SolidWorks 2014 in Waltham, MA started off with the usual fanfare – a heavy hors d'oeuvres dinner and free booze – but the flashy, “look what I can do” talk that usually accompanies these events was oddly absent. When I asked one of the execs what the big announcement would be this year, he told me that there was nothing terribly profound this year, just an update and reworking of the system.
I was taken aback, as the usual commentary at those sorts of pre-announcement dinners is a big build-up, including comments like, “you’re really going to like what we have this year” or “tomorrow is going to be really exciting.” Granted, the next afternoon, when we were presented the technical adjustments and changes to SolidWorks 2014, the tech-guys (product management), from SolidWorks, were genuinely pumped about demoing the new features and changing landscape, even if it was slight.
One of the event’s highlights was experiencing what the Dassault Systemes (SolidWorks’ parent company) folks refer to as “The Cave.” The Cave is a familiar element gaining ground in the industry that places the user in a virtual environment and allows them to manipulate and interact with 3D objects and within three dimensional spaces. It’s somewhat disorienting, but an entertaining experience.
The customer applications are always interesting, and this year was no different. SolidWorks was used in everything from creating super high-res 3D printers at FormLabs, to purging our oceans of plastic litter with the Ocean Cleanup Project, but, an interesting development didn’t come from a customer, rather it came from a collaboration between SolidWorks and visual computing company NVIDIA.
After speaking with Ankit Patel, senior product manager at NVIDIA, I learned about the GRID GPU virtualization that the two companies are collaborating on. SolidWorks has certified the NVIDIA GRID Visual Computing Appliance (VCA) for the SolidWorks 2014 release.
Now, virtualization isn’t really anything new, but NVIDIA’s approach is somewhat unique. The system allows multiple users to use the processing power within the GRID VCA, effectively allowing any number of users to access the processing technology from any computer that would traditionally be reserved for only expensive workstations. Also, it gives users the opportunity to access different operating systems, since SolidWorks is virtualized on the GRID VCA.
This also has a security perk, as the work conducted on the GRID VCA can be secured while still giving users access to it from many different locations throughout a campus, or even remote locations – keeping a user’s work in the system rather than bouncing around in the Cloud or on flash drives.
Security aside, the NVIDIA GRID VCA technology has some perks for mid-size firms that are looking to get the most out of a limited amount of computing power, for example, rather than buying eight workstations that ten engineers have to share, the company can pick up the GRID VCA and each engineer can access the computing power they need from anywhere.
The SolidWorks 2014 release certainly has its own share of new features, but the most important part of the announcement was how the software is being used and is improving workflow. Some of the new features include:
- Style Spline functionality.
- Automatic Sketch Picture scaling.
- Conic Fillet controls.
- Faster creation of sheet metal geometry and improved data output for manufacturing.
- The ability to create stiffening ribs such as the indented design seen on mounting brackets.
- Support for Android devices.
- The ability to cost parts faster with less setup, then share cost data more effectively with their business value chain.
- Automatic leveraging of engineering data for re-use in simulations.