ECF 2011: Dassault Systèmes debuts new sketch tool

Taking place at Disneyland, Paris, Dassault Systèmes European Customer Conference served largely to emphasise a number of the themes that have been emerging from the company in recent times, although there was a launch of a new piece of design software.

One of the key themes repeated by the company's CEO Bernard Charlès at the ECF was the importance of "lifelike experience" in the company's ongoing development of its software. Quite what form this lifelike experience would take remains something of a mystery, but in clarifying, Charlès said: "We want to create virtual universes that enable realistic simulations to facilitate the emergence of new products that better fit with the environment and consumer expectations. This is not only Product Lifecycle Management, but placing the product in life, which means its integration into, its use in, and its impact on the environment. We are committed to using our solutions to help better understand and simulate how nature, life, and the product can interact in harmony." This, of course, will be achieved via Dassault's V6 platform. V6's single, open and web-based scalable platform is designed to allow users to engage in global collaborative innovation practices. However, it is clear that, while there are a number of high-profile adopters, widespread adoption of V6 is still a some distance from taking place. A suggestion of how long Dassault believes this transition is likely to take can be drawn from the fact that the company has stated that it will be supporting CATIA V5 until 2020, allowing customers make the transition from V5 to V6 on their own terms and at their own pace. Of all the software vendors, Dassault has probably been the most enthusiastic about the adoption of cloud computing and the development of products designed for the shift to this model. Enovia is represented as being the only online cloud platform and Charlès was as enthusiastic as ever in his advocacy of the cloud, saying: "I believe it offers us a platform to deliver a whole new range of possibilities." Faced with questions about the security issues associated with cloud computing, Charlès conceded that few customers were operating via a public cloud, but claimed that many were using what he called a "private cloud", saying "It works! It's possible!" Ultimately, he suggested that fears over the security of cloud computing were exaggerated, saying: "Most of the systems our customers use are not much more secure than any other online system. That's the reality!" He went on to suggest that security was "just one small topic" in the issue of cloud computing, saying that things such as sovereignty and the need to follow different laws for different countries while using the cloud could present an even thornier problem. While much of the ECF was taken up with discussion of Dassault's strategies and philosophy, there was a new product launched at the event as well – albeit with rather less fanfare than one might have expected. This was particularly strange in as much as the product itself is an interesting and exciting one. Called CATIA Natural Sketch, the product is a 3D sketching experience that brings together the intuitiveness of creative 2D painting gesture and the power of accurate, realistic 3D modeling by allowing users to draw editable, malleable Spline objects in 3D space. For most designers, sketch is the medium of choice to express what they have in mind. By making sketching in 3D as intuitive as sketching on paper, CATIA Natural Sketch brings a revolutionary experience that matches creative purposes while removing emotional barriers towards 3D creation. According to Anne Asensio, VP Design Experience, Dassault Systèmes: "Dassault Systèmes is continuously striving to make the power of its widely recognised 3D creation solutions accessible to a larger audience with the right experience empowering designers with intuitiveness while enhancing their creativity. To turn dreams into reality, we have successfully brought together forward-looking designers and Dassault Systèmes technology experts, resulting in unique registered patents and delivering this unique 3D sketching experience." CATIA Natural Sketch enables designers to free up their creativity and also eliminates workflow disruptions throughout the industrial design process. These can come about because a sketched 2D idea can turn out to be unrealistic, not feasible in 3D and the process of constructing the 3D models from an original 2D sketch is very time consuming and prone to design intent interpretation errors. CATIA Natural Sketch promotes a new, natural way of designing in 3D, delivering unique value in addressing these challenges and keeping the design intent. Dassault has referred to CATIA Natural Sketch part of CATIA V6, Dassault's comprehensive design suite, but doesn't mention whether Natural Sketch will be delivered as part of CATIA's CAD modelling features, an option plug-in, or an independent title. It is also unclear exactly what hardware will be needed to accommodate the technology. Sketching in 3D, Dassault claims, allows designers to better understand their design in volume, avoid misinterpretations of 2D views, and better communicate their ideas. It also gives designers and design studio teams the ability to use 3D sketches curves to create the 3D model with surface modeling or subdivision surface modeling tools as it is natively part of CATIA. By directly transforming a 2D sketch into a 3D digital product, it allows the user to avoid inconsistencies between the design intent and the reality, which results in dramatic improvements in terms of design quality. Following the release of CATIA Live Rendering for intuitive interactive photorealistic visualisation a year ago, CATIA Natural Sketch is the latest key element of Dassault Systèmes' Live Design leadership strategy. CATIA Natural Sketch complements the CATIA for Creative Designers solution, which now combines 3D sketching, concept modeling, class-A surface modeling, rapid prototyping and visualisation. Natural Sketch is part of the CATIA V6R2012 portfolio along with the CATIA Imagine & Shape products. In addition, CATIA Natural Sketch is not a cloud-based product. Details as to how to acquire it (and how much that would cost), however, were not available at the time of going to press.