Field Guide: Dassault Systèmes

The Company

Dassault Systèmes (Suresnes, France) provides a variety of computer-aided design (CAD), manufacturing (CAM), engineering (CAE), product lifecycle management (PLM), simulation, and visualization software. These software products help user companies create, model, and test product designs and the manufacturing systems to make those products.

The company’s roots predate what was to become Dassault Systèmes. In 1974, Lockheed developed a 2D CAD/CAM system called “CADAM” (Computer-Augmented Drafting and Manufacturing). A year later, Avions Marcel Dassault (AMD), a French aircraft manufacturer, became the first CADAM customer. Two years after that, AMD developed its own solids modeling software. This became known as “CATIA”: Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application. In 1981, AMD created Dassault Systèmes, which focused on developing CATIA.

By 1982, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW were using CATIA; Hyundai adopted CATIA in 1983; Chrysler and PSA Peugot Citroën, in 1985. In 1986, 12 years after Lockheed developed CADAM, Boeing became a CATIA user. In 1988, CATIA Version 3 debuted. That version included architectural/engineering/construction functionality on Unix and mainframe computers. Five years later, CATIA-CADAM Version 4 came out. 

Well established by 1997, Dassault began a series of acquisitions on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Deneb was acquired for its digital manufacturing software. Later this became the foundation for Delmia Corp. (Auburn Hills, MI). SolidWorks (Concord, MA) was acquired for its mechanical CAD. Dassault purchased the product data management (PDM) assets from IBM Corp. This begat Enovia Corp. (Charlotte, NC) in 1998. Add to that Smart Solutions Ltd. (formerly SmarTeam Corporation Ltd.), acquired for its PDM capabilities. There were other acquisitions.

In 2002, Toyota Motor Corporation and Volvo Group became CATIA users. The next year, Dassault won aerospace companies AVIC, ENAER, and Liebherr, plus automomakers BMW Group and Ford Motor Co. Ford announced it would integrate CATIA V5 and Enovia into its next-generation C3P system. There were other companies and industries using CATIA and Enovia and SolidWorks.

In 2005, Version 5 Release 15 (V5 R15) and V5R16 of Dassault’s PLM suite debuted. Also, Dassault acquired Abaqus Corp. for its nonlinear finite element analysis (FEA) software. This begat Simulia (Providence, RI). Dassault also acquired Virtools for its software to build highly interactive 3D content. In 2006, Dassault introduced V5R17 and acquired PLM-leader MatrixOne Inc. (Lowell, MA). Last year, Dassault acquired ICEM Ltd. for complex shape/surfacing design and visualization software, Seemage for digital mockup software, and launched 3DVIA for online 3D lifelike experiences.

The acquisitions, along with the company’s flagship CATIA, have coalesced into a corporate mission “to establish 3D as a universal language that brings communities closer together and acts as a catalyst for change improving quality of life and the environment we live in.” According to company officials, “By providing real-life visualization and simulation of the entire product lifecycle, Dassault Systèmes solutions allow manufacturers to anticipate and manage the social and environmental impacts of their products-from product design to end-of-life recycling.”

Dassault Systèmes has about 150 sites and approximately 7,000 employees, half of them dedicated to R&D, in 27 countries. It has over 100,000 customers in about 80 countries across 11 business sectors: aerospace, architecture and construction (A&C), automotive, consumer goods, consumer packaged goods, high-tech, industrial equipment, life sciences, energy, shipbuilding, and business services. In 2007, the company’s total revenues were 1,258.8 million £ (GAAP; non-GAAP: 1,275.9 million £), of which 1,063.3 million £ (GAAP; non-GAAP: 1,080.4 million £) came from software sales. For the full year, PLM software revenues rose 16%, CATIA revenues 11%, and Enovia revenues 32%.


Product Information

Dassault Systèmes’ products fall into six product lines that work together toward the Dassault goal of “3D for All”: “The sharing of data and development knowledge-from a product’s conception to maintenance-across the extended enterprise.” An underlying theme in these products is the virtualization of physical things. On the technology side, the underlying these are data capture, integration, access, and display.



CATIA-for designing virtual products-is a CAD/CAM system for all design processes from initial concept through analysis and assembly. It is used by all kinds of manufacturing organizations (from OEMs through the supply chains to small independent producers). CATIA products address specific tasks and in some cases specific industries: from mechanical part and composite design to manufacturing, electrical harness design to documentation, and printed circuit board design, automatic drafting for cast and forged parts to functional tolerancing and annotation review capabilities, shape design and styling to numerical control (NC). All CATIA products are integrated; they work both with each other and with software products from Dassault’s other brands. V5R18 is the latest release of CATIA. (Portions of V6 have been announced and some V6-oriented products have been released by this writing.)

CATIA PLM Express embeds Enovia SmarTeam PDM within CATIA. This PLM suite is for small-and medium-sized businesses (SMB). It gives these businesses a kick start into PLM, a taste for PLM benefits, and as they mature their business processes, these user companies can add capabilities and grow CATIA PLM Express to an enterprise-wide PLM system. While it is not quite shrink-wrapped software, CATIA PLM Express is going in that direction. It is offered as six templates based on industry needs and user roles: layout engineer (generate templates to capture optimized design methodologies), equipment product engineer (define and visualize equipment, including fluid, electrical, and power systems), styled product engineer (use integrated style and engineering processes to capture prototype shapes and launch new products), review and optimize engineer (optimize product design, strength, packaging, and ergonomics), mechanical product engineer (use spec-driven modeling in the concurrent engineering of styling and mechanical shape design), and manufacturing engineer (NC programming and machining simulation).



Delmia-for virtual production-addresses “digital manufacturing” by using software to replicate and simulate production and maintenance processes, and to then deliver 3D visualizations of those simulations. The software primarily addresses process planning (e.g., layout planning, time measurement, cost analysis, and factory line balancing), process detailing and validation (e.g., as assembly sequences, factory/cell layouts, and machining operations), and resource modeling and simulation (e.g., robots, tooling, fixtures, automation components, and ergonomics). From this, engineers can digitally plan, create, control, monitor, and manage production processes and both mechanical and power systems before actual production begins-before production and power equipment is even bought and installed.

(Regarding PLM for the A&C and energy industries, Dassault also speaks of “4D” virtual construction technologies. That fourth D-dimension-is time. Not only do Dassault products help users create human simulations and view walk-throughs, fly-throughs, and other paths and dynamic motions, these products validate “build around” options to accommodate late deliveries and integrate existing 3D data from suppliers in these industries.)

A major addition to V5R18 is virtual commissioning, a key capability of Delmia V5 Automation. This software toolset consists primarily of three modules that let users create, edit, debug, and validate controls logic (as well as create and reuse predefined control logic blocks); define kinematic/tasks, internal behavior, and electrical I/O; and simulate, debug, and validate a complete control program against virtual equipment before that equipment physically exists and before a programmable logic controller is bought. A goal is to have Delmia applications “open”; that is, Delmia control engineering and digital validation applications and tools will work with the control automation products from any vendor. To date, these vendors are primarily Omron, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, and Siemens.

Like CATIA PLM Express, Delmia PLM Express is also an entry-level PLM system aimed for SMB. And again, Delmia PLM Express gives businesses the chance to pilot PLM, and then expand to a more enterprise-wide system. The PLM suite has five templates based on common, but critical, manufacturing jobs: resource planning (model in 3D, then validate tooling and workcell requirements), robotics (simulate, validate robotic movements, and program off line), ergonomics (build kinematic human models, optimize human work space, and perform human-risk factor analysis), process planning (develop, simulate, and validate process plans and shop floor work instructions), and controls (perform virtual commissioning to validate and debug PLC code).



Enovia-for PLM and business process management-consists of three software systems for managing design, engineering, and production data related to the entire lifecycle of a product. Enovia SmarTeam provides collaborative PDM for SMB, including the engineering departments of larger organizations and across supply chains. Enovia VPLM (officially, 3D Collaborative Virtual PLM) is a PLM system geared toward managing the product-related data at medium and large extended enterprises. Enovia MatrixOne is more of a collaborative product development system that provides enterprise business process management for large firms.

At the time of this writing, details are sketchy about Dassault’s Enovia V6, which the company is calling the next-generation PLM (PLM 2.0). Recently announced Enovia MatrixOne 10.8 is Dassault’s first V6-enabled product. Here’s what’s known. V6 gives users access to all the data in Dassault’s software products regardless of location. It is an online system. It features a new, “immersive” user interface that company officials say is easy to use. And because V6 is based on a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the technologies that make up SOA (such as XML), V6 can be integrated with existing PLM systems as well as with other enterprise systems, such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management.



Simulia-for virtual testing-consists of a variety of Abaqus FEA and CATIA Analysis applications to perform linear and non-linear multiphysics data analysis on virtual prototypes of complex products and processes, and to generate realistic simulations of the results. Simulia covers the obvious analysis, such as strength, durability, vibration, and other physical attributes before producing physical parts. It also covers advanced multiphysics analyses, such as interactions in coupled fluid-structure, piezoelectric-mechanical, structural-acoustic, electrical-thermal, and thermal-fluid-mechanical.

Users can create geometry, import CAD models for meshing, or integrate geometry-based meshes that do not have associated CAD geometry. For postprocessing, Abaqus provides various visualization options, including contour and deformed shape plots and animation, cutting planes, and output in 3D XML, realistic animations, and presentation quality x-y plotting.

Abaqus add-ons handle specific physics or industry problems. These add-ons include a multi-level substructuring eigensolver; analysis of aqua fluid wave loads for the offshore industry; design sensitivity analysis; crash dummy modeling; and vehicle-occupant crash safety simulation (cosimulation using Madymo). Other Simulia products connect the FEA products to major CAD systems as well as to other simulators, such as Moldflow Plastics Insight (injection molding simulation) and MSC.Adams (multi-body dynamics simulation).



3DVIA-for virtual reality-includes a variety of online applications and services that provide lifelike 3D simulations so that users-both consumers and suppliers-can create, share, and experience the use of products and services. 3DVIA adds 3D to mass media. It is the basis for creating virtual worlds similar to real life. It lets users create objects in 3D; search, upload, share, and tag 3D objects; and interact in simulated “full-life experiences.”

The source data for 3DVIA full-life experiences comes from Dassault’s CAD, FEA, simulation, and PLM products. 3DVIA is the adult version of Cosmic Blobs, a 3D graphics software product touted as “digital modeling” clay for kids. However, both 3DVIA and Cosmic Blobs share the same goal: Let people “bring their ideas to life in 3D” in the belief “that knowledge reduces inequality,” whether in educational institutions, business enterprises, or the world at large.

Manufacturers, retailers, architects, and media companies in a variety of ways, such as experiencing product usage, testing product and building ergonomics, recreating the shopping experience, and training. Non-engineering users will be able to create documentation using Microsoft Office and 3D data pulled out of enterprise systems.

3DVIA has tools to display 3D XML content, save 3D scenes (shapes and textures) on-the-fly in 3D XML, mix users’ pictures with 3D CAD models (a mashup tool is already used for profiles in Facebook), create product documentation by capturing digital product definition data (including 3D design data and bills of material), create high-quality 3D games on PCs and video-game boxes. 3DVIA also introduces two new online services for professional designers and suppliers. Among other things, these services let registered users locate, configure, and download CAD drawings and 3D models of supplier parts, components, and assemblies.

3DLive is essentially a lightweight version of 3DVIA configured for CATIA, Delmia, and Enovia. It gives everyone in an enterprise a single, online user interface for PLM. 3DLive goes well beyond conventional dashboards, workspaces, and document-based portals; it lets users search, navigate, work with and manipulate, and collaborate on any aspect of a product’s lifecycle alongside 3D models and simulations that can be played, cross-sectioned, peeled apart, and otherwise manipulated as well.



SolidWorks-for 3D mechanical design-is a Windows-based CAD system that lets users create everything from parts to large mechanical assemblies, as well as product documentation. Designers can work in 2D or 3D, and convert 2D designs to 3D solid models. SolidWorks includes 3D mechanical CAD, design validation tools, PDM, collaborative product design and communication, and a 3D online catalog.

The SolidWorks brand includes several product lines. At the core is the mechanical CAD portion of SolidWorks plus a range of design communication and CAD tools such as Toolbox, PhotoWorks, and SolidWorks Animator. The Cosmos products perform various analyses: design validation and optimization, motion simulation and kinematics, tolerance stack-up between machined components, and computational fluid dynamics analysis. There are also file importers so that designers can analyze CAD models created in some of the major third-party CAD systems without re-importing the data each time the design is modified. PDMWorks Enterprise is a PDM software product that provides Windows-based data access and automated engineering process control. The DWGseries products let users open, edit, view, and share any DWG file from any version of AutoCAD without the expense of upgrading to the latest version of AutoCAD. The eDrawings products let users view and publish the 2D and 3D design data from most major CAD systems.



Dassault Systèmes’ primary CAD/CAM competitors include Autodesk, Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC), and Siemens (specifically Unigraphics CAD/CAM/PLM). There are also dozens of small suppliers offering general and niche, or both, CAD and CAM. The Simulia product line competes against Ansys, Fluent, and MSC.Software, plus software from several small FEA and CFD vendors. In the PLM market, Dassault competes against, again, Siemens (Unigraphics), Agile, and PTC, and to a lesser extent Oracle and SAP.

The Seemage acquisition pits Dassault against products from Adobe Systems, such as Adobe Acrobat 3D and Acrobat Reader. 3DVIA (and 3DLive) compete against Google, especially the mashup of Google Earth and Google SketchUp. Together, Dassault Systèmes and Microsoft have launched Microsoft Virtual Earth-3DVIA, which competes against the Google mashup. In some ways, 3DVIA competes against Microsoft’s Windows Live services, though the former focuses on 3D product information while the latter focuses on Microsoft Office documents. Both online services use at the very least XML to transfer data, so they and the products those online services front for are compatible.