IT review: Siemens PLM Software, Solid Edge ST5

Posted on 20 Jul 2012

Tom Moore reviews latest CAD software installment from Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division.

Over 700 delegates converged on Birmingham’s NEC this week to find out what Siemens PLM Software is offering designers.

It is fair to say that the firm’s Solid Edge software hasn’t had a smooth ride in the UK, with slower uptake than elsewhere in the world and confusion around the introduction of synchronous technology at the same time as it revamped the user interface.

Karsten Newbury, senior VP and general manager for mainstream engineering, said: “People thought that the changes around how things were positioned were down to synchronous technology.”

Bill McClure, VP of development for mainstream engineering, explains that the company moved to Microsoft Fluent interface, better known as Office 2007, so that it was always consistent with Office interface.

“Looking back,” he said, “I wouldn’t have changed the interface at the same time we released synchronous technology if I could do it again. I would have spread the changes out across two releases.”

With this now behind them, improving the ease of how to customise the interface in 2008, when it took Microsoft until its Office 2010 program to make the same change, Siemens PLM software has ploughed money into increasing the number of R&D staff by 20% in the past 2 years.

The result? Solid Edge ST5, a combination of ordered modeling combined with synchronous technology. Siemens PLM Software has catered to the fact that, unless a company makes using new software a key goal, there needs to be a transition period or an effective way of using old and new in tandem.

Synchronous technology remains key to simplifying the design process, with faster, smoother in-context assembly design. Yet, with ordered (or traditional) modeling not going away anytime soon, Siemens PLM Software has made the two ways of working complimentary rather than competing.

Rather like an impressive cocktail waiter, it seems as though Siemens PLM Software has learned how to make the whole better than the sum of its parts, while gently introducing hardened users of traditional modeling to synchronous technology.

Mr McClure says: “It is hard for a quality engineer who follows all the steps to let go of that control.  Engineers are repositioning their thinking from having control of the history tree to focusing on what they are trying to design.”

“The decision of when to use traditional and when to use synchronous was one of the major difficulties in getting users to adopt using synchronous, now they can switch back and forth,” he added.

Existing customers that don’t use synchronous modeling for design purposes within Solid Edge ST5 can use it for importing data and design.

A recent survey of 2,300 manufacturers using various PLM packages, showed that 40% of people find searching for data a problem.

Synchronous is now available in “bite size” pieces, with users able to leverage synchronous for a portion of a design, without having to commit the entire design to Synchronous Expand modeling capabilities and adapt designs to manufacturing requirements.

The technology imports, cleans up geometry and makes modifications quicker than previous CAD systems.

The PLM software package works in synchronous and ordered, can import assemblies into a single part file, merge or split parts and add new parts to continue design.

Solid Edge ST5 has incorporated 1,300 design changes since the previous edition and it looks its investment in R&D indicates that these improvements are set to continue.

Solid Edge is now on a yearly summer release schedule. With ST5 released July 2012 and ST6 set to come out in July 2013, users have a clear timeframe in which to plan PLM upgrades.

Siemens PLM Software has slimmed down to just two key partners in UK, Prion Cutting Edge and Majenta, concentrating its marketing, sales and support services through those that it has cherry-picked as providing the best partnership.

With a higher proportion of Siemens PLM Software business between them, Prion Cutting Edge and Majenta have larger pockets with which to reinvest in their PLM operations, a key motive behind the change.

Designers not currently using Solid Edge are able to download a free 45-day trial package.

Mr Newbury believes that students learning 3D CAD pick up synchronism and fly with it, resulting in a student edition its Solid Edge software being made available free of charge to full or part time students throughout the world.

Looking to the future, he says, “Anyone that says CAD design is a mature technology is out of their mind. There are many things we can do to make it easier.”