SolidWorks World 2009 -- Day 1 & 2

According to CEO Jeff Ray, over 4,000 people are attending the SolidWorks World 2009 event being held in Orlando, Florida over the next few days. Although times are tough, that is not evident at this show. Attendees are upbeat and the theme "innovation" predominates. The Great Depression spawned nylon, car radios, and everyone's favorite -- SPAM. Today's big problems can be addressed by yet more innovative designs. Take for example modern windmills, which came out of a need for sustainable energy. Many people don't want them in their back yards and the devices are expensive. Still in the concept phase is a 3 to 4-ft tall windmill that would fit on a house rooftop and generate enough energy for the house. Another problem: many people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. A company has invented a device that bombards drinking water with UV light, cleaning the water without the use of chemicals or chlorine. Fifty of the devices are currently being deployed near N.Y.C., enough to fill the Empire State Bldg. eight times a day with water.

Sir Richard Branson spoke on the first day. For a guy worth billions of dollars, he is quite personable, humble, and has a wicked sense of humor. He has started another company -- Virgin Galactic Airways -- because he thinks commercial space aviation will become a reality. His suggestions for combatting a tough economy:

-- Expand out of it instead of contracting. If you can afford to, continue to innovate.

-- Before just laying people off explore the alternatives such as job sharing. There might be employees who would really appreciate only having to work a few days a week such as ones with small children.

Branson says America is quite protectionist, which translates to anti-innovative. "We must get rid of all the barriers in the world," he says. He is a big fan of Obama.

Day Two, Jon Hirshtick, the former CEO of SolidWorks, spoke on what he says will be the technologies most important in affecting CAD in the future:

-- Touch and motion UIs. A lot of industrial designers already use Wacon Tablets, like a big computerized drawcuesing pad that imports Photoshop files, and draw directly on them.

-- CAD will become a hardware business again in that more and more users will be using hardware specifically designed for CAD such as the 3D mouse.

-- Online applications will get even more prevelant. Already have an application on SolidWorks Labs (labs.solidworks.com) to create 2D drawings which can be accessed by many devices including cell phones.

-- Video gaming technology will get increasingly prevelant in CAD. Features such as ambient occlusion are already in CAD that have been borrowed from video games. Many graphic gards now have more transistors on them than CPUs.

-- 3D printing will become a key part of the design process and be used iteratively.

Other speakers mentioned how industrial design uses "styling cues" from other areas of society to get ideas for designs. Industrial designers choose a "form language" they are interested in for different products.

Check out smoothon.com for material that lets you rapidly mold things using, say, a 3D printed mold.

BoardCAD.com is a free download for making surface models for things like surfboards.

More than just user-centric, design nowadays must be desire-centric. This even applies to machine design which can borrow techniques from consumer design.

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