Though never faulted for its technical prowess, Solid Edge has languished in the MCAD market as the spotlight often shines on SolidWorks and Inventor (see my post "The Best MCAD Program You Won't Buy" June 2006). But lately, Siemens PLM's Synchronous Technology, which is poised to introduce updates to Solid Edge and NX this summer, has received an incredible amount of press -- and just about all of it favorable. I wonder if all this adulation threatens to shatter Solid Edge's reputation as the CAD industry's best-kept secret.
What is all the fuss about? To find out, I flew to Toronto, where Siemens was introducing Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology at the CN Tower. I listened to claims of how Synchronous Technology will save money ("over $76,000 per year") and time ("100X faster"). No CAD software introduction would be complete without such claims, though the numbers may vary. Siemens was pushing how fast you could change parts-- not just Solid Edge parts but parts from rival CAD companies. One assembly contained Solid Edge, SolidWorks and Inventor parts, though it did not seem to matter. Solid Edge was able to make changes in a part without regard to what application was used in its creation. More importantly, part changes were made without any consideration of the original history tree and without requiring a rebuilding afterward. Changes were pretty darn quick!
We are told that it is Synchronous Technology and Live Rules which allow Solid Edge to recognize features -- even in imported parts -- and allow for such quick edits. Sure enough, on a simple part, moving one face on a part picks up coplanar faces and moves them as well. The program also picks up concentric circles and common dimensions. All changes happen quickly, seamlessly. No rebuilding takes place.
Siemens claims that with Synchronous Technology, editing time does not increase appreciably as models get more complex. Their studies prove that parts with upward of 2,000 faces which would take an hour to rebuild happen in practically no time with Synchronous Technology.
Having experienced difficulty in changing SolidWorks models, I can appreciate the advantage such quick editing would have. I am by no means alone. Synchronous Technology is a surprisingly active subject among leading and influential SolidWorks bloggers. While reaction often include "what's the big deal?" or "we've been able to do that for years," a certain amount of respect and envy is apparent.
If Synchronous Technology is as good as it seems, what's to stop other CAD companies from doing the same? I ask Dan Staples, Director of Solid Edge. Patents are being applied for, for one thing. Also, Dan reminds me Siemens owns D-Cubed (the constraint manager in Solid Edge) and Parasolid (the geometry kernel), a fact that should translate into a better utilization of both products. I imagine the developers at D-Cubed and Parasolid have saved a few tricks for the company that issues their paychecks. Could it be some undocumented features are never found by the competitors?
History-less applications seem to be quite the rage these days. There's newcomer SpaceClaim, a resurgent CoCreate, the venerable IronCAD and Kubotek KeyCreator, both now enjoying a vindication of sorts. In fact, so pervasive and overwhelming is history-less modeling in current discussion that I can't remember what advantage a history tree had. A champion of history trees needs to come forward -- if they have not all gone into hiding, that is.
So, what makes Synchronous Technology different than this current crop of history-less modelers? Answer: Solid Edge with ST leaves the parametrics in. You can still control the model using parameters thereby preserving design intent.
Dan sees the next version of Solid Edge so radically different that he won't even call it V21, referring to it instead only as Solid Edge with ST. How is this any different a marketing tack than SolidWorks and their SWIFT, I ask. Ah, SWIFT still leaves SolidWorks history-based, doesn't it? We've done away with the history tree entirely, says Dan. A history is just something CAD companies have added on top of the geometry kernel. We've been working for several years to find a way to do away with it.
The folks at Siemens seem genuinely excited, perhaps even surprised by the buzz Synchronous Technology has created. In my short take, it looks good. Maybe Synchronous Technology will be the engine on which Solid Edge finally takes off.