If you’re an engineer who works in three-dimensional design software, there’s reason to be excited: SolidWorks 2014, the latest version of the popular 3D design program, was released Tuesday.
If you’re not, there’s still reason to be excited: Those engineers are going to use SolidWorks to make cool stuff for the rest of us.
“What it enables people to do is take what’s up here,” said SolidWorks vice president Aaron Kelly, pointing to his head, “and put it into a computer and ultimately make something that’s physically present.”
Take FormLabs of Somerville, for instance. Operations manager Sam Jacoby and his team used an earlier version of SolidWorks to design a small 3D printer, the Form 1, that retails for just $3,299 — a fraction of what most others cost. The year-old startup smashed a Kickstarter record for the tech sector by raising $2.9 million in a campaign last year and is in the process of shipping its first 1,100 products.
FormLabs keeps the price down by doing almost everything in-house, even making its own resin (the viscous liquid 3D printers mold into solid objects), but “another thing is 3D printers shouldn’t be so expensive,” Jacoby told me at a launch event for SolidWorks in Waltham, where parent company Dassault Systemes has its North American headquarters. “I expect there to be more and more 3D printers that are cheaper and cheaper, and we’re certainly part of that. The essential operation is incredibly simple.”
SolidWorks also served as the design platform for Baxter, a manufacturing and research robot made by Rethink Robotics of Boston. Baxter can perform simple tasks — mostly grasping and moving objects over and over on an assembly line or in a lab — but his real appeal is affordability and versatility.
At $22,000, Baxter is far less expensive than the six-figure robots that are common in manufacturing plants, and he can easily be reprogrammed to move a different item today than he did yesterday.
“A lot of people worry that the robot is going to come in and take their jobs,” said Michael Lewis, Rethink’s senior mechanical engineer.” What we’d rather do is develop them into a more technically skilled person, so they become more proficient. Dell does this thing where they encourage people to figure out ways to improve [production] lines. When they figure out those improvements, they get promotions. We want to do the same thing for people in small manufacturing settings.”
SolidWorks chief executive Bertrand Sicot said it is rewarding for his company to provide a tool that helps local startups design their products. SolidWorks makes software used all over the world but was founded in Concord in 1993. It was acquired by Dassault four years later for $310 million.
“We remember when we were a tiny startup, a small company innovating and taking over a marketplace with new technologies,” Sicot said. “We try to remember those times every day so we keep innovating and stay ahead of the curve.”