Why Solid Edge matters, part 1: A little history


Siemens PLM Software has announced that  Solid Edge ST5 will be available soon.

Is this just another update of another mainstream CAD package? Yes. But Solid Edge matters more than you may realize.

Let me start with a little history of Solid Edge. The product started out as a part of the Jupiter project, a next-gen CAD initiative at Intergraph Corp, in the early 1990s. If you’re old, like me, you may remember that as the time when Microsoft was working on Windows NT, their 32-bit version of Windows. NT promised to be a game changer (and it was.) For CAD vendors, it heralded a shift from Unix-based engineering workstations to Windows-based PCs.


Solid Edge ST5

The Jupiter project was ambitious. The goal was to develop a platform that could be used to create a number of graphics applications, including 2D CAD, AEC CAD, mapping, P&ID, and more. To me, the jewel of Jupiter project was Solid Edge: a 3D feature-based solid modeling MCAD system. I was one of a number of industry writers who was flown out to Intergraph’s Huntsville headquarters to get an up-close look at Solid Edge.

My sense, at the time, was that Solid Edge was pretty impressive. Yet, Intergraph wasn’t the only company working on a Windows-based MCAD program. SolidWorks was also hard at work on a similar product.

The SolidWorks versus Solid Edge competition was shaping up to be a major brawl. Both were clean-sheet products that promised to challenge the hegemony of PTC’s seemingly unassailable Pro/Engineer CAD program.

Unfortunately, Intergraph made a number of missteps with Solid Edge:

  • They built Jupiter to be a universal CAD platform. This added a lot of program overhead that made Solid Edge fatter and slower than it would have been were it to be fine-tuned for MCAD.
  • In the middle of development, they went back and re-worked the core program code to use the (newly available) Microsoft Foundation Class (MFC) object model, instead of their internally developed object model. This caused a year’s delay. As a result, Solid Edge didn’t ship until about 6 months after SolidWorks.
  • They used the ACIS geometric modeling kernel, which, at the time, was not a match for Parasolid.
  • They didn’t have their sales channel strategy together.

The competition between SolidWorks and Solid Edge was more of a blowout than a brawl. Watching SolidWorks take on the competition was like watching Mike Tyson (in his prime) take on other boxers. Not only did SolidWorks soundly trounce Solid Edge, they pummeled PTC, and bloodied Autodesk.

Ultimately, three major changes saved Solid Edge: the developers pulled out all the extraneous Jupiter overhead that wasn’t necessary for an MCAD program, and changed from ACIS to the Parasolid geometric modeling kernel. And they sold the product, and its entire development organization, to EDS Unigraphics (now known as Siemens PLM.)

For many years, the Solid Edge team (which Unigraphics seemed to have left largely intact) continued to develop new and improved versions of the software. Over time, Solid Edge matured into a capable mainstream CAD system. Able to compete with SolidWorks, Pro/E, and Autodesk Inventor.

In 2008, the game changed for Solid Edge, with the introduction of Synchronous Technology: a system supporting both traditional history-based (ordered) modeling, and history-free direct (unordered) modeling. I was (and still am) quoted on the Siemens PLM website:

Evan Yares, CAD Industry Analyst

Siemens’ synchronous solver overcomes the order dependencies that have plagued history-based CAD programs by solving for the explicit and inferred constraints at the same time. The synchronous solver doesn’t use a history tree, but rather holds user-defined constraints in groups associated with the surfaces to which they apply…Ultimately, though, I believe this to be a transformative technology — one that represents an important inflection point in the CAD industry. If you hear someone say ‘that’s nothing new,’ don’t believe them. Synchronous Technology is a big deal.

I’ve been guilty, more than once in my career, of seeing what’s possible, rather than what’s immediate.* I was, possibly, guilty of this with Synchronous Technology. The first version of Synchronous Technology had some limitations and usability problems. It took until version 3 (ST3) for it to really cross the threshold of “good enough.” This week, Siemens has announced Solid Edge ST5, the fifth version of Solid Edge incorporating Synchronous Technology.

Solid Edge ST5Don’t count on me reciting all the changes that are in ST5: There are over 1,300 of them. While there are some great improvements in the software, my take is that the most important thing about ST5 is the continued refinement of Synchronous Technology.

With ST5, I reiterate my statement that Synchronous Technology is a “big deal.”

In the next article in this series, I’ll talk about something that’s happening today that could make Solid Edge matter even more than it has in the past.



*I did this back in 1996, when I said that I thought Trispectives (the predecessor to IronCAD) could be “the Pro/E killer.” The Trispectives folks put that quote in all their advertising (I think they may have even put it on their packaging.) I got a lot of ribbing about it too. Years later, Buzz Kross (the head guy at Autodesk’s Mechanical division) told me that quote made him think I was… I don’t remember the word he used, but it was probably interchangable with “nuts.”

Actually, I wasn’t saying Trispectives was likely to be a match for Pro/E in capabilities. I was trying to get across how its modeling paradigm could ultimately challenge the then-dominant parametric feature-based method, used by Pro/E—the undisputed market leader at the time.

Turns out, I wasn’t nuts. The Trispectives modeling paradigm was an early version of what we now call history-free direct modeling. And direct modeling did ultimately kill Pro/E, though not in the way you’d expect: In 2010, PTC, recognizing the significance of direct modeling, “killed” the Pro/E brand, and launched Creo, a new series of CAD programs that incorporate both feature-based parametric modeling, and direct modeling.

27 Comments on “Why Solid Edge matters, part 1: A little history

  1. As usual a very well written article.  

    Most everyone that has been in this business forever want’s to give SolidEdge a break or benefit of the doubt.  The fact is they have since before day 1 been plagued by bad timing, unluckiness, poor management, horrid or non-existent marketing, a brilliant run (though now choking) that SolidWorks made, and I could go on and on with all that has not worked for them.  They finally in recent years have had consistent ownership but have turned into troubled stepchild of a parent that doesn’t care much for them.  So they have a not stellar history, a battered, dated, and bruised platform that they have run on for more that 15 years, and a parent that want’s to make it appear as if they are loved.ST5 or ST6 or ST7 cannot save them.

  2. Sorry I forgot to mention that they are and always have been a good product.
    That’s just not enough. 

  3. The reason SW won was that it followed the Autocad marketing plan. No copy protection. I was selling IronCAD at the time and both programs were at the same somewhat Beta level. IronCAD saw that people were posting license info. Both programs used a user id and password. They put on heavy license security, against my huge protests. The rest is history.

    I have many other stories as a CADKEY var for over 25 years.

    CADKEY with Trispectives actually produced results in the mid 1990’s that are hard to produced today…

    IronCAD now provides integrated constrained and free form history and direct editing.

  4. Synchronous Technology is a band-aid. It doesn’t address the fact that the legacy code software components used in Solid Edge ST, such as the Siemens D-Cubed 2D and 3D constraint managers, don’t support multi-core processors. In addition, the Parasolid kernel doesn’t make full use of multi-core processing. I fail to see how a state of the art CAD system can be built on top of old, legacy code software components that don’t fully support multi-core processors.

    When it comes to CAM it’s easy to tell where Siemens priorities really are. No CAM company that I’ve spoken with has had any interest in creating a CAM program to run inside of Solid Edge ST. The reason always given is they have no faith in Solid Edge US management gaining serious market share with Solid Edge ST. Now comes rumor of Siemens having to pay Geometric to port CAMWorks to the Solid Edge ST user interface. That Siemens would rather pay Geometric instead of porting NX CAM to Solid Edge shows where Siemens priorities are and what program Siemens would rather sell.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  5. Yes it is a big deal. Part of the history with SE after being bought by UGS that was so crippling to the developement of the software, publicity effort, and community was the fact that UGS went through five venture capital cycles. What became the primary purpose of the software at times was the generation of money for those who had no interest in the products at all and considered it soley as a source of income.

      Siemens is not that way and bought it for the long haul. Of all the CAD companies out there now the UGS stuff is the most stable where a clear and permanent direction for the future is concerned.

      Obviously with new ownership there are new paradigms of management. Number one with SE is geometry. An interesting couple of numbers for those who wonder about Se is 40% growth in licensed customers so far this year over all of last year. As in paying customers and not academic seats. How is the program being recieved by those who actualy use it and are probably best qualified to judge how it actually works in a real environment? We had double the attendance this year in Nashville over last year and next year will be the same.

      As for the capabilities of SE and Synchronous Tech. I don’t know how much chance you have actually had to play with it Evan but it was kind of funny to see Matt Lombard walk out of an assmbly session run by Art Patrick. He had a look on his face of half shock and half incredulity and was overheard to be mumbling things like “I can’t believe what I just saw and the power here. Who has been responsible for hiding this and why don’t more people know?”

      ST5 is where it is all coming together and this is from integrated products like CAM, mature best in class direct editing to finally getting it’s act together with the user community. There will be a lot of stuff this year and I am not writing this to just bloviate. I am saying flat out that these things are going to happen.

      Perhaps Evan you could be at the University next year and see for yourself just how dynamic the world of SE has become. It is exciting to be here and you talk to anyone who was at SEU12 and see if they don’t tell you the same things I am.

  6. http://www.solidsolutions.co.uk/SolidWorks-Seminars/SolidWorks-compared-to-Solid-Edge-2457.aspx

    “Recently, SolidWorks UK has seen a growing number of migrations from Solid Edge, swapping-out over 300 licenses in the last 6 months.”

    Think someone in the CADCAM press should check to see if the above claim is true. If it is true, then perhaps it’s finally time that the CADCAM press start looking a lot closer at Solid Edge US management and the job they are doing.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  7. I missed SEU12, mostly because I had work I had to get done here.  I asked the Solid Edge folks to keep me in the loop.

  8. There are both technical and business reasons for not porting NX CAM to Solid Edge. While, from the outside, it seems like a good thing to do, from the inside–with the benefit of access to a lot more information–the situation looks a lot different.

    As for Siemens paying Geometric to port CAMWorks:  Assuming it’s true (and I don’t have any information either way), Siemens and Geometric have a long-standing development relationship.  (For that matter, Geometric does a lot of work for Dassault Systemes too.)

    It would make a lot of sense, if the Solid Edge folks wanted to get a nicely integrated CAM program, that they’d go to Geometric.  They’re the “go-to” folks for this king of project, and could do a fine job.

    CAM companies are risk averse.  They’re in a fragmented market, and aren’t willing to stick their necks out on a CAD integration unless someone else on that CAD platform is taking business away from them.

    Seems like the Solid Edge folks may be doing just what you’ve been pushing for: getting integrated CAM in Solid Edge.  Why aren’t you happy?

  9.  There is no technical reason that NX CAM can’t be made to run inside of
    Solid Edge ST. The business reason is that Siemens wants to protect and
    sell NX CADCAM. This has been documented here:


    No CAM company that I’ve spoken with has any interest at all in porting
    their CAM to Solid Edge ST and all have the same reasons. First, Solid
    Edge ST has no market share. Second, if Solid Edge ST ever gained market
    share they fear that NX CAM would be ported and they would have to
    compete with it.

    It’s been two years of new Solid Edge ST management and there is still
    no fully integrated CAM. In addition to still no fully integrated CAM
    after two years of new management for Solid Edge the same problems that
    have always plagued Solid Edge still plague it today. This has been
    documented here:


    And it has been documented here:


    Jon Banquer

    San Diego, CA


  10. I just wrote a post about the issue of multicore support in D-Cubed, in response to your comment here.  It’s at: http://www.3dcadworld.com/solving-cad-concurrency-problem/

  11. I read it. Nice to see that someone in the CADCAM press is finally giving this topic the attention it deserves. Thanks!

    I fail to see where switching from one old legacy code program (SolidWorks) to another (Solid Edge ST) is the answer. I see the answer as switching to a program that is built with non-legacy code
    software components designed from the ground up to take full advantage
    of multi-core processors.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  12. It would not be difficult to look for and find someone who started his own CAM company after working for UGS on NX CAM. His ideas for a powerful low cost CAM system were rejected because Tony Affuso thought it would effect NX CADCAM sales. If you have trouble figuring out who I mean, I’d be happy to give you his name so you could confirm everything I said in these comments. ;>)

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  13. Not to put too fine a point on it Jon, but have you ever been involved with a large-scale high-performance graphics software development project?  These things are not easy.

    There are plenty of technical problems with porting NX CAM to run inside of Solid Edge. Some or all may be surmountable, but at what cost?

    As for Siemens’ business reasons for not porting NX CAM to Solid Edge: they are what they are.  Neither you nor I am privy to those discussions. But so what if one of the reasons is that they don’t want to scavenge NX CAM sales?  That seems like a perfectly valid reason to me.

    I imagine, though, that the core reason why anyone, Siemens or otherwise, doesn’t port CAM to Solid Edge is the same: because they don’t think it’ll make enough money in the short-term to make it a profitable investment.

    To the extent that Solid Edge sales continue to grow, that situation is likely to change.  

    You’ve made this a big issue… in your comments, posts, and tweets.  What is your end game? Knowing that Siemens is not going to port NX CAM to Solid Edge just to satisfy you, what would you like to see happen?

  14. I don’t know of any CAD systems that aren’t built with legacy software components.  If you do, please share.  I suspect that, if you look deeply, you’ll find that all CAD systems use legacy softwrare.  That’s because new stuff (i.e., non-legacy) doesn’t work as well. (There’s a rule of thumb: it takes 10 years of development for a geometric modeling kernel to be mature.  This may change eventually, but not this year.)

    Beyond this, the problem I talked about at http://www.3dcadworld.com/why-solid-edge-matters-part-2/ is intimately related to B-rep compatibility of geometric modeling kernels.  I don’t know of any geometric modeling kernel, legacy or not, that’s 100% Parasolid XT compatible, other than Parasolid itself.

  15. Missler Software doesn’t use Siemens D-Cubed 2D or 3D constraint managers for TopSolid CADCAM 7. They created their own. Here is one reason why:


    Missler Software does use the Parasolid kernel because at the time TopSolid CADCAM 7 was being created they felt it was the best choice. Will they stay with Parasolid rather than change to say the CGM kernel… I don’t know. If the benefits are there I hope they do change kernels.

    I do know that the CGM kernel is being “evaluated” by at least one modern, non-legacy code, CAD company who presently uses ACIS. I know this because I asked on Twitter and this was the answer I was given.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  16. “As for Siemens’ business reasons for not porting NX CAM to Solid Edge:
    they are what they are.  Neither you nor I am privy to those

    Don’t have to be. Speaking with people who worked for UGS and who reported to Tony Affuso tells me all I need to know about how NX CADCAM is protected. It’s also obvious if one is objective and looks at the actions Siemens takes vs. what Siemens has promised and constantly failed to deliver on.

    Powerful NX CAM in a modern user interface that has strong direct modeling CAD has great appeal for me and for many others. CAMWorks doesn’t have anywhere close to the power of NX CAM and I like many things about CAMWorks. NX CAM biggest compromise is a poor use interface. Most of the rest of NX CAM isn’t the kind of compromise that say market leader Mastercam is.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  17. Hi Evan,
      I believe that turf wars as a guess could be part of the problem. I don’t know this so it is just conjecture. Also as you say it could be far more trouble to truly integrate Cam Express, which is after all based on the NX program, than it is worth right now. I know NX carries legacies that go back a long way and NX boasts of being able to work on all of them so there is a bunch under the hood there to deal with.

      There are other answers however. SE has reached critical mass and Geometric is jumping on the bandwagon. If I have my history right were’nt they the first ones to do so with SW? Evidently they see something there to believe in.

      I saw the “beta” version while at SEU12. SE wanted something to show and indeed they did just that with some tool paths and associativity along with the joy of Synchronous edits on parts.  Talking with Bruce Wiener about the integration and he said that what was there had been done in three days and that the API was very easy to work with. Obviously it was no where near a finished product but i thought three days was a good sign. I bet you know Bruce so talk to him about it. If you promise not to talk perhaps Mark Burhop could tell you more.

  18. And to be clear as to what NX CAM (or Express) is… It is NX. You install NX and enable the CAM functionality.  I asked the same question about porting it over and the simple answer was that except for the code around toolpaths and G-code generation, everything else was a complete start over.  It’s not like there is this module with an API that you just hook a new UI to.  Contrast this to Geometric, there is a module with an API and the work to incorporate it into SE was very simple in comparison.

  19. Would have been nice to meet you in person.  Perhaps next year ;-)

  20. CAMWorks requires the CAM user to build an extensive database in order to make efficient use of how CAMWorks is really designed to work. Many machining job shops don’t want to pay an experienced CAM programmer to build a realistic and extensive database of machining routines that can later be applied. Instead, they want and expect their CAM programmer to create part machining programs. NX CADCAM doesn’t force a CAM programmer to do this. CAMWorks does. CAMWorks also doesn’t have anywhere near the toolpath control that NX CADCAM does.

    By refusing to move NX CAM inside the Solid Edge ST user interface Siemens insures that NX CADCAM is the only real powerful CADCAM solution that Siemens offers. NX CADCAM is what Siemens wants to sell not Solid Edge ST. NX CADCAM is what Siemens resellers push unless a customer balks at the price of NX CADCAM.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  21. I now have numerous confirmations that what I wrote above is true. It’s also now publicly confirmed here:


    All the stories seem to match indicating what I’ve known all along that Solid Edge ST continues to be very badly mismanaged and developed by new Solid Edge ST management.

    Under new Siemens Solid Edge ST management Solid Edge ST resellers were asked to complete and return a document sent to them by Siemens Solid Edge ST management asking how they planned to market Solid Edge ST. Resellers who submitted good proposals were allowed to keep selling Solid Edge ST. All others lost their reseller status.

    Siemens Solid Edge ST management never told Solid Edge ST customers that
    would be losing their reseller. When this went down there were a lot of
    Solid Edge ST users who felt Siemens screwed them by removing the
    resellers that they got great support from and never informing them.
    Many of these Solid Edge ST resellers provided excellent service before
    they were dumped.

    Most of the resellers dumped appear to be outside of the US.

    What now exists is a situation where you have very angry ex Solid Edge
    ST resellers and lots of very pissed off Solid Edge ST customers who
    lost resellers that gave very competent Solid Edge support. I’m hearing
    that some of these resellers were replaced by resellers whose business
    is mainly NX CADCAM and who have no idea how to support Solid Edge ST.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  22. Question for Evan:

    SolidWorks has Ed Eaton and Mark Biasotti both of whom know their stuff
    cold and can teach.

    Who does Solid Edge have for surfacing?

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA
    CADCAM Technology Leaders group on LinkedIn

  23. To answer your question, Evan, no, Jon Banquer has never worked for a CAD or CAM company. He has, however, *pretended* to work for two. A fact that was VERY quickly corrected by the two companies, HSMWorks and ESPRIT.

  24. I work for a company that is currently using Solid Edge and has 10 Licences.  Twice in the last 12 months Siemens PLM have attacked and threatended to sue our company for using ‘cracked Licences’.  The threat comes from a homing signal that according to Siemens is 100% evidence of illegal use of software.  They threaten with a cost of £45,000 and double this if the case is contested.  At the same time they state that they will overlook it if we purchase another licence and maintenance for £8,500.  The first time this happened we naiveily paid for another Licence.  This happened again recently and as we had tightened up all IT processes we were 100% convinced we had not acted improperly.  Siemens pressed very hard for us to pay up and we refused, but offered them to investigate the PC they had traced as we were keen to find the root cause of the issue.  Initially they had no interest in this and claimed their homing signal was infallable.  However, we persisted and sent them files from the PC which we believed could have been corrupted following one of their patch updates.  In the end they backed down, but did not admit they were wrong, stating the files were inconclusive and they did not necessarily believe they were from the PC in question.  Adding to this attack on one of their loyal customers and the extremely poor maintenance support from Magenta; we as a company are seriously considering moving to Solid Works.  I would be interested to know if any other Siemens Solid Edge Customers have been threatened with legal action on such a basis.

  25. I’m sorry you had this bad experience with Siemens and your reseller, Magenta. I truly believe this is the exception and not the rule.

    We are also Siemens PLM resellers and the illegal licenses detected by Siemens were, in fact, illegal. But I, as a reseller, have a responsability of supporting my customers on the best way I can, so if we were sure that our customer was not using illegal licenses, we would stand by him during the whole process.

    Anyway, you should consider the CAD system for the type of work you develop. You should ask yourself some questions: Has SE delivered value over the years you’ve been using it? What would you gain by changing your CAD system? What would you loose? Will similar problems happen with another software vendor?

    All in all, SE is way ahead in innovation regarding SW, that has been left to die until all customers migrate to the V6 in the cloud. So you should also look ahead in the future, or you’ll be switching one problem by multiple problems.

    Talk to your reseller and make them realize that you’re not happy with their support and you demand another attitude from them. I truly believe they will listen.

    Regards,Carlos Melo

  26. Pingback: Why 3D CAD Matters: SolidWorks versus Solid Edge | 3D CAD software voor het MKB

  27. My homing signal is infallible because I say it is infallible. Sheesh.

    I have a low tolerance for vendors behaving the way Sogandy described. I have retaliated in the past against such vendors even though it cost me money and made more work for me.

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