Why Solid Edge matters, part 2: It’s the best SolidWorks alternative


Solid Edge Synchronous Technology Multi-BodySolid Edge ST5 is an exceptionally competent CAD system. If you’re looking for a new CAD system, based solely on its merits, Solid Edge should be on your list of tools to consider.

Yet, there is one case where Solid Edge is not just an alternative, but is the obvious alternative. And that is if you’re considering migrating away from SolidWorks.

This is not a value judgment, or an opinion based on whether or not I like the companies. It’s a technical distinction.

Let me provide a bit of background to explain, first, why I’m even bringing this up, and second, why it is so.

SolidWorks is probably the most successful MCAD program on the market today, in terms of number of customers, users, availability of training, user group support, and a number of other factors. When Dassault Systemes bought the company back in 1997, they got the “goose that laid the golden egg.”

If you’re familiar with the Aesop’s Fable from which that line came, you might know where this is going. For 10 years, Dassault Systemes pretty much let SolidWorks do its own thing. I remember a press conference, where I asked DS President and CEO Bernard Charlès about this, and he said that all he asked of John McEleney (then SolidWorks CEO) was that he “deliver value.”

Charlès is a native French speaker. I assumed at the time that the term “deliver value,” when translated to French then back to English, would mean something like “deliver profits.” And that’s exactly what McEleney did, for many years.

In 2007, McEleney left SolidWorks, and Jeff Ray, formerly the COO, took his position. This changing of the guard signaled a change in the relationship between SolidWorks and Dassault Systemes. Though not obvious at first, it started to become clear that this was the beginning of the process of integrating SolidWorks into DS.

Today, even though much of the old-guard continues on at SolidWorks, there have been some notable defections. Jon Hirschtick, SolidWorks founder, left Dassault last year. Austin O’Malley, who headed up SolidWorks R&D, also left around the same time, and was replaced with Gian Paolo Bassi, who, by all reports, is heavily focused on developing SolidWorks V6. And Jeff Ray, the former SolidWorks CEO who had moved up to the Dassault Systemes Executive Committee, just left as well.

It’s not the same SolidWorks it used to be. The company’s strategy is being driven by Dassault Systemes, from Paris.

Whether the change is a good thing or not is something that only time will tell. Charlès and the other top executives at DS are smart and experienced business people. But they have a different perspective on business than the people who originally ran SolidWorks did.

A couple of years ago, DS SolidWorks previewed a new version of their software, called SolidWorks V6. I wrote about it last February, in the article SolidWorks V6 is not SolidWorks.

SolidWorks V6 is (or, will be) a cloud-based CAD program, built using technology DS originally developed for CATIA and ENOVIA V6. It’s not the same program as today’s SolidWorks program. One distinct difference is the use of the CGM geometric modeling kernel, instead of the Parasolid kernel (which is owned by Siemens PLM.)

At SolidWorks World last February, top managers from DS SolidWorks tried to reassure their customers, saying that they would continue to support the existing desktop version of SolidWorks for as long as customers want to use it. They clarified that they’re going to continue to use the Parasolid geometric modeling kernel in the desktop version, and pointed out that the development team working on SolidWorks 2013 is even bigger than the teams that worked on previous versions.

With these reassurances, SolidWorks users probably ought to feel comfortable about the long-term availability and support of their CAD system of choice. Probably.

Except, there are some things that, taken together, just don’t seem right. At least, to me. To start with, even though Siemens considers Parasolid to be a “level playing field” product, it’s pretty obvious that Dassault thoroughly dislikes having to pay royalties to a competitor to use it. Bernard Charlès is considered the “father of CATIA.” It would be remarkable if he were not highly motivated to move SolidWorks customers over to a plaform based on CATIA technology.

And, what of the SolidWorks 2013 team being “larger?” Numbers there can be deceiving. You can’t measure software development by “man months.” You have to look at the composition of the team. Is it made up mostly of expert-level in-house CAD developers, or is it made up mostly of offshore outsourced developers? Are SolidWorks’ “best people” working on the desktop version, or on the V6 version?

Many reasonable people I know are reading the tea leaves, and believe, based on what they’ve seen so far, that Dassault Systemes’ focus will shift to SolidWorks V6, and away from the desktop version. Not necessarily leaving it as crippleware, but possibly leaving it without the attention it deserves. If that happens, users will have to make some hard choices:

  • Stay with the desktop version of SolidWorks, and hope for the best,
  • Change to SolidWorks V6, or
  • Change to another CAD system.

The costs of changing, whether to SolidWorks V6, or to another CAD system, are not just in software license fees, but also in retraining, and data migration.

Retraining costs may be a wash, whether you go with SolidWorks V6 or another CAD system.

The costs that can get out of control are in data migration between CAD systems using different geometric modeling kernels.

The problem with geometric modeling kernels is that they’re simply not cross-compatible. Not even CGM and ACIS—which are both owned by DS. And certainly not CGM and Parasolid. They vary enough in how they represent and manipulate data that it’s not possible to translate data from one to another with complete (or even entirely predictable) reliability.

(If you’d like to learn a bit more about this, see An Academic View of Interoperability, and A kernel Guru’s View of Interoperability, both at my old blog, at www.evanyares.com.)

There are a number of companies that offer translators that can do a good job of moving data between systems with different kernels. Some of these companies even offer model validation tools, to determine which files didn’t translate correctly. The reasonable estimates I’ve heard place the success rate at around 90 to 95% of files. That means you might only need to manually rebuild 5% to 10% of your CAD files.

That 5% or 10% can add up.  For a medium size company, the costs of manually rebuilding those CAD files can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

Consider past experience migrating between different Dassault Systemes CAD programs: The transition from CATIA V4 to CATIA V5 was exceptionally painful for users. Companies that specialize in CAD data validation still make a good chunk of their income from fixing problems in CAD files that have been translated from V4 to V5. And DS has never even offered a native SolidWorks/CATIA translator. There’s no basis to believe that migrating from desktop SolidWorks, which uses the Parasolid kernel, to SolidWorks V6, which will use the CGM kernel, will be painless.

It will be nice, for users, if this concern about SolidWorks turns out to be moot. In the best of all worlds, Dassault would continue to upgrade and maintain the desktop version of SolidWorks. They’d go back and fix the persistent and long-standing bugs and irritations, and add new functionality, such as history-free direct modeling. They’d make sure that the program is a viable tool for a long, long time. They’d serve the needs of the nearly 1.8 million product designers and engineers who count on SolidWorks to work right, so they can do their jobs.

Solid Edge ST5But, if that isn’t how it shakes out, the best option for users may be to consider other CAD systems.

The short list of alternatives isn’t that long.

The ideal alternative would be one that that supports history-free direct modeling, with tools to reparameterize dumb models. It would use the Parasolid geometric modeling kernel, to minimize data conversion issues. It would be priced competitively—in the same range as SolidWorks.  And it would be from a financially sound and well-run firm.

There is only one well-known CAD program that meets those criteria:

Solid Edge.


42 Comments on “Why Solid Edge matters, part 2: It’s the best SolidWorks alternative

  1. Evan,

    I’m with you right up to the final two words of the article. Could you please answer a very important question that could possibly contribute to your conclusion.Are you being funded by Siemens ??

  2. No, I’m not being funded by Siemens.  I did get a direct tweet from someone at Siemens asking me if I woke up yesterday and decided to stir-up a hornet’s nest.

  3. Evan, I think you meant John McEleney left SW in 2007, not 1997.

  4. That’s what I meant to write, but my fingers weren’t listening to me as they typed.  Fixed it.  Thanks.

  5. All very interesting as a historical analysis but like any history study you look at your primary sources and draw your own conclusions. Those conclusions are open to interpretation.

    The way I see it is that Dassault have taken the decision to reengineer SolidWorks from the ground up. In doing so they might create some issues but ultimately the benefits for the user should be worth it- a modern CAD engine designed around modern hardware.

    Contrast to others bolting on fixes to kernels and restricting users to 15 year old technologies offering nothing new in geometry creation.

    No if I were moving away from SolidWorks I’d look to PTC and Autodesk first. They are developing new platforms and new modelling methodologies.

    But here’s the thing. In the UK SolidEdge are losing ground not gaining it. Not everybody likes ST. In the last 6 months SolidWorks has switched 300 seats of SolidEdge users to SolidWorks. Other systems are also making gains. Like Spaceclaim.

    Maybe your primary sources are all working for Siemens or tied in with them now. Go speak to the average SolidWorks user. They tend to be a happy enough bunch.

    But when it comes to it would I spend £7k on SolidEdge. No. And either would most hard pressed businesses in the current climate.

  6. Ask any serious CAM user who creates surfacing toolpaths that take full advantage of a multi-core processor if they would ever go back to using toolpaths that didn’t take full advantage of a multi-core processor. I bet the answer you would get would be along the lines of “Hell No”! It’s not even close to being a subtle difference and it doesn’t take cloud computing to see the huge gains.

    It’s time for an end to mediocre CAD which is exactly what SolidWork and Solid Edge ST are. Making full use of a multi-core processor is a must for CAD and I fail to see where switching between one legacy code program (SolidWorks) to another legacy code program (Solid Edge ST) is a good solution. If a SolidWorks users is as frustrated as I use to be with SolidWorks it’s easier and cheaper to buy SpaceClaim… which is exactly what I did. Sure would be nice if SpaceClaim had fully integrated CAM and was a little more powerful because it’s a pleasure to use compared to legacy code CAD like programs like SolidWorks and Solid Edge ST.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  7. Historical analysis is interesting. In particular the history of problems migrating from Catia 4 to Catia 5. There is a history of profound problems. Catia 5 to 6 plus the cloud plus integration of SW into Catia Lite plus direct editing for Catia Lite. Do many users look forward to this with confidence?

      Dave, I am not funded by Siemens but I like what I see and pay for it with my own money. Have you honestly tried SE? I am just trying to determine the basis for your animosity. I see Josh Mings saying the same things as Evan and neither get money to do so. Is Matt’s opinion and commentary on SE invalid in concrete ways you would identify for us by example?  It would certainly buttress your arguement he is a paid schill if you could present some evidence.

      SE is the best for SW users looking to avoid both a kernal change, the cloud and being pushed over into a whole new program to boot. It is my belief that this whole Catia Lite thing is proof that Dassault knows they have to do something in direct editing or get slaughtered even more than they allready are. Siemens deliberately with holds the goodies that make direct editing work real well from competitors. So now add to the Catia Lite mix having to do direct editing. I have no idea why this is so hard but it is and takes years to get right. This is a lot of uncertainty to plan around and have to pay for and does a company that does not listen to it’s users deserve to keep them?

      In the mean time, there is a program that can import SW files and work on them quicker than the authors did in SW. Thus ending the largest problem of switching programs. It has a stable future and no kernal change and an emphasis on geometry creation and not an amorphous seemingly ever changing thing like Dassaults that they have yet to clearly spell out.

      Every so often for whatever reason the leader in a given field loses the creative genius that started it all and management for whatever reason forgets the formula for success. ProE in the past and now SW. We are watching history in the making and I bet on SE to be the next King of mid range MCAD.

  8. OK, Fair enough Kevin. But how many have switched from SW to SE? Present a balanced statement and it will carry more weight. I am somewhat amused that you are accepting at face value a PR comment by SW without digging into it’s validity. Perhaps at the same time SE has aquired 2,000 SW users but I hardly think SW would mention that side of the coin now would they.

  9. Dave,
      Just on a whim this morning I Google “Dave Johnson SolidWorks” and come up with some VAR’s, consultants and teachers of SolidWorks. Are you one of these? I certainly don’t mind if you are but if you are it would be appropriate to reveal your professional association just as Matt has done.

  10. Dave,

    In the early days of SolidWorks I was a var and an glad to say that I have very recently become a var for SpaceClaim.

    Along the way I’ve also had a good amount of experience using and teaching SolidEdge.  

    By the way I always thought that SolidEdge was and still is a good product.

    It’s my belief that CAD program’s go through a natural life cycle that can’t be changed.  Eventually they die. Though they’ve had quite different life’s I feel that both SolidWorks and SolidEdge are done. Though on the surface they still can look good their foundations’s are crumbled and beyond repair or revival. 

    It’s my opinion that hitting reset and starting over is the only chance they have.

  11. That number comes from a single reseller in the UK. It is not something that came from an official SolidWorks communication.

    Matt / SolidWorks

  12. Dave,
      Do you see any company doing that right now? Even Spaceclaim is based on ACIS and Parasolid if I remember right and neither are anywhere new. Evan has made some interesting comments on kernals this last week and if he is right there is not one company out there who is hitting the reset button.

  13. Dave,

    Please note that by no stretch do I consider myself to know much about the very complex code related interactions that go in in these CAD programs.  Just trying to use simple logic. I’m not sure that the focus of the comments is correct.  I think to much emphasis is put on the modeling kernel.  It’s big and important but when you look at the entirety of a CAD program the kernel is one of the many building blocks/components that are carefully orchestrated together. When I’m talking about crumbled foundation I don’t necessarily mean the kernel.  The modeling kernel in simple terms is a library of code that allows whoever licenses that library to do whatever they want or are capable of doing. Overs the years I’ve heard so many say it’s Parasolid for SolidWorks, SolidEdge, and UG but they seem to have different capabilities.  That’s because each of the 3’s developers uses portions of the library that others may for many business or technical reasons not. I strongly believe that ACIS (owned by Dassault) and Parasolid (owned by Siemens) are and always have been updated to allow capabilities far beyond what SolidWorks and SolidEdge are using today. An example could be the direct modeling that SpaceClaim is doing with ACIS. If I’m making any sense then perhaps the problem is in the original Microsoft platform that the programs are developed on. You can’t forever brute force code that was originally developed 15 years ago to work efficiently with later and greater code that exists today. Eventually you get to a point of no return which fit’s into Geoffery Moores’s theory that says these products have a life that has to include a beginning and an end.  ??

  14. Dave,
     I can tell you for sure that what makes Synchronous Tech work so well is portions of the Parasolid kernal that UGS/Siemens has reserved for their own use. It is not for sale to competitors. With SpaceClaim I am pretty certain this is why as Blake says they primarily rely upon the Acis kernal. Now with the ACIS kernal owned by Dassault we see their primary thrust is the CGM kernal and I bet they will reserve portions of it for themselves only and base the upcoming direct editing they will have upon this. Where this leaves ACIS I don’t know but it would be questionable for Dassault to continue to spend much to further develop it.

      Who knows what kind of interdependencies there are? I don’t for sure. I did not like this ribbon bar junk foisted upon us by Microsoft for sure and SE claimed it was unavoidable due to the use of MS stuff in SE.

      CAD is in a state of flux right now and time will tell. I do think though since there is a math basis to cad there are also finite capabilities limited by math and beyond that point how can things improve?  I have no idea if we are anywhere near that ceiling though.

  15. Dave,

    Well said and you make some very good points. 

    Though I’ve often hear it I have never believed that someone such as Siemens is holding back or reserving portions of the kernel.  Is this a well known fact that it’s happening ???

  16. Siemens has developed a layer on top of the D-cubed and Parasolid products which is Synchronous Technology.  They do not restrict any functionality with in the D-cubed or Parasolid products to my knowledge and I believe they gaurantee that they don’t per their Fair Playing Field agreement.  The Synchronous Technology layer is however restricted to just Siemens PLM use…

  17. Oh, I wouldn’t say that. NX/UG has been around for a long, long time and is doing quite well. Growing pains can be over come..if you want to look at the UG V9/V10 upgrade or the V18 to NX2 upgrade.

  18. Dave A-
    As I recall from the first news of ST from Siemens (which was in NX). That ST is a combination of Geolus shape recognition (Siemens technology) and D-Cubed (Siemens technology) constraint/rule engines. It’s the combination of these two applications that are the core of ST. I could be wrong here, but that’s what I remember. If we have a patent lawyer in our midst, they could do search and let us know for sure.
    The kernel is just the engine that defines how the shapes are defined and how they display back to a graphics card.

  19. That’s my understanding as well. Siemens is protecting ST with patents and I also recall a tussel with AutoDesk about the steering wheel functionality in SE and Inventor.

  20. Well understood and agreed with by many is your view on this.  This thing that some believe in which is that these products have a life-cycle is something that could strongly be debated.  The comment that NX/UG is “doing quite well” could also be strongly debated. 

  21. Yes, most things have multiple points of view and can be debated. Your comment was simply “..CAD program’s go through a natural life cycle that can’t be changed.  Eventually they die.” and then you defend that statement with “Though on the surface they still can look good their foundations’ are crumbled and beyond repair or revival.”

    I guess for all of us here, what would you define as “foundation” for a CAD company and what specific examples can you provide as crubling foundations for Solid Edge? I think I see this happening with SolidAlmostWorks. Answering this may clarify your position so that we can all properly debate the points.

    Using UG/NX I attempted to provide you with one of the oldest CAD packages on the market today as a point of debate. I realize now that I was liberal in my use of the word “well”. It is a “soft” word as you mention. I guess we would all need to sit down and define a standard measure to determine how a CAD company is doing. (I don’t think we could ever get people to agree on anything!)

    For me, I look at key markets Auto, Aero, Defense, Consumer Products and Energy. I then look at which systems have the largest share of those markets and look at growth of the CAD/PLM systems in those markets. UG/NX is quite “strong” in those markets. ;-) If you can supply any data to the contrary I’m open to hearing/reading it.

  22. I mentioned this already in another comment but I think to much focus is put on the kernel.  It’s important but it’s just a library or one piece of the very complex puzzle.  When I loosely use the term “foundation” I mean the original Windows development environment. I have always felt that you can only brute force code and components so much.  You mention SolidAlmostWorks.  I think they are in the same bad position that SolidEdge is in that they were originally developed at the same time. 

  23. I’m the one that originally speculated that ST included Geolus technology.  I was wrong.  

  24. The old guard let SolidWorks die and they had been out of touch for many years. An example of what I mean would be SolidWorks not adding the badly needed direct modeling tools that it still doesn’t have today.

    The problem with recommending Solid Edge ST is that it still has many, many areas that need a ton of work. Can you or anyone else tell me why it’s taken 5 releases to add a Solutions Manager for Live Rules? The rate of real development on Synchronous Technology hasn’t been very impressive and the user interface for Solid Edge ST isn’t anywhere near as good as SolidWorks. There are many places where Solid Edge ST 5 still looks like a cobbled together mess. In addition, the two worlds of history modeling and direct modeling are still very poorly integrated in Solid Edge ST.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  25. Dave,

    My information came straight from Dan Staples  during a conversation I had with him at the Huntsville SE University in 2011. Dan has proven himself to me to make comments only on things he knows for sure when he makes flat out statements. We were discussing the future of SolidWorks at the time and my conjecture as to why things were the way they were and wondering why SW saw no value in direct editing. He had quite the grin on his face as he said this by the way.

      SpaceClaim uses ACIS according to Blake Coulter but they also have licensed Parasolids to so they have both in house. He says that ACIS works better for them. I think based upon what Dan has told me, the actions of Dassault to draw SW away from the Parasolid  kernal (regard the not inconsiderable amount of expense and trouble involved with this and ask yourself why they would do it.) and the fact that SpaceClaim uses ACIS over Parasolid all would confirm the idea that Siemens has reserved the good stuff for itself. These things are what I base my statement on.

  26. Dave J,

    Dan Staples has for years frequently made less than credible statements. His most recent less then credible statement is that “history based modeling is maxed out”. How can history based modeling be “maxed out” when the constraint solvers used in Solid Edge ST can’t make use of multiple core processors and the kernel used in Solid Edge ST (Parasolid) is also unable to make full use of multiple core processors? Perhaps Dan Staples means it’s maxed out for Solid Edge because they are stuck using old, outdated software components like the D-Cubed 2D and 3D DCM constraint solvers and Parasolid.

    There is simply no way that any CADCAM vendor would license or continue to license Parasolid if Siemens didn’t create a level playing field despite the utter nonsense that has been posted here and elsewhere by one person. Note no one else has ever made this ridiculous claim that I’m aware of.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  27. Correct, Siemens does not restrict any functionality from Parasolid or D-Cubed to anyone who licenses them and they do indeed guarantee a level playing field.

    They have for many years made this guarantee. UGS made it as well.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  28. Ken,
      Is this a part of Parasolids that is not a part of what is offered to the competition? There are seperate layers in an onion but it is still the same onion. There has to be a reason why others don’t seem to be able to implement Direct editing as capably as Siemens does on the Parasolid kernal. Fair Playing agreements only have to cover what was agreed upon by participants afterall. You like our Parasolids thats fine but know up front we reserve this part for ourselves and this would not violate any such agreement would it..

  29. Dave-
    You have to remember that ST is not just a geometry engine. You have some serious software architectural changes in the background that has to happen in order for software to utilize ST.
    Here I’m referring to linear model history trees. This is where you will see the competition fail to respond. The competition just doesn’t have the flexibility in their foundations to do what ST allows. The have to have the ability to manage their part construction methods and it’s either one way or another, not multiple. I feel that most CAD companies would implement something similar to ST if they could.

    SolidWorks has some “direct editing” functions but if you look behind the scenes this is a smoke and mirror attempt to modify parameters in their sketches. You can’t apply changes to geometry. It’s this complete reliance on a model history and everything being driven with a 2D-sketch that has hamstrung the competition! Hence, you see the competition having to start from scratch (i.e. SW V6 and to some extend Creo).
    ST is NOT a layer of the Parasolid onion. It’s more like the farm fresh melted butter that’s sautéing your onion!

  30. Parasolid V11 pioneered SMP in the kernel back in 1999! Now keep in mind this allows for multiple threads. The hard and need I say expensive part of the problem is building the binary code to take the threads, parse them and then reconnect them. There is a reason analysis programs that run on multiple cores run in the $50K-150K range!
    You have a price point in your product to consider!

  31. “The competition just doesn’t have the flexibility in their foundations
    to do what ST allows. The have to have the ability to manage their part
    construction methods and it’s either one way or another, not multiple”

    Not true. TopSolid CADCAM 7 uses the Parasolid kernel and has a full suite of History based and Direct editing tools. In addition the TopSolid CADCAM 7 user interface is light years ahead of the mess that Solid Edge ST is. Unlike Solid Edge ST, TopSolid CADCAM 7 has got powerful fully integrated CAM from the same vendor as its CAD.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  32. Ryan, seems at the very least that  no matter how we word our ideas there is  serious integration between Parasolids and Synchronous Tech that is built in and interdependent to work right and is not for sale. Call it butter on the onion or whatever it all gets chewed and swallowed together to deliver that yummy taste doesn’t it. Do you really think the Siemens onion is not genetically altered to allow butter to taste better here than anywhere else?

  33. Yes, Jon you are right. TopSolid has some editting capabilities. I guess my arguement would be based on the assumption that SW and Pro/W and Inventor are the competition.

  34. Sarcasm…Hey,
    that’s great I’ll continue to give my money and support to a software company
    that is going to take several years- my bet is 5+ years- and put my product
    development cycle and my intellectual property (parametrics) on hold while I
    wait for an uncertain future. Sure sounds like a great business plan to me! It
    will be “worth it”. Really! end sarcasm.

    I have to
    disagree with you comment on “new platforms and modeling methodologies”. Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by that. Could you
    please clarify?

    Here’s my

    Sorry, PTC
    is taking a bunch of software components purchased over the years and are
    attempting to blend the code so that they can do what ST was doing 4 years ago
    and changing the licensing structure. Just take a look at the presentation at the current PlanetPTC and the original ST videos. Heck PTC even used the same types of examples!

    they are closer but still light years behind ST functionality.

    I agree not
    everyone likes ST. ST introduces new ways to do things and we are programmed to
    dislike change and disruption to processes we have been doing for years.

    I’m sure I’m going to catch a bunch of crap for this but I’m a little crabby and hungary right now…..

    Minneapolis, MN

  35. Having worked with Solid Works and IronCAD, I have to say: if it’s not a feature fight, but about design productivity, you’ll be hard pressed to beat IronCAD. They’ve been in the direct modelling for a very long time, and they’ve invented some technology that can make history based modeling work like direct modeling, without losing design intelligence.

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

  37. Yes but that was to do with siemens’ decision to consolidate to 2 uk VARs and customers have followed their disgruntled resellers to solidworks with the help of aggressive pricing. Absolutely nothing to do with how good solidworks is vs solidedge.

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