LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (2008 COE* Annual PLM Conference) Dassault Systemes is a company best known for CATIA, which, in turn, is best known for designing airplanes and cars. CATIA's firm unshakeable hold on the automotive and aerospace design market is due to its power, depth and complexity. Its elite status in the CAD community is assured. However, it is precisely that status that Dassault needs to get behond in order to achieve the next stated goal: to provide the 3D software of choice among non-designers and non-engineers.
Respect from engineers notwithstanding, there are only so many big auto companies and even less aircraft companies. How is a company supposed to grow in such a limited market? Dassault could mine its customers good will and sell more products to the exiting base (Dassault's portfolio does contain over 160 products), they can get new customers by acquisition (MatrixOne, SolidWorks, ICEM, etc.) but their goals are even more ambitious. Seizing on its roots in 3D technology, why not drive 3D data to the purchasing agent, to the sales people, to management? And once 3D has spread to the entire company and over the walls to vendors and customers, why not shoot for the sky: the consumers market?
I'm trying to imagine how Dassault products would appeal to consumers. I imagine a Game Boy version of CATIA, flashy and fun, but the image breaks up. Wasn't there a Cosmic Blob that did some fun modeling by SolidWorks? Whatever happened with that?
Bernard Charles, CEO of DS, shows the assembled audience some new stuff. Bernard is not here in person, but there are two of him on the screen. One is an avatar (surely you must have made one of yourself on Second Life?) and the other is a video image. One of them apologizes for not being here in person, this being the first COE he has missed. But I think he is making a point. He is here virtually, in multiple ways, in 3D. Physically being here is overrated.
The Bernards go on to show me bold, brave, fun things, all 3D. One product takes not only disassembles a 3D model of a machine but puts it on a revolving turntable (see picture). Some one was eating at a Chinese restaurant when they thought of this. Not very CATIA-like, to be sure, but maybe because of that, its animated interface, uncluttered with menus and devoid of complex command chains, is easy to understand. If I was a purchasing agent, I wouldn't be scared of CATIA and 3D solid models any more. I'd be thinking "Yeah, I can do that."
I scan the audience for a response but these guys are like poker players. I can't quite read them. It's an older crowd than you'd find at the SolidWorks meetings. They are here to educate themselves mostly, add to their expertise of CATIA, of SMARTEAM and take that knowledge back to their companies. They need to make their landing gear parts, their automobile hoods, tame the bursting database that holds the metadata of an entire jet aircraft. They are many who are top guns with many years of CATIA experience, but right now they look like dads who are worried about their jobs or their work going overseas and how they are going to pay the kids college tuition.
Picking up tips and tricks in the classes are going to make them indispensable. When the virtual Bernards are finished on the main stage, they trudge off to the class rooms. Must learn more. Must work harder.
*CATIA Operators Exchange, the CATIA users group.