TechniCom tests (Part 3) show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks in Plastic Injection Mold Design

Plastic Injection Mold Design

Continuing on with part 3 of our blog series dedicated to showing the differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows, we examine the ability to design and validate molds, starting with a pre-designed part.

We show below, using videos from both systems,three major design aspects of mold design:  the ability to use a 3D model of a plastic part to create the core and cavity of the mold, designing and engineering the multiple components and systems of the mold, and validating the design to ensure it can manufacture high-quality plastic parts.

Simple mold design used in this workflow test

Autodesk provided us with a model of the handle to be molded, detailed specifications for the mold, and three videos of Inventor performing the desired tests showing the workflow for splitting core and cavity, engineering of the mold, and a simulation and validation of the mold.

The key differences you will see demonstrated below

Autodesk Inventor provides standard libraries of mold bases and components along with automated tools for splitting the core and cavity and for designing the runners, gates, and cooling and ejection systems. The inclusion of Autodesk Moldflow simulation software directly in the design workflow allows designs to be validated and improved upon until they will optimally manufacture products of the highest quality.

SolidWorks includes dedicated functionality for splitting the core and cavity, but that is where the mold design capabilities end. With no automated design tools and no libraries of components, the design of injection molds is entirely manual and inefficient. Without any built-in plastics simulation capabilities, mold designers must purchase third party software, such as Autodesk Moldflow, often at significant cost, to validate and optimize their designs to ensure quality.

What’s Important in Plastic Injection Mold Design

  • Balance of speed in designing the mold while ensuring high quality.
  • Accurate design of mold components including runners for injecting the plastic materials, cooling of the mold, and ejecting the finished part.
  • Iteration of the mold design with simulation to arrive at an optimal design.

Observations

Splitting the Core and Cavity

The desired result was to generate parting surfaces and complete the core and cavity operations.

Inventor parting surface generation

SolidWorks parting surface generation

Inventor used a mixture of automated and manual patching and runoff surface creation tools. Surfaces for simple holes and profiles were created automatically which increases productivity. Complex patching and runoffs were created using Inventor’s surfacing tools.

SolidWorks also assisted the user in splitting the core and cavity with automated and manual tools for defining the parting line and creating patching and runoff surfaces.

The two systems are comparable in capability. SolidWorks required a few more menu picks and interactions, but both came up with an acceptable mold core and cavity. SolidWorks generated an odd triangular shape in the area to be removed, but it was temporary and did not affect the final part.

See the video of Autodesk’s engineer using Autodesk Inventor to perform the core and cavity workflow using Inventor: 

See how our engineer used SolidWorks to perform the core and cavity operation:

Engineering the Mold

The tasks completed included: designing the runners, adding a submarine gate, inserting a properly sized mold base, inserting a sprue bushing, designing cooling channels, attaching pipe fittings for cooling channels, and adding ejector pins as specified.

Inventor completed this task using a built-in workflow for designing injection molds that includes libraries of mold bases and standard components as well as automated design tools for runners, gates, cooling channels, slides, lifters, and ejectors.

 

Automated ejector placement in Inventor

Manual ejector placement in SolidWorks

SolidWorks had no built-in functionality for designing injection molds. All standard components needed to be searched for and brought in from external content centers or supplier websites, a time-consuming process. All modeling was done manually as there are no automated design tools for the various systems of the mold. This made mold design in SolidWorks a tedious and labor-intensive process with low user productivity. SolidWorks was able to build the geometry required for the moldbase design, but it was a laborious process.

See the video of the Autodesk engineer performing the mold design:

See TechniCom’s engineer performing the mold design using SolidWorks:

Validating the Mold Design

To validate the mold design for manufacturability we needed to first determine the optimal molding conditions for the entire system as designed. Next, we performed a filling analysis to determine if the mold, as designed, could completely fill the cavity at acceptable quality. Then, we assessed the location of air traps and weld lines. Lastly, we performed a shrinkage analysis so exact figures could be input for core and cavity sizing rather than manually inputting generic percentages.

Inventor includes Autodesk Moldflow simulation built-in to the mold design workflow, which was used to simulate the filling phase of multi-cavity molds and their respective runner systems to validate manufacturability. A shrinkage analysis was also used to ensure cavities were sized based on the specific design, rather than relying on generic shrinkage factors from the material supplier.

Inventor validates the mold design.

SolidWorks has no built-in simulation capabilities and therefore had no ability to validate the mold design for optimum molding conditions or for a filling analysis that would help the user avoid manufacturing problems that can potentially result in huge expenses in both time and cost. SolidWorks was unable to perform any portion of this validation using its software or no-charge software, of which there was none available that we were able to find.

Users could use Autodesk Moldflow stand-alone software that would have the capabilities required, at extra cost. Our analysis did not include examining extra cost third party products. We only compared Inventor Professional to SolidWorks Premium. Therefore we do not have a video of SolidWorks performing the mold validation.

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The next blog in this series (Part 4) will examine designing and analyzing a clevis pin in a hydraulic clamping assembly. Stay tuned or sign up to be notified of my blog updates.

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TechniCom tests (Part 2) show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks in Plastic Part Design

Part 2 of this 8 part series reveals the results of the Plastic Part Design workflow

Plastic Part Design tests the ability to import surface data from Alias, stitch the skins into a solid body, design the shell the part with a specified wall thickness, part using surfacing and plastic features, import new surfaces and update the model, and perform an injection molding simulation on the part.

Autodesk provided us with data files specifying the solid model, IGES and WIRE data files of the surfaces, and three movies depicting the workflow for surface import, engineering design, and simulation and validation.

A view of the final parts

What’s Important in Plastic Part Design

  • Rapid design, ready for manufacturing
  • Working with surfaces from industrial design software
  • Ability to directly create mold ready parts, typically for injection molding
  • •Evaluating the moldability of the part

Observations

Surface Import

Inventor was able to import the Alias wire file natively without issue. SolidWorks was unable to import the Alias wire file. Users must first translate Alias data to an IGES file, which is susceptible to translation errors, albeit not in this case.

Here is how Autodesk used Inventor to perform the surface import workflow:

Here is how TechniCom’s engineer used SolidWorks to perform the surface import workflow:

Building the Model

Creating a solid model from imported surfaces and being able to shell the resulting solid are typically the most error-prone steps in the process. Inventor was able to stitch and shell the part with zero errors. The shell was created in one step by defining the variable in the shell dialog box. SolidWorks was also able to stitch and shell the part with zero errors. Shell creation involved several steps to create and define the variable.

Specifications of the bosses

Plastic parts are typically designed using a set of standard features such as ribs, bosses, grilles, snap-fits, and lips to name just a few. The MCAD software should assist the user in efficiently modeling these features. Inventor used its plastic features toolset to add the two different types of bosses, a lip feature, and ribs. SolidWorks used plastic features for a majority of the features, although the recessed bosses required for this test first needed to be built manually and then added from the library of custom user features.

Here is how Inventor was used to build the model:

Here is how SolidWorks was used to build the model:

Simulate and Validate the Part Design

Plastic parts must be checked for potential quality defects prior to committing to the cost of designing and building the mold.

In the simulation to evaluate the manufactured quality of the product as-designed, Inventor simulated the injection molding process and uncovered high amounts of shear stress due to the part being too thin. If left uncorrected, this issue would lead to material degradation and molding defects or field failure. Inventor’s built-in mold analysis software also provided more extensive capabilities in terms of material selection and multiple gate analysis.

SolidWorks feedback about potential quality issues

Inventor feedback about potential quality issues

There are no built-in simulation capabilities within SolidWorks for evaluating the manufactured quality of the product as designed. However, we were able to use a third partner add-in module called SimpoeXpress. This has limited function, but allows for some material selection and a single gate. SolidWorks was able to simulate the molding process but the only result the user received was the filling pattern, which provided limited value. It was unable to identify any quality defects and the user was misled into thinking the design was acceptable. More comprehensive simulation packages are available at a cost of more than $5000.

After modifying the 3D CAD model, we reran the simulation to validate the design change. After making the recommended change to the part, Inventor automatically updated the model in the simulation environment; all that was required was to re-run the analysis. SolidWorks automatically updated the geometry but the analysis had to be setup from scratch, including processing parameters, gate location, and material selection.

Inventor’s workflow:

SolidWorks’ workflow:

Summary

Importing the IGES files and creating the plastic part was comparable for both products. While SolidWorks was able to import IGES curves from industrial design software, Inventor was able to directly read Alias (a leading industrial design software package) surface data, an advantage. Both products had excellent capabilities for building specialized plastic features such as the mounting boss and the lip and groove on the connecting halves of the model.

Inventor’s built-in analysis software powered by Moldflow provides impressive analysis capabilities, and is well integrated into part design. To perform these same tests with SolidWorks, on the other hand, required a no-charge third party product that was able to perform only a limited analysis of the part. The limited function mold analysis software that was free does not provide the engineer enough insight to be confident that parts can be manufactured at all or at acceptable quality. More complex mold analysis software with advanced analysis capabilities (which was not used) is available to SolidWorks users at considerable extra cost.

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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.

Aaron Kelly explains the business model for DraftSight

What a shocker! The premier 3D MCAD software organization, Dassault Systemes, announced a pure 2D drafting product with the business side based on an open source software model that provides free software. To find out more about the why’s and wherefore’s, Ray contacted Aaron Kelly, the head of this new business unit. My explanatory comments are within the brackets [] .

Aaron Kelly

What is your new position?

My new position is to lead the DraftSight business unit. I report into the DS SolidWorks Brand and am the General manager for this business unit. [Aaron was in SolidWorks product management for many years and has been with SolidWorks virtually since its inception – 15 years. He is a well respected SW executive.]

Where does the DraftSight organization fit within the DS and SW company structure? Is DraftSight a stand-alone company? How big is it? How is it organized?

The DraftSight organization has its own P&L and is made up of DS employees around the world. The team is made up of about 24 people in training, customer support, technical support, development, QA, marketing, product marketing, and sales.

What is the sales model, considering that the product is free?

The sales model involves selling value added services and/or products that are compelling for DraftSight users. DraftSight is free, but we are offering a service called DraftSight Premium Service. The DraftSight Premium Service includes a concurrent network license, access to the API extension (and updates) and Technical Support directly from DraftSight. This service is offered through all the Dassault Systemes direct and indirect channels. [It costs $250 per user per year]

Who are the target customers?

The primary target customers are existing DS customers who have a need to work with 2D and DWG files. This is a need, up until now, we have not had a solution for.

What is the cost/benefit to proposed customers?

We are trying to make is easier for our customers to invest in 3D and related technologies. By offering a low to no cost 2D offering, our customers can invest money allocated for 2D and use it to invest in 3D. The important thing we are trying to achieve is a superior user experience. It starts with an easy to download, free to activate product, shaped by a free, vibrant community, and is rounded out by professional technical support options.

Is the DraftSight product meant to completely replace 2D software from other competitors?

No, not really. Many of our customers today use DS products and our competitor’s [2D] products side by side. We are happy we are solving our customer’s needs where we can. We want the opportunity to either offer new 2D to 3D users who need it, expand the usage of 2D to those users who need it, but maybe cannot afford it, or replace competitor’s 2D software wherever a customer sees value.

How does DraftSight interface with other DS products? With non-DS products?

Many products from 3D CAD (SolidWorks and CATIA) to PLM products from DS read DWG files that DraftSight uses.

A focus on 2D is new for DS. Why now and what’s to come?

We are trying to solve customer problems. Customers certainly need to 2D functionality and DWG file capabilities. We are trying to help our customers. I think you are going to see many improvements in terms of social innovation tools – we are going to listen to our users with better community tools, we are going to build DraftSight based on user feedback. [Aaron went on to discuss that he plans to use crowd-sourcing from customers to vote on and thus select enhancements that they want.]

Where does the underlying technology come from? Is it Graebert? What is the impact of the Ares announcement on DraftSight?

We have a partnership with Graebert to use the ARES platform with DraftSight. We are in a very close partnership with Graebert and endorse their products for sale that have a different value proposition from DraftSight. For example, ARES Commander has a richer API and 3D as well as other features that DraftSight does not include.

What is the product future of DraftSight?

DraftSight is in Public Beta today. We will be shipping a released product in the coming months as well as a Beta version of a MAC release and a Linux release. Each DraftSight version was written specifically for the platform intended – either Windows, Mac or Linux.

If it’s free, how do you make money?

We make money by enabling our customers to invest in 3D as well as offering services around the free DraftSight product (DraftSight Premium Services). [The product, released on 22 June, about two months ago, has already had in excess of 40,000 downloads. Many fewer have signed service agreements.]

Why is this different than other free CAD products that have failed to be successful?

Customers are looking for more than free software. They want a real product with a future from a solid company, along with a long-term commitment, performance, multi-language offerings, and global support. We are offering this.

Is it open source? How do third party developers work with it?

Open source is not what our customers want. We do not offer an open source version at this time. [Rather, customers under the subscription plan have access to the API’s for adding software. In my opinion, this will slow down the development since all new code has to be done by DraftSight’s limited development team. On the other hand, this allows complete control over the software for quality and makes for a simpler development process for DraftSight.]

What are the support plans?

We have free community support for all users. Users have the ability to post questions to the entire community for feedback. We also have a support offering today that will enable a user to call, e-mail or even request remote access when applicable to help them out.

For more information about DraftSight go to www.draftsight.com .

Ray posts whitepaper comparing Inventor and SolidWorks

10 Aug 2010: Yesterday I published a TechniCom Group whitepaper comparing Autodesk Inventor 2011 versus SolidWorks Premium 2010 to www.cad-portal.com. I suggest you read it carefully. The methodology used was a new research technology we have been exploring that uses our variation of the Delphi Expert Analysis. This technique has primarily been used in the past to survey experts, the aim being to predict the future. TechniCom adopted it to provide clarity in comparing complex systems such as CAD and PLM. We have also used a similar method to successfully analyze gaps in program plans that might reveal competitive opportunities.

More about this paper

This paper was not our original goal for this study. Rather, we were investigating the competitive positioning of Inventor’s upcoming (at that time) 2011 release as an internal project for Autodesk. Autodesk was particularly interested in exploring the fifteen functional areas shown in the paper, since they felt these were their strong points. Originally we proposed 24 Functional areas. I will share some of these additional areas with you below. Some of these, no doubt, would have shown SolidWorks scoring ahead of Inventor.

In any case, after the results of the expert scores were “normalized” and tallied we were surprised at the results; Autodesk also seemed surprised, but elated. Autodesk asked us to summarize and publish the results. We hesitated, but willing to stand by the results, agreed to write the whitepaper.

Other functional areas – not studied in this analysis

  • Ease of use
  • Installation
  • Third party offerings
  • No charge add-ons (not shipped with the product)
  • External user community
  • Sustainability design
  • Built in Content
  • Overall vendor support
  • Cost (initial and TCO)

Some independent comments on the web have called the report worthless. We could not disagree more. Take it for what it is – the subjective opinions of a limited number of experts familiar with the software. Several of the categories were so close that the voting could have easily gone either way.

Even more important, are that most scores of both vendors are well below the top score of 5. Reviewing these gaps shows that both of these leading vendors still have far to go before they are perfect.

11 Aug 2010: Clarification about the BIM functional area:

The study was not asking whether each system could perform BIM — rather the seven questions we asked the experts were focused on the interaction between a mechanical system and BIM. In essence, could mechanical parts be designed for use within a BIM system? Areas of focus included: managing the space requirements for the mechanical design within the building model, bi-directional data transfer, associative data management, and UI issues.

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TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Analysis Compares Complex Systems

How to compare complex systems is always a challenge. Recently TechniCom has been using a technique called Delphi Expert Analysis. The idea being that asking a question of an experienced user should result in a cogent response of how well he perceives a system performs a specific task. The results depend on asking the proper questions, selecting truly expert users, and managing the process.

Our experience using TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Analysis shows that this is a solid way to perform market research on technical software. Instead of a simple feature and function analysis, the Delphi expert approach relies on the opinions of independent external expert users who rate and comment on a series of questions prepared by TechniCom. Developing the most appropriate questions ensures that our analysis is correct. We recruit a number of experts for each system being evaluated. Ideally each group of experts has correspondingly similar backgrounds. We provide a series of detailed questions to each expert, closely monitoring their progress and working with them to insure similar levels of evaluation to those of the other experts. The detailed questions are each rated subjectively for each system along with each expert providing comment that justifies each rating. For instance, if the expert rated that the question scored a 2, then the comment explains why. The scores range from 0 to 5, with 5 being the best, and 0 depicting no capability. A rating of 5 could be considered perfect — the question being evaluated meets all requirements and can expand to meet future needs. Very few 5’s are awarded. Out of range ratings are explored individually with the expert.

Each expert gets a final pass at their evaluation after receiving a report showing the results of their peers. This proves highly effective in normalizing the results.

We then accumulate all answers and summarize the results.

On Monday, 9 Aug 2010, a summary of our most recent analysis using this technique to compare Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks will be posted to http://www.cad-portal.com .

Rich Allen talks about SolidWorks’ cloud plans

Lately I have seen a lot of rumors about SolidWorks (SW) plans for placing their software in the cloud. I spoke to Rich Allen, SolidWorks Manager of PDM Product Management, to clarify what was announced and to explore where SolidWorks might be going. I advised Rich of the questions in advance. These and his replies follow below.

Q. Please describe, as best you are able, SW’s plans for enabling Cloud computing. What apps? At what cost?
A. The only application we have announced to date is our upcoming data sharing application to be called SolidWorks Connect. We have not established firm pricing for this product yet, as it will not ship until next year, but we expect a cost under $100/user/month. This is a data sharing product that will allow users to manage and share SolidWorks and related files both internally and with users around the world. The benefit to smaller companies that may not have large IT staffs can be significant as users will be able to enjoy data management benefits without upfront purchases of hardware, software, services and very little ongoing service/maintenance.
We will continue to look at all applications where we think the cloud can offer our clients value and solve real problems. Cloud apps might not be for everyone and we won’t be forcing users to move to the cloud, but our cloud offerings will enhance our current on-premise offerings if and where it makes sense.

Q. AT SWW2010 plans for Cloud computing seemed to be limited to PDM access only. Has that changed? Are there any plans for interactive apps on the cloud?
A. The only application we have announced to date is our upcoming data sharing application to be called SolidWorks Connect.
We will continue look at all applications where we think the cloud can offer our clients value. We will not be forcing our users onto the cloud, but will continue to listen to our users and offer solutions that make sense for them, whether they are on-premise or on-the-cloud. Our goal, as always, is the help solve real problems for our users and customers.

Q. What is the precise status of cloud apps at SW in terms of working or Beta testing?
A. We are in development with SolidWorks Connect and expect to have working Beta testing in Q4 of this year. [It is expected to ship 1Q2011] We do not have any other timeframes or announcements on additional applications at this time.

Q. Will users be required to use Enovia to get to/from the cloud? Or will SW’s existing PDM products support it? What might be the differences?
A. We will base all of our future cloud applications on the ENOVIA V6 infrastructure. This will help us leverage our own technology across all the brands. It should be noted that with cloud computing, the engine is on the cloud –- end-users only will be concerned with the client they use to access the application, so we don’t expect users to have to install ENOVIA servers at their site to benefit from cloud computing.

Q. Looking to the future – where do you see cloud computing at SW?
A. We believe that we are at the forefront of a revolution in the CAD/PLM/Simulation/Engineering Tools industry and that cloud computing will play a large role.
There are economies of scale that the cloud can offer in terms of massive computing capabilities (simulation, rendering, translation), scalability (start with 1 user migrate to many); reduction in upfront costs – whether it is a CAD or PDM or PLM system, imagine not having to buy a lot of hardware and software and implementation up front, your initial costs are very low; and, upgrades may also be easier and faster as things are done on the cloud.
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We also discussed how to protect intellectual property. SW plans to add some limited access control, but not much more than is available to users that e-mail SW files. We would prefer to see some sort of Rights Management control.

My opinion is that this is an excellent approach, particularly for users that do not have or want to have their own IT staffs. The cost seems reasonable and the benefits large, offering instant-on PDM data sharing worldwide.