"This year will be good for the economy, and 2005 will be better," says John McEleney, president of SolidWorks Corp.
His forecast is based on several observations. For one, companies are spending more and updating their CAD systems for the launch of new products. "In addition, engineering managers last year were thinking in terms of weeks and months. Now they are thinking more long term, in months and years," he adds.
McEleney says three trends will influence how business plays out in the longer term: Rising prices thanks to a growing world economy, mass customization, and the continuing migration of design departments from 2D to 3D.
What can companies do in the face of rising prices? "Some counter by raising their own prices while others look for alternative materials, or optimize their material use," he says. Simulation software can help optimize material use in products.
In reference to mass customization, McEleney suggests tracking configure-to-order and engineer-to-order trends. Engineer-to-order systems create new parts. Specific parameters are adjusted within known engineering limits to meet requirements. Part models are adjusted by driving a CAD system with software such as Visual Basic for Applications. The setup is suitable for simple implementations and can be programmed by design departments. Products modified this way include conveyors, elevators, windows, and stairs. Such customization is not yet a mainstream occurrence.
"Configure-to-order, however, is a different story. It excites managers and salespeople more than engineers because of its potential to boost sales," he says. Configure-to-order puts together custom products from existing part numbers. No new parts are created. Examples here include computers, phone systems, and autos.
And as for designers moving from 2D to 3D systems, McEleney says, "the rate of change is increasing. Most 2D users are in machine-design operations. But four of five 2D users say they will be using 3D systems soon." He supplies these statistics to support this observation: In January 2003, 38% of data was sent and received in a 3D format. By January 2004, 51% of that data was 3D.