Being close to and understanding customers and responding to their needs are and should be important to any business. SolidWorks - owned by French software giant Dassault Systemes - takes this to the extreme, and claims that nine tenths of the changes made for the 2014 version of its suite of products have come from users’ suggestions.
Listening to customers
“90 per cent of what we put in the software is a direct input from our customers’ recommendations and their wish list,” explained Sharon Toh, the general manager for Asia Pacific South at the company, at the Australian launch of SolidWorks 2014.
“And this year we added a few more products to our portfolio: one is SolidWorks Plastic, so that our customer can have an end-to-end product development solution.”
According to Toh, there are two major parts to the company doing its job successfully, and thus helping its clients do the same.
One is the company’s practise of gauging clients’ needs through a number of channels, including surveys, and feedback through local value-added resellers (VARs) and users’ groups.
Another is providing support through VARs, the local partners (such as SolidTech and Intercad in Australia) to the company.
“We continue to do a lot of training so that our team can be locally present, near to our customers, so that our customers can always get local support and local training and make sure that they continue to improve in the product development process,” said Toh.
“And this is really my personal commitment and my passion, to ensure that our customers are successful using our product.”
This year's model
Key user upgrades in 2014, which has been described as including a very effective set of enhancements without any big surprises, include Advanced Shape Control (with a new Style Spline functionality), streamlining in areas including simulation and EPDM, improved integration and performance for SolidWorks Electrical, workflow improvements (such as a new history folder to track recent changes by team members, seen in the video below) and new sheet metal features, including better corner treatment and a new gusset feature.
The 2014 version also features upgrades to the photo-realistic Photoview 360 rendering and animation tool.
“All of the changes are driven through the customer portal,” Nick Mennell, chief information officer at ZIP Industries told Manufacturers’ Monthly at the launch.
ZIP is one of over 182,000 companies in the SolidWorks community.
“I’ve often wanted one of my VAR to put something forward, but they said ‘look, they treat the requirements from the customer higher than the requirements from the VAR,’” he mentioned.
Mennell, who began his career as an engineer in the UK, has worked at companies including Land Rover, Westland Helicopters and AP Racing, before joining the Australian firm that makes ubiquitous products such as the ZIP Hydroboil.
He believes the sheet metal upgrades in the new release are particularly attractive, and has found previous versions’ sheet metal capabilities useful for what ZIP manufactures. EPDM also makes working with sheet metal much easier.
“We’re one of those rare breeds actually, we still manufacture parts,” he said.
“We still do all of our sheet metal and have got all of our own pipes. So what SolidWorks is able to do is take that 3-dimensional, folded piece of geometry that the designer’s done and it’s able to produce the flat pattern.
“It’s actually able to do that in reverse. And what the EPDM system does is all a designer has to do is say ‘Look, I’m designing this three-dimensional folded chassis, but it’s this folded piece of sheet metal’. And all he has to do is tell the EPDM ‘this is a sheet metal component’. When it releases the prediction of the prototype it actually deciphers ‘look this is a sheet metal part’ and it’ll unwrap it for him.
“So we’ve got the ability to interrogate the software, unwrap it for him, and convert it to a dxf file and send that file to the manufacturing department. And that’s work the designer would’ve had to do that he doesn’t have to do any more.”
Plastics, printed circuit boards, pictures
“We do a lot of PCB design. A big requirement for our products is electrical,” he said.
Another part of SolidWorks’ offerings that ZIP gets a lot of mileage out of the PhotoView 360.
The company, which has been in operation since 1947 and owned by Michael Crouch since 1962, used to shell out enormous amounts of money on photo shoots to market its products.
A model kitchen would be hired for four or five days, 500 or so photos taken, and these then painstakingly edited due to the glare off ZIP’s products. Chrome would always show a reflection of the cameraman in the pictures.
The company cut out a lot of the fuss by using Photoview 360 (which now can be programmed to simulate how a design idea might look outdoors in sunlight by inputting the time, date, latitude and longitude.)
“All of this rendering that we’re doing now would be done traditionally by sales and marketing,” said Mennell.
The old photographer learned how to render on the program, and does his newer job untroubled by the shininess of taps.
“We’re now able to do the same sort of task in a much, much shorter period of time.”
For more on SolidWorks 2014, click here.