In Waltham, Massachusetts, Dassault Systèmes‘ North American headquarters houses a 3DEXPERIENCE Lab filled with an integrated ecosystem of advanced technologies. The 3,100-square-foot fablab was announced this year at SOLIDWORKS World and officially opened on May 30th; this week I was in Boston to see the facility and talk to the team behind the popular SOLIDWORKS software platform. Throughout a full day at the HQ, one theme emerged in conversation after conversation: the ecosystem in which Dassault and SOLIDWORKS operate.
Starting the day in the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, I couldn’t help but compare it to the 3DEXPERIENCE Center the company opened earlier this year in Wichita. The two certainly share many similarities in terms of technological capabilities, but several key differences differentiate the Lab and the Center. The 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is a makerspace encouraging development, with the fablab mentality at its core. This facility, Suchit Jain, Vice President, Strategy and Community, told me as we walked around, “is the next generation of our users’ labs.”
“There are lots of makerspaces, lots of fablabs; the thought is that everybody is a maker, and so these are everywhere. I’ve been to India, China, Chile, and Brazil. You tend to see fablabs where means are harder to get. Making is everywhere, even in villages. We have helped set up a fablab in Rwanda, and one in Bhutan, where they measure Gross Domestic Happiness instead of money,” Jain explained.
“The big purpose here is to test how we are going from design to manufacturing. I talk about that distance going to zero.”
Working with the Fab Foundation, which has its roots in MIT’s Center for Bits & Atoms, the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab serves as a community hub and a small incubator, connected as well to more than 1,000 other makerspaces. The Lab draws from the engineers — about 700 of them — Dassault has on-site among its approximately 1,000 local employees, who can provide help to the community, and the student interns working on projects there. The Lab, Jain and 3DEXPERIENCE LAB North America Manager Abhishek Bali explained, is becoming a hub for innovation. Housing technologies including several desktop 3D printers — among them, machines from Sindoh, Formlabs, Ultimaker, XYZprinting, and MakerBot — as well as subtractive technologies including CNC, molding and casting, screen printing, laser engraving, mechatronics, robotics, and even sewing machines, the Lab offers enough options to power almost any conceivable project.
The myriad technologies in the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab set the scene for my day with Dassault, as it became clear that this tech-heavy company is well aware that the best way forward is together. As Jain noted, innovation is not restricted to big machines or to big companies, but should be available to execute for those with vision.
The push toward wider availability of empowered innovation was at the heart of each conversation I had on site; among those from the SOLIDWORKS team I had the pleasure of learning from were:
- Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO
- Kurt Anliker, Worldwide Director of Product Introduction
- Kishore Boyalakuntla, VP, Product Portfolio Management and Brand User Experience Leader
- Kurt Lundstedt, Product Manager, PDM Solutions
- Mark Rushton, Product Portfolio Manager
- Craig Therrien, Senior Product Manager
- Marie Planchard, Director of Education and Early Engagement
- Scott Harris, Virtual Reality Systems Expert
Over lunch, SOLIDWORKS’ CEO built on some of the ideas I last heard from him at February’s SOLIDWORKS World in LA.
“As we explained at SOLIDWORKS World and as we explain to our customers, SOLIDWORKS is known for CAD, for geometry, for being fast and efficient in geometry. There is a transformation to a complete portfolio, and platform thinking is our strategy. Our customers require very tight integration with the design phase,” he told me.
As he illustrated at SWW17, Bassi is willing to bet his head on the tolerances design SOLIDWORKS is capable of offering, as he showed in an illusion with magician Justin Flom:
Bassi continued in his characteristic flurry of energy of the thinking behind today’s SOLIDWORKS:
“Integration is very much important…Fundamental differentiation in integration is the ultimate buzzword, and is everything we do to be tightly integrated.”
As his colleagues noted throughout the day, Bassi is frequently directly in touch with SOLIDWORKS’ customers, in person at sites or virtually; catching him in person for a sit-down talk was a rare opportunity to chat at the company HQ. He underscored the importance to the team of listening to what software users want and reacting accordingly, making solutions possible through increasing integration of offerings.
“We are transforming ourselves because this is what our customers need,” he said, “a company that can provide complete and, most importantly, integrated solutions…The manufacturing space is very fragmented, not dominated by any one vendor. We have many partners specialized in manufacturing, which we appreciate. We want to keep that relationship on a high level; we don’t want to compete with our partners, but show them the way forward. It’s a complete solution. We want them to adapt to the right information for manufacturing that can be represented correctly in the right format.”
Moving toward 3D printing-specific solutions, Bassi continued:
“With 3D printing, design has to be changed as well. Design for subtractive is completely different than design for 3D printing has to be. We understand this; our customers tell us which direction to go. From a strategic point of view, we fully embrace the concept of the platform, which goes hand-in-hand with our corporate strategy, our 3DEXPERIENCE strategy.”
With additive manufacturing comes a new age of local manufacturing, including so-called smart manufacturing practices. SOLIDWORKS is looking to ease the digital workflow of modern manufacturing. Upcoming releases will provide new and updated customer-centric solutions, which Bassi will be greeting with his trademark energy for innovation.
“There will be big deep transformations, and at the end this comes by listening attentively to what our customers are saying,” Bassi told me. “Everything we do comes from our user base, which is huge. This is why I was late today, I was talking with customers. We do this all the time, in person, on the phone. Our job to interpret their needs into technological trends. An advantage is that Dassault Systèmes is a very large organization in terms of R&D, with more than 5,000 people, this is a benefit, as the knowledge, the expertise we can derive from being part of this family puts us in a very strong position to help our customers.”
He continued, noting of 3D printing that “I believe it’s a very exciting moment for us.” Advances in technologies and materials are seeing additive manufacturing move toward production quality, which Bassi sees as a major area for growth. Mass customization, rather than mass production, is offering a unique growth opportunity for 3D printing in verticals including automotive and aerospace — and in these, “3D print makes it all possible,” he says. Eyeing major trends in additive manufacturing, design becomes a critical consideration, and one that the team behind SOLIDWORKS is working to enhance.
“This is an exciting time for us,” Bassi told me. “I think we’re at the beginning of a new era. 3D printing is creating new opportunities for society.”
Here, he moved into two major areas of focus for 3D printing in democratization and sustainability. Behind both of these areas is the fablab movement, which, as noted in the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, seeks to democratize innovation with accessible technology; “It’s our mission as well,” says Bassi.
My visit extended as well to discussions regarding educational efforts at SOLIDWORKS and an experiential visit to the virtual reality facility there, including the first VR CAVE in North America and a chance to check out the Living Heart Project where anatomy is directly at hand in virtual reality. Simulation is a key underpinning to Dassault’s approach, allowing for a deep look at designs prior to any physical production.[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]