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SolidWorks World 2017 Challenging the limits

It is described as the 3D design event of the year. The 19th edition – SolidWorks World 2017 – was held at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in early February. Milton D’Silva reports.

As the curtains went up on the SolidWorks World 2017 (SWW17) at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in early February, around 5000 delegates gathered for the General Session in the morning. Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO, Dassault Systemes, which owns SolidWorks Corporation, set the tone for the 4-day event that had set off the previous afternoon with the live screening of the Super Bowl, making a dramatic appearance on the centre stage in company of magician Justin Flom and Tim Clothier, CEO and founder of Illusion Projects, with (toy) elephants appearing out of nowhere in a demonstration of how ‘magic is built into the design’ (of the Pandora’s box). The legendary David Copperfield is known to use CAD drawings extensively in preparation for his magnificent illusions.

“We don’t limit our challenges – we challenge our limits,” said Gian Paolo Bassi, as he took the audience on a fascinating journey of his company’s engagement in sectors as diverse as rapid transportation between cities and exploring the frontiers of space through the Mars mission and many more, speaking on the theme of ‘Innovation in the Age of Experience’. While the SolidWorks 3D CAD software was used to develop the robotic arm of the Mars rover over a decade ago, the company continues to be associated with the mission through collaborations with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and its vendors for making the new generation rovers faster, with more payload capacity and the ability to navigate steeper inclinations. The company is also working with NASA on the possible ways of altering the trajectory of asteroids by adding ballast or removing boulders from its surface with the help of a robotic arm, should one threaten the Earth in future, which is a real possibility and not just sci-fi film script.

Another interesting project which is no more considered sci-fi is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which now enters the testing phase later this year in California, and one of the designs shortlisted is of the MIT team which worked with SolidWorks, the 2016 winner, in addition to the 2017 winning entry of Delft University. As the world is now preparing for surface speeds in excess of 700 mph, “together we break the boundaries of the possible,” said Bassi.

Speaking next on Design in the Age of Experience, Monica Menghini, Executive VP and Chief Strategy Officer Dassault Systèmes, elaborated on how in business just a product is not enough anymore but how shape and style today influence customer behaviour in the market. “Design has never been so much in business as it is in this century,” said Monica, as she pointed out how the concept is not just about creating products, but engaging the users in order to make these a part of their life and lifestyle. So Nike uses this information and transforms itself from a sportswear company into a health and fitness enterprise, and Oral-B uses innovative toothbrush design to track brushing habits and improve oral health. “When you design for the platform business model, you enable your company to build long-term and impactful customer relationships,” said Monica.

Moving away from products, Bernard Charlès, Vice Chairman and CEO of Dassault Systèmes, next discussed the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform and how customers are designing amazing experiences in the cloud. As example Bernard cited the example of the 3DEXPERIENCECity, which has created a virtual twin of Singapore, a project that is helping the thriving city-state in optimising its infrastructure and managing the rather limited resources for greater public good. One of the most interesting presentations was the keynote by Jason Silva – futurist, filmmaker, host of NatGeo’s Brain Games, and creator of Shots of Awe, a series of short films that explores innovation, technology creativity, futurism and the metaphysics of the imagination. “Technology is how we turn our brains inside out,” said Silva exhorting the audience to differentiate between the new and ‘never before’. “Smartphones too will disappear like cameras or CD players, giving way to human brain power,” he added.

An important announcement during the day was of the partnership between Stratasys Ltd, the 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions company, with Dassault Systèmes to provide next generation design tools that improve the functionality, efficiency and weight ratio of additively manufactured production parts. Stratasys also launched its F123 Series FDM 3D printers as an economical and intelligent solution that further improves GradCAD prints. While the companies have collaborated on design and simulation capabilities for Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform which support Stratasys’ FDM 3D printers and materials, the new industry leading capabilities include: Design optimisation for lighter weight parts; Strength and fatigue analysis; and Print process simulation providing further insights into the residual stresses and performance of the 3D printed FDM part. An interesting example was a 3D printed circuit box for space applications where weight was reduced by 30% using SIMULIA design optimisation.

Smart manufacturing

When SolidWorks 2017 was launched late last year, it featured more core power and performance, as well as new capabilities to address paperless manufacturing through the support of Model Based Definition, and printed circuit board (PCB) design. It addressed the needs of innovators to design, validate, collaborate, build and manage their product development processes with integrated applications.

At SWW17, Suchit Jain, Vice President (Strategy and Business Development), SolidWorks, Dassault Systemes, spoke on the SolidWorks ‘Smart Manufacturing’ Strategy that envisages increasing the awareness of the importance of integrated design and manufacturing for improving product development. “The company will continue to enhance the current capabilities supporting ‘Smart Manufacturing’. It will provide 2.5-axis machining and turning capability to address the needs of customers with a range of Partner Solutions for the customer to choose from to best suit the requirements. ‘Smart manufacturing is not just about the factory floor but it is about designing the tools for that,” said Jain.

Jain elaborated about the new SolidWorks offerings for 2018 like Model Based Designing (MBD) – an integrated drawingless manufacturing solution; SolidWorks Costing (SWC) – a cost reducing system, not a market base tool but rather a sort of template; and SolidWorks Inspection – automating the inspection of parts manufactured. Together with SolidWorks CAM with capabilities including automatic roughing, finishing, thread milling, face milling, and single-point cycles – this offers an intelligent knowledge base for tolerance based machining in a design-to-manufacturing ecosystem.

“Using an integrated CAM system makes it easier to learn and understand how your components will transition from bits to atoms. Integrated CAM also allows for automatic updating of toolpaths because the CAM system can read changes as you make updates to parts,” observed Mike Buchli, Sr SolidWorks Product & Portfolio Manager.

One way users can make the most of their experience using SolidWorks is to become a certified user. Currently, there are 222,000 certified users worldwide including an elite group of 2,800 Certified SolidWorks Experts (CSWE). Addressing the General Session on Day Two of the convention, Jain highlighted in his presentation key categories of users from students and experts to entrepreneurs and makers. “It is our responsibility to provide the community with the tools, training and skills to advance careers, build businesses and enable the new, the next and the never before to become a reality,” said Jain. SolidWorks also partners with the Fab Foundation across more than 1,000 Fab Labs worldwide. In addition, there are 6,000 ‘maker spaces’ in the world where aspiring artists, designers, engineers and entrepreneurs meet to create. Another way to connect with fellow SolidWorks users virtually is at MySolidWorks, where over a million users are connected – an excellent tool for support, training, and engaging with fellow users.

An interesting example of SolidWorks design capabilities is Jonathan Tippet’s Prosthesis ‘anti-robot’, a human-piloted mechanical racer that was on display at the SWW17 Product Showcase pavilion where over a hundred SolidWorks Partners were exhibiting their technologies. The Prosthesis needs a person seated inside to operate it and unmanned, it is just a piece of sophisticated machinery. But the human pilot can make it run, jump and perform myriad tasks. For Tippet, the Prosthesis is a ‘metaphor for the importance of keeping people at the heart of technology’.

In another interesting presentation, Brian Zias, SolidWorks Senior Technical Sales Manager, and Christopher McQuin, Senior Robotics Engineer at Motiv Robotics, gave an overview of the complexities in designing the robotic arm of the Mars explorer, especially simulating for a thermal environment that fluctuates 200°C on a difficult terrain. Motiv is working with the JPL on the Mars 2020 project of sending the next rover to Mars. Motiv has also designed other robots, including an interesting concept called RoboSimian, inspired by the Fukushima nuclear power disaster. As the name implies, the RoboSimian with four limbs is capable of completing human tasks in areas not safe for humans – it can climb rubble piles and even climb walls to get in and out of the affected areas.

Later fielding questions from the media McQuin explained how the system with ‘seven degrees of freedom’ is modular and for smaller tasks, an individual limb of the RoboSimian can be deployed independently as Cobot.

Education & skill

An important session was conducted by Marie Planchard, Director of Education & Early Engagement, SolidWorks who described her job as the best in the world. With 2.7 million students currently using Solidworks, Marie is busy indeed meeting students and mentors at schools, universities, and competitions around the world, the SW Education committed to providing the tools to make amazing technologies that emerge from education and research possible. “Engineering can be fashionable,” said Marie as she gave the example of Erin Winick, founder of Sci-Chic, a science-themed jewellery business that makes engineering fashionable, designing with SolidWorks software, the company one of the newest members of the SolidWorks Entrepreneur Program.

While addressing the problem of students weak in maths and hence not an ideal fit in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – pattern, adding an A (for arts), the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy (DPEA), a high school using SolidWorks uses the STEAM approach to transform education. DPEA founder and director Amir Abo-Shaeer and mechatronics teacher and director of information technology Lyle Harlow joined the stage to share their passion for learning. America is looking at 2 million manufacturing jobs and only 17% of students think this important sector as an option, which is a matter of serious concern. DPEA believes that mixing art and science enables students to have experience with multiple disciplines and lack of maths expertise is no hindrance. Currently, 400 students are enrolled at the DPEA and 50 per cent of these are girls.

What’s new for 2018

On Day three at SolidWorks World, the focus was on the future. Kishore Boyalakuntla, SolidWorks Senior Director, Product Portfolio Management and Brand User Experience Leader presented an overview of the 2018 product line.

3D Interconnect launched during 2016 has further enhancements for 2018 so that it now: supports STEP, IGES, ACIS, JT; supports updating neutral files; preserves curves and sketches; and reads custom properties.

With Mirror 3D Sketch Entities, 2D and 3D sketch entities can now be mirrored using a plane as the symmetry reference. Another feature, Pen Sketching, facilitates drawing contours by freehand sketching using a pen or stylus on Windows 10 touch screen devices.

An update to SolidWorks Make enables users to offer personalised products online in millions of variations, anywhere around the world. An example was how ClearVision customises eyewear based on customer choice.

“At SolidWorks, not only do we focus on creating great products, but we invest significant time understanding and nurturing engineering and product ecosystems,” said Kishore, as he proceeded to discuss four ecosystems driving SolidWorks in preparing for 2018: design to manufacturing, data management, simulation and IoT.

Design to Manufacturing: With releases of MBD, Inspection, Costing, Plastics Injection Simulation, DFM, and Composer, this ecosystem has exploded over the last several years. SolidWorks CAM is the latest addition, ready to bring Smart Manufacturing to the workflow.

Data Management: The SolidWorks data management ecosystem products have broad multi-discipline appeal within organisations because of their ease of use and familiar Windows explorer interface, which provide fast access to relevant data not achievable with generic network shares. New for SolidWorks 2018 is SolidWorks Manage, which adds new capabilities including: Project timelines and resources, Complex business processes, Advanced Item Management and Dashboard and reports for critical data.

Simulation Engineer: Simulation is the next ecosystem; now adding Simulation Engineer, a validation tool for solving complex structural analysis problems, such as large deformations, component contact and complex materials. Simulation Engineer is part of the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform and leverages ABAQUS technology from SIMULIA. The product can be access in one click from SolidWorks.

Internet of Things: This is managed by SolidWorks PDM Professional and has best in class MCAD and ECAD collaboration. Many of the products in the future will be connected and managed through the IoT infrastructure. Xively has partnered with SolidWorks to create a comprehensive IoT track that provides a full overview on why, and how, to create connected products.

SolidWorks in India

Like most global companies, SolidWorks too views India as an extremely important market and is bullish on its prospects in the country. SolidWorks has 30 resellers and thousands of users ranging from SMEs using single software suite to PSU biggies (HAL, BHEL, DRDO, etc) and large corporates with multiple licences. A couple of years ago the company set up the first SolidWorks Authorised Training Centre (SATC) in India and since then the number has grown substantially including centres at various educational institutes. “Each one of our resellers has a training department. Many engineering colleges have SolidWorks as part of the curriculum,” said Kishore Boyalakuntla. “We have a decent market share in India and are presently the second largest mid range CAD solutions provider,” he added.

“We are associated with the Fab Lab at Vigyan Ashram at Pabal, near Pune where some interesting projects are done,” informed Suchit Jain. “This is really a grassroots incubator with some interesting innovations. Unfortunately, in India there is no hardware incubator in the country,” he added. The Fab Lab at Vigyan Ashram has a tie-up with the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP).

SolidWorks also has a large R&D centre in India with a strength of over 2000, one of its important centres. “India has a lot of potential for growth as the emerging technologies like 3D printing are opening up a lot of opportunities. We have a target to double our growth during the next three years in India,” said Kishore, summing it up.

(This writer was at the SWW17 on invitation of Dassault Systèmes)


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