of Windows NT
- the Pro/E salesmen had a reputation for being ruthless bullies, and they scared a lot of business our way
This is really just to point out that we won because of a combination of business and technical reasons, plus having the right idea at the right time. In 1997 PTC seemed like an insurmountable giant to slay. And it took some time, but we did it.
The sale of SW to Dassault in 1997 didn’t affect us at all. Eventually there was a new logo, but there was no other change that the customers could see. Competitors tried to make it an issue, but it wasn’t – yet.
The SW company and its employees were likeable. There was a lot of interaction between development and customers. It retained the air of a company lead by engineers for engineers.
After an 8 year stint at resellers I went independent, doing product design and surfacing, and writing the SolidWorks Bible (2007 – 2013). In 2007 I also wrote some training classes for SolidWorks Corp (Advanced Parts, Advanced Surfacing, and Mold Design). I started blogging for SW in 2007, no pay, just for the fun of it.
Starting with the now-infamous demo at SolidWorks World 2010 of “SolidWorks V6”, and the later move from the Concord headquarters to the consolidation with Dassault in the new Waltham campus, it became clear that there was an internal power struggle about the future of the SolidWorks brand. Even more clear was the idea that who ever was now pulling the strings was pretty out of touch with end users.
With the promised introduction of V6, it started to look like the current incarnation of SolidWorks was going to be replaced with a Catia variant. Most of the key players were gone, the company no longer had “that feeling” about it. Officially most industry wonks professed to be confused about what Dassault was planning, but privately they mostly considered it to be obvious: Dassault was rewriting their mid-level CAD offering to incorporate pieces from Catia. This meant that SolidWorks was probably at the end of its run as a product. Die-hard users still meet this idea with disbelief.
The original software was a lightning strike. I didn’t believe that Dassault could duplicate the original magic. They were clearly talking about a new product, and any new product would have to prove itself, and the odds were just against it living up to the original.
The CAD world churns its top tier every 10 -15 years. After 2012, people were looking for what’s next. It just happens that Solid Edge, the old forgotten competitor, had come out with what it was calling a break-through in CAD. Details were thin, and I was a chief skeptic. I had written blog articles about the problems with history-based modeling, or at least as it was implemented in SW. So I knew that history wasn’t perfect, but I wasn’t ready to throw it out for an even older technology in direct editing.
Eventually I was invited to Huntsville to see the Synchronous Technology product. I was the only one of half a dozen SolidWorks bloggers to do so. After all the hype, Synchronous Technology turned out to be some very nice geometry recognition tools on top of direct modeling. Of course, they still had their traditional, or “ordered” mode, but you couldn’t mix the two methods in a single part. After getting the demo, and a bit of training, and asking a lot of questions, I wasn’t impressed. Part of the reason was that I don’t think Solid Edge really knew how to talk about their new baby yet, and part of the reason was that the idea hadn’t fully matured yet.
Two years later, discontent with SolidWorks growing, I took another look at the updated ST3. By this time, I could really identify with what they had created. It was the subtle change of allowing both methods (ordered and Synchronous) within the same document that made all the difference in the world. History-based modeling had some weaknesses, and this new Synchronous method also had some limitations. But when you lined up the two methods, the weaknesses didn’t overlap. This meant that you should be able to devise a way of working that encountered none of the weaknesses of either method.
Suddenly to me, this became a big thing. A big part of my books was to devise clever ways to manage or get around the weaknesses of history-based modeling, and some of the non-history problems with SolidWorks. I started to realize that modeling didn’t have to be this constantly painful process of build-change-repair. You really don’t have to be superstitious about in-context modeling or external references – this may be one of the biggest secrets about Synchronous Technology.
So I had this situation with SolidWorks (the company and the software) that was gradually falling apart. The technology was not aging well, the company was not paying attention to its users, and the product was bloated with useless junk and increasingly buggy. The salad days were clearly over. On the other hand, Solid Edge, a name from years gone by, shows signs of not just life, but brilliance with this combination of old technology and new technology. Works was making worse and worse decisions, and Edge was making better and better decisions.
When you evaluate companies to work with as a partner, one of the things you have to look at is how that company deals with change. The word “disruptive” gets thrown around a lot, but in the end, disruption is not usually a good thing, especially in manufacturing business. If you look at the way Siemens handles large change and new technologies (integrating NX and SDRC, integrating Synchronous Technology), the change happens over time in such a way that you can continue working the way you work.
If you look at the change that Dassault is proposing for its customers with Mechanical Conceptual, it’s a “get off the bus, and get on a different bus” sort of dead-end change. Long term, the Siemens approach is much better for customers. The Dassault approach (in addition to being still entirely imaginary) is simply disruptive. In a bad way.
As a CAD industry commentator, I feel that it’s part of my job to at least have an idea where things are headed. SolidWorks is old news, although there are areas of the customer base that don’t know it yet. SW may still be the fashionable “it” software in some circles, but PTC also went through a long period of denial after losing their crown in the early 2000s. All newly developed CAD (including V6) contain some hybrid of history and direct, and that makes Solid Edge the one with the most mature technology (not to mention the most copied modeling paradigm in 30 years), and SolidWorks in dead last, as far as new technology and the big four mainstream CAD vendors.
Don’t let the cloud fool you. The cloud has nothing to do with CAD. It’s just an IT delivery method. Developing for the cloud does nothing for your CAD needs.
If you had to pick one, which would you pick? PTC? They are as distracted by non-CAD stuff as Dassault. Autodesk? I see them as the biggest competitor, as they are building out a complete vision with top-of-the-line packages in Alias, 3dsMax, Mudbox, Delcam, HSMWorks, T-Splines, Moldflow, and others. Still, Autodesk is building its mechanical side on Inventor, which in my opinion is a third rate product compared to the other players.
When you look at it as a question of which of these 4 implementations of history/direct hybrid will come out on top, (Creo, Fusion, Synchronous, and Dassault’s imaginary mid-range V6), Synchronous Technology is far ahead of the rest. It is now in its 6th production release, and NX shares a lot of the technology. Siemens eats its own dog food, they are a huge user of their own CAD. To me, that says a lot.
So I picked Siemens. I really like the direction of the development of the Solid Edge product. Having seen ST7, I can say it’s full of great stuff that you will use. This wasn’t a choice that was made lightly. I didn’t get a job, then change my mind. This was a realization that took years, and a lot of research into comparing CAD products and companies.
Siemens has great technology just when the market is waking back up, and starting to realize that it’s time to shop for CAD software again. SolidWorks may seem like an insurmountable giant to slay in 2014, but if anyone has the current CAD product to do it, it’s Solid Edge.