The clocks ticked into 2000 and the IT industry, CAD software vendors included, breathed a sigh of relief as it became evident that fears of Y2K problems were not to materialize.
In the CAD software industry, attention swung back to Web enabled CAD as Alibre released Alibre Design, based on Spatial Technology's ACIS, which was the first 3D CAD software able to perform client-server 3D modeling over the Internet (although in Japan, Toyota Caelum's TeamCAD had been capable of 3D modeling across LANs since the mid 1990s, even before the term 'client-server' became popular!).
Autodesk released AutoCAD 2000i in mid 2000 which was their first Web enabled CAD software and provided the ability to output drawings that could be viewed with a Web browser and also enabled some online simple collaboration using Microsoft Net Meeting.
The pressure on manufacturers to reduce new product concept>design>detail>manufacture>shelf time had increased relentlessly throughout the previous decade and in late 2000 Ford showed how much could be achieved with fully integrated 3D CAD software and Internet enabled PDM when it released the Ford Mondeo which had been designed entirely over the Internet using Ford's C3P (CAD CAM CAE PDM) platform in about 1/3rd of the time traditionally required. Ford's success proved that the integration of CAD software, PDM software and the Internet to give engineers and designers the ability to view and collaborate on a single digital "master", not only saved in time and travel expense, but almost eliminated the traditional misfit, mismatch and "nocando" problems inherent in the design and production of a complex product by a globally dispersed manufacturer working with an equally dispersed group of suppliers.
Using "virtual product development" with a digital master 3D assembly of 3D component models replacing clay prototypes, Boeing had succeeded in reducing product development times in the aerospace industry and now Ford had done the same in the automotive industry. At least at the enterprise manufacturing level, the competition had shifted away from the function to function comparisons typical of the major 3D CAD software deals of the late 1980s and early 1990s and had now become a test of how well the vendor could manage the flow of design and engineering data; of which the 3D CAD model was an increasingly smaller percentage.
Picking up on the term PLM "Product Life-cycle Management", which had started as university research into manufacturing databases in the early 1990s and had begun to gain popularity in the industry in the late 1990s, the leading CAD software companies were quick to redefine themselves to the emerging market trend. Suddenly "3D CAD software vendor" was out and "PLM solution provider" was in. The four leading vendors (Dassault Systemes, Parametric Technology, Unigraphics Solutions and SDRC) began the task of realigning their corporate images, marketing and sales processes; "blistering 3D modeling speed", "faster than lightening rendering" and "graphics so real you can feel it" were out and "value propositions", "portfolio management" and "life cycle analysis" were in.
Ford was using SDRC's Metaphase PDM software in its C3P platform and in late 2000 SDRC acquired Metaphase's long-time PDM competitor, Sherpa, to consolidate its PLM image. In addition to strong database and network management, the ability to rapidly view large assemblies of 3D data is a key component of modern PLM solutions and in late 2000 Unigraphics Solutions acquired the leading 3D viewer vendor EAI.
One of the few 3D CAD software events (other than mostly routine upgrades, updates and extensions to the leading vendors traditional 3D software products) was Dassault Systemes' acquisition of Spatial Technology's ACIS 3D solid modeling kernel in late 2000. Despite its 1996 IPO, which proved that a component technology vendor could achieve commercial success, Spatial had lost its way; partly because it had never managed to license ACIS to a leading 3D CAD software vendor and partly because like many other vendors it had over-invested in non-essential Internet ASP development. To this date neither Dassault Systemes nor its SolidWorks subsidiary use ACIS and the reasons for the acquisition remain obscure.
Early in 2001, Unigraphics Solutions changed its name to UGS and acquired SDRC. At the same time EDS bought back the 14% of UGS stock that it had publicly sold in the late 1990s (UGS was recently acquired from EDS by a consortium of venture capital funds). Ford were relying on SDRC for the core of the C3P platform but were prompted to consider a multi-vendor strategy for their future PLM software needs. That strategy began to be implemented in early 2003 when Ford announced that they were implementing IBM-Dassault Systemes' CATIA and ENOVIA software.
While there have been no fundamental technology breakthroughs (what Professor Clayton Christensen would term "disruptive technological changes") since Pro/Engineer's release in 1987, the early part of this decade did see one or two interesting developments in making it simpler and more intuitive to create 3D CAD models. In late 2001 think3 introduced its GSM "Global Shape Modeling" into its thinkDesign software to make it possible to "push and pull" NURBS surfaces. Early in 2003, PTC (which is how Parametric Technology now likes to be known) released its new WildFire 3D CAD software which also attempted to make it simpler to create 3D geometry.
The only new 3D CAD software vendor (at least that I am legally allowed to mention) that emerged to upset the industry's status quo was ImpactXoft, which in 1999-2000 jointly developed the IX/Speed and XXen CAD software with Japan's Toyota Caelum. Initial releases of IX/Speed and XXen were made early in 2001. Dassault Systemes made a substantial investment in ImpactXoft at the end of 2002 and IX, having now broken away from the joint development agreement with Toyota Caelum, has joined a long list of companies that have become partners of Dassault Systemes developing on the CATIA Component Application Architecture.
So today, in July 2004, the CAD software industry is dominated by 3 PLM solution vendors (IBM-Dassault Systemes with CATIA & ENOVIA, UGS with Unigraphics & iMAN, and PTC with Pro/Engineer & WindChill) and Autodesk, whose market value is typically slightly below Dassault Systemes' and more than 3x that of PTC. SolidWorks and SolidEdge (owned by Dassault Systemes and UGS respectively) continue to battle with Autodesk's Inventor in the mid-price CAD software market and there are many small CAD software vendors, some of which are listed on CADAZZ's free CAD software pages who survive by being excellent in niche markets and by being data compatible with the CAD software programs offered by the four leading vendors.
True innovation of the kind that drove the industry forward in the 70s and 80s seems to have died though, if only temporarily, and as Clayton Christensen might say, "This is one market just waiting for a big bang to happen!".