2011 is a year of transition for the CAD industry

Our Editor-in-Chief reviews the year in CAD and looks ahead to 2011. At least it wasn’t 2009.

By Kathleen Maher

Kathleen Maher

I do hope I didn’t say “2010 is a year of transition” last year at this time.

The very idea of CAD has grown to the point that different companies define it in different ways. Increasingly, I see PLM, Product Lifecycle Management—what I have always thought of as the data management side of CAD—included as part of the definition of CAD. It’s disconcerting, but it’s not a bad idea. The whole idea of moving design and drafting to the computer was to reduce confusion and the duplication of work. That’s what PLM promises as well.

And then there’s PDM, Product Data Management. I sometimes think the difference between PLM and PDM is defined by what you’re selling and to whom you are selling it. However, more officially, you can say that PLM is designed for the enterprise and the goal is to truly manage the lifecycle of the product, though how often that really happens is a mighty good question. And, I’d say PDM remains in the territory of engineering and primarily refers to the documentation around a product’s design through manufacture.

So here it is 2011 and we still can’t come up with a decent definition for PLM or even CAD for that matter? There is still confusion, and there is still duplication of work. I reckon it happens in even the most organized of joints.

So, for 2010 let’s review:

Thank goodness …

At least it wasn’t 2009.

Some dark clouds remain

Most CAD companies saw a rebound in 2010 but there are still dark clouds around world economies. The architecture industry is very hard on small contractors and small companies. The winners here are those with international operations who can go where the money is.

Big manufacturing in play

Siemens is revitalized and Dassault has hit some rocks in the road with V6. PTC has tipped over the playing board and scattered the pieces. The customers are also in play and some big wins have happened between the competitors.

Midrange 3D CAD movement

Likewise, shift is happening, and some of it is playing out among the customers. Much more is going on behind the scenes. Autodesk has already showed the cards it wanted to show at Autodesk University, and if we had to make a blanket statement we’d say they’re banking on the cloud to augment their subscription business.

Siemens has recommitted to SolidEdge and in late 2010 you could hear a sigh of relief across the user community. The ever-strong SolidWorks seemed a little shaky in 2010 compared to its closest competitors, but the company’s SolidWorks World is coming up shortly and this is when they’ll show off what they’ve got—we know there’s a big cloud component.

History vs. direct battle continues

Throughout 2010 the major CAD companies have been grappling with ways to make modeling easier without losing the benefits of history-based modeling. Just about all the companies have at least a plan if not an actual shipping technology and there are boos and hurrahs associated with each. Siemens was the first with its Synchronous Technology; Autodesk followed with Fusion—or was it Dassault that came next?

Never mind, the point is that the major CAD companies are taking the direct train but some of them are less clear about where the train is going than others. Users are the winners here, but most are going to have to wait a while as users and vendors alike figure out how people are actually going to work with this stuff.

Several companies have challenged the status quo with direct 3D modelers including SpaceClaim, CoCreate, Kubotek, IronCAD, and lots more. What they’ve mostly done is spur their higher-end competitors to add some kind of direct modeling option to their products. Or, in the case of PTC, to acquire CoCreate and completely change their product line. More on this later.

Low-end CAD takes a hit

The low end of CAD has not been a really great place to be during the recession. People don’t buy cheaper products during a recession; people don’t buy anything during a recession. At least people and companies with jobs do a minimal job of keeping up subscriptions.

Piracy continues

Piracy has continued to be a huge problem especially in China. China is attempting to build and acquire its own products for home use and maybe world domination. This is one area where our multi-discipline view is useful. We have seen China try similar tactics in tablets, phones, and semiconductors. In general it hasn’t worked because in the age of globalization, no country, not even China, can live behind a wall.

Crazy like a fox?

Has PTC gone crazy, or have they gone creative? PTC’s Executive Vice President Brian Shepherd said to a gathering of CAD users at COFES Israel that software packaging is the real frontier for the future. He wasn’t talking about boxes, he was talking about how software functionality gets to customers.

PTC is dealing with direct vs. history-based modeling, old code, interoperability, and rendering by breaking the pieces apart into “apps” under the name “Creo.” It’s the boldest damn thing that’s happened in CAD in 20 years. Kinda funny when you think about it; PTC was the boldest damn thing in CAD 20 years ago (or so, but who’s counting).

Kathleen Maher is Editor-in-Chief of GraphicSpeak and Vice President of Jon Peddie Research.