3D Experience Platform could solve problems

Dassault Systèmes unveils its next-generation product development system, clearly a strategy for the long haul.

By L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E.

At Dassault Systèmes’s annual 3D Experience Customer Conference November 12-13, 2013 in Las Vegas, the mechanical engineering software giant shed glimmers of light on its soon-to-be delivered 3D Experience Platform. This appears to be an extension of their Catia/Enovia V6 software, first released in 2008. But it contains extensions of capabilities that could improve engineering productivity of multinational manufacturers.

3D Experience Platform

The first and most obvious improvement is a reduction in the onerous task of system administration. Until the advent of the new platform, Catia and Enovia customers had no choice but to set up complex systems of license and PDM servers in their data centers. Then they had to install suites of software products on individual workstations, one for each license. Finally, the whole system had to be tested to make sure it worked. The process took days or weeks, was often fraught with errors, and had to be repeated each time a new software release or service pack was shipped from Dassault.

With the 3D Experience Platform, Dassault Systèmes provides the license, PDM, and model file servers in a so-called “cloud” configuration. The customer does not know and need not care which computer in the cloud holds each piece of data. Customers may choose to employ Dassault’s cloud of computers, accessible over the Internet, or may elect (for a higher fee) to build their own clouds of servers accessible through private networks. If the customer chooses to use Dassault’s cloud, installation is minimal, according to CEO Bernard Charlès. Each user logs in through a web browser, and the appropriate software applications are downloaded.

In addition to streamlining setup and administration, the 3D Experience Platform promises to improve communication among engineers of varying disciplines throughout large organizations and their supply chains. For example, the platform enables the Catia Systems software for creating logical and electrical block diagrams to be associated with 3D models. When a change is made to the 3D model, its effect, if any, is also reflected in the 2D diagram.

Similar relationships are enabled between Catia and other product families, such as the Simulia (formerly Abaqus) and Delmia (nee Deneb Robotics) PLM software families. When a change is made to the Catia model, it is reflected in any analytical models made with Simulia.  The analyst is then notified and is able to check to see if any of the stress, deflection, or vibration calculations need to be rerun. In like fashion, when a change is made to the Catia model, a manufacturing engineer using the Delmia Manufactured Item Definition software will see the item list automatically updated.

The 3D Experience Platform applications appear in a window that is in reality a stripped-down version of the Netvibes Dashboard software for graphically displaying data from a variety of sources. The dashboard allows selected Dassault Systèmes engineering applications to appear in various windows, along with graphs generated from databases such as Enovia V6.

What’s in a name?

Browsing the Dassault Systèmes 3DS.com website indicates that most of the data-sharing capabilities of the 3D Experience Platform existed in previous versions of the V6 software. What the platform really seems to be about is packaging and pricing the thousands of Dassault Systèmes applications (apps, in the current parlance) that have been written or acquired for V6.

In the past, Catia V5 applications were combined into packages with awkward-sounding names such as the “Extended Mechanical Design Configuration” or the “Automotive Body-In-White Design Configuration.” With the 3D Experience Platform, the Catia, Simulia, Enovia, and Delmia applications appear destined to fade away. The familiar, if geeky, terms will be replaced by monikers followed by the word “experience” such as the “patient experience” aimed at designers of medical equipment and devices or the “industry process experience” for designers of power and chemical process plants.

Planners in the dozen industry groups defined by Dassault Systèmes will identify the appropriate apps for each type of worker and make them available as a family of “experiences” suitable for each worker’s activities. At the customer forums, product managers gave no indication about how much each of these various experiences might cost. However, they will be priced for each worker in the company who will receive a log-in code along with his or her name.

Existing V5 customers have balked at this so-called “named-user” pricing model recently because Catia licenses generally are shared by more than one worker.  Therefore charges for each named user must be much lower than current license pricing.

Will it work?

Aside from the obvious technical challenges of getting all that software in the 3D Experience Platform to worth together reliably, Dassault Systèmes faces the even more daunting challenge of selling it. The bulk of Dassault Systèmes’s so-called PLM revenues come from huge manufacturers with hundreds or thousands of Catia users spread in plants and offices around the globe. These companies evolve their CAD tools very slowly. Some are continuing to use CATIA V4 in places, even though they have rights to use V5 license packages. Getting these heterogeneous environments to mesh with the 3D Experience Platform would appear very difficult.

What the 3D Experience Platform might accomplish is to open up new markets for Dassault Systèmes in industries where the PLM software group has historically had low sales. These include appliances, electronics, non-automotive industrial equipment, medical devices, architecture, and power and process plants. However, Dassault Systèmes’s SolidWorks brand already has significant shares of these markets. So Dassault Systèmes may find itself in the unfortunate position of competing with its own products.

At this point, Dassault Systèmes’s marketing strategy for the 3D Experience Platform appears to be aimed at high-level information-technology executives rather than the small firms and department-level managers who typically buy SolidWorks. To reach these firms in industries where it has limited presence, Dassault Systèmes will need to partner with large systems integrators such as IBM, HP, Accenture, CSC, and Fujitsu. They can provide access to higher-level executives, says engineering software consultant Monica Schnitger. It’s a strategy for the long haul that the software giant needs to undertake. Growth in its historical markets for PLM software (automotive and aerospace) appears to be saturating. (See “Dassault Systèmes hits doldrums in third quarter.”) But if the new technology is even half as good as Dassault Systèmes executives say it is, it could propel growth for decades. Charlès says the 3D Experience Platform will be released in January 2014.

L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E., is a contributing analyst for Jon Peddie Research.