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30 Jan 2011

CAD Revolution: Inevitable and Already Started

Vladimir Malukh

From the editorial board of
There are several more or less obvious objective and subjective reasons to systematize the main trends in CAD/PLM development at the beginning of 2011. The isicad editorial board has asked its leading expert and reviewer Vladimir Malukh to characterize these trends, and his opinion formed the basis for this article. To give a more pronounced position of, Vladimir’s paper is extended by the Appendix combining an interview with the author and some elements of a Round Table, involving along with Vladimir Malukh (VM), David Levin (DL) and Dmitry Ushakov (DU).

Vladimir Malukh In this article I am not going to analyze financial prospects of individual vendors or market in general – I leave this to my colleagues from CAD/CAM/CAE Observer, who regularly publish such detailed analytical reviews under the heading “Cabbages and Kings”. I will try to generalize today’s technological and logistical trends in our industry that perhaps will shape its profile in the nearest 5-10 years.

Clouds and SaaS

Those who closely follow technological developments in the CAD sector can see clearly that cloud computing has been the most fashionable topic in the last 12-18 months. This technology brings, at least at a first glance, numerous advantages: high performance, potentially better reliability of the whole system and data security, etc. Pluses and minuses of this technology we already discussed on several occasions.

Cloud technologies are most often associated with providing end-user CAD software as a service: it is not necessary to install it in a particular device (SaaS). In my opinion, this is a rather superficial and not very correct understanding. True, cloud technologies provide this possibility but it is just one of few others, and so far it is not a solution ready for mainstream use.

Another aspect of cloud technologies is access to high-performance resources in order to solve highly complex computational tasks, including physical simulation, high-quality visualization, processing of mass-data generated by 3-D scanning, etc. This is not the future; it is a reality with such services available practically to everyone.

Finally, an absolutely natural (and already widely used) employment of cloud technologies for storage, access, search and translation of engineering (primarily geometric) data. On-line catalogues of 3-D data are now firmly established design practices. The main trend in their development is strengthening search functionality: if until today searching was based on geometry associated attributes, from now on this functionality will be expanded under the criteria of geometric similarity and compliance.

Alternative licensing

Along with the established licensing system of buying the license and then and regular updating subscriptions, vendors are actively seeking other methods of license granting, particularly:
  • Free software with paid servicing
  • SaaS based on cloud-technologies
  • Software leasing (payment by installments)
  • Subscriber fee for traditional licenses, which depends on the actual period of software use.

New Platforms

After 15 years dominated by Windows as the standard OS for majority of CAD, vendors are actively looking for new (or well-forgotten old) platforms, demonstrating two main tendencies:

  • Developing native versions for the popular OS: Windows, MacOS and Linux

  • Creating cloud applications operating in any environment, including tablet devices controlled by Android and iOS.
One can hardly suggest that the role of Windows as the standard will be completely leveled, but dominance of the Microsoft platform is no more the key factor. Some vendors remain its loyal supporters, but the proportion of other platform will increase considerably as early as in the next couple of years.

Geometric Modeling

The history-free direct editing paradigm is undoubtedly the most popular trend in modeling, especially geometry editing. However, it is not fully accepted by all vendors, some of whom, including the leaders, gravitate towards preserving design history and history-based direct editing. Perhaps, other combinations of traditional and new technologies will emerge.

Popularizing additive technologies

Expanding the field of employment of 3D printing is primarily due to falling technology costs and prices Also more complex technologies and materials are emerging that not only enable to create plastic make-ups but also print composite design, containing transparent, conducting and bearing elements as part of printed products.


The issues of environmental impact analysis assessment at the early stages of engineering design óhave already gained significant popularity, especially in such sectors as architecture and construction, car manufacturing, power generation and chemical industry. First of all, it is caused by new regulatory requirements to energy consumption and production of environmentally friendly products in car industry, energy sector, architecture and construction in the USA and the EU. There is a sustainable trend toward tightening there norms and requirements and expanding them to other regions around the world. Therefore, in the nearest 5 – 10 years the market segment for environmentally rational design will be experiencing sustainable growth and expansion, along with improving the product functionalities and making them more profound.


In the recent years some CAD vendors were either acquired by IT giants (Oracle took over Agile) or the biggest industrial concerns (Siemens bought UGS, and Hexagon AB acquired Intergraph). Looks like this tendency will continue and it is the CAD leaders - PTC, Autodesk and Dassault Systemes – who will become the “honey pie”. It is also not difficult to predict who will be potential buyers: in the IT industry these are such giants as Microsoft and Adobe, and it could be Google and Apple, although the latter two are less probable as they focus more on mass inexpensive solutions and to a less extent on large corporate solutions. Among industrial colossi we can mention such concerns as General Electric and similar corporations with sufficient assents and ambitions. Some analysts even give brave predictions, for instance, TechCrunch has named Microsoft as the buyer of Dassault Systemes, and expects Adobe to own Autodesk.

Increasing prevalence of PDM over CAD in the overall set of solutions (PDM is first)

It is a real fact that in some implementations the role of PDM in performance management for product development has already exceeded the role of CAD-systems. A clear proof is the latest decision of Daimler AG to move from CATIA to NX because implementing Teamcenter-based PLM took a priority for the company. Implementing PLM in such sectors as pharmaceuticals, perfumes and cosmetics, production of fertilizers and paints and coatings products that are based on formulae rather than on design data shows that successful implementing of PLM ideologically can be completely independent from CAD-systems.

Total product development from scratch

This is what SolidWorks, and partly PTC and Autodesk do. Although pursuing different approaches, they all develop new generations of products from scratch rather then new versions of previous products. We discussed this issue with Evan Yares as far back as at isicad-2004, although at that time it looked simply unfeasible. There is no other way to resolve the problems with system architecture rooted 15-20 or even 30 years ago, so vendors will either have the heart to follow this approach or will be forced to live with morally obsolete technologies. The latter scenario looks like a dead-end.


Mobility is undoubtedly a popular and an accomplished trend. Its success is primarily due to emergence of relatively large-format tablet devices, such as iPad and numerous Android-based solutions that have been well sought-after. Further development promises multiple new opportunities and transformations in structure and logistics of enterprises. Right now these devices do not fully satisfy production needs: however, development and expansion of the range of cloud solutions will enable wider use of mobile tablet devices, by practically unnoticeable switching on their corporate and global cloud networks.

New interfaces

This trend is in a formative stage, just mastering new elements of user interface at the household level. First of all, one should mention here 3D stereo and 3D manipulators (gaining ground support in household television and games), multitouch as the standard in application control interface (developing on the market for mobile devices). Nevertheless, CAD unavoidably will have to master such technologies: being widely used in the household sector, naturally there will be high demand for them among professional users and not only in a mobile table form (see the video).

Simplifying solutions

Finally, let’s emphasize a noticeable intention of enterprises to simplify solutions. For many years complex solutions dominated PLM. Complexity was the factor justifying the high cost of services and implementation. Traditionally the prevailing opinion was that complex problems can only be solved with sophisticated, complex solutions. However, this approach is ideologically wrong and it is going to change in the near future. There is no other way and both vendors and clients begin to understand this.


What conclusions can be made on the basis of this brief analysis of the industry trends? We are on the verge of big changes – technological, followed by changes in business strategies and in financial position of the market players. These changes may be much bigger than those that we remember from mid-90th, when Windows95 and NT were developed and CAD mostly moved towards this platform, breakthrough products appeared such as SolidWorks, Inventor, Revit and so on, and so forth. It is possible to say that in the near future our industry will experience yet another revolutionary “restart” and users will have to live and work with completely different products, technologies and services. Hopefully, they will make out life easier and our jobs – simpler.

* * *

DL: Dear colleagues, I see that all trends outlined by Vladimir are essential and certainly should be monitored and analyzed. Still, twelve trends are a little bit too much for me:) – I don’t find it easy to be simultaneously alert to all of them and perceive the whole picture. What do you think about, for example, such partial clustering?

New platforms (clouds, mobility) and related new licensing opportunities as well as radical transformations of already known products;

Intellectualization (direct modeling as internal technological foundation, new interfaces as external high-level tools for user interoperation, simplicity of solutions as the main objective and the outcome of intellectualization), sustainability.

VM: In fact the number of outlined trends I outlined is reduced to a minimum. I think that the real picture is even more mosaic and one can suggest a good couple of dozens other trends. For instance, I did not mentioned social networks and CAD, BIM vs traditional drawing, paper-free document flow, solution modality, interoperability, CAD for non-professionals, multidisciplinary simulation, etc. I simply do not think these are the key trends that can revolutionize the industry; they are of rather evolutionary nature albeit they are present. However, if your “meta-grouping” is helpful to somebody, it can be used.

DU: I am not scared by the number of trends but I agree that many of them are interrelated: for instance, cloud computation, new licensing models, new platforms and mobility are links in one chain that sooner or later will make PC disappear as the whole class. I do not attempt to say how much future typing devices will be from the typewriter interface (the modern PC effectively copies it) but apparently drawing and 3D design tools will function on specialized devices. Today numerous mobile gadgets already show us what future browsers and annotators will be like.

From the issues additionally mentioned by Vladimir, I would like to specially emphasize penetration of social networks to PLM. It was in the focus of a hot discussion at the recent isicad-2010/COFES-Russia which confirms that there is such a trend. First, CAD and PLM vendors have long realized advantages of social networks for advertising and promoting their products (including software), as well as for feedback with their users. Practically all vendors of engineering software, including Russian offices of foreign-based companies actively use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Recent initiatives of PTC launching its own social network PlanetPTC Community and Dassault launching social user community DraftSight only supported the drive. Second, there is a clear trend towards employing social networks for organizing collective project work within an extended enterprise: some PLM-vendors can already make such offers. I mean first of all Dassault Systemes with their PLM 2.0 initiative, supported by subsequent alliance with blueKiwi Software specializing in development of enterprise-level social networks.

VM: Certainly the discussion at isicad-2010|COFES-Russia was heated but it mainly involved bloggers; so far users do not display the same ground support. As I already said I do not find this trend revolutionary. This is an evolution – transition from e-mail, icq and traditional Internet-forums to facebook and twitter as the means for communication and collective work, and it remains to be seen if this transition makes sense.

DL: Dear colleagues, I would not enjoy imagining that the present CAD leaders disappear in the bowels of mass market monsters, so let us discuss the prospects of large acquisitions… Hope the French government as a DS shareholder will not give the pride of the national IT-industry to someone else’s hands … I don’t want to imagine that if Autodesk is acquired by, say, Microsoft, its democratic communication manner will be transformed into something similar to the grotesque style of former UGS in its present status of a small part of Siemens. You do not seriously rule out such acquisitions? When fans or journalists show strong emotions, it’s one thing but perhaps the process is advantageous for the consumers and the market in general?

VM: Yes, the assumption is absolutely serious and I do not see any big trouble in this process. As for the “grotesque” style of ex-UGS – it has not been inculcated by Siemens: traditionally UGS is not very open to communication and let me remind you that it was not independent for long. Regarding democratic communication with Autodesk, perhaps we should not mix our limited experience and the general company style. As far as I can judge, Microsoft is even more “easy and unbuttoned” in its communication with users. By the way, Dassault Systemes has clearly lacked such attitude in these latter days. Answering to your question if this will be to the benefit of users and clients: perhaps rather “yes” than “no”. We are not talking about hostile takeovers aimed to destroy competitors; on the contrary, such mergers and acquisitions generate more integral and broad packages, plus use a single infrastructure that cuts costs, and finally, the new owners are often more objective optimizing the company’s portfolio and balancing its products. Today the range of products offered by both DS and Autodesk are not close to the optimum. Also, in my opinion, the goals and methods pursues by the top executives are not very optimal and objective; they are too personalized, which is not very good for the business and the clients. National patriotism is undoubtedly good but it’s far from being a top priority for a global company rendering its services around the world. Ultimately, it’s just business: if a company with a hundred billion dollar turnover has decided to buy a two-billion company, who and why should stop it?

DU: I don’t’ know why they talk the CAD market can be of interest to Microsoft, Google and even more – to Apple, that have never shown serious interest towards this field. Four years ago when Oracle took over Agile, many analysts also believed that one day the turn would come to take over Autodesk, PTC and Dassault, and the major threat for independence of CAD-companies the analysts saw in ERP-vendors, first of all SAP and Oracle. Nothing like this happened, however (even despite PDM prevalence over CAD, described by Vladimir). The three above-mentioned IT giants are now more concerned with the rivalry on the mobile devices market, which is many times bigger than the CAD market. Rather, it’s Intel and NVIDIA who can develop the interest towards buying CAD-companies as they desperately need the market to sell their hardware, which is far more ahead of the current user needs. Advancement of CAD cloud applications makes these investments even more attractive fir manufacturers of hardware tools.

Talking about smaller acquisitions (multimillion rather than billions), the most important even for the industry is the future selling of SpaceClaim. I would like to believe that it will take place in the near future, otherwise investments in CAD-start-ups will be considered questionable.

VM: Let me begin at the end. Obviously, selling SpaceClaim would be the best scenario for the company as in spite of its successful alliance with ANSYS its market position is rather unstable. However, the range of potential and interested buyers is quite narrow. Among the leading CAD vendors there is only one real candidate -– Dassault Systemes, because all others already have developed direct editing solutions: Autodesk has Inventor Fusion, PTC – CoCreate, and of course Siemens PLM Software has Synchronous Technology. So there are only two possibilities – either DS acquires SpaceClaim, or it shall use its own solutions and then the prospects of SpaceClaim are rather vague.

Now about the interest of IT giants towards the CAD market. The big business is always interested in acquiring control at least over smaller business that for some reason is beneficial for solving the tasks of the big business.

I would say the issue here is not so much about the CAD- market, which is small against the turnover of Microsoft or Adobe, rather it’s about influence and access to the budgets of medium and large corporations in various sectors: manufacturing, construction, power industry, infrastructure, movies, advertising and leisure. In this situation CAD is some sort of the golden key that opens the doors to these markets (or, on the contrary closing them to the others). If one remembers the history of taking over UGS and Intergraph – they were also pitiful against the budgets of their new owners. Especially successful, in my opinion, was acquisition of UGS: surprisingly Siemens showed flexible thinking and promptness. There are about a dozen similar concerns in the world (GE, Westinghouse, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Hyundai, etc.), but none of them showed considerable interest to buying CAD-technologies.

From this point of view, Microsoft will benefit from buying Dassault Systemes who has the best portfolio of manufacturing solutions on the market. The situation with Adobe is different as it is more interested in on-line and other media – movies, advertising, and leisure. Here Autodesk can offer the best package– 3ds Max, Maya, Alias Studio and numerous other applications. The sound architecture and construction market can be a pleasant bonus. As for Google, it has excellent positions in on-line collaboration tools and affordable GIS-solutions. It would be logical to supplement them with professional add-ins implementing “simple PLM”and the architecture solutions that are more powerful than SketchUp. Google will hardly pay attention to any of the three CAD-leaders, but as a possible option it can adapt available PLM solutions, perhaps Aras, and specialized AEC-solutions, for example, ArchiCAD – why can’t we fantasize about such a scenario?

And finally, Apple. The company undoubtedly has more than enough financial resources for acquisitions; nevertheless they seem unlikely to me. The structure of the business, its target audience – end-users simply do not leave room for the thoughts that Apple will invest in CAD. We should also remember that Apple – is a company of a particular person being nearly a religion. Looking at its history, all rises and falls are in one way or another connected to the ideas presented (or selected from hundreds others) by Steve Jobs, and the corporate business-image is mostly based on it. However, Jobs’ famous RDF (reality distortion field) technology can be hardly applied to CAD.

DL: if we began to talk about SpaceClaim, it’s about time to discuss the main technological trend and prospect, which is direct editing.

DU: First of all I would like to emphasize that direct geometry editing has become a must function for any “self-respecting” CAD-system. Even the top executives of SolidWorks, to the bitter end refusing to do anything with this technology (and replacing it with some substitute called Instant 3D), has recently admitted that such development is ongoing – as a new version of SolidWorks V6. At the same time, none of the successors to Pro/Engineer is ready to reject design history. As a result, each developer creates his own bizarre mix of elements. In its synchronous technology Siemens has gone farthest, enabling users to mix two methods in a single model (with non-trivial transition rules). Autodesk and PTC are following a different path – post factum integration of the results of direct editing in the tree. Dassault has not made its statement yet. I believe all vendors are aware that design history will soon become an atavism. However, until direct modeling is not sufficiently smart to fully replace the history method, nobody will risk putting all stakes on it. Nevertheless, research is this area is developing in quantum leaps so it’s not hard to predict that in the next ten years design history will disappear.

VM: Well, there are those who already fully rejected the history-based approach – well-known SpaceClaim. Perhaps, Payne and his fellows are merely ahead of their time? I think very soon (just in one or two of years) everything will be clear.

DL: And I think that even ten years that Dmitry give to the history-based approach to disappear will not be enough. It is totally in line with the statement that direct modeling “has become a must function for any “self-respecting” CAD-system” and that direct modeling will be actively and productively developed. Practically all my professional life I’ve been involved in various intellectualization projects and I know for sure: (1) there is a strong subjective factor: conservatism and distrust of millions of users towards any seemingly convincing rescue from excessive work, (2) there is a strong objective factor: a smart tool can be more efficient in 90% of cases but none dares to risk loosing the remaining 10% opportunities (in the situations not yet opened up to intellectualization or simply in especially delicate cases, (3) market has a normal commercial inertia: if the old version keeps selling, not only it will not be abandoned but it will be improved and advertised, etc. My prediction: the leaders will long (> 10 years) support centaurs and / or buy producers of pure software and / or include own pure products versions with direct modeling in the line (mainly for the purposes of self-assertion and scaring the environment). I will be happy, however, to find out that I was mistaken and to see the fast and absolute victory of CAD fundamentally based on direct modeling where “less smart” methods will remain as assembler language in the high-level non-procedural language environment.

Discussing development of smart design technologies, it would be appropriate to remember that they are aimed to better simplify the work of the end users. However, I am concerned with the tendencies in one or another way related to the slogan “CAD for non-professionals”. The slogan itself is associated with such qualities as mobility, interface simplicity, intellectualization, etc., with which I am quite happy. In my opinion, engineering design is by definition a professional area, and it is possible to find another name for something like apartment planning and the tools required for this. Even if I am wrong in this delineation, I think that upfront promotion of CAD to the public can obstruct something which can be more important for the public … You know, around thirty years ago, in the forefront of rapid growth of computer access and a sense of euphoria caused by success achieved by schoolchildren in programming in Basic, a popular slogan was “Programming is Second Literacy”. It turned out later that instead of programming the second (and truly sought-after) literacy became ability to confidently work with Office, use Internet and social networks, etc. I would say that today a high level of literacy in this field would be perhaps the above skills combined with evident absence of addiction to them:).

BTW, writing about SpaceClaim 2011 achievements, in his blog Deeleep quotes the advertisement (a traditional remark of an excited client): “…Any idiot can use SpaceClaim… This system works differently from usual software”.

VM: About mobility – whether we like it or not it has happened. Telephone has long stopped being just the means to make a call. Market swallowing dozens of millions of tablets only in a single year speaks for itself. The “CAD for non-professionals” sector can hardly be imagined without a mobile platform. Generally speaking, design and especially engineering certainly is the domain for professionals. Amateurs, however, can still enjoy a vast range of activities: there is no need to seek professional help to draw a shelf to fix in a garage or a birdhouse. In some incidents a “non-professional” project may be useful in a professional field as a sketch that the customer can give to professionals to elaborate, for instance, an experimental device scheme, an alterntative plan of an office or your own yard, and many others.

There is also a huge area of activities called hobbies. It includes the army of hundreds thousands and millions of enthusiasts who design models of planes, cars, railways, which themselves build yachts and planes. Under the official classifications, they are amateurs as they do it in their spare time. Nevertheless, speaking from my own experience (I devoted more than 15 years to model airplane flying) to design a decent plane or helicopter model is a task to which CAD is fully fit.

One should also remember such area as operations; for instance, more than ten years ago NATO aviation moved to mobile versions of engineering documentation and diagnostics systems. Obviously such solutions will expand to the civil engineering and household sectors, especially with the present level of availability of mobile equipment.

DL: Are there any other comments to any of 12+ trends?

DU: Talking about new CAD interfaces I would tike to mention an obvious tendency of moving “back to the drawing-board”. Convenient electronic analogs of drawing boards are simply around new the corner and the question is what kind of user interface should have CAD working on such devices. It is unlikely that it will repeat today’s CAD interface for desktop computers. In this connection I would like to attract your attention to a research project of Purdue University (USA) focused on machine recognition of manual drawings. I am pleased to emphasize that this research (as well as many others state-of-the-art designs) is based on parametric technologies developed by LEDAS.

VM: Effectively the above video Microsoft Surface 2 - is the drawing board of XXI century:).

DU: There is another interesting topic. At isicad-2004 Evan Yares talked about the flaws in the foundation of complex engineering software (particularly represented by CAD). According to Evan, the only way to develop a project with reliable foundation is to carefully determine its basic software blocks. Experience is the key to correct determination of such blocks. There is a growing trend to use out-of-the-box technological components developed by other companies including: geometric modeling kernels, parametric solvers, means of visualization. Each supplier of these components has accumulated solid experience of using them in a variety of client applications, knows possible pitfalls better than anybody and has knowledge how to use them correctly. Rewriting their software from scratch, CAD-vendors should pay more attention to the suppliers of these specialized components. I believe this trend will become more entrenched in the future.

DL: Although the issues of sustainability hardly concern the army of engineers, especially in Russia, this is one of the most fashionable topics in our industry; one that is a must to discuss. The increasing boom masks a principal problem: as far back as mid-XIX cent. they noticed that reducing resource-intensity of a product item (along with related cost-reduction and increase of availability to consumers) often results in considerable (sometimes explosive) increase of product output and, accordingly, the aggregate increase of resource spending.

We cannot clearly identify the causes of such growth, for instance, the growth of oil-saving products can be explained by the fact that their manufacturers are obligated to meet more strict norms, or they justly expect the overall growth of income from selling cheaper solutions, or both factors in combination...

Ultimately the problem lies in continued total consumption expansion: in fact there are not so many products, which are really necessary for people, yet they tend to buy a new toy as soon as it becomes fashionable and a person can afford it.

I would be absurd to blame producers for developing locally sustainable solutions and legislators – for passing new locally-sustainable norms and standards. In some incidents such actions bring real benefits today and in general we can consider them an absolutely essential preparatory step towards the stage of human events, when resources are exhausted and it can be hard to breeze not only in Moscow in July 2010 … I also would like to state that I cannot justify a skeptical attitude of Russian vendors towards sustainable design …

VM: Personally I think that emerging sustainability products is primarily the result of strict government regulations rather than a good will or “objective” development of technologies. If there is a shaped demand, then there will be supply. If there are energy norms and relieves for buildings – there will be (or there is) supply for “environmentally - friendly” projects, although they are starting-up and are more expensive. There are “Euro 3-4-5..” requirements for cars and the car industry cannot escape them. So there will be relevant design tools. However, we are not yet talking here about a global approach. No romance, just cynical business. And the government motivation is far from being altruistic; they simply follow a new political trend fighting for the voters. And it not always takes reasonable and useful forms, often such steps are taken simply for the sake of pompous PR, and in fact are to the detriment of the declared aims.

I explain sluggishness and skepticism of Russian vendors by sluggishness of our government in terms of developing and introducing environmental programmes, norms and regulations. While our political and electoral system is sluggish and predictable politicians and the authorities are not employing this leverage over the public.

DL: This does not contradict my position. Just in case, in view of a frequent misperception or deliberate manipulations, I would like to add that the new environmental norms being introduced in the western market does not mean regulating the market or rejecting it. The market mechanisms remain unshakable. This is an introduction of new framework conditions for market performance. The balance between the market mechanisms and the framework conditions is roughly the same as between a computational mechanism of a constraint-solver and the constraints, observing which the solver completes the computations. After all, framework restrictions like “it is not possible to sell contaminated food products” or “one cannot physically destroy competitors” have been in force for a long time. Violating such norms is a completely different story…

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