What “should” CAD become

The word “should” is a point of view word. When someone uses the word “should”, they are often speaking from their own point of view and are often forgetting that there are other points of view. When one uses the word, it usually betrays a narrowness of perspective.


“Should” implies an almost moral knowledge of the future. Anything less is somehow a morally or ethically shameful act.


“Should” is a word often associated with armchair quarterbacks, and amateur CAD analysts, among others. Neither one usually has much idea of the details or complexities involved in accomplishing their “should”.


The future doesn”t always arrive in a single large leap, and it sometimes doesn”t even arrive intentionally. We do not always go where we aim. We often arrive by a series of small steps in the general direction of “forward”, even though our path sometimes zigzags insanely, and not necessarily due to any single directing vision or will. (Or in other words, shit happens.)


So, if you put a group of otherwise intelligent folks in a room and ask them what “should” CAD become in the future, what will they say? “Should” it become a way to automate modeling as much as possible? How much is possible? What exactly does it mean to automate modeling? “Should” complex modeling be easier than it is? What happens when a complex task becomes easy? Are there times when human qualifications (for example skill level or patience) are more important than the difficulty of a technique? Is training responsible for making people more competent with complex tools or tasks? Does anything require skill or competence or is everything just based on the software that you buy? Is the user in the end responsible for his or her own skill level and results?


I was involved in a discussion like this at SW World, and the conversations were quickly dominated by people with strongly held, but rather bizzare opinions. It didn”t take long for the session to devolve into a set of long winded monologues that didn”t have much to do with the SolidWorks software, but seemed to be aimed at claiming that SolidWorks “Should” adopt niche tools which are found elsewhere and are orthogonal to the principal orientation of SolidWorks software. Everything from using a Wacom tablet (which is an understandable and sensible request) to imitating paper sketching techniques (which is in the “learn a new skill” category) to being able to create silly putty tessellated models by mouse gestures on the screen (which falls into the “buy a new modeling tool” category).


To be fair, things like this exist. Cosmos optimization creates a bit of a freeform model from tessellated bits to optimize the solutions of analysis. Sensable also creates a stylus and software that enables you to interface in a physical way with 3D digital geometry, which is most analogous to sculpting.


When something complex becomes easy, it is because something has been simplified or over simplified. Control is usually sacrificed any time a task is automated.


What confuses me the most is when people make claims about things they know absolutely nothing about. For example, claiming the underlying math in splines is somehow deficient when you don”t have the first idea of the form of that math is simply ridiculous, and embarassing. I know enough to know that I don”t know very much, and I”m pretty sure that I wouldn”t have gone there. How the Solidworks employee withstanding this harrangue escaped without a chuckle or raised eyebrow I”ll never know. I suppose these fellows will at some point also learn that they don”t know as much as they imagine.


It”s a very popular thing to manufacture some sort of problem which is beyond your control (such as “the math”) to cover for your inability or unwillingness to control something you can control (spline techniques). Of course this results in you becoming blameless for the quality of anything you create. It”s the math”s fault.


I like to think I have a practical approach to software. If I complain about something, I don”t just freeze in my tracks and start complaining, I set out to find a way forward. I am responsible for going forward, and in the end it doesn”t matter how I go forward, just that it happens. Complaints are only useful up to a point, and then you have to act, regardless of the obstacles, and regardless of what is not done for you.

Another phrase that gains my ire is “I had to”. “I had to take a whole day to fix the model”. “I had to do something this way”. No one “had” to. No one was forced. They made choices. There were options. They could not find a better way, so they did it that way. Its a question of skill and imagination. “I had to” implies that they were omniscient and knew all of the alternatives.


For this reason, I personally welcome imperfect and difficult to use software. It means that I get work that other people don”t get.


“Should” conceptually difficult tasks be easy in CAD? “Should” the losing team get trophies? “Should” you be able to lay down an 11 second quarter mile in a dump truck? “Should” SolidWorks incorporate the most bizzare functionality from other software? Is there possibly a point where someone who claims that SolidWorks is inferior to another geometry creation tool simply use the other tool?
Form your own opinions, but I believe we “should” be practical about what we hope for in the future of SolidWorks. The software cannot become all things to all people. SolidWorks is at its core, a feature based, history based, process based, hybrid modeler. I say hybrid because it can work in both solids and surfaces. This is a very process-based way of working, and is at the very heart of what the software is. If you are uncomfortable with a very process-based approach to modeling,  get Alias, or get Rhino. Claiming that SolidWorks “Should” be less process dependent is simply an indicator that you are using the wrong tool.

0 Replies to “What “should” CAD become”

  1. Gee, I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was REALLY disappointed. Sure, turnout could have been better, but I enjoy SolidWorks user events no matter the size. As for returning to Baltimore, I look forward to a visit to the new Baltimore/DC group. Craig had lots of interest in the new group (surely more than 6 people), and with his energy I’m sure things will be great.

    Location, location, location – always an issue. Perhaps something closer to Philly would have been appropriate considering the attendees from PA. I doubt that a Columbia location, only 8 miles or so from where we were would have increased attendance that much.

    Trimech did a great job of supporting the event, sending emails and offering a very good presenter. Over 400 SolidWorks users were contacted regarding the event – we can’t force them to come. What we can do is to continue to offer the very best presenters and sessions, and do our best for the people that attend – whether it’s 10, 20, or 200 of them.

  2. I cannot see SW holding an event back in this area for a long long time…Richard seemed really disappointed.

    Yeah, he was disappointed, but I think there was something else going on for him.

    If he wants to increase attendance, he could try listening to some local people. I thought going down to Columbia would be a bigger draw, or possibly even to Fairfax or Springfield. BWI is a good location, but not the best.

    Further, to really get the people to come out, you have to somehow convince resellers to engage. As a member of the SWUGN committee, that’s something I’m supposed to help with, but SolidWorks doesn’t do much in terms of helping with the reseller relationship. Creating some sort of formal relationship between SWUGN and the resellers to me is the single most important thing that Richard could do to help himself and the SW User Group Community.

  3. I’m not so sure that the Balt/DC corridor is such a hot bed as far as SW is concerned…the old user group died a slow painful death several years back due to lack of participation. Even in its heyday it was good to get 6 people to show up.

    I’d be interested to know how many companies in this area use SW as their primary CAD system (I’m sure the local VAR is unable to release such data.) Heck we have 22 seats, but we are “officially” a Pro-E based facility – and as many of the companies along the top side of the capital beltway are supporting NASA-GSFC, they too are Pro-E based.

    Anyways, I enjoyed yesterday’s summit – almost too short…tho i’m sure we could have carried some topics on for hours.

    Nice to have met you Matt…

    I worked for Trimech in the Columbia office for 3 painful years. The Columbia area is loaded with SolidWorks using companies. So is the Alexandria-Arlington-Manassas area. There is a lot of Pro/E here to be sure, but with such a high concentration of companies and government agencies doing mechanical design, its amazing at how few people we got to show up. As Richard pointed out, the Pennsylvania area was disproportionately represented at the south-of-Baltimore event.

    Yes, it was nice to meet you too. I really enjoyed the event.

  4. My guess is that the most interesting thing to talk about at a SolidWorks User Group meeting would be… SolidWorks.


    Gee, I thought I had scared you away. Maybe you are as smart as you say after all, it sounds like you’ve got this one figured out. Yes, we did talk about SolidWorks at this SolidWorks event. We are not limited to that topic however, if the topic is seen as a tool or technology that would help us in our daily work, its fair game. Remember we were all engineers before we were SW users.

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