How the Peter Principle has spoiled CAD

The more I know about the CAD business, the less I understand it. The high-end vs mid-range comparison is something in particular that leaves me scratching my head. In the past, high-end vs mid-range tended to mean “CAD priced $xx,000 and CAD priced $x,000”, or there abouts. Unigraphics, Pro/Engineer and Catia are obviously high-end CAD, and things like SolidWorks, Inventor and Solid Edge are mid-range. I guess low-end CAD is stuff you can buy at Staples for around $x00.

What’s the difference between the capabilities? One of the biggest differences has traditionally been interface. High-end stuff typically has a horrible interface, while mid-range CAD is generally more user friendly. Differences in actual capabilities also exist, such as more surfacing control, more evaluation options, more niche type capabilities, like electromechanical,  flattening, forming, packaging, very large assemblies, and many other sorts of things.

I think there is also a difference in the users. High-end CAD users tend to be more corporate, while the mid-range folks come from smaller businesses. I’d also be willing to bet that the average installation size (number of seats per customer) is higher for the high-end software than the mid-range. This might be because there are more single seats of mid-range to contractors and very small shops. It’s tough to justify $25k for a single license of software, about 70% of the functionality you will never use if you are a contractor or one-man-band.

We live in a corporate age, where no matter what kind of company you are, if you are not growing at a ridiculously unsustainable rate, you are nobody. You can only grow quickly in the CAD industry by buying another CAD company or start selling something in addition to CAD. This, in the end, is what PLM is all about. CAD is just the data creation tool you use to feed the rest of the beast. Rendering, PDM, FEA, CFD are all downstream applications that start from geometry. ERP, MRP, costing, supplier management, customer and service management, etc, are meta-data creators that attach data to the geometry. Or more accurately, they attach data to a database object that represents a physical part or piece of software.

Which is to say that these days, the companies that used to sell CAD and are always pushing you to spend more money don’t have to upsell you from say Solid Edge to NX, SolidWorks to Catia, Artisan to Master Series (SDRC), Design Wave -Pro/Jr to Pro/Engineer. They just have to sell you a bigger  PLM suite. SolidWorks Premium has a lot of non-CAD stuff in it, where SolidWorks Standard is mainly CAD. If you have seen the SolidWorks 2012 release, you know that there is very little CAD content in it. Make no mistake where this is headed. The industry is being diluted, and is losing interest in CAD, because there is nothing new to sell and changes are made slowly. All the new interest and money is in the PLM peripherals. Almost everybody is doing it. There are few pure CAD (geometry only) companies still out there.

The idea of high-end and mid-range CAD has become antiquated. Today, the difference between $xx,000 and $x,000 is not so much CAD as it is PLM. And if you look at things, there is no reason why a big company should have more need for complex geometry creation and editing than a small company. Small companies don’t need PLM, but they do need geometry tools.

Does it still make sense for companies to maintain two levels of CAD? With companies like Dassault, it means maintaining Catia and SolidWorks, although the “V6” project may change that and stream line the CAD offering to a pair of products – or maybe even two levels of the same product – that are easier to maintain than two completely different products. Dassault has said that the SolidWorks and Catia development teams have been merged, yet they deny that the “V6” project will yield Catia and Catia Lite. Two completely different products coming from one development team? Really?

So if SolidWorks and Catia effectively merge in the course of the “V6” project, and Pro/E and CoCreate have effectively merged into Creo, the only high/mid distinction left is NX and Solid Edge. Is the high/mid distinction good for users? To make a single product from two, the companies will have to offer a very modularized pricing, like Creo has done. Is modularization good for customers?

I personally would not mind seeing a company that specializes in CAD again – a CAD developer who can focus on geometry without getting distracted. The “growth” obsession triggers the Peter Principle: if you are successful, you will be promoted to a level beyond your competence, which is exactly what I think has happened with SolidWorks. They were good at CAD, so they took on all of these other things which distracted them, diluted their focus, and may threaten to spoil the whole thing.

What do you think about specialization, modularization, and companies obsessed with growing beyond their competence?


8 Replies to “How the Peter Principle has spoiled CAD”

  1. Modular pricing is beyond the capability of all CAD companies. They do not even have a price list for their current products.

  2. Yes some great responses here on a great post. I feel the same. I have likened this industry to the Gaming industy. yes they are worlds appart in one aspect but in another… completely identical! For instance… in the early days of gaming you had developers that wanted to make great games! They spent years and many man hours making what they wanted gamers to label an awesome game in hope of it selling big and getting the monetary bonus to boot. Nowadays the developers couldn’t give a rats about making a great game. one that not only includes great graphics and audio.. but also depth and longevity, creativity for the gamers in many aspects like modding and map creating. They even go so far as to step backwards and take all these common features away that have been in there for years before (LAN play features anyone?). They just want to buzz out yet another version number within 12 months and sell as many copies as they can regardless of it being even worse then the previous one with the same ol’ bugs and flaws!

    All you have to do is swap “game” for “CAD” and change some game elements to CAD ones and its an identical scenario. 🙁

    Its really frustrating not only due to this.. but also due to the fact that we have no other options. WE can’t NOT buy the game.. or the next 2012 version… or we end up playing by ourselves in the corner.

  3. True words for sure Devon. I am in the middle of looking for a new CAM program and it is nothing at all about good fits for purpose and what do you really need as a buyer but what can we talk this guy into buying. Heaven forbid giving buyers enough time to evaluate product before buying as that could kill the deal. This has been such a distatefull experience that I have decided these “used car” salesmen can just go fly a kite for now and I will see if I can get by with what I allready have warts and all. At least I allready know where the gotchas are with VX Cam and I don’t have to spend more money doing bug fix research for another company and getting totaly PO’d again.

    Give me straight cad that works predictably and reliably for sure any day over CAD + whatever. Then if I want other things after that sell me those other things at that time. And by the way please don’t use my sub money which should be spent fixing the CAD program I bought from you to develop or fix other programs. Let those other things stand on their own.

    The labrinth of the PLM ecosystem appears to me in talking to others who use it to be horribly complicated, hard or impossible to implement so it works smoothly, and locks you into a particular companies products for better or worse over time. It is designed in part to be this way because it is as you say all about income for the program creators and that is why none of them will play well together.

    It is primarily about their bottom line and not yours.

  4. I agree. This was one reason why I liked the general concept behind Creo. Let each element stand on its own and rise (or fall) to its own level of excellence.

  5. I think you hit the nail right on the head. I agree.

    Another contributing factor is the business model of CAD Resellers. CAD Resellers are structured like Automobile Dealerships, an area I have a lot of experience in. The focus is sales, sales, sales, with most employees on a commission based pay scale. Usually the employees can’t live on the guaranteed portion of their pay, so they must sell and collect the commissions. This business model feeds the need for more and more products to sell. One result is that the needs of the CAD Reseller employees come before the needs of the CAD User.

    Devon Sowell

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