The Strategic Visions of CAD and CAE Providers 2014+


Tech-Clarity’s series on the 2014 strategic visions of PLM vendors is taking a look at the interesting things happening in the PLM space.  The unique approaches to the space make it a very exciting time for PLM. I’d like to complement this series by taking a deeper look at the design side of PLM. I’ll examine the 2014 strategies of the different engineering design suite solutions available on the market.

Why Engineering Is So Cool

I think overall, this is a very exciting time for engineering departments. Over the last few decades, manufacturers have pushed hard to maximize efficiency and optimize margins. Engineers have been feeling the squeeze of “time to market” mantras and shortened development cycles. Meanwhile, global competition has eroded margins and made it that much harder to differentiate products. Manufacturers are now forced to look beyond time and cost to beat the competition. Getting to market first with the wrong product or poor quality hurts a company, but even getting to market quickly with a product that has no clear value over the competition does little to capture market share. Competitive differentiation, quality, performance, and the right innovative features are becoming even more important. Getting this right requires good engineering talent. I believe that in this climate, engineering talent will become even more valuable to companies and their success will be critical to the company’s success. Key to this is equipping the engineering department with the right tools, of which, design suites are an important component.

What Is Design Suite Software?

Before I get much further, let’s define what I mean by design suite software. For this series, I’ll focus on solutions that help engineers define product form, fit, and function. That still leaves a very broad definition so to keep it manageable, I’ll focus this series on solutions that support mechanical engineering for discrete manufacturers. Later on, I’ll take a look at EDA, but for now they will be excluded as well as AEC solutions.

I will also look at some system level simulation in this series. Electronics and software are becoming an increasingly important source of innovation, which means good systems engineering practices are critical for many products. Evaluating system level behavior and understanding how different sub-systems interact as early as possible can help avoid downstream problems so I will look at the challenges vendors are addressing in this area. However, a deeper discussion of systems engineering, embedded software, and ALM will be covered in a different series of posts.

The Source of My Perspective

As I develop these posts, I’ll be relying on a lot of background in this space. I share the philosophy that as an analyst, I don’t pretend to know everything, but I have unique access to other market thought leaders and regularly brief with different vendors.  I also attend numerous user conferences where I hear from both the executives at the different vendors as well as their customers.  All of this enables insight and perspective about what is going on at individual vendors and the market as a whole.

To put this information in the context of what matters most to users, I have also conducted numerous research studies to identify best product development practices. This has involved benchmarking over 7000 product development professionals. I also work with end users of design software, helping them with inquiries and answering their questions. I am able to further complement this with my background as a mechanical engineer which has not only involved my own design work, but I have literally spent hundreds of hours helping other users with their design software.

This combination enables me to take a good look at what the different vendors are doing, assess their strategies, and translate that into what it means for end users. 

Top Areas to Watch in the Product Design Space

So you might ask yourself, why should I care? Particularly when talking about CAD, isn’t it a mature market? Is there really that much opportunity for innovation? The answer is yes! Of course in some ways, there has been commoditization, but there is still a lot to do and much going on that will impact how the market evolves. Key  trends that impact what’s available  include:

  • Acquisitions
  • Consolidation into design suites
  • Innovation going on at speciality vendors
  • Shifts in modeling paradigms (direct modeling has become an important component, what’s next?)
  • Cloud based authoring apps
  • Integrated suites that include PLM
  • What else?

Important market trends that will create shifts in user needs:

  • Requirements for knowledge capture (addressing issues such as the shortage of engineers/retirements)
  • The need for greater product personalization
  • Incorporating validation processes earlier
  • Increasing product complexity
  • What else?

These issues will shape the 2014+ design tool strategy.

Going back to the days of the drafting board, engineering drawings were the medium for communicating engineering information and documenting product ideas. Over the last few decades, we have seen that in many cases, the design tools have almost taken over the process so that as much, or maybe even more effort, goes into developing the model as it does going into innovating. The design tools that will provide the most value will be those that break down those barriers to enable a greater focus on innovation. Software vendors have been trying to do this, but there is still a lot of work to be done that make this an exciting space.

Design Suite Categories

When I first started thinking about this series, the concept seemed quite simple. Then as I began trying to group the different vendors together, I must admit I struggled a bit with classifying the different categories.  I think this is a good testament to how well the vendors are differentiating themselves, but also makes it hard to fit them into neat boxes of categories. That said, I’ve taken a stab at it, but I’m flexible and welcome feedback on this.  For now, the structure below is a general guideline with exceptions and deeper discussions intended for the individual write-ups.

I’ll be looking at the solutions that support the definition of the form, fit, and function of products. While these aspects of product development are intertwined, and the software solutions may be integrated, the vendor strategies for the different functions are not necessarily the same. Because of this, I broke it into two sections: 1) CAD solutions and 2) CAE solutions. There will be some overlap and I will comment on how the solutions integrate, but dividing it this way will allow for a deeper discussion for the specific roles in the design phase.

CAD Design Suites

This first group of vendors provide solutions that primarily define the form and fit of a product. I have split these into two major categories: those that offer CAD as part of a larger PLM Solution offering and specialty vendors who focus primarily on the CAD solution.  In some cases, a vendor is listed twice. This is because the vendor offers two solutions, each with a different enough strategy, it warranted a separate discussion.

CAE Solutions

The second group of vendors offers solutions that enable analysis and validation of the behavior of a product. I was originally thinking I would segment these by those that are offered by vendors with a CAD solution and those that do not. However, I decided against it because 1) it would be redundant since CAD solutions are listed above 2) in many cases (but not all) it is meaningless as many of the CAD vendors offer their CAE solution standalone or integrated with CAD and many of the CAE vendors offer an integration with multiple CAD solutions. More focus on the approach will be discussed in each write-up of individual vendors. As with the CAD solutions, some vendors are listed more than once when there are 2 solutions that have different overall strategies. In many cases, CAE vendors offer multiple products, with each typically focused on a specific physics or analysis. In these cases, I have not called out the products separately because the overall strategy across the portfolio is mostly consistent.

What will be out of scope for this series:

  • Electrical design software (will be covered separately)
  • Systems engineering, embedded software, and ALM (will be covered separately)
  • Tools supporting AEC
  • CAM
  • Visualization tools
  • Process and workflow tools that don’t work with geometry (i.e. change management, requirements management, project management, etc.)
  • Specialty solutions that are very targeted for a single application or industry (i.e. piping)
  • Industrial design tools that do not fit into a larger design solution


Did I miss anyone who should be included? Does this approach make sense? What else should I consider? One thing that makes this space so interesting is there is always something to learn, new vendors making a difference, and innovative approaches to addressing today’s product development challenges so it is always fun to learn more. I look forward to hearing from you.

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