SolidWorks vs Solid Edge

Today I got this interesting email:

I work with a SolidWorks reseller and as you may expect, have been fielding questions about synchronous technology. When asked today I promised to send a link to some kind of introductory review of the technology and thought I should see what you might have on the subject. I did just read your 11 part series and aside from knowing that you appreciate the technology and are excited about where it is going, it’s not clear to me that you would recommend it as the direction to take for a new company. Are you?

Yes, I do recommend Solid Edge ST3 for a new company. Why? Actually the reason is pretty simple. Common sense dictates that its better to have two options to do the same thing than be restricted to just one. In the case of Solid Edge the two options I am talking about are (1) the relatively cumbersome but powerful history based parametric modeling method, and (2) the relatively easy but somewhat limiting push pull direct modeling method. Different people in the organization can use the method that suits them or their task best. And now with Synchronous Technology in Solid Edge ST3 you can mix both methods in the same part or assembly if you want. By no stretch of imagination can that be a bad thing, especially since with Synchronous Technology you can have procedural features, driving dimensions and a bunch of other stuff that users of history based parametric modeling systems are familiar with. This is not the first time I have posted the following slide and I don’t think it will be the last either.

Click image for larger view

Keeping Synchronous Technology and direct modeling aside for a moment, Solid Edge in its strict history based parametric modeling form, is a pretty capable product, very comparable to SolidWorks in a number of areas. Technology-wise it uses the same Parasolid modeling kernel as SolidWorks. Although the UI, feature frameworks and modeling work flows in SolidWorks and Solid Edge may differ, the underlying technology has more or less the same capabilities. And so when you add direct modeling to the mix Solid Edge comes out as the winner, at least in my opinion.

In its present form, SolidWorks does not have direct modeling. And I got the impression from SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray that the SolidWorks that we know will never get direct modeling. Here is part of my interview with him at DSCC 2010 in Orlando this year.

Deelip: Would it be fair to say that this new SolidWorks that you are going to come up in the next couple of years is going to have direct modeling capabilities like how it is implemented in other MCAD systems?

Jeff: It will have direct modeling. But it will not be it the way people are doing it today because we are not constrained with Windows.

Deelip: What has Direct Modeling got to do with Windows?

Jeff: You’ll see. That’s all I will say. (smiles)

Jeff was talking about the “new” SolidWorks that is being secretly developed. Details on it are sketchy as can be seen with Jeff’s comment about it not being tied down to Windows. So if you are deciding on a new MCAD system or switching from an existing one, I strongly suggest that you pay close attention to what’s going on at SolidWorks. I don’t think much is going to change with regard to Solid Edge apart from Siemens PLM continuing to push the limits of Synchronous Technology. But there is definitely going to be some shaking up on the SolidWorks side of things. Depending on what you expect your MCAD system to be in the future, that may be a good or a bad thing.

Then there is this cloud thing that SolidWorks and its parent Dassault Systemes have going on. Personally I believe that the cloud or something like it is the future of computing. But we are not there yet. Depending upon which side of the cloud debate you stand, you will see a SolidWorks vs Solid Edge contest differently.

It would be nice to have a detailed feature by feature comparison between SolidWorks and Solid Edge, but the SolidWorks license agreement specifically prohibits that. The “Other Restrictions on Use” section reads “you may not analyze for purposes competitive to DS SolidWorks“. However, ever if someone ignores that and does a detailed feature by feature comparison, I think such an exercise will most probably show a predictable result that both MCAD systems are more or less technologically quite similar. At least in the basic features that are most commonly used by people. Here I am talking about a truly unbiased comparison, not like the twisted and biased white paper recently published by Technicom comparing SolidWorks with Inventor where Autodesk picked 15 of the 24 functional areas where Inventor supposedly scored higher than SolidWorks. Apart from violating the SolidWorks license agreement and giving Autodesk something crappy to brag about I’m not sure what exactly that white paper achieved.

Personally, I am not much of a Solid Edge user, mainly because I have more SolidWorks customers than Solid Edge due to which I find myself firing up SolidWorks more than Solid Edge. I just ran a report on the total number of trial keys issued by SYCODE. SolidWorks came second after AutoCAD with a share of 22.14%. Solid Edge came in at number seven with 3.31%, just after Inventor which was at 3.87%. While these numbers in no way depict the true market shares, this is an important and sometimes deciding factor when choosing an MCAD system. SolidWorks is often chosen as a “safe bet” since it is damn good product and it clearly has the majority share among the mid range MCAD systems. So whether you like it or not you may be forced to select SolidWorks because that’s what the people and companies in your work ecosystem use. Which makes perfect sense because of the way CAD vendors use proprietary file formats to lock their customers in.

So ultimately when it comes to selecting an MCAD system, it boils down to a number things, most of which are quite specific to the company or individual making the decision:

  1. What specifically are you going to use your MCAD system for?
  2. Who all in your organization are going to use it and how?
  3. Is ease of use an important factor for you?
  4. How important is data reuse for your business? Do you work on projects that are relative independent of each other?
  5. How will you be expected to share your CAD data with other people in your organization and companies in your ecosystem?
  6. Do you care about cloud computing enough for it to be an influential or deciding factor?
  7. What about availability of support and training? Is your reseller simply a box pusher or can he handle your support and training needs as well?

All these questions and more and important. So while I started this post  by stating that I recommend Solid Edge ST3 for a new company, it really depends on the specific company or individual. While I believe that Synchronous Technology tilts the technology balance towards Solid Edge, there are a bunch of other things that you need to consider if you are making a decision for the long term. And you need to do this carefully because this is mostly probably going to be a decision that you will have to live with for a long time to come. Depending upon what you do, switching MCAD systems may not be as easy as you may think.

  • Deelip, you might want to also refer this person to TechniCom’s unbiased report available at . This has been downloaded a number of times and offers an excellent methodology for a company to evaluate their needs and proceed with a CAD selection.

    I also want to respond to your comment “Here I am talking about a truly unbiased comparison, not like the twisted and biased white paper recently published by Technicom comparing SolidWorks with Inventor where Autodesk picked 15 of the 24 functional areas where Inventor supposedly scored higher than SolidWorks. Apart from violating the SolidWorks license agreement and giving Autodesk something crappy to brag about I’m not sure what exactly that white paper achieved.” Evidently you too failed to observe that while these 15 functional areas were picked for a detailed evaluation by experts, Autodesk did not know in advance what the results would be. I might also point out that these 15 functional areas focus on core modeling. You can call the results whatever you want, but the results were reported accurately and expert biases were removed, as best we could, by the Delphi process of multiple iterations. Also, since we relied on expert user feedback, any license agreement restriction was a non-issue.

    • This is not about the methodology that was used to do the comparison. This is about the fact that the results of all 24 functional areas were not published in your white paper, irrespective of these areas were studied or whether the results of these studies were known before hand or not. In your blog post you yourself mentioned that Autodesk considered the 15 functional areas to be their strong points. That says it all!! By your own admission, Autodesk picked Inventor’s strong points and told you to compare them with SolidWorks. If that is not twisted and biased, I don’t know what is.

      Are you suggesting that your SolidWorks experts agreed to a different EULA? I don’t understand how something called “expert user feedback” allows you to violate a clause in a license agreement. Frankly, I don’t quite like that clause. But the fact is that it exists.

      • I have read the section of the SW EULA many times, and while I do not claim to be an attorney, the language and context seems to be referring to attempting to discover the source code of the software and its trade secrets. It does not seemed aimed at any and all competitive analyses of SolidWorks.

        Maybe some other legal experts can chime in here?

  • PeterCharles

    When moving on from AutoCAD 2D we opted for Inventor over SolidWorks. (I won’t bore you with the reasons)
    In hindsight I believe it was an error NOT to have considered Solid Edge. We may not have chosen it but should have considered it.

  • PeterCharles

    When moving on from AutoCAD 2D we opted for Inventor over SolidWorks. (I won’t bore you with the reasons)
    In hindsight I believe it was an error NOT to have considered Solid Edge. We may not have chosen it but should have considered it.

  • Dave Ault

    I am a one seat shop. I know that many of the problems other companies with few to many seats contemplate when looking at switching were mine too from financial to training to what do my customers use and legacy files and the only difference is I had to gamble with MY money. There comes a time though when, or at least this is how I do things, you have to weight the status quo to future directions and capabilities of what you choose to use. For me the ability of Synchronous to work on customer files more quickly and easily than the authors of those files ended all the legacy file and what are my customers files format issues. In retrospect I would have made the same decision to go with ST1 again today knowing the numerous warts that were there as an actual user. The actual benefits of editing parts in ST were just to compelling.

    Fast forward to today and ST3 and it is a no brainer. With the exception of complex surfacing which I understand SW for instance does better everything else is in SE’s corner. I think that Siemens has made a long term corporate decision to pursue new software customers by putting things of actual provable use into what they author. I can speak from personal experience that they do and are listening VERY closely to users. When you contrast this with vaporware and promises and really bad corporate directions other companies are taking these traditional reasons to stay are starting to look pretty thin. There have been some major changes lately towards Siemens products and I think a good part of why is twofold. Better software and clear corporate direction with these important software tools.

    There seem to be cycles in the software industry where the existing powerhouses die because of lack of innovation and or ignoring customers. It was and still is my belief that ST is just such a thing and heralds the next big shift in software as this powerfull tool is adopted by more and more. PTC, then SW and now it will be SE and NX’s turn.

  • Interesting discussion… Just some additional notes: SolidWorks and many other tools use Parasolid and D-Cubed, which are Siemens PLM components. So, the kernel of SolidWorks has been Siemens technology, and a lot of people are relying on that technology for their modeling. Synchronous technology is another leap in technology by Siemens, and it is outside of Parasolid and only implemented in Solid Edge. Have a look at it, it really goes beyond standard direct editing, e.g., in that real constraints and design intents are kept. We are seeing more and more users adopt the power of synchronous, and we are convinced it will take design to the next level of productivity. We don’t claim to meet everybody’s need. As Deelip says, there are many considerations in any purchase, but you want to have us on your evaluation list!

  • Anonymous

    Somebody with a very thick skin needs to post a request for Solidworks on the cloud on the Solidworks Ideas blog. I will be there to back you up with a down vote and a scathing comment. They need to know how users feel.

  • proepro

    To agree that a complete evaluation should include Solid Edge with SolidWorks.

    I can not over emphasize the need to dedicate a serious effort to getting intimate with every cad package you are considering. I have seen mistakes made more than once where people didn’t spend a week or two using the package everyday for real work. Then when they spent the money they found a fatal flaw that made it unusable. In the worst case they took the wires from their best surface model and asked the salesman to build surfaces on them. Of course he could come back with a great model. However, they never found out that he could not have made those curves in the first place. $50,000 later they were back to doing it the old way with the old software.

    One thing that SolidWorks beats everyone at is 3rd party extensions.

    A common concern in CAD selection is the number of skilled users in your area (or industry) with a package. This was a big deal in the Pro/E days because an Autocadd user had to start over to learn Pro/E. Now if you can’t transition easily from SolidWorks to Solid Edge to another 3D feature based system it is because you don’t want to do it not because it is hard.

    However, with each company doing direct modeling completely differently and evolving it as fast as they can the user will have to be an active learner for the next decade.

  • The 3rd party extensions advantage of SW will fall with the massive adoption of direct editing. And i guess the schools will prefer the direct edition to teach coz it is lot faster and easier to learn… just a point of view. As Dave Ault sais: “it will be SE and NX’s turn.”

  • Billy Oliver

    Deelip, What do you think the future of SW using the Parasolid kernel is?

    Do you think that SW will abandon the parasolid kernal and go with the Catia kernal, with what SW showed last year at SW world?

    Do you have any idea of how the rest of the SW community feels about the possibility of SW dumping the parasolid kernel. A process that could create great pain trying to convert 15 years of SW data from the parasolid kernel to the Catia kernel.

    Billy Oliver

    • Billy,

      Yes, switching to CGM is inevitable. It just doesn’t make business sense for DS/SW to continue with Parasolid.

      Yes, this will be a pain point for SW customers, as will be the switch to the Cloud. But I’d like to believe that all this is for the greater good. Now we can argue whose good that is. But sometime in the future I believe SW users will look at all this in a different light.

  • Eric

    Hello Deelip

    Why don’t you try to add to your Solid Edge ST3 and Solidworks direct modeling comparaison, Inventor Fusion.
    I will be interested to see what you think about it

  • Well, SolidWorks doesn’t have any direct modeling. So it will be a comparison between Solid Edge and Inventor. Hmmm… maybe one of these days I will do that.

    • Mat Robson

      Deeplip, Depending of what is defined by “direct modeling” (drag and change to model dynamically on the graphics area)
      many does not know about the Instant 3D functionality in SolidWorks. (

  • wisestone

    solid edge st3 is a “knockoff” of inventor AND solidworks. i have seen some of the tutorials on you tube. i am not impressed at all. i think that autodesk still rules the “CAD” world, they have been out longer. also “PRO-E is a joke.

    • Duffman

      Sorry guys but I feel compelled to stick up for Pro-E here. Having used it for 5 years in a large scale precision manufacturing environment, I found it to be an incredibly powerful package (I mean seriously powerful when you understand how to use it properly). However it can be a real pain in the ass to learn (especially without formal training) and regeneration issues can sometimes occur with complex geometries, although admitedly this is getting better with each new release. Also sheet metal in pro-E is very powerful.

      That said I am also a big fan of solidworks, having used it for the last 2-3 years, and have found it to be extremely intuitive and much more stable than pro-e when it comes to complex geometries and relations (model stays stable even when dimension/reference errors occur, so you can fix them much easier than in Pro-E). Also in the 2011 release they have finally caught up with Pro-E with respect to using external data files (such as text files exported from an ERP system) to drive component geometry. Up to now this area has been quite limited in solidworks, other than with driveworks. The new lifecycle stuff is also really cool.

      I used Autodesk Inventor at college and didn’t really get on with it, but I’m sure a lot has changed since then. I like it that autodesk are offering free software to the unemployed (like me!) so I may check it out in a bit more detail at some point.

      To keep on topic though, I’m hoping to start a job soon in which I will be using Solid Edge and having read this I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t had much experience with the direct editing side of 3D CAD having up to now revelled in the power of all that is parametric – like I said, for the large scale manufacture of infinitely configurable components parametric is king IMO. That’s why I like the idea of being able to choose between the two methods, and even to integrate them.

      At the end of the day you pick the CAD package that can do what you want it to in the long term. Its a big investment, both in capital and in terms of implementaton, so it’s not a decision that should be taken lightly. I don’t think you can tell from youtube videos what the package is like, as proepro says you need to use the software for at least a couple of weeks and really push it to the limits of what you think you will use it for before you can make any kind of decision.

      My understanding is that Solid Edge, Solidworks and Inventor are great for simple to moderately complex parts, but Pro-E and the other high end packages like CATIA and NX really come into their own once you get to a certain level of component complexity (i.e. complex surfacing, advanced parametric modelling, etc.).



  • No, Instant3D is not Direct Modeling. It only allows you to dynamically edit parameters using the mouse, that’s all. And BTW, for quite some time now, SolidWorks pointed to Instant3D and said they already had Direct Modeling. Now that they are getting ready to add the real Direct Modeling in their new SolidWorks platform, that language is beginning to change slightly. 😉

  • Amirtharaj

    Hi Deelip:

    SolidWorks Instant 3D is also direct modeling only. Other software allow to works either on parametric platform or direct editing platform, not mix and match. But SolidWorks allows to work on both parametric and direct modeling simultaneously. If you do not want direct modeling you can switch off it. It is much safer and better than other software architecture.

  • Anitasiom

    hi deelip 
    please define the solid edge and solid work sepretly  because its long process to read. you are awesome.

  • CAD Mgr

    I would first like to thank you for opening an unbiased discussion regarding this topic.  As you stated, the hype does nothing to help decision makers.  In fact, what I’ve found is that when new people have been hired by our company they start complaining that we are not using “XYZ” software.  There is no reasoning with these individuals either.  All the logic in the world (i.e. same Parasolid kernal, basically same functionality, not to mention the cost of changing CAD packages for no apparently valid business purpose.) has no effect on them.  Then if there is ever an issue with a project the obvious blame is the CAD software…never mind the lack of engineering/project management skills the complainer has.  It has become somewhat of an inside joke that when we finally switch over (we are) there will be no more issues.  I guess we will have reached CAD Nirvana.  Regards.