The newly announced SolidWorks Industrial Design product is ostensibly similar to Autodesk’s popular Fusion 360 product. Like, really similar. And at $2280 per annum, the confusing mish-mash of overpriced and overlapping subscriptions in the new SolidWorks offering have us asking hard questions.

Here’s why.

Before we get into details, our hats are off to the good folks at SolidWorks for putting on one heck of a show this year.

The much-hyped, little-seen, semi-cloud CATIA-like SolidWorks Industrial Design (SWID) tool has been controversial ever since its first official announcement one year ago at SolidWorks World 2014. An attractive tool set, yes, but pegged at an over $3600/year ad infinitum subscription model, the ensuing PR confusion should have been predictable. Amortized over five years, a bare bones seat of SolidWorks runs for about $2300/year. Selling a “companion product” with nothing better than STEP compatibility and a price that is fully double that of the supposed companion is a serious head scratcher.

This year’s pricing retreat to $2280/year–which just so happens to be almost exactly 2/3 of the original price–begs the question of what drove these prices in the first place. Furthermore, we have now separate pricing for SolidWorks, SolidWorks Conceptual Design, SolidWorks Industrial Design, and–get this–sharing content with clients via the 3DExperience platform. That’s right: if you want to take advantage of the cloud to show your work to a client on a read-only basis, I’m told you’ll need to buy a five-pack of special licenses for a three-month access pass. Nickels and dimes, friends. Nickels. And. Dimes.

Apples to Apples

But we digress. The fact that SolidWorks Industrial Design holds little practical advantage over the $300/year Autodesk Fusion 360 for typical end-users should be a clear sign that something is seriously amiss. At the current pricing, we could buy 7.6 licenses of Fusion 360 for the price of a single seat of SWID, and it’s hard to see the down side.

First of all, SWID is very similar to Fusion 360. Even the look and feel of the “robot” gnomon in the SubD tools is uncanny in its resemblance. Not only are these tools similar in substance, they’re similar in presentation. The single tabbed toolbar, the minimal icon-based UI, the retina-singeing whiteness of the UI, the selection methodology, the combination of SubD, direct modeling, and parametric feature-based modeling, these products are clearly born of a very specific industry mood. Both are early products with lots (and lots) of development left yet to do, and both are racing the clock to add that missing functionality as soon as their dev’s weary fingers can manage it.

To be clear, these products are not entirely equivalent. There are plenty of subtle ways in which each would edge out the other in ostensibly similar functions. Still, take a look at the chart below and tell me which product seems like a better value?

SWID

Fusion 360

Price$2280/year$300/yr standard
$1200/yr ultimate
Semi-cloud ArchitectureYup.Yup.
STEP to SolidWorksYup.Yup.
SubDYup.Yup.
Cloud RenderingYup.Yup.
Parametric ModelingYup.(limited)
Revision Branching and MergingYup.(Ultimate)
Wacom sketching toolsYup.No
Assembly and Motion Studies(separate product)Yup.
FEA(separate product)(Ultimate)
AnimationsNo(Ultimate)
Direct Modeling(limited)Yup.
Built-in CAMNo2D = Yup.
3D = (Ultimate)
Retopology of Scan DataNoYup.
Free 3D ViewerNoYup.
Mac VersionNoYup.
2D DrawingsNoYup.
APINoYup.
Import 2D GraphicsNo (limited)Yup.
Built-in 3D print support genNoYup.
Transparent community involvementNoYup.
Transparent product roadmapNoYup.
Available as of 11 Feb, 2015NoYup.

But that’s not all!

Don’t forget that SWID is not the only product on the 3DExperience platform. There’s also SolidWorks Conceptual Design (previously SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual), which, we’ve been told, is priced similarly to SWID on a per-seat basis. And, lets not forget, these are “companion” products; they are not intended to work on their own, but in combination with a traditional SolidWorks install. Given that, add up SolidWorks, SWID, and SWCD and you’re looking at dropping nearly seven G’s each year for the privilege of using SolidWorks–and that doesn’t include FEA, serious rendering, etc.

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Pricing is more than money.

Now lets be clear: the long-term ambitions of the 3DExperience platform go far beyond what Fusion 360 represents today. But then again, the long-term ambitions of Fusion 360 go far beyond what Fusion 360 represents today. We can talk all day long about what features SolidWorks wants to add to SWID over time, but the only fair comparison is the present moment: what value are you offering me today?

It’s also important to note that we aren’t talking about things needing to be “cheaper” per se. Powerful technologies like SolidWorks are incredibly expensive to produce, and it’s only right that we each pay our fair share to support that effort. This isn’t about merely lowering prices, it’s about the brand message that pricing carries.

This isn’t about merely lowering prices, it’s about giving us a clear and reliable roadmap for a successful transition to a new way of doing business. There is still hope. All SolidWorks has to do is embrace the simple, straightforward, customer-centered ethos that’s served them so well. Simply explaining how users will be shepherded gradually to the new and better products could assuage fears and allow us to focus on what matters: great new product innovations. Instead we’re squabbling over conspiracy theories and patchy guesswork.

Pure Speculation

Are people going to go dropping SolidWorks in droves to adopt Fusion 360? Hardly. SolidWorks is a huge, mature product with a huge, mature install base. These things don’t change overnight, and SolidWorks still offers an impressive value to customers given its current competition. Fusion 360 is not a viable alternative to SolidWorks for most serious engineering teams today, so SolidWorks needn’t fear a mass exodus in the immediate term.

The real problem Dassault faces is not an immediate exodus in favor of less-mature technologies like Fusion 360 or even–dare we say it?–the ever-mysterious OnShape. What they need to fear is the same thing that PTC should have seen coming in the late 90s: all it takes is a small, nimble, hungry new comer in industry to upset even the mightiest MCAD empire. SolidWorks was that newcomer then, and are in serious danger of getting a taste of their own medicine.

Tough Love?

We love SolidWorks, and, more importantly, the hard-working human beings who make it possible. The problems we’re pointing out here have little bearing on the skills, talent, or hard work and dedication those people pour into each new SolidWorks product.

All of this could be solved with some simple, straight talk from Dassault: as customers, our businesses rely on SolidWorks every single day, and as this much loved 20 year old product reaches its inevitable EOL, we need to be assured that Dassault will help us make the transition as painless as possible. The new products look beautiful, exciting, and powerful, and we want desperately to love them! Just give us that opportunity.

Perhaps most importantly – is what you think?

How do you feel as a SolidWorks user in 2015 and are you benefiting from any of this?

Author

Adam O'Hern is an industrial designer, designing products ranging from laptops to power tools, classroom toys to bathroom fixtures, and pro audio gear to guitar tuners. In 2008 he founded cadjunkie.com, and in 2010 co-founded EvD Media with Josh Mings of SolidSmack.com, and the two collaborate on the EngineerVsDesigner.com podcast.