I spoke in front of the Vancouver AutoCAD user group last night on the subject of "The Future of CAD." One woman came up to me afterwards to complain, "I thought you were going to talk about which buttons to push. That's the only reason I came."
Some of the things I did talk about:
To better understand what might happen in the future, it is important to know the past. This helps us decode what is happening, and what is likely to happen next, based on common human reactions. For example, if a software vendor switches from selling to the masses to selling vertically or repackaging the product as an API, we know the product is probably failing. Same if the price goes from $199 to $99 to $49 to free.
Computer hardware has created limits to growth. CPU speeds have stalled at around 3GHz; programmers are not taking advantage of 2- and 4-core CPUs. RAM is maxed out at 2GB/3GB. Hard drives get larger but not faster. Flash drives are too expensive, and when they fail, fail 100% with no data recovery possible. 64-bit computing requires 64-bit CPU, 64-bit OS, AND 64-bit apps -- and then all you get is the ability to have more of the CAD data in RAM.
There is little innovation going on in the CAD world. A few new tactics crop up here and there.
The Internet made CAD vendors rethink themselves, because the Internet allowed the switch from drawings on paper to drawings as data (DWF, PDF, et al). This lead to the concept that CAD is not about drawings, but about data, which lead to CAD vendors thinking of themselves as data enablers. Hence, companies like Dassault and PTC no longer using the term "CAD," but other convoluted phrases.
The CAD market is plateauing, and so CAD vendors are looking for more ways to sell more software in all four directions: earlier in the design process (conceptual and early marketing), afterwards (PLM), down to the shop floor (CAM, etc) and up into management (viewers).
Some reaction from the audience:
- the limits of computer hardware don't affect them.
- perhaps when 30-inch screens become cheap enough, then D-size paper will no longer be needed.
- for most of their work, AutoCAD-style CAD is just fine.
- CAD needs to make greater use of Internet-generated technology, such as using Second Life to bring distant clients together on simulated 3D projects designed in CAD and placed into landscapes.
(Thank you to Dave Witso for inviting me, and to Bill Fane for driving me to Burnaby's BCIT and back.)