Growing by Design
Issue: Volume: 30 Issue: 5 (May 2007)

Growing by Design

At first glance, the CAD market has not changed dramatically from five, or even 10, years ago. Companies such as Dassault Systemes, Autodesk, PTC, and UGS are still the major players in the market. They are the companies that continue to lead the industry in driving growth and adoption of technology. Computer-aided design tools, such as Dassault’s Catia, Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Inventor, PTC’s Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks’ software, and UGS’s Solid Edge and NX (previously known as Unigraphics) continue to be flagship products from these vendors.

And while there is still growth in the industry, the market has evolved into something that goes far beyond creating and manipulating 3D design concepts within the confines of CAD or CAM. The key difference today is that these CAD products can no longer operate in isolation. Rather, they are part of a suite of tools used across the enterprise to better communicate and collaborate. It is the idea that 3D images and the data stored within these designs provide value not only within the design and engineering departments, but also throughout the production process.

This larger concept of the industry has been around for several years and is called Product Lifecycle Management.  PLM itself is not one specific component or product category the same way CAD or CAM is thought of. Instead, PLM tries to encompass all things relating to CAD, CAM, design analysis, data distribution, and manufacturing processes. It refers to a complete business approach that combines all the production processes of a product throughout its entire life cycle.

The latest data from CIMdata research indicates that the overall PLM market grew 10.4 percent in 2006, reaching $20.1 billion in total revenue. Moreover, CIMdata projects the market to continue showing strong signs of growth during the next five years, with projected sales of $30 billion by 2011.

Thanks to this expanded view of the market, all of the vendors have made acquisitions to broaden their product lines and enable them to enter new markets. For example, Dassault has acquired several companies—such as MatrixOne, Abaqus, and Virtools—to help with its visualization, collaboration, and enterprise components. Autodesk acquired Alias, Robobat, and Constructware. PTC’s acquisitions have included Itedo, Mathsoft, and Arbortext. And UGS itself was acquired by Siemens in January for $3.5 billion.

“The market is not about CAD anymore. It is about PLM now, which means full simulation of the entire production life cycle,” notes Philippe Forestier, vice president of the Americas at Dassault Systemes. “In the ’90s, the first digital mock-up was done of a Boeing 777. Today, there are complete virtual planes being developed within the PLM framework, with fully working simulations and complete data mock-ups.”

It is this broader view of the market that has significantly altered the landscape. More precisely, the market is about the entire production pipeline of design, visualization, simulation, and analytics. The pipeline then varies depending on the industry for which the production is being used, and that can range from aerospace to automotive or consumer goods.

Apart from the broader view of PLM, there are two macro-level trends greatly affecting the industry today. The first is the widespread adoption and use of 3D data. More and more, 3D data is being used across a variety of disciplines within an organization. It is no longer considered an isolated production component designated strictly to design and engineering departments. Second, the Internet has made the exchange of data and information practically instantaneous. The collaborative exchange of data is happening not only between multiple locations of a manufacture’s design team, but also between a manufacturer and its maintenance crews, its suppliers, and its customers. As a result, manufacturers are using 3D to bring products to market earlier and maintain a competitive edge in a global economy.

“Over the past five to 10 years, we have seen a real switch in the industry, with companies focusing more on cost-cutting and [paring] down their organization,” explains Bill Carrelli, vice president of strategic marketing at UGS. “Today, companies have realigned their thinking to take advantage of their top-line growth and to find ways to grow their company organically. That can only come from developing better products. So the need for innovation in the global environment is critical.”

Proliferation of 3D

More and more, it is the ecosystem around a company that moves it to adopt 3D. According to Amy Bunszel, director of the Autodesk Inventor product line, two things are going on right now. The first is that there is still an enormous amount of customers making the migration from 2D to 3D, but there has been a shift in how Autodesk thinks about that. Rarely do customers make the switch from 2D to 3D; it’s more likely they are adding 3D.

“There will always be some applications that will remain 2D applications, such as factory floor layout and electrical schematics, but they need to be able to interface with the 3D design,” Bunszel says. “That is where we have invested a lot of our time, in helping our customers pick which world they need to work in and then, where appropriate, move the data between the two worlds so they can be most effective in getting to market faster and build better products. Additionally, we are seeing that these companies are starting to include 3D in the overall process because they need to interface with 3D. It helps that there have been well-documented cases of the ROI impact of including 3D in the manufacturing process.”

Similarly, Dassault is heavily focusing its efforts on 3D. As Forestier notes, there are three markets for 3D. First, there are the creators of 3D—those building and designing the actual products or content. Then there are the people who need to collaborate with the content on a daily basis—the maintenance staff, the sales force, and finance departments within companies. Finally, there are the consumers of 3D. And, according to Forestier, Dassault plans on making a big push into the mainstream consumer market for 3D.

Additionally, the use of 3D is happening much earlier in the production pipeline as companies are opting to use 3D for their early-stage digital prototyping to determine how well a product will perform. More precisely, manufacturers are using 3D to make their mistakes earlier and faster in the design process. By building models in 3D, they are able to test and validate their products before they have to commit to their hard tooling. Part of that is due to the fact that the analysis tools are getting much easier to use. Today designers can analyze their own designs for structural weaknesses.

“Our customers who have been working in 3D for a while are asking for more,” says Bunszel. “Now they might want to see how their moving components are going to interact so they can adjust the design on the computer before they even go out to build the actual prototype.”

One reason for this is that the manufacturer’s cost of goods has significantly increased. “The raw material cost for building products has become a key differentiator as to whether or not a company will be profitable, notes John McEleney, CEO at SolidWorks. “All you have to do is look at the chart for copper, zinc, and steel, and you can see the expense for these base materials. The costs for these materials have increased so much that manufacturers are looking at less-expensive alternative base materials to make their products. This means companies need to do more analysis up-front in the early design stage of a product.”
The use of realistic 3D solutions gives DaimlerChrysler, a
Dassaultcustomer, nearly lifelike simulations—so real
theCG can be merged with aphoto of the factory floor.

Globalization is Collaboration

Today’s CAD solutions also need to fit within a global environment that adopts a wide range of manufacturing, sales, and maintenance functions. Whether a company is doing large-scale production or has a small operation, it is looking for solutions that will keep the firm competitive. Globalization itself is a challenge, given the speed at which information is received and processed.

“One of the biggest problems users are facing is globalization; it is clearly one of the biggest opportunities and, at the same time, one of the biggest challenges,” says McEleney. “There is opportunity in the expanded markets. The challenge is one of cost-competitiveness, and it is becoming an ever-increasing challenge. Tailoring your product for local markets is difficult. Being able to do it all on a 24/7 pace that is faster than ever means schedules are forever being constrained.”

McEleney goes on to explain that from a globalization standpoint, SolidWorks has done a lot of work to make it easier for users to publish from SolidWorks to PDF files and eDrawings. The amount of eDrawings has skyrocketed, he notes, so the idea of helping users better communicate in a lightweight fashion has been significant in helping SolidWorks customers across a wide range of locations.

As Robin Saitz, PTC’s vice president of solutions marketing, also points out, companies are participating in these globally distributed environments. As a result, it is no longer about just having a great CAD tool; it’s about being able to manage the CAD data in a globally distributed environment and being able to connect to data management solutions, share information, and collaborate that becomes important to customers. She goes on to explain, “The Internet now plays a much bigger part in the product development process, and engineers need to play a part in that. In making Pro/E Web-aware, thereby allowing engineers and designers to connect from within their Pro/Engineer environment when they do their day-to-day jobs, was a major improvement in our CAD solution.”

UGS’s Carrelli agrees. “Two things drive our business today: innovation and globalization,” he says. “Whether you are part of a small or large company, you are working with either larger OEMs if you are a supplier, or if you are an OEM, you are working with partners that are all over the world. They could be design partners, manufacturing partners, customers, distributors, or service partners, so the need to connect all of them is critical, and globalization itself is critical.”

A CAD image today, such as this one from SolidWorks, contains
farmore information than it did just a few years ago.

CAD in 3D

With the increased use of 3D data and the collaborative exchange of this data, many companies are fearful of the downstream effect of these processes. There is the real issue that somewhere along the life cycle, the integrity of the original data will be compromised. In a recent study released by the Aberdeen Group, titled “The Transition from 2D Drafting to 3D Modeling Benchmark Report,” the findings show that the primary concern manufacturers had with incorporating 3D into their workflow were the software training involved, the impact on user productivity, and the difficulties of managing complex CAD relationships.

“The biggest barrier customers have is their own anxiety, and that anxiety stems from a couple of things,” notes Bunszel. “Customers are concerned about maintaining the integrity of their data. They are also very concerned about the learning curve of incorporating new tools into their overall development process. They can’t afford any downtime today.”

So while customers move toward the nirvana of an enterprisewide, collaborative 3D environment, there remain fundamental barriers that plague the industry. The biggest concern moving forward is the ability to transfer 3D files seamlessly among the existing tools and PLM solutions. Still, it is not only about transferring the 3D image, it is about transferring and keeping intact the information that goes along with that file, such as the underlying properties and original geometry. It becomes a question of file interoperability and true data collaboration. As David Prawel, an industry expert with LongView Advisors, puts it, “You can’t innovate if you can’t collaborate. And you can’t collaborate if you can’t share data.”

Ultimately, manufacturers will continue to use a wide range of tools to create and deliver products quickly to market. The next industry milestone will be when file interoperability can work seamlessly within a standardized collaborative environment.

Wanda Meloni is a strategy consultant based in San Diego, CA. She works with a wide range of technology companies, has published numerous research reports, and writes articles on trends within the industry. She can be reached at