SolidThinking Rethinks Industrial Design

SolidThinking, Inc. shook up MacWorld in 2009 with their product for industrial design that ran on both Mac and Windows. In 2010, the company decided to take its story to its users.

The basic block
Inspired starts with a basic block
SolidThinking Inspired suggests an optimized shape
Given various constraints, SolidThinking Inspired suggests an optimized shape

SolidThinking, a division of Altair, is introducing solidThinking Version 8.0 to the international design community. The company has been based in Europe and has its roots in industries such as furniture design and car styling. The company has been acquired Novi-based Altair Engineering, a company that builds design analysis and optimization tools. The two companies are a magnificent fit since both seek to optimize the design possibilities.

The SolidThinking customer list reflects its continental origins and includes Azimut Yachts, Bulgari, Cartier, Diesel, DuPont, Fujitsu, Hugo Boss, Italdesign Giugiaro, Korg, MacGregor Golf, Mares, Masterfoods, Merck, Nestle, Nikon, Toshiba, Volkswagon, and Volvo. With the acquisition by Altair, SolidThinking is getting exposure into new markets, and it has opened up new reseller channels in Asia and Europe as well as Altair’s home base in Detroit.

Alex Mazzardo is SolidThinking’s vice president of product strategy and marketing. There are few people in the CAD industry who got much enjoyment out of 2009, but Mazzardo notes that 2009 was not a bad time to get things started. “We are very, very positive about what’s happening now;” he said. “We made a good start in 2009, and the end of the year was quite good.”

It helps when you have something to sell. SolidThinking is a lovely industrial design tool with a very graphical interface. The company’s tools are NURBS-based and it has combined the ability to directly model an object but maintain relationships through a construction tree.

With the company’s latest release, SolidThinking has gotten an improved interface with new 3D tools for translation, scaling and rotation. It has improved its visualization tools with the ability to show the wireframe on the shaded model and environment maps. The product has wizard interfaces including tools to choose modeling units and tolerances. It also has real time rendering that takes advantage of OpenGL for GPU acceleration. SolidThinking lets users choose from a wide range of shaders and has progressive rendering so that they can immediately see what their finished product might look like. The company has considerably beefed up its rendering pipeline including the addition of high dynamic range imaging and has added complex reflectance shaders to create lifelike elements including glossy and blurred reflections, frosted glass, car paints, and metallic effects.

SolidThinking Inspired

What’s really new for SolidThinking is SolidThinking Inspired. The new Inspired product has been developed using technology from Altair. It includes the SolidThinking product and adds an Altair’s innovative conceptualization tool. The technology is called Morphogenesis and it is designed to let designers see where their designs could go and still stay within the bounds of practicality.

The idea is that designers can take a rough block and apply basic constraints. For instance, in the case of the motorcycle, we know most of a person’s weight will go to the seat, they’ll lean on the handlebars. The wheels are expected to stay on the ground, mostly. The software then goes about removing as much material as possible and gives the designer a skeleton to work with. What you get looks like an alien motorcycle but it’s also an innovative shape to work with.

Designs suggested by Inspire can be brought back into the SolidThinking modeler to be refined into a workable design.

SolidThinking sells for $3495 for a single node license. With the addition of Inspire, the price goes up to $4,495.

What Do We Think?

SolidThinking deserves the boost it’s getting from the acquisition of Altair Engineering. What we are thrilled to see is that Altair and SolidThinking have been able to combine forces fairly rapidly. With the introduction of SolidThinking Inspire, the reasons for the Altair acquisition have become much clearer and we’re looking forward to seeing what kinds of new innovation comes out of the marriage of the two companies. Mazzardo tells us that Inspire is just the first baby.

By the way, I asked Mazzardo what he thought about AutoCAD coming to the Mac platform. He sees it as a positive influence that will help legitimize the Mac for professional use. “It’s not a negative,” he said. “It will make the platform.” He agrees that there is going to be real innovation on the Mac for designers as new tools are developed for the new iPad. We’ve already seen how really fun Autodesk’s Sketch is for the iPhone. Using it on the iPad will make it practical and that’s not something that’s lost on Mazzardo or other companies looking at a brave new world of professional tools on the Mac.