2010-2011 in CAD technology, the illustrated version, part 1

Not your usual article of reflection and prediction.

It is December, the traditional time in journalism to take a look at what happened in the year just ending and to guess what might be coming in the year ahead. I have neither the intellect or the ambition to write a serious, detailed exposition of the CAD industry and its various TLA’s (BIM, PLM, CAE, CAM, EDA). Instead of the usual lofty prognostications and boring regurgitations, I would like to tell the story of 2010 and predict 2011 in CAD with pictures. This is Part 1.

Bringing curly fries to the table

In October PTC publicly said good-bye to the brand names that led them into fourth place among manufacturing CAD & PDM makers and launches what it calls The Creo Era. (See “Good-bye Pro/Engineer: PTC launches the Creo era”) Clearly new CEO James Hepplemann and his team have done their homework, and copied the business plan that made thousands of poor farmers into millionaires. Why sell plain potatoes when you can sell French fries, curly fries, potato flakes, potato flour, and other specialized products with higher utility and fatter profit margins?

PTC's upcoming Creo apps will come in a variety of shapes.

The core technologies from Pro/E, CoCreate and its many acquisitions are now being re-assembled into more palatable offerings. Instead of the one-size-must-fit-all Pro/E and a second CAD product that seemed like a good idea at the time (CoCreate), PTC is now busting up the boxes and reorganizing the component technology in new and innovative products.

In 2011 the first of these products will reach users. If all you need is a way to annotate a drawing, going forward you won’t need the same big CAD program as your engineers. Now there’s a tater tot for that.

Or course Creo is not just a slice-and-dice job on existing technology. PTC will be delivering a new technology platform which other vendors can use to add their own nutritious apps. If PTC doesn’t deliver exactly the fries you needs, a smaller vendor will be happy do to so.

Creo is perhaps the most ambitious re-launch in the history of this industry, but PTC is not alone in seeking ways to get the casual user to buy CAD technology. The shelves at Autodesk are full of new products designed to make powerful technology simple enough for occasional users. In 2011 we will see a bushel of new, simplified products from all the major CAD vendors—even button-down Bentley. Most of them will be on mobile platforms, especially Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Do you want RoHS Au Gratin with that Droid?

Graphics technology in nugget form is already popular, if the millions of copies of Autodesk Sketchbook are any indication. But getting back to PTC’s bold move, the obvious question is, will PTC’s new Creo strategy succeed? We’ll answer that question with more questions: When was the last time you ate a potato product? When was the last time you ate a plain, unprocessed baked or boiled potato? I rest my case.

cPDM is suddenly a hot date

In 2011 it will become obvious to everyone—even Autodesk—that collaborative product data management (cPDM) is hot. Red hot. Steaming. The queen of school nerds is now the hot date for prom.

In 2010 the original hot date in CAD—Catia Dassault—was jilted not once but twice. Both times by hunky guys in the Auto Club, Jeep Chrysler and Benz Damlier. Both guys said they left Catia because they wanted to date the young and blossoming NX Siemens. But it didn’t take long for people to realize Jeep and Benz were just using the sweet young NX to get closer to her older step-sister Teamcenter Siemens, for whom they were already hot to trot. It can’t be her looks, it must be her brains.

Jeep Chrysler, left, was the first to break up with Catia Dassault in 2010, but not the last.

The queen of school nerds is now the hot date for prom.

When Chrysler said in May it would move from Catia to NX, everybody blamed the breakup on that lusty Italian, Fiat S.p.A. But (as we reported) Chrysler insiders made it clear the true story was first comes Teamcenter love, then NX marriage. Our initial report on the Damlier-Catia breakup also blamed Teamcenter, but lately we’ve been talking to family members. They say it all started when Mr. Dassault tried to push his prepubescent V6 Enovia as a suitable alternative date. Faced with awkward choices, Damlier started running benchmarks; the rest is history.

This whole notion of data management being more sexy than geometry creation isn’t being embraced with equal ardor across the industry. SolidWorks introduced the idea of cloud-based cPDM at their user conference in February 2010, but by the end of the week her dance card was mostly empty. SolidWorks users are your stereotypical socially awkward types who would stare but not be brave enough to engage in a conversation, let alone ask for a dance. They’d rather go home and play with their geometry. We think by SolidWorks 2011 in San Antonio next month, a few brave lads will step up. Either that, or somebody needs to spike the punch to loosen things up a bit. Yes, we understand that SolidWorks PDM is that same V6 Enovia with a different dress, but we think she’s growing fast.

Autodesk Vault is rather cute for a cPDM program, but you’d think she braided her armpit hair by the way most Inventor users shy away. (No picture for this one, it requires turning “safe search” OFF to get to the good ones.) It seems only the boys who attend enterprise-sized engineering schools can appreciate that the true beauty of data management is more than skin deep.

In 2011 we think the pendulum will swing the other way, and all those boys who didn’t know their lives were empty for lack of a cPDM sweetheart by their side will wake up. Between government regulations, consumers who want infinite variation, the continuing trend to design globally, and the sheer complexity of product development will force a whole new class of users to embrace comprehensive, collaborative product data management. SolidWorks PDM will do better than anybody expects, Autodesk will find a way to make Vault sexy, and Dassault will spent 2011 trying to convince everyone Enovia V6 is ready for all comers. And Teamcenter, with her four million or more suitors, will continue to reign as prom queen.

2D as the tattoo you finally made peace with

For the nearly 20 years I’ve known David Weisberg, founder of Engineering Automation Report, he has been fond of saying, “3D CAD is five years away, and in five years people will still be saying it’s five years away.” Well, David, it’s time to give it a rest because 2011 will be the year we all realize 2D CAD is not ever going away. Like the tattoo that at first seemed like a really good idea, then an embarrassment, 2D CAD has turned the corner to become socially acceptable.

In 2011, 2D will become acceptable again; it just needed a touch-up to enhance its image.

AutoCAD continues to sell well, and is especially popular in emerging economies, where buyers could choose to leapfrog from no CAD to 3D CAD. Dassault, Siemens, and Bentley all offer free 2D CAD programs, and PTC already has a 2D Creo app, the rebundled 2D version of CoCreate. A variety of smaller vendors across the globe are doing nice business building DWG-compatible 2D CAD programs for a wide variety of languages.

The Open Design Alliance deserves a portion of the credit for 2D’s resurgence. The ODA is the consortium that reverse engineers the AutoCAD DWG format for use by its members, mostly Autodesk’s competitors. In years past the ODA acted more like Don Quixote than a software engineer. Under the new leadership of Arnold van der Weide it has focused on creating a total platform for delivering 2D drafting technology, which is being used to create a wider variety of products than the founders of ODA ever imagined.

Also, the resurgence of 2D is a recognition that two-dimensional geometry is equally valid to 3D as a design tool, and sometimes is just more expedient. And people are tired of having to make excuses for it.

(to be continued)