Top 5 Takeaways from SOLIDWORKS World 2016

Where can you experience 3 days filled with over 100 technology vendors, more than 300 technical breakout sessions, and over 8,000 nerds?  Some call it the Disneyland for engineers: Solidworks World!  One of the reasons I founded DiFi a few years ago is simply because I love the work.  And the bulk of my work is sitting in front of my laptop using one very enjoyable piece of software: Solidworks.   In my opinion it is the most robust, user-friendly 3D CAD tool and Solidworks' parent company, Dassault Systemes, does a great job staying in touch with their customers and constantly improving their product to maintain their spot as the #1 parametric modeler on the market.  A big part of keeping in touch with their customers is by putting on their annual user conference, Solidworks World, and this week I had the pleasure of visiting Dallas, TX for SWW 2016 to check out what's new and exciting in the realm of CAD and 3D printing technologies and I've pulled some insights from this year's keynote presentations regarding the state of the industry. So here are my top five takeaways from Solidworks World 2016:

1) PCs are going ultra-mobile

People are more mobile than ever and want to stay connected when they are on the move.  Until recently, in order for engineers and designers to take their high powered workstations with them on the road it meant lugging around a 17", 9lb behemoth. Fortunately, computing power has multiplied 1,000x since 2005 and the results of that are showing in computer manufacturer's ability to build powerful, small form factor laptop computers capable of handling demanding engineering programs like Solidworks.  Five of the major PC manufacturers (Dell, Lenovo, HP, MSI, and BOXX Technologies) were showcasing their thinnest and lightest products at Solidworks World this year which come to an average weight of 4.19lbs.  But the one surprising product that this mobile engineer/maker/blogger is excited about is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.  I say surprising because at 1.73 lbs the i7 version of this little devil is capable of running intensive engineering programs quite effectively.  And while it is not technically certified by Solidworks to run their program due to lacking the "necessary" workstation graphics card I can say from personal experience that it's a product to consider for the ultra-mobile user.

2) 3D printing isn't a fad

I should clarify.  3D printing has actually been around since the 1980's so of course it's not a fad.  But you've all undoubtedly seen the recent spike of low-cost, consumer-centric 3D printers hitting the market over the last few years; and this portion of the industry is growing like crazy.  According to the IT research and advisory company, Gartner, Inc.,  the year 2015 saw 244,543 consumer 3D printers sold to individuals, businesses, and schools/universities and printer sales are projected to reach 5.6 million by the year 2019.  Solidworks World saw the presence of some familiar names in the consumer 3D printing space including Formlabs, Makerbot, Ultimaker, and XYZPrinting.   But a few notable new players also made a big splash.  It's a good sign to see some major players in the 2D printing industry move into developing 3D printers.  This year, Hewlett-Packard's full-color printer will be hitting the market and while there isn't too much detail out there yet as far as technical specs and pricing it looks like it may be a breakthrough technology. But a promising desktop FFF printer has just hit the market from a $500 million company that not many people in the states have heard of. Sindoh, a 50 year old company based in Korea, is a major player in the 2D printing industry and recently launched their first 3D printer in December.  The 3Dwox shows promise to be a true plug-and-play experience in a sub-$1200 package, boasting auto loading filament, assisted bed leveling, Wi-Fi connectivity, and print monitoring via an on-board camera.  I'm hoping to get my hands on one of these newly minted printers to provide a more in-depth review but for now more information can be found here:

The benefit of 2D printer manufacturers entering the 3D printing industry is there existing supply-chain of robust and cheap internal components.  In the case of Sindoh, they've been able to use many of the same components that they incorporate into their 2D printers and can hit the ground running when entering the 3D printing market, avoiding the growing pains many of the start-up 3D printer companies have experienced.

3) The American workforce is changing

So how are these strides in technology affecting the workforce?  We are entering the age of the freelancer.  It's estimated that 40% of the American workforce will be freelancers, contractors, or temporary employees by the year 2020.  There are many reasons why freelance work is on the rise: company downsizing, shifting economic conditions, or, in this freelancer's case, employee dissatisfaction.  Furthermore, with the exponential growth in computing and mobile technology it's easier than ever to find work, work remotely, and stay connected.  It's no wonder so many people are asking the question, "Why can't I do my work from anywhere?".  But whatever the reason, this rise should ultimately benefit the economy.  Not only will freelancers themselves be contributing to society in fulfilling and meaningful ways, but companies will have access to a growing and flexible specialist workforce at lower costs.  Personally, I've experienced the benefit of embracing technology to achieve my goals of becoming an independent worker.  While it's not a walk in the park, and I have a long way to go, I really believe there is no better time to choose to work independently.  What other time in history would I be able to utter the words, "I'm writing a blog post in a coffee shop while a mini factory setup in my closet is printing a prototype"?   

These are my people

4) "Democratization of Ideas", "Personal Fabrication", and other newfangled phrases

Mobile devices, 3D printing technology, and the changing workforce are bringing with them a slew of fun, new terminology.  Based on what I know, I'll attempt to define some standout new terms for you here:

digital fabrication engineer


1. a person who designs and builds complicated products, machines, systems, or structures primarily through manufacturing processes where the machines used are controlled by computer; such as CNC machining, 3D printing, or laser cutting

fab lab


1. a small-scale workshop offering personal digital fabrication with the aim to give its members the ability to make almost anything.

personal (digital) fabrication


1.  an individual ability to make almost anything, inexpensively, without the need for expensive machinery, highly skilled operators, or industrial operations.

2. turning data into things

product personalization


1. producing products to meet the wants and needs of specific individuals as opposed to general groups

2. moving manufacturing after the point-of-sale, as opposed to before the point of-sale

democratization of ideas


democratization of design


1. to make available to all people the ability to plan or make something for a specific use or purpose

5) More than half of the world's population are not online

This movement towards the democratization of ideas really hit home in one of the final keynote presentations at SWW 2016.  Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation (you know, the organization that challenged the nation to privatize space exploration) pointed out that as of 2010 only 23% of the global population had access to the internet.  That fact makes me take stock of how far we as a people have come in the last decade with only a quarter of the population on the internet and where we are headed as a collective world once we get the remaining 5 billion people online.  Just imagine what remains to be discovered, invented, and solved by that many people.  The internet is basically leveling the global playing field despite differences in nation's economies and political climates.

Given all of this, the future is looking pretty bright. 

This exponential growth in technology and the increase in global internet usage are allowing more individuals to connect than ever before.  This growth in interconnectedness is going to bring about positive national and global change because it forces us all to tap into an emotion that many of us have let wither: trust.  If one wants to be successful in the interconnected world, above all else, he/she must be trustworthy.  Personally, the success of my business relationships as a freelancer in product development is based on how trustworthy I am with my client's proprietary information as well as how much I trust my clients will pay me for the services rendered.  In the last three years the bulk of my clients have lived hundreds of miles away and I haven't had a single trust issue; which is something I'm sure most of today's freelancers have experienced.  Why is that so?  It's simple.  If your friends, colleagues, or clients don't have a firm belief in your reliability than you won't survive.  In order for us to survive in this new world we have to trust each other.

That's pretty deep stuff to take away from a nerd conference. 

Until next week.