Written by Martyn Day
Dassault Systemes recently announced its brand new Catia V6 platform. Martyn Day caught up with Dominique Florack, Senior Executive VP, Products, R&D, to find out what the future holds.
Fairly quietly, Dassault Systemes has pre-announced the introduction of its V6 platform for Catia and associated engineering products - a strategy the company calls PLM 2.0 (Product Lifecycle Management). The platform has been re-architected to make use of 3D in an online context, distributing engineering Intellectual Property (IP) and product data to people via the internet in a compelling virtual environment.
Bernard Charles, president and CEO, DS, said: "PLM 2.0 is to PLM what Web 2.0 is to the Web, harnessing collective intelligence from online communities. Any user can imagine, share and experience products in the universal language of 3D. PLM 2.0 brings knowledge, from idea to product experience (IP), to life. It merges the real and virtual in an immersive lifelike experience. With V6, IP can be put to use immediately via 'networked' PLM solutions, so that anybody can test drive a virtual product in the real world."
Trying to contemplate the meaning of that quote may be pretty hard work, especially if you are unfamiliar with Dassault Systemes' products and vision. So I spoke to Dominique Florack, Senior Executive Vice President, Products - R&D, to dig down a little as to exactly what is being delivered.
Florack is even more passionate than Bernard Charles about this release because V6 is the first outing of a ten year, multi-PhD, multi-patent research and development work on Catia's core 3D modelling kernel. V6 is a brand new kernel, one that has capabilities that Florack claims to be unrivalled in the industry, being able to resolve Geometry and Topology simultaneously and being able to open files from pretty much any existing CAD system and edit it natively. V6 is claimed to remove many of these painful limitations that the CAD industry has suffered long and hard from.
Dassault's PLM vision has gone way beyond geometry-based engineering and has developed products which control and spread engineering IP, in many formats, throughout an enterprise or supply chain. There have been some radical changes here, as Enovia becomes a required component to link Catia with all the rest of the Dassault PLM product range, with MatrixOne Technology being embedded in all the key components. The reason for this, according to Florack is speed. All DS V6 products use the same data format, which does not need to be translated by any V6 component. This radically speeds up collaboration and negates the need for mirrored PDM systems. Florack claimed that companies could effectively run worldwide on a single, centrally located Enovia implementation, seeing only a 10-15% performance hit for not being 'local'. Enovia will now also handle V4, V5 and V6 formats alongside one another.
Florack explained, "V6 delivers a single PLM platform for all PLM business processes, available to anybody anywhere, spanning engineering groups, business and end users. V6 also gives intelligent access to all IP no matter the data source location, with MatrixOne technology built into the foundation. V6 is an open platform, embracing SOA standards and rapid to deploy." At last year's European Catia Forum, Dassault Systemes demonstrated its 3D Live interface, which was a novel graphical way to share, and collaborate on product information using expanding spinning planes. It's no surprise that V6 is heavily biased to making these kind of innovative interfaces ubiquitous across its product development platform. Even Catia gets a user-interface revamp, sharing product innovation first seen in Dassault's free modelling tool for Microsoft Earth 3D Via. Ease of use appears to have been a major focus on this release, with many innovations being tried out for the first time.
One gets the overriding feeling that DS is getting serious about the Web. Florack confirmed that DS believed that in the next five years it will be essential for them to harness the web for their customers and to expand Dassault's route to market. The web is the global infrastructure and PLM systems will need to be based on cutting edge Web collaboration and distribution technology. The other factor is that DS accepts that its products have to be available through the Web in a downloadable ready to use format. For this the interface has to be easier, quicker to learn and available on flexible licensing terms. Florack stated that the entire DS product range would be available online in the future and would augment its considerable investment in channel which it has made since renegotiating with IBM. A Catia download could be only a year away but the vision goes so far as to providing a total on-demand PLM system hosted by Dassault for customers that are small and don't want to host their own PLM infrastructure. This strategy will also eventually touch SolidWorks, Dassault's popular mid-priced modeller, although here, Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks told me that the company's strength is its channel partners and would only work to develop a complementary, channel-based route for Internet sales.
We talked briefly about the possibility of a 'Catia Lite'. Florack stated that the market certainly had room for such a product, perhaps as a download. The concept of a cut down Catia with an easy to use interface that can be bought and used on demand would surely appeal to many engineers. It could be described as the equivalent of buying a Ferrari at Ford prices. But there would be questions over SolidWorks positioning and what wouldn't be included. However, Dassault has its eye on one particular non-traditional market that would indicate that a Catia Lite would be targeted at a totally different type of user. At last year's European Catia Forum, Bernard Charles told me that DS would take on Autodesk on its home turf, as it would develop a better product than Revit for AEC (Architecture Engineering Construction) - having partially invested in the Revit 3D modelling solution and sold it to Autodesk (for a large bundle of cash), DS thinks it knows how to make a better AEC modelling tool. Florack expanded on this vision, stating that the AEC product would probably be based on the V6 kernel (Catia Lite) and would be distributed as a download, bypassing its obvious lack of AEC resellers, and was already working with partners to define the product specifications.
In fact, DS already has a deal with Gehry Technologies that has had moderate success in getting an AEC flavour of Catia into Signature architects around the world. With a new dedication to ease of use, powerful shape and form generators and learning from the 3DVia web strategy, it should be fascinating to see what DS comes up with for this market. It's sure to get stiff competition from Autodesk.
In conclusion, V6 and its infrastructure are massive releases from Dassault Systemes. There have been some fundamental technology changes, a big integration and optimisation story and an innovative deployment of user interface across all products. While the company has never been short of vision, the integration and capabilities of point solutions has been, at times, suspect. It's obvious that V6 is a big leap in pulling the product suite together, as well as really leading the industry charge to becoming a true web company and a platform to get into new vertical markets. Over 180 Catia products should be ready for V6 by May. MCAD will review V6 as soon as it's available.