CAD gets emotional: an interview with Gian Paolo Bassi

CAD software is evolving to meet the diversifying needs of multi-disciplinary engineers. Certainly this means constant tweaks to functionality, but it also needs to take in the bigger picture. Tim Fryer asked Solidworks’ CEO Gian Paulo Bassi, to bring this picture into focus.

“I think we are at an inflection point,” said Bassi. “The meaning of design has changed, but also the meaning of how design happens has changed. Products are not designed any more to provide a specific function. Products are designed to provide an emotional attachment, to provide an experience.”

According to Bassi, collecting intelligence about the customer base – the way it is collected and how it translates to providing this emotional response – will provide the fundamental inspiration for the next generation of great designs.

“Design of the future cannot be design in isolation. Innovation has never been in isolation anyway, but today we have this fantastic technology, the 3D Experience platform, that is designed to connect all the dots that were missing. So it's not only about applications any more. It's about people, it's about infrastructure, it's about data,” he continued.

Wrapping this together can result in design and manufacturing moving ever closer to the point of sale as the customer can tap into the flexible design environment to customise a product to meet individual tastes and requirements. A nice model for consumer goods perhaps, but is it applicable to more industrial environments?

“This is interesting,” observed Bassi. “I visited a crane company who was showing off its beautiful panels for the controls to the crane - really beautiful, fantastic materials, they put a lot of attention on the light, on the reflection. They told me not to question their attention to industrial design for this type of equipment, because that is today's competitive advantage.

“In a chemical plant perhaps aesthetics and emotions are not extremely important. But there is a very large part of the engineering world where consumers are involved. For everybody else what's still important is safety, time to market, precision engineering and so on. We’re not forgetting about those things, for sure.”

However, the launch of such tools as Conceptual Designer and Visualize – the latest addition to the Solidworks suite – help bring the ‘designing an experience’ philosophy to an individual engineer. It allows companies who might have outsourced industrial design to bring it back inhouse to a more convenient and responsive environment.

Bassi continued: “I think mechanical engineers, especially in small firms, want to create beautiful things. They have these aspirations. They want tools to make beautiful things themselves rather than leaving it industrial designers. Regardless of the level of beauty that a product has, there are many things that are related to the experience. Even for the crane operator, if in some light conditions you don't see what the LED tells you, well, there are safety concerns. So your emotional connection comes from the fact that a very well designed product gives you the peace of mind to know that even if you are in poor lighting conditions you know exactly what's going on in your machine.”

The other unmistakable trend that is on everyone’s lips is that of the Internet of Things, or Industry 4.0 if that is your preferred terminology.

“We're not chasing the world - the infrastructure for Internet of things, which is huge. There are big guys like Amazon into it, so I don't think we want to compete with Amazon,” said Bassi. “We focus on design which is our speciality, our passion, our competence. But the Internet of things means a lot of electronics. We are putting a lot of attention on the electronics and we have announced our strategic relationship with Altium. I believe it is huge.” Altium is working with Solidworks to create Solidworks PCB, an electronics design package that will be released in the middle of this year. Bassi added: “It makes a lot of sense to just say, let's create the best integrated products - so electrical, electronic and mechanical all happens simultaneously in a very beautiful environment, in a very highly integrated environment. That is our strategy for Internet of things.”

Other technologies creeping onto the CAD agenda are augmented and virtual reality, a loose distinction between the two being that for a virtual reality experience you need to wear special glasses. Bassi ventured: “The more you have augmented reality, it takes over and does things that all of a sudden becomes real [i.e. virtual reality]. So I think there is a blurring there. There are benefits in both. Before you do something, you want to see, you want to make, you want to practise something, or something that does not exist as virtual reality, then you want to see the permutation of a model in the specific plant - that's augmented. Then you put your X-ray camera there or your iPad, and you see inside this thing virtually.

“I like those applications. They are not huge, but there is a lot of interest from big companies, because they see this becoming the future. I don't see yet those things massively used but maybe there is a inflection point here. At some point they will explode.”


Gian Paolo Bassi has more than 25 years of experience in 3D, CAD, and PLM industries. He spearheads the development of SOLIDWORKS future product and technology strategies designed for the desktop and the cloud, and collaboration with the user community. He most recently served as the vice president of research and development, where he was responsible for charting future product and technology strategies, including the development of the SOLIDWORKS cloud applications.

Prior to SOLIDWORKS, Bassi was the founder and CTO of RIWEBB where he oversaw the development of new technologies for the Mechanical and Architectural Design Automation industry, collaborating with companies like Dassault Systèmes. Prior to RIWEBB, Bassi served as vice president and CTO of ImpactXoft, where he led the team developing functional modeling and collaboration applications which are now part of CATIA. In this position, he co-invented three of his five patents in functional modeling. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bologna.