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.