Usually, CAD business can be pretty boring. But occasionally even the most subtle movement and conversation can get interesting. Recently Autodesk had a summit on manufacturing. Sound’s exciting huh? Well, Upfront.eZine posted some highlights that have sparked the fires of speculation. If what AutoDesk says has any merit you’ll be jumping the SolidWorks ship, but does it have any merit or is it something else entirely?

My CAD is better than your CAD
They summit focused on AutoDesk’s Digital Prototyping concept, the state of CAD/CAM and plans for the future of their products. The points that got the others going was their apparent intention to combine Alias, their high-end concept/surface modeler purchased in Jan 06 used mainly in the entertainment and automotive industry, with Inventor, their mid-range mechanical 3D modeler.

Frankly you may care less. I do, conceptualizing is just one aspect of the process. One that isn’t always used. I need a fast modeler that gets info down even quicker for manufacturing. You may think, like me, “I wouldn’t use Inventor if it had new car strapped to it.” Regardless how one feels, this would put a diamond ring on an ugly bride.

More frustrating than revolutionary
The other questions and their platform ideas are even more revealing. I’t’s nothing new and hardly leading technology. I’m trying to give AutoDesk a chance here. I like good competition, but all the answers they gave failed to promote any type of cohesive idea as to what the blazes AutoDesk is trying to do or how it’s going to innovate CAD. I literally feel like I’m looking at a pile of dirt, and they are saying, “Hey…psst. Look here at this pile of dirt. It’s gonna change the way you think about dirt.”

So let’s speculate
What’s Dassault gonna do? Do they care? Maybe between the yawns. If you have a solid business plan, you keep on target and evaluate change within the industry to maintain that focus. They’ve made acquisitions of their own that have made their PLM approach strong, even if it doesn’t solve every issue. Not to mention their continued move to CAD on the Web with their recent relationship with Microsoft even though I think that was a bad move. Even if AutoDesk had viable plan for advancing 3D design, the focus seems to be on the competition, rather than the innovation.

I don’t think Dassault, or SolidWorks, views what AutoDesk is planning with Inventor/Alias as a threat. However, if they actually do or if they are innovating some things to pass the competition, there’s two things I think they would do.

  1. Innovate the web
    I have no doubt that we could see versions of SolidWorks products online. Bernard Charlès, CEO of Dassault Systèmes announced at the Delmia Conference they would see this with Delmia, their digital manufacturing suite, in version 6. Imagine if that was announced at SolidWorks World 2008. The 3DVia technology, that will allow this to happen still needs some work, but it’s a step in the right direction. I happen to think a relationship with Google would be good in this regard, and maybe that’s a possibility, even though they’re using it with Microsoft’s Virtual Earth.
  2. Innovate the Peripheral
    As long as paper is needed, 2D will be needed. It’s (currently) easier to view things on a sheet, markup, passed around, spit-on and print a new sheet. What’s going to change this is how we view and interact with out content. Things can not always be accessed from the web, but you make a relationship with someone like Sandisk, that makes portable storage devices, and another that creates advanced visualization technology, like Virtual Devices and you eliminate the need for a screen, keyboard or maybe even paper.

These are just a couple ideas I think Dassault may be heading in. I think AutoDesk is trying everything they can to keep up. One thing either always need to keep in mind is the user. The CAD giants will have their own feelings about what any of the competition is doing, but what do you care about and where do you want technology to be innovated?


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.