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Interview: Bring Innovation Front and Center for the Next Technology Wave

Oct. 17, 2016
Machine Design sat down with SolidWorks CEO Gian Paolo Bassi to talk about the future of the SolidWorks 2017 platform and innovation overall.
Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO, Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks

At the SolidWorks 2017 Launch Day, I had an opportunity to talk with Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO, Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks. We discussed the new launch of the software that not only provides customers with a Solidworks version that is five times faster than 2016, but includes new online services through This provides engineers access to an online platform that connects them to manufacturers, additive manufacturing services, and part distributors to help them create their products.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your history with SolidWorks.

My journey started when I got my degree in mechanical engineering in 1984. I founded a startup straight out of the University of Bologna, Italy, to work on parametric 3D CAD. I worked on 3D software for several years and developed a strong background in research and development. In 1994, I moved to the United States and was working with Computer Vision. I continued to develop startup companies when I moved to Silicon Valley and later partnered with Dassault Systèmes. The companies I helped found were focused on innovation, new products, and ultimately became part of the CATIA portfolio in the early 2000s.

Afterward, I started consultant work on architecture projects. Dassault Systèmes acquired my consulting firm and made me vice president of research and development in 2011. In 2015, I was offered the position of CEO. I still retain my title of VP of R&D, which is very typical of Dassault. It is a very strong technology-oriented company and the heads of their brands come from strong engineering backgrounds. This helps bring Dassault to the forefront of research and innovation for CAD, CAM, and PLM. It is very rewarding to work for Dassault because the company is motivated by strategic decisions and long invested plans of, for example, 10 years.

At the SolidWorks 2017 press conference, we heard the phrase “democratizing innovation” quite a bit. Can you explain what that means?

It means to organize our products into dedicated solutions. We are pursuing this strategy that, for example, includes solutions for interconnected devices, design to manufacturing for highly integrated shops, and engineering consulting services. To be more innovative, we need to bring the power of the people and collaboration into the equation.

This is why we are evolving to platform-thinking, because it is only with the platform that you can bring together products and technology with people and the marketplace. You need the platform if you want to store and analyze big data. The technology used to analyze big data is high end and very expensive. If you make it part of the platform, then it becomes more available.

Making the search capabilities part of your software, for example, brings the high end and sophisticated technology to everyone. This is now available in SolidWorks 2017 with a low price-point entry to all users. Design optimization is one tool we want to make available to all engineers, and we do so by integrating it into the platform.

Platform services also require cloud services. Is SolidWorks offering cloud services along with their license?

We are a one-stop shop. Dassault Systèmes owns the infrastructure for cloud services. We are invested with Outscale Cloud service, which provides our cloud backbone. Dassault is able to provide the entire solution, including hosting, which is very important.

For some industries, you cannot afford not knowing where your data is located. We own the servers, so we can tell you geographically the location of your data. Our customers have complete access to those servers and do not need to store anything locally, since everything is in the cloud. And many of these cloud services are included in the maintenance fees of their desktop products. When you purchase your SolidWorks seed, you own it forever.

Your maintenance fees provide you with regular updates and the cloud services that include, for instance, collaboration services and 3D part supply search services. The 3D part supply search gives you the ability to search for a component, where it is in stock, the price, delivery time, performance, etc.

Do you feel that the new SolidWorks Platform will compete against the rise of independent startup CAD platforms that have developed in recent years?

Yes, but I do not think there are that many in the market, per se. Those services are more focused on offering CAD in a browser, which is interesting to do. But that is only one part of what can happen if you have a fully connected platform solution. For example, this concept of a marketplace where people can sell their production or supply services is a unique ability.

Engineers will encounter this new user interface in SolidWorks 2017. It features the small orthopedic company Myomo and their hand assist tool.

Manufacturing is a difficult world and while we expect competition to arise, we do not see many entering the community the same way as we plan to for a while. We have a large spectrum of customers, and many come from “mom and pop shops” or small companies, which is still a very important aspect of engineering. The Myomo orthopedic hand assist tool comes from a company of only 60 people. Markforged, another small company, is the first company to introduce a 3D printer with carbon-fiber capability. Both are our customers and highly innovative. We do not have to confuse size with innovation.

New to SolidWorks is Xdesign (coming later in 2017), a design-optimization tool in which the computer offers design solutions. How can this help engineers, and is there a danger that this may lead to poor design solutions?

The idea is to free up the imagination of the engineer. Xdesign will suggest geometry based on stress and strain optimization algorithms to create the best design. We envision the machine telling you that this part is optimized from a statistical point of view, and now you as the engineer have to turn it into an industrial part. An engineer would then verify the part through their manufacturing experience and training.

What the computer cannot do is invent the product. It can tell you the optimal form, fit, shape, and function around your idea, and with our new platform, it helps create that idea in the most possible and affordable way. The greatest inventors are the people that come from any trade.

SolidWorks is very involved with the education of future engineers. What do you offer engineering students?

We have a very rich and deep education program. Today, 82% of the top educational institutions in the world are standardized in SolidWorks for the engineering studies and research departments. Most students entering school now, or the engineering competitions such as the DARPA Challenge, Formula SAE, or Mini Baja, use SolidWorks to design their robots or vehicles.

Our education line does more than just offer our software platform at a discount price. We also assist in creating the curriculum, supporting the schools with installation and upgrade, and providing the teaching materials. We provide all of the tools necessary to make the class successful. We offer certification as well in SolidWorks so that students graduate not only with a degree, but are certified in SolidWorks. This is essential for them to find a job.

In fact, our strategy is to be even more pervasive in education by offering CAD modeling to kids. Our program “Apps for Kids” helps to teach young kids on how to use 3D modeling, because we need more children, especially young girls, to go into engineering. The value is not just giving them the software for free, but in developing them into better engineers by engaging in their curriculum and their projects.

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