Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 1 (January 2000)

CAD at the Crossroads

To say that the Internet is bringing about the biggest transformation in computing and communications since the microprocessor might be the understatement of the millennium—so far anyway. For no profession is this theme more relevant than engineering, judging from the flood of Internet-related commentary from CAD visionaries and the torrent of new Internet-based tools from CAD vendors at the joint M-Tech and AEC Systems show held recently in Chicago. What follows are some of the key predictions made at the conference about what will come to pass in the Age of the Internet.

Bandwidth limitations will disappear. The bandwidth currently available severely constricts the transmission of large CAD files over the Internet. But new telephone and cable communication techniques will alleviate this problem within a couple of years. According to Schmidt's Law (named after Novell CEO Eric Schmidt), bandwidth will double for high-end users every year. The corollary, asserted industry expert Joel Orr, is that Schmidt's law will replace Moore's law (a principle named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore stating that the number of transistors on a chip will double every 18 months) as the heartbeat of the industry. Such high-speed data transmission will redefine engineering communication and collaboration.

The work will go to the people. The people will no longer have to go to the work, maintained CAD consultant David Weisberg. As Internet technology enables companies to assemble virtual teams to work from remote locations (see "Group Efforts," pg. 38), we will see a shift from large, vertically integrated corporations to many tiny, autonomous business units, perhaps as small as single individuals. Essentially, this will bring about a return to the cottage industries of the 1700s, he noted, but now we will communicate over gigabit-per-second networks.

ASPs will change the face of CAD. The conventional approach to software distribution is to sell each customer a copy of an application program, which is then loaded and stored on the user's computer. But the advent of the application service provider (ASP) will revolutionize the process of buying and using CAD software, predicted Weisberg. ASPs will store the software in a central location, maintain program updates, manage CAD data, and facilitate collaboration. Users will tap into the service over the Internet on a pay-per-use basis to access the required data or functionality. (See Spotlight story on Alibre, page 8).

Technology for technology's sake will fail. Companies should not embrace new technology, particularly Internet technology, purely on the basis of new functions and features, warned John MacKrell, a consultant at CIMdata. Instead, they should make sure it will enhance a company's profitability. This will not only expedite the purchase of new tools, it will also help ensure their proper implementation. Indeed, high-level management support will be essential, to resolve the political battles that will inevitably occur, particularly with technology that crosses several disciplines.

As we enter the new millennium, technological change is taking place at an accelerating rate, and the Internet is setting the pace. Staying ahead of the curve may no longer be possible, but learning to adapt more quickly than the competition will be imperative for survival. Change is inevitable; success is not.

Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief