TechniCom detailed tests (Part 1) show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks

Executive Summary (Part 1 of an 8 part series)

Last Summer (August 2010) TechniCom Group published a report comparing Autodesk Inventor and Dassault Systemes SolidWorks using our Delphi Expert Analysis methodology[1]. The results of this report were somewhat controversial; Autodesk Inventor scored better in all fifteen categories than did SolidWorks, including core modeling. The scoring for the Delphi Expert report was the result of a very detailed survey of eight expert users of the two systems, four experts for each system. The experts had comparable familiarity with their systems and comparable backgrounds.

Readers of that report evidenced hunger for more detailed information, one that might be less sensitive to opinions and be more factual. As a result, TechniCom worked with Autodesk to develop a series of tests between the two systems that might expose the differences between the two systems and perhaps highlight advantages Inventor might have as compared to SolidWorks.

We are publishing the results of this series of tests in an eight part blog beginning with this summary of the results. Every two days or so we will add the details of each test, concluding the whole series within the next three to four weeks. Videos and images of both systems performing the tests will be included. At the end of this blog series we will publish a pdf version of the complete report on http://www.cad-portal.com.

A little background up front:

  • Autodesk commissioned (paid for) the tests.
  • Autodesk specified the tests which it challenged TechniCom, using SolidWorks Premium 2011, to match the results.
  • The seven tests are in the seven categories where TechniCom’s Delphi Expert report showed Autodesk Inventor rated the highest.
  • Extra cost third party software was not to be considered. When we were able, we used no-charge third party add-ins for SolidWorks — none were needed for Inventor.

Deciding what to test

First we had to decide what to test and the scope of the testing.

Followers of the mechanical CAD market are no doubt aware of the term Product Lifecycle Management, often designated as PLM. Autodesk’s mechanical philosophy is to eschew developing PLM software in favor of digital prototyping.

The term “Digital Prototyping” has led to some confusion in the industry. One clear definition comes from IDC in a paper entitled “Digital Prototyping: Autodesk Strengthens Competitiveness of Worldwide SMB Manufacturers’, published October 2008. This whitepaper differentiates digital prototyping from PLM by noting that “PLM reaches from a product’s cradle to its grave. On the other hand, digital prototyping stops at the completion of the digital product and its engineering bill of materials . . . The beauty of digital prototyping is that designs can be tested out before they go to manufacturing.”

Thus, Autodesk’s definition of digital prototyping includes the basic functions of PLM — industrial design, design and engineering, data vaulting, and collaboration, without the post-manufacturing baggage.

Autodesk has been carefully steering its Inventor software product development over the past few years to enable workflows that take maximum advantage of seamlessly passing data among its built-in application solutions. Thus, what we see in Inventor today is a careful melding of technologies that Autodesk has acquired or built. Many of these technologies are not available as extra cost add-ons to the base software, but fully included as part of the Inventor software. Some example, of which you will see more later, include mold analysis software, mold base design capabilities, built-in advanced simulation, inherent design automation options, an intelligent part library, built-in engineering calculations, and many others. Not only are these available as an integrated part of Autodesk Inventor, but they are often combined to form workflows that aid in developing the digital engineering models.

Thus, when deciding the scope of what to test, we settled on a series of tests that focus on the areas in our Delphi Expert analysis where Inventor rated the highest. These areas include the following:

  1. Plastic Part Design
  2. Plastic Injection Mold Design
  3. Assembly Design and Analysis
  4. Exporting BIM-ready Models
  5. Interoperability
  6. Design Automation
  7. Mechatronics

Even deciding on these seven areas leaves a great many options to be tested. Autodesk decided on the detailed functions to be tested; Autodesk specified the seven tests in detail. They are aimed at comparing the two systems ability to perform common, real-world engineering workflows. These tests are not designed to be impartial; they are taken from standard demos used by Autodesk that were designed to represent a series of engineering workflows highlighting Inventor’s digital prototyping capabilities. Most of them, as the users will see from the blogs that follow in the next few days, are aimed at performing a complete design sequence. The complete eight blogs, including this summary, will cover the seven workflow tests we performed. We will include the details of what we tested, images and videos of the results, what we observed comparing the two systems, and our summary of how well each system was able to perform the desired workflow.

Tests specified by Autodesk

Autodesk provided TechniCom with the test definitions including videos of Inventor performing the desired task, starter geometry, related dimensions, and other relevant data, all described below within each test section. TechniCom’s task was to perform the same tests using SolidWorks Premium 2011. Because Autodesk provided much of the model data we were able to focus on the desired workflow details of each test rather than building geometry.

Autodesk commissioned TechniCom to perform these tests and to document the results.

Our approach

TechniCom, in collaboration with a Certified SolidWorks Professional (CSWP) performed and analyzed these tests during November and December 2010 using Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011. To make the scope reasonable, we limited each vendor’s software strictly to what was included with the package or third party add-ins that we were able to find and download free of charge.

For the test definitions, we used the Inventor videos illustrating the work to be performed. We attempted to deliver the same results, as did Inventor, using SolidWorks Premium 2011.

As we publish the results of the seven tests, we will make available annotated videos of both Inventor and SolidWorks performing the tests on TechniCom’s blog at http://www.raykurland.com. Readers wanting to understand how the two products compared have the unique ability to review these videos along with reading our test summaries in this report.

We remind the reader that we compared Inventor Professional 2011 versus SolidWorks Premium 2011 with the restriction that extra cost third party software was not to be considered. When we were able, we used no-charge third party add-ins for SolidWorks — none were needed for Inventor.

Summary of the test results

We plan to provide more detail, including videos of both systems performing the tests, in a series of blogs beginning in the next two days.

Plastic part to be designed

In the first two tests, plastic part design and injection mold design, Inventor clearly outclasses SolidWorks. Whereas Inventor completed all aspects of the test, SolidWorks was unable to complete major portions of the analysis of the part and the mold.

Mold design used

Inventor was also able to design the mold significantly faster than SolidWorks due to the inclusion of automated tools for designing the various subsystems of the mold.

For the assembly design and analysis test, both systems were able to model the addition of a clevis pin. However, Inventor excelled in its ability to design the correct pin by coupling its engineering calculation library to the potential design. In other words, Inventor helped select the correct pin size because it was able to use its calculations concerning the required stress that the pin would need to perform correctly. This is subtly different than SolidWorks, which used its library to size the pin, but without taking into account its stress requirements.

Final assembly showing clevis pin

The SolidWorks approach was to design the pin and then analyze it in an iterative fashion using its built-in FEA solution until the specifications were met. In this case SolidWorks was unable to verify that its built-in FEA solution was correct. A more advanced version of the FEA solver would have been required; concomitant with more advanced engineering skills.

Chiller exported to Autodesk Revit

The latest release of SolidWorks added some BIM exchange capabilities, but Inventor’s BIM data transfer capabilities exceeded SolidWorks in key areas important to building designers. These included specifying connection points and component types that are carried over to the BIM-designer’s software. In addition, the mechanical designer using SolidWorks had a more difficult time orientating the model and simplifying a non-native model for export.

Bell housing

Our test of CATIA interoperability and direct modeling on imported models reiterated the widely known issue that SolidWorks does not directly import a native CATIA V5 file, even though both products are part of the same company. Direct modeling was comparable for both Inventor and SolidWorks, with SolidWorks being a little easier to use for the simple direct model changes we made. The SolidWorks drawing output in DWG format produced an incorrect dimension in a scaled view.

Copies of frame along a path

For design automation, our tests revealed two weaknesses of SolidWorks. SolidWorks with DriveWorks Xpress was not able to automatically scale drawing views to fit a part within the confines of a drawing after the size of the part was changed. Manual intervention was necessary. A second weakness was shown when scaling a copied assembly using 3D curves to define key points as the assembly was copied and scaled to other planes. Inventor was easily able to scale a copied assembly using drive curves; SolidWorks could, but required significant manual effort.

Electrical schematic and assembly

Both systems proved to be comparable in mechatronics where we tested the ability to build wire harnesses using schematic input from electrical software packages, albeit Inventor was able to do so with many fewer interactions.

Conclusions

Ray Kurland, President of TechniCom, knew that the tests were meant to highlight Inventor strengths, but was surprised that SolidWorks Premium 2011 was, in many tests, not able to do the work without adding pricey third party software. Duplicating Inventor’s capability on these tests with third party products will also make SolidWorks substantially more expensive than Inventor.

These seven tests underscore our contention from our previous Delphi Expert Analysis, that Inventor is a mature system that can more than effectively compete with SolidWorks and should definitely be considered for even the most complex situations.

The Inventor workflows illustrated in this series of tests are integrated and highly logical, enabling users to accomplish their design goals with minimal effort. Beyond that, we hope to have shown the value of Autodesk’s digital prototyping emphasis, which we expect will continue to evolve even further.

“I didn’t know that Inventor had this much functionality,” said TechniCom Group’s associate performing the tests, a CSWP. “I know that they acquired a lot of technology over the past few years, but I am surprised to see it all integrated so well into Inventor.”

Overall, TechniCom is most impressed with Inventor and the direction Autodesk is taking for the future. To keep abreast with our continued tracking of the industry and our reactions to Autodesk’s direction we advise readers to follow our blog and twitter feeds.


[1] “Comparing the Capabilities of Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2010 Using TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Technique”, 9 August 2010, a paper by TechniCom Group, available at http://www.cad–portal.com.

Autodesk’s digital prototyping explained

Followers of the mechanical CAD market are no doubt aware of the term Product Lifecycle Management, often designated as PLM. Autodesk’s mechanical philosophy is to eschew developing PLM software in favor of digital prototyping.

The term “Digital Prototyping” has led to some confusion in the industry. One clear definition comes from IDC in a paper entitled “Digital Prototyping: Autodesk Strengthens Competitiveness of Worldwide SMB Manufacturers’, published October 2008. This whitepaper differentiates digital prototyping from PLM by noting that “PLM reaches from a product’s cradle to its grave. On the other hand, digital prototyping stops at the completion of the digital product and its engineering bill of materials . . . The beauty of digital prototyping is that designs can be tested out before they go to manufacturing.”

Thus, Autodesk’s definition of digital prototyping includes the basic functions of PLM — industrial design, design and engineering, data vaulting, and collaboration, without the post-manufacturing baggage.

In the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of blog posts that clearly illustrate how Autodesk Inventor has carefully melded a variety of technologies that Autodesk has acquired or built into design oriented workflows that improve specific engineering processes.

Stay tuned!

Siemens PLM Software firing on all cylinders

22 Sep 2010: Yesterday Siemens PLM Software (SPLMS) kicked off its annual analyst conference in Boston, MA, following a years hiatus due to the economy in 2009.

As usual, a really packed day resulted in information overload by early afternoon. Alas, we are not scheduled to get any of the PowerPoint slides until later today so I cannot yet share any with you. Nevertheless, after nine hours of listening, 30 pages of notes, and viewing hundreds of slides, here is short list of the more significant highlights of the day:

  • The transition to new President Chuck Grindstaff seems to be going smoothly. Surrounded by an experienced team of long time PLMers, Chuck is upbeat and feels confident about the transition. Long the technology strategist, he plans to continue as CTO, at least for a while.
  • Following a “difficult year” in 2009, Siemens business is up more than 25% this year. The company trotted out a chart of their success, for example, in the auto industry, noting that 12 out of 15 of the top players now use Teamcenter, traditionally a Dassault Systemes (DS) stronghold. Not only that, but they are displacing DS’ V6 with NX in several accounts. Other top performing industries include aerospace and surprisingly, shipbuilding. Tony Affuso pointed out that being a part of Siemens helps enormously in winning large and very large accounts, because of company stability (120 years in business) and the synergy with other parts of the Industrial Automation Group.
  • On the technology front, Teamcenter is expanding its offering rapidly into new applications. Notable among them is a new System Engineering application that now allows validating products based on customer requirements – one I have long awaited. Solid Edge ST3 is on the horizon. A pre announcement briefing is schedule for later today. Two customers spoke glowingly of its use. Mechatronics Concept Design was oft mentioned today as a new application about to be released. It combines a physics gaming engine along with a hew UI, allowing early concepts to tie together electrical and electronic system into early design. We are due to hear more later today and I will update my readers as I find out more about the technology.
  • For many years I have been a lone voice in the woods imploring PLM vendors to make access to the reams of data easier. SPLMS shows the promise of delivering with HD-PLM. Not exactly sure about what is involved to make this work for each client, but Grindstaff intimated that it could be done with minimal efforts. Their goal is to provide clients access to the massive amounts of data so organizations can customize displays that make sense of often used data. For example, by displaying the graphic of a full car, and color-coding all late items red, a user can instantly see the project status. How about where it does not meets specs, or over cost, or needs work for fit and finish? Wow, this is exciting!
  • Many customers spoke about their implementations, perhaps none so eloquently as Amy Gowder, Director of Performance Excellence of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics about their use of SPLMS software on the JSF program. Working with 3 major variants of the product and 10 international partners companies, they have so far avoided major fit issues as have plagued Airbus and Boeing. Gowder noted that their success is not based on software, but on changes to the ways they work. Wonder how I can get a flight in the Harrier replacement variant?
  • More to come . . .

Update to Aras Software interview

Earlier today I had a follow up conversation and demo of Aras PLM software with Marc Lind. To net it out, I asked Marc why users would buy Aras Software instead of one of their vertically integrated competitors such as Enovia, Teamcenter, or Windchill? Marc replied with three main reasons:

  • The software works. It’s reliable, it’s functionally robust, implementations are easier, users can see results faster, and its design promotes much faster upgrades to new versions.
  • The economics of the business model are so compelling. The ROI proves it.
  • Aras Innovator is the platform of the future, in terms of scalability, ability to design release independent custom processes, upgrades, and flexibility, and it’s cloud ready.

You will have to see for yourself — the company has no salesmen, because the downloads are free. Their website contains lots of good info.

A conversation with Marc Lind of Aras Software about open PLM software

Recently we had the chance to interview Marc Lind of Aras Software of Andover, Massachusetts about their open source PLM software. Marc is Sr. Vice President, Global Marketing.

Here are my questions and his replies. I think you will find their approach to be very different. While some smaller companies use their software, their primary market is large companies.

1. What exactly is Open Source PLM?

Lind: Aras is an advanced PLM solution suite for enterprise-wide deployments that is delivered as enterprise open source. This means that there are No PLM license expenses (no users or modules license costs). Aras personnel are executives and technologists from PTC, Dassault Systèmes, Agile-Oracle, Computer Vision and other PDM/PLM companies. The Aras scope is similar to MatrixOne and Windchill for PLM configuration management and supply chain processes with robust security and enterprise-wide scalability.

The comprehensive enterprise PLM functionality of Aras includes configuration management, engineering change workflows, document management, requirements, Bill of Materials (BOM) structure, CAD / EDA integration, costing, NPDI, stage-gate / phase-gate, project management, quality compliance, APQP/PPAP, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), dashboard analytics, reports and more.

2. How does it differ from the typical PLM offerings from DS, PTC, SolidWorks, Siemens, etc?

Lind: There are No PLM license expenses (no users or modules license costs) and provides complete control over data model, interoperability and customization of the enterprise PLM platform (puts customers in control of their own destiny). This enables easy sharing of best practices and new process innovations either within a company and/or with a larger corporate community. Participation is completely optional. There are no requirement to contribute and companies can keep proprietary practices private.

3. What are your products?

Lind: Aras Innovator solution suite. See an overview at http://www.aras.com/solutions/

4. How does Aras make money from Open Source?

Lind: Very simple. Aras is bringing the proven Red Hat open sourcve business model for Linux to the PLM market. The software is freely available with no PLM license expense. We offer optional services (consulting and training) and subscription support packages.

For an overview of services go to http://www.aras.com/services/

For a subscription package overview go to http://www.aras.com/services/support.aspx

5. Who writes the software? Who checks it all out for QC?

Lind: We accept and encourage open source contributions back from users (contributing is completely optional), but before we incorporate these as part of the Aras-managed solutions we review, spec and re-write all the code. Why? Many reasons…

We need to maintain certain coding standards and patterns for enterprise security, architectural conformance, functional consistency, performance optimization and upgradeability. We’re also better able to ensure appropriate specifications and documentation. We add test automation hooks throughout the code, so that we can conduct automatic self-testing after each nightly build and as part of our release process. And when we rewrite it, we are ensuring that there are no licensing issues for Aras or our users. By doing all this we are providing companies with the confidence they need and the predictability they require.

We believe our approach gives the corporate community the best of both worlds – the freedom and flexibility you want in your PLM solution, with the security and control you need for your mission-critical enterprise applications. For more info see this link http://www.aras.com/Community/blogs/aras_corporate_blog/archive/2010/07/08/how-the-aras-approach-to-open-source-ensures-quality-confidence-and-corporate-security.aspx

6. Can any developer contribute?

Lind: Yes, the open source community projects are available for anyone to use, modify and contribute.

7. How are the inter-program standards kept?

See the answer to question 5, above.

8. Is there documentation available?

Lind: Comprehensive documentation from installation and configuration to admin and developer guides as well as end user documentation http://www.aras.com/support/documentation/

9. What is the typical size customer?

Lind: Typically large enterprise customers with between 1,000-10,000 PLM users

10. What customer IT skills are necessary? How much customer talent is needed to install and maintain OSS?

Lind: Microsoft platform skill sets for install and configure SQL Server database, Windows Server and .NET environment. Installing the full Aras Innovator suite should take less than 1 hour. Customizing the system typically needs PDM admin level skills (no programming is required).

11. What CAD systems do you support?

Lind: MCAD: CATIA, NX, Pro/E, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Inventor, AutoCAD and others. Also ECAD: Cadence, Allegro, OrCAD, DxDesigner/DxDatabook, PADS, Altium, Zuken and more

12. Do you support full product structure for these CAD systems and how do you stay in sync with their software and database changes?

Lind: Yes, supports full product structure for these CAD systems. We stay in sync by using the same 3rd party CAD integration developers used by Siemens, Oracle Agile and SAP.

13. Do you support CAD system attributes such as material properties, cost, etc?

Lind: Yes, CAD integration connectors include comprehensive property extraction from CAD designs including material properties, cost, etc.

14. Are there third party add-ons available as open source also? Please name them and the functional areas they cover.

Lind: Yes, there are over 85 open source community solution projects available on the Aras open source project site and more on other sites. They range from Requirements Management and Variants and Options to Motorola NPDI process and Outlook integrations.

15 and 16. Please explain any pricing advantages of OSS PLM.
What might the customer overall costs be, compared to a standard vendor offering?

Lind: Here is a good write up that describes cost of ownership comparison between Aras and other PLM solutions. http://www.aessis.com/Blog/post/Cost-of-ownership-comparison-between-Aras-and-other-PLM-solutions.aspx

[Note that there is still a substantial cost outlay.] Here is a chart from that article:

Open software cost versus Windchill Teamcenter Envoia

17. Who maintains the software and responds to program problems and customer support problems?

Lind: Aras.

18. Are there other OSS PLM vendors? Who is your primary competition?

Lind: I am not aware of any other OSS PLM vendors. Our primary competition is PTC Windchill, Siemens Teamcenter, Dassault ENOVIA MatrixOne and Agile Oracle

19. Does OSS PLM have any functional advantages over standard PLM offerings? What are they?

Lind: Clear functional advantage is the significant flexibility over the other major PLM offerings. Aras provides an advanced model-based SOA framework technology which enables real-time customization without complex programming. This means literally drag and drop modification of workflows, lifecycles, forms, business rules… even the data schema without coding. It also means that highly customized, large scale global deployments are upgraded in 10% the total time and 1% the total person hours required for other PLM/PDM systems.

For more information go to http://www.aras.com/technology/

SolidWorks World Day 3 – Wowed by the cloud

4 Feb 2010: Yesterday, the final day of SWW, SolidWorks demonstrated portions of what’s in SW 2011, but it paled in comparison to what they revealed about PLM in the cloud, called SolidWorks PLM. Of course, with a 20 minute staged demo, only a glimmer of the capability can be seen. Perhaps even less really understood.

I expected this to be another boring demonstration of managing data files, only on a different source. It was anything but. SolidWorkshas gone way beyond just moving PDM data to a cloud operation. They have fundamentally re-thought how such a transition might impact day-to-day engineering collaboration.

In the demonstrated example of their Data Sharing application, based on Enovia V6, a user wanted to collaborate with others. He uploaded the model and shared it with others simply by adding their id’s to a list of users. The cloud app automatically updates revision numbers as required, captures typed comments and instructions, and manages all the messy communications allowing access to anyone with a web browser. Collaborators with SolidWorks can download the files onto their local PC’s and work at a faster speed, uploading when complete. In the event a collaborator does not have SolidWorks they can use 3DLive to view, examine the model history and it’s components, and use other aspects of 3Dlive.

For external users, a new feature of SolidWorks 2011, seems to play well with SolidWorks PLM. It allows defeaturing a model, while preserving key points such as attachments needed for supplier sharing without endangering the IP.

Such cloud collaboration simply means identifying another user and giving her access to the dataset; yielding instantaneous access and no need to install any apps.

SolidWorks hinted that additional PLM apps would be available (no timeframe), adding more function in the future. This got me to thinking about some possibilities. Why not introduce PLM apps sort of like iPhone apps. Charging users for each major function, yet enabling it in the cloud? How about a document creation app, or a functional requirements app, or some mini-simulation apps, or a supplier relations app?

I’ll soon post another blog on the 2011 enhancements demonstrated.

——

PTC’s new Windchill RequirementsLink application looks very promising

During the PTC/USER meeting in Florida, week before last, PTC announced a new Windchill application – Windchill RequirementsLink.

As one of my key interests is Systems Engineering, and the press info was a bit sketchy, I had a follow on interview with Michael Distler, Director, PTC Windchill Solutions Marketing.

Basically, this application uses a document or input to the requirements, typically a Word doc. A user interacts with the application to “slice up” the document into individual requirements. Each requirement become a separate requirement and then can be “connected to” the part, assembly, or BOM which acts in fulfilling that requirement, almost seeming like a requirements BOM. Interestingly, additional data can be input that provides verification specifications also.

Reports generated from RequirementsLink allow users to check for traceability (which parts or assemblies are related to a requirement), for satisfaction of that requirement and whether any related verification tests have been performed and approved.

My reaction: This is a terrific capability for all engineers, one that is sorely needed by designers, managers, and quality personnel for sharing and collaborating on how requirements are met. Similar capabilities are also available with Siemens PLM Teamcenter and Dassault Systemes SmarTeam (soon to be part of Enovia). RequirementsLink provides a free viewer; the authoring version costs about $2000 per named user. PDMLink is a prerequisite.

None of the mentioned requirements software are yet technologically advanced enough to actually connect requirements to specification driven design. Nor can any actually examine the connected part automatically to determine whether the requirement has been satisfied. This may be a distant goal for future CAD systems.

Contact: http://www.ptc.com