The landscape of CAD application providers, like many tech areas today, is prone to big changes. This is the second in a series of posts where I’ll be providing my perspective on the state of things with respect to CAD. Strap in and read on.

We started this series last time by looking at the Stalwarts in the industry: the big four of Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, PTC and Siemens PLM. This time, we’re diving in to look at the Interlopers, which are large providers that have entered the CAD industry in the last few years. This includes 3D Systems, Altair Engineering and ANSYS. In this post, you’ll find details on the current state and future trajectory of the CAD offerings of these companies. In the end, I’ll highlight the major differences and  similarities.

3D Systems: Competing via Acquisition

A couple years ago, if someone had asked me how 3D printing and CAD might be provided by one company, I would have guessed that one of the big four would have acquired an additive manufacturing provider. Who knew the exact reverse would have occurred?

Between 2011 and 2014, 3D systems made 17 acquisitions in total (hat tip to Spar Point’s handy summary) that includes Alibre, Z Corp, Geomagic, Rapidform and TeamPlatform. By mid-2013, 3D Systems launched an integrated offering that included some surprising capabilities. One of those was a new set of tools to support going from 3D scanning to a design environment to support reverse engineering. Core mechanical design has been supported as well with parametric and direct modeling, sheetmetal and surfacing as well as 2D documentation. The TeamPlatform acquisition was a pleasant surprise, adding some collaboration capabilities.

Are the applications and systems provided by 3D Systems a viable alternative? I’d say yes. Their offering isn’t as full as those from the Stalwarts covered in the prior post in this series. However, they are worth investigating based on your needs. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t done with growth via acquisition. I wouldn’t be surprised if they acquired GrabCAD to round out their portfolio with PDM functionality.

Altair Engineering: Supporting Engineering Decisions

When someone mentions CAD, most folks certainly don’t think about Altair Engineering. However, there is some useful functionality that they provide via their solidThinking products.

Evolve provides tools for industrial designers and others concerned with aesthetics to conceptualize and develop models. It’s definitely not parametric modeling. However, it’s not quite direct modeling either.

Inspire provides topology optimization functionality, which suggests design shapes based on a simulation’s input. What’s interesting about this offering is that it is offered in a CAD-like environment. It offers shape alternatives that people might never have considered, much less created themselves. It is a tool that truly supports engineering decision-making.

Make no mistake: won’t replace the traditional CAD application used to generate engineering documentation. This tool is meant to support aesthetic and functional engineering decisions. Can it add value? Given the strength of the functionally driven concept design capabilities, the answer is a resounding yes from me.

ANSYS: Questions Remain

A couple months ago, I was taking questions from a crowd while I sat on a panel at the NAFEMS North American congress in Colorado. A question started, “What do you think a simulation company like ANSYS would acquire a CAD company like Spaceclaim?” To that, I quipped “oh no… ANSYS is a CAD company now.”

Why did I make my tongue-in-cheek jest? Because there’s plenty of outstanding questions about the acquisition. Spaceclaim initially started out as a tool focused on enabling engineers to explore design iterations in 3D. But over time, they started to incorporate more mainstream CAD functionality. There may be some potential value in using Spaceclaim’s recently launched collaboration capabilities for simulation. I fully expect ANSYS to bring Spaceclaim modeling capabilities closer to their simulation applications. But what does the future hold for Spaceclaim from a CAD perspective? Who knows. Those questions will persist until ANSYS clarifies them.

Recap and Questions

  • 3D Systems went acquisition-crazy… in a good way. They now have a plethora of CAD functionality. What’s good about that is they seem to have a plan on how to integrate it all together. If they can do that in a cohesive manner, I think it translates into a viable alternative to the Stalwarts covered in the first post. If they can integrate it with TeamPlatform and something else with PDM capabilities, watch out. All that combined with better additive manufacturing integration makes for a powerful suite of engineering tools.
  • Altair Engineering’s solidThinking applications and ANSYS’ acquisition of Spaceclaim fall squarely into simulation enablement until proven otherwise. Both have great potential and can add quite a bit of value if applied in the right way to an engineering organization. But will they ever become a fully-fledged CAD alternative to the Stalwarts? I doubt it.

That covers the Interlopers. We’ve already covered the Stalwarts. Next up? We’ll be looking at the Upstarts. Guesses welcome. I’ll tell you if you guess right.

Take care. Talk soon. Thanks for reading.