Examining some pretty outlandish claims

There was another press release about another SolidWorks customer switching to Solid Edge. I get the feeling we’re going to be seeing more and more of these things, as Solid Edge gets more and more aggressive, while SolidWorks is stoic and passive. I think SolidWorks understands that retaliating would just make more people aware of their weak position at the moment. Ironically, they continue to say nothing, which is also costing them customer confidence in the eyes of some.

With this more recent release, I wanted to examine some of the claims, just to see if they are believable. Just for a little background, the former SolidWorks customer in question here is Caprock Manufacturing, who manufacture injection molded enclosures of various types. I want to examine some of the claims made by Caprock in the press release objectively.

Claim #1:

…We read press and blog posts that SolidWorks was going to a new modeling kernel and that prompted us to look at the market…Our concerns about the future of SolidWorks actually led us to the discovery of a major shift in CAD innovation and productivity

Is this true? Well, we know about the kernel change. If you move forward from your existing SolidWorks to whatever SolidWorks is working on, yes, there is a kernel change in your future. And we know that migrating data across a kernel change rarely has a happy ending. Is it true that other portions of the CAD industry have innovated in such a way as to increase the productivity of a CAD tool? It is true that most of the rest of the CAD industry has been washed over by a wave of “direct edit” fever. Direct Edit, in its simplest form is really something meant for non-expert users. (I’m sure that will annoy a few people). It’s really meant to simplify things. In my view, to make direct edit techniques really work, you have to understand the BREP. And understanding the BREP isn’t something you can require of non-expert CAD users. So I think aiming direct edit at marginal users is a flawed premise to begin with. Also, I was very dismissive of the first two versions of Synchronous Technology, which is essentially direct edit, with some very smart technology for selection of faces, and application of dimensions and intelligence to the faces of the end model itself, not to sketch level abstractions. Still, to me, it just became some fancy stuff on top of the flawed premise.

But with ST3 and now ST4, Solid Edge has torn down the wall between direct edit simplicity and the power of history based techniques. You still can use parametric concepts, but in a single model, you can apply both direct and history techniques. To me, this was when the light turned on. Being able to mix your metaphors is more powerful than either technique on its own. There are times when you just pull your hair out using history based CAD. There are also the same sorts of difficult situations with direct edit. The capabilities of the Live Rules in Solid Edge help mitigate some of the difficulty in direct edit, and having history also available means you just have that much more power at your disposal.

So have SolidWorks customers been blind to an entire range of new innovation and productivity? I think that if you are not aware of Solid Edge’s capabilities with Synchronous Technology 4, you may be missing out. You may be working too hard. You may be spending more time and money on developing product geometry than you need to.

Claim #2:

The feature-tree parametric process has been a real timeconsumer. We struggled with history-based modeling. It was like a tough chess game; you would have to look five, six, seven, eight, ten moves ahead in the future in order to get the design right.

Reading that quote makes me realize that I’ve made a career out of over complicating things. Maybe its because I’m drawn to the challenge of things that require a bit of mental exercise, and I’ve been more into the challenge side of using the software than the results side. He’s completely right. SolidWorks requires a lot of planning, a lot of strategic understanding of how the tool works, and a lot of what some people call “mental masturbation”. My books reflect that. I definitely spend a lot of time in the books explaining “why”, and trying to get the reader into the zen of SolidWorks – thinking like the software. With SolidWorks it’s clearly not enough to think like an engineer, you really have to be in tune with the software in order to get useful and dependable results out of it. In the books I make a point of not using the word “design”, and tend to use “modeling” instead. “Modeling”, it turns out, is that extra effort on top of design that you have to expend to use the software. So to express it mathematically,  Modeling – Design = CAD. When you realize how much process complexity is chewed up by CAD and is left behind by simplifying your process, I think you’ll be astounded at how much energy you’ve wasted over the years.

Claim #3:

SolidWorks is not as evolved as Solid Edge is. Using SolidWorks, the design is only as sound as the feature tree is. If you discover a mistake made earlier, in many cases just forget it, you might as well start over.

This might sound pretty outlandish to the SolidWorks faithful, but it’s not. It’s right on the mark. In SolidWorks, the model only has as much value as the user can build into it through superior understanding and a lot of tools and techniques whose implications are never clear to new or even intermediate users. In Solid Edge, the software contains the value. If you can use the software, you can get the value out of the model. Any model. Regardless of how it was built, or even if it is imported. Solid Edge is not dead simple, but it doesn’t require years of monk-like meditation to gain enlightenment, either.

About the “evolved” comment, I guess it really depends on your point of view. If you focus on the “experience” of using the software, and getting some sort of visual satisfaction, you might find SolidWorks more “evolved”, as long as you can get past all the red marks in the tree and all the time you spend on pointless repair. If you are more focused on delivering a documented design, I think you will find Solid Edge more liberating. Spend less energy on the tool, more on the product. Evan Yares wrote an article about cognitive load that describes what I’m talking about. In summary, your brain can only do so much at once. Do you want to waste that on running a tool, or thinking about your design? Does being a dedicated CAD specialist really buy you anything? Wouldn’t you prefer to be a design expert?

Claim #4:

Over a period of a year, I might have 20 customer redesign projects and would have to start all over in about 10 of them using SolidWorks due to a combination of lack of familiarity and fighting with the design plan

I can totally see that. After writing books on the philosophy of using SolidWorks, I still fight the software. SolidWorks won out over Pro/Engineer in the late 1990s by trying to ignore all of the rules that Pro/E enforced. It turned out that those rules were important, which is why SolidWorks models that use any sort of complexity at all are relatively unstable. SW is easier to use, but you’re more likely to produce crap with it. With Solid Edge, the intelligence is in the software rather than in the model, so the model cannot be unstable. It will not change on its own. How many times has a simple version or even service pack change cause a SW model to blow up? It’s not uncommon.


To me, all of these claims are completely believable, and in some cases I can verify what they have to say from my own personal experience. If you struggle with your feature history, broken references, or confusion about what controls what with parts and assemblies, if you would like to be able to consider most imported geometry as native, or you don’t like being committed to a software company that can’t tell you about important generalities dealing with the future of its product, you owe it to yourself to look into a different tool that doesn’t think failure is just part of how the system is supposed to work.

16 Replies to “Examining some pretty outlandish claims”

  1. @Fábio Andreosi

    Sure, go ahead and translate my stuff. All I ask is that you put a link to this site in with your translation. And we’d like to link to your translation as well, so make sure to give us a link after you get the translation up so that if any Portugese speakers find my site before yours, they’ll know where to go.


  2. Hi Matt,

    I have a VAR from Siemens in Brazil and I would like to translate your post to post on my company’s site, and in my company’s facebook page, I could do that? I can send the text before publishing so you can check.
    I would like to show your opinions to our users, but if in Portuguese would be much better.

    Thank you!

  3. @Cam
    No, we did not investigate Spaceclaim. Technically we still use SW (we just no longer update the maintenance agreement). We even have a seat of ProE from the days before that. Primarily we are switching to SE for all the reasons stated. As far as ease to pick up, our primary CAD designer (who has 15 years experience with ProE and then SW), myself (who has basic knowledge of both ProE and SW, although more SW than ProE) and my other project engineer all picked it up to a reasonable degree of expertise within about a month’s timespan (although at different times). It’s just not that hard if you have previous experience with CAD and it’s even easier if you don’t (you don’t have to relearn anything – which is where my other project engineer is coming from).

    Josh Walles
    Sr. Project Engineer
    Caprock Manufacturing.

  4. Billy Oliver with Helena Labs is another case history as you have noted previously. Their problems were primarily I believe legacy files all in wireframe. Imported fine and solids were created easily and edited where needed immediately and painlessly. The other big deal for them I guess was sheet metal and doing it in ST. They migrated earlier this year from SW because of cad creation problems especially in the area of imports. They were also very aprehensive about the upcoming kernal change.

  5. Josh was Spaceclaim part of your evaluation? In the study it sounds like you are using more of the direct edit side of SE ( no feature tree ) I understand SE is backed by a much larger company than SC, but we are also looking at what is available and SC appears to be easier to pick up than SE. The cons on our pros & cons list is longer for switching after 12-13 yrs ease of use is one, trading existing problems for new ones is another. Did you ever consider using both SW&SE or SW&SC

  6. @Fud
    Just for reference, the “Fud” comment came from the same IP address that John Picinich, a CADimensions reseller, comments come from. I don’t mind snarky stuff, but anonymous snarky stuff is annoying. John, you’re above that. Call me names to my face, don’t hide.

  7. Rick got in first with the correct answer. We know you disagree with SWX’s development recently. I left my job as a SWX drafter – and I am glad I did. I too experienced horror stories like Jeff’s and for me – Solidworks is a dead end street.

  8. The Solid Edge bible?? Your books provide the why question answers.

    I like the SolidWorks feature tree geometry creation concept. I must be a control freak; because I want the geometry that I want, not what the software wants. The features must work, not fail.

  9. I recently had a vendor (mold designer/maker) who bumped up our SolidWorks project from v2011 to v2012 on a very complex medical product design in providing some feedback on typical molding issues. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! No way! NO WAY! We’re not pushing a complicated set of models—heavy on surfacing that’s already unstable—to an untested version of SolidWorks at SP0.” Perhaps I nearly burst an artery in my brain in my reaction. No. Way. Ever.

    What’s the big deal? Well, after a long train of disastrous complications during the modeling phase, we’re certainly not going to move all this potential for catastrophic error to an SP0 release of SolidWorks. Flipped surface trims and lost deleted faces plagued the modeling process with heavy use of master models—no way I want to flaunt with that nightmare again. The existing models were barely stable, and a newbie messing with those would certainly re-invoke the demons of brokenness. Why—was I doing anything wrong with the software in these models? No. But modeling with master models is inherently risky behavior because you get hundreds of features in saved parts depending on hundreds of features in the upstream master part—if only one fails, it can all fail (and you cannot always get it back). Can you imagine this happening after cutting many thousands of dollars worth of injection molds? If you cannot get back the original surfacing—exactly the way it was originally cut in the mold—you’ve got no real documentation of the design and it cannot be replicated. Nightmare.

    The point isn’t to bash SolidWorks, but to point out the fragility of complex systems. If I could remove the fragile complexity from my modeled projects—while retaining the ability to make future edits or even build upon the design—I’d do so immediately. Matt’s point about putting the intelligence in the software instead of in the model opens the crack in the door to somehow find a way out of the nightmare of critically fragile complexity. I’m an industrial designer, and I cannot allow my CAD system to limit my design—so long hours are put in hacking work-arounds and whatever kludges are necessary to obtain the forms needed by the design. It could certainly be more efficient. And simpler. But tipping the scale to a full complexity-crash is not something I’m willing to risk with the modeled data. It’s like a Jenga game where you finally get the tower over 30 stacks high—just don’t do anything risky, and hope there’s not the slightest of earthquakes. Jenga doesn’t have winners—it only ends with a single loser. Why play that with your design data?

  10. good post Matt. This manufacture seems sincere about the reason and purpose for switching. I’ve seen several companies switch based on management decision alone, with no voice from the user. in-context references are very difficult in SW and I’m curious how ST handles this. Do you define them or are they automatic? Do they solve globally or locally (sub assembly only)? Solving locally is a severely broken work flow in SW and in my opinion should have be addressed several years ago.

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