Dassault Systèmes, like all PLM vendors, is busily consolidating a wide range of design, engineering, manufacturing and IoT monitoring tools into a consolidated platform. This is crucial to broaden to bring the same kind of agility to physical product development that is already transforming digital product development. Other firms refer to these new platforms as the Industrial Metaverse for orchestrating digital twins. Dassault’s take on the matter is that they are creating a 3DExperience Platform for orchestrating virtual twins.
At the Dassault Systèmes 3DExperience World Conference, executives and users weighed in on the efforts to democratize virtual twins. The company has achieved significant momentum around the SOLIDWORKS ecosystem for designing physical products, which counts more than six million designers, engineers, students, entrepreneurs, and makers.
Now it is widening the onramp for this enthusiastic community of users to its broader set of offerings for simulating design variations, collaborating with other team members, estimating costs, and programming manufacturing tools. The company is breaking down the data silos across dozens of internal tools. Starting in July, the company plans to include a cloud seat with every license of its desktop software. This is accelerating the shift from a product mentality to a subscription-as-a-service mentality with better support for collaboration, enhanced security, data management, and mobility.
Dassault has already worked with IKEA on a tool to help create a 3D design platform to help consumers scan their existing kitchen or bathroom and then virtually design a new one to see how different variants might look, function and cost. The new platform has helped streamline the sales process for millions of new remodeling projects. It has also given Dassault valuable experience in improving the user experience.
Manish Kumar, SOLIDWORKS CEO at Dassault Systèmes, quipped:
There is a company in Silicon Valley which is claiming that they are building a future where people will be able to go into a virtual world to do this kind of thing. But this is something which you are already creating. You are already in the future because you are the ones who are creating this. You are the ones who are using it even today.
Now we are working with a platform-centric approach where your teams can work on their own areas of expertise, but without working in silos, when data is up to date all the time, where costs can be analyzed, reduced to meet the profitability goals, where the robust product can be delivered on time on quality, on price.
The expanded focus on the cloud is already paying off for many firms. For example, Practical Engineering Solutions an engineering firm had to diversify when Its traditional oil and gas infrastructure design business slowed down during the pandemic. Tyler Cook, Chief Operating Officer at Practical Engineering, said that the cloud services played a crucial role in pivoting to new types of projects, such as designing marine structures, a lithium extraction plant, and a carbon capture project. This has allowed them to amplify their business opportunities, become more streamlined and adapt to different clients in various industries.
The cloud has allowed them to explore more design variations without having to set up each simulation from scratch. It also makes it easier to combine components created by different teams into larger assemblies that require more computing horsepower than is practical on desktops. Cook explained:
That added efficiency has been essential for us to continue to hit deadlines.
Bernard Charlès, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Dassault, elaborated on how they are using AI to streamline other workflows. For starters, a new reality capture engine makes it easier to scan a physical product into an editable design. This is a bit more than a simple 3D object because the AI engine can automatically assess the quality of the design and recommend improvements to achieve particular goals such as size, cost, or physical performance.
Charlès argues this will be critical for helping firms adapt their existing products to take advantage of new materials and manufacturing processes to meet sustainability goals. For example, a design for manufacturing analysis might determined a new version could be design to take advantage of a more manufacturing process with similar performance.
Stoking the innovation process
Another striking aspect of the conference was Dassault’s efforts to help kids transition from building virtual worlds to using virtual designs to build a better world. Heather Dawe-Rose, Implementation Professional at TriMech, who has been doing professional CAD design projects for over a decade, was fascinated at how quickly even fourth graders can pick up these complex systems design principles. She found that this interactive approach helped the kids learn complex systems engineering concepts like how engines work and how piston designs impact performance. She observed:
Some of them are better at CAD than me just from using Minecraft at this point.
Vicky Wu Davis, Founder and Mother Hen of yCities, an educational platform for kids, believes that a more connected cloud approach can help students understand the innovation process. The cloud platform helped fine tune lessons for a wide variety of folks from diverse backgrounds, interests, and starting points to gradually learn the most appropriate skills for creating new things. Davis observed:
This platform allowed me to virtually capture this messy, critical part of the innovation process.
Jamie Siminoff, CEO, Founder & Chief Inventor at Ring, the video doorbell company, elaborated on the critical role of new design capabilities in helping him evolve a novel idea conceived in his garage into a billion-dollar company purchased by Amazon in 2018.
His bright idea was not so apparent when he spent $15,000 to prepare a prototype and demonstration on Shark Tank in 2013. At the time, doorbells were a sort of dead, dusty shelf at Home Depot that people tended to replace a year after they were broken. He left without a deal.
A better design and presentation process allowed him to transform his idea into a thriving business. Siminoff explained:
If you can elevate and revolutionize something that already is there, but is sort of sleepy, and has this long-term pre-awareness, you can get such higher leverage on what you’re doing.
Efforts to democratize digital twins will build on and complement similar effort to democratize data. Democratizing digital twins, virtual twins and the industrial metaverse will also require a kind of systems engineering literacy for thinking about physical things. Support for the cloud will improve collaboration and breakdown data silos across tools. These consolidated data formats will also make it easier to apply AI across various aspects of the design, build, and operate phases.
Dassault prefers to use the term virtual twin to describe a consolidated approach to virtual prototyping and manufacturing products before building them in the physical world. There are probably some deeper philosophical differences lurking underneath the surface, but ultimately Dassault, like competitors Siemens, PTC, and Bentley, are exploring various paths to bring the Industrial Metaverse to the masses. Most of these efforts today seem focused on streamlining workflows within each vendor’s toolset. Although each vendor makes it easier to streamline workflows across tools from a select group of domain expert partners, it may be a few years before they support interoperability with competitors.