I’ve heard a few people ask this question with more than a little irony in their tone. Solid Edge is certainly an underrated CAD package. Not so much because of the legacy, but because of the last several years of development effort. It’s also difficult for Solid Edge to get much traction with Synchronous Technology because Solid Edge itself has been old news for a long time. Synchronous Technology might have made a bigger splash had it been associated with something new (and news worthy) like Spaceclaim, even though I don’t think Spaceclaim is half the software that Solid Edge is.
Part of the reason for this lack of traction might have to do with what seems like a low acceptance rate among existing Solid Edge users for Synch Tech. In this way, maybe the brilliance of the development has also turned out to be one of its biggest hurdles.
Imagine this: Solid Edge, back in 2005 or so was a forgotten also-ran and distant 4th place in the mid-range CAD world. Imagine if they had just ditched Solid Edge itself, and created a brand new CAD package called something else, say maybe “V2” or whatever. So then V2 gets all the attention of a brand new CAD product. Instead what happened was that the “V2” was integrated into the existing Solid Edge. Which approach do you think is better? Personally, I like the integrated method. It isn’t as flashy, and it doesn’t make as much marketing sense, but it does respect the existing users.
Here’s the shame, from my point of view. Solid Edge spent all their marketing capital on ST1. You might remember that there was this huge hypebeast thing going on around the initial release of Synchronous Technology in 2008. I was very skeptical about it, dismissive, maybe even derisive. I had written a series of very forgettable blog posts that in hindsight, were really awful. This was of course before it had been really released, when nobody except a handful of insiders really knew anything about it. While the huge hype around Synch Tech undoubtedly got a lot of tongues wagging, I’m not sure it really did much good, because no one understood it. This is not like consumer products where you might buy something just because the name is stuck in your mind. I think people who buy CAD do some research, especially if they will be buying into an entirely new way of doing things.
The Solid Edge guys brought me down to Huntsville to have a look at ST1. I could tell they were distrustful, because I had stated that I didn’t really believe the product was all it was hyped to be. At first Solid Edge was going to contract me to write a white paper about the first release of Synch Tech, but I eventually backed away, saying that I didn’t really believe in the product, or the direction. You see, all they had done with ST1 was bolt ST onto Old School Solid Edge (oversimplification, but that gets to the gist of it).
It wasn’t until ST3, when they really integrated the two that they had something I thought was special. And this was when it became clear to me that the approach of integrating new and old was far more brilliant (and probably a lot more difficult) than just throwing away the old way and building a new way.
And now with the threat of Synchronous Technology being able to work with non-prismatic shapes, as we keep hearing little bits about, it really threatens to become a truly general-purpose CAD tool that you can use for sheet metal, machine design, and more organic, consumer oriented type shapes.
Breaking out of the shadows of last place in the CAD world has been difficult for Solid Edge, but I believe this is the direction they are headed, especially at a time when the current CAD leaders seem to be abdicating their position. Solid Edge, with a matured Synchronous Technology is in a position to start leading the revolution. I think other CAD companies are starting to imitate the successful implementation of Synchronous in Solid Edge. PTC has done it. Autodesk has done it. We may even see DS release their version of a Synchronous knockoff some year soon.
While raising a last place product to the level of a serious contender has been and continues to be a difficult battle for the Solid Edge guys, I think it is the best approach. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I think taking a product that has existed for nearly two decades without extraordinary success and turning it into something with eye-popping power and usability when other products its age or younger are throwing in the towel takes a lot of courage. More than that, I think the product actually has what it takes to pull it off.
So yes, Solid Edge may be the best CAD program you’ve never heard of, but I think this is a situation that is changing. Synchronous was a good start, ST3 was the correct adjustment, and ST6 is going to broaden the capabilities to really give it what was lacking. There will no longer be any reason left to ignore it, and Solid Edge will start getting the recognition it deserves.