Another SolidWorks employee that got to suffer through my attempt at being a journalist at SolidWorks World 2011 was Rick Chin, Director of Product Innovation. A Mechanical Engineer by education, Rick is another shining star in the SolidWorks Universe. He holds no less than five patents, has worked for McDonnell Douglas and Pratt & Whitney, spent some time with PTC before joining SolidWorks as its 17th overall employee. He then ventured out on his own for a few years before returning to (his senses) SolidWorks in 2006 in his current role. Rick invented eDrawings, FilletXpert and DraftXpert, just to name a few of his great ideas.
As the Director of Product Innovation he spends his time trying to think up new ideas for SolidWorks. However, rather than identifying new technology and building a product around it, Rick prefers to focus on customer frustrations and come up with ways to alleviate them. This doesn’t pertain to features, though. Rick’s job isn’t to fix, say, angle mate issues, it’s to come up with new products that can help various segments of the customer base. Where SolidWorks’ customer base is so diverse, he has to choose a segment and then discover what gets them worked up. By surveying and visiting, he finds the things that don’t just annoy people, but get an intense, vein popping reaction. Why? because he, in particular, and SolidWorks, want you to be emotionally invested in the product. If he solves a minor annoyance, you’ll say “thanks”, and move on. If he gives you a tool that decreases your daily vein popping time, you’re going to be nominating him for the CAD industry equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, brag to your friends about the wonders of SolidWorks, and name (or re-name) your first born after him. So, in a nutshell, Rick finds a segment, discover what pisses them off, conceptualizes and then delivers the next greatest thing since sliced bread.
How does Rick do this, you ask? Easy. He looks for the “absurdly ideal” solution. He “gives himself permission” to come up with any solution, as impossible or insane as it may be. It’s from there that he can look around and see better where he actually needs to be. He then pares down from impossible to probable, followed by searching for technologies that fit into the probable category. It’s through this process that add-ins like Sustainability are borne. Actually, ‘adopted’ may be a more apt term. Ideally, Rick will be able to find an existing technology that will work rather than to have to develop something in-house. It’s just the nature of the beast. Companies, or individuals, are always coming up with new things which, ultimately, end up out there for public consumption. Why recreate the wheel when you can just modify it to fit your application?
One thing to understand about Rick, and his duties, is that he works off to the side of the main product. While he was involved with Sustainability, nothing he’s worked, or working, on will be in 2012. After the release of Sustainability, he went through another investigative process but nothing came to fruition. After hearing this, I asked him what he was working on now. I was surprised when he answered, on the record.
What, you want to know what’s going on behind the curtain? Well, it’s probably not too Earth-shattering, but he’s investigating new ways for CAD, users and hardware to interact. Somewhere between where we are now, with mice and keyboards and monitors, and ‘Iron Man’. While Rick doesn’t envision a designer waving his or her arms about for 8 hours a day, they’re looking at multi-touch and gesture hardware. The goal is something that will enhance the user experience, while being easy to use, productive and, perhaps most importantly, cost effective. There’s no point in coming up with something that’s going to cost $20,000. Further to the point, the hope is that you’ll be able to stop thinking about the user interface and just do it, that it will become more of a right-brained activity. As of right now, they’ve identified some technologies and are developing prototypes. Some time in the next few years, you may be interfacing with SolidWorks in a completely new, but totally cool way.
Picture stolen from cadfanatic.com
During SolidWorks World 2011, I sat down with Asheen Phansey, Sustainability Product Manager of SolidWorks, to find out a bit more about him and what drives him. I’ve enjoyed giving Asheen a hard time about being a tree hugger, among other things, but all of it in jest. For one, I think sustainability is important. Two, the passion that Asheen has for his job, and how it can help make the world a better place, is incredible. About the only thing that makes him even more lively is when he talks about his new-born son.
First off, Asheen is a smart guy. His undergrad is in Chemical Engineering and he spent much of his time in bio-tech, with some time in Aerospace and Software. He came to the realization that while he really enjoyed hi-tech, his values were in sustainability. Having seen all the steps from R&D, through manufacturing and out to market, he wondered about making each of those steps more sustainable. He went back to school, got his MBA and opened his own consultancy business. It’s this sustainability “street cred” that attracted SolidWorks to Asheen. Even though he lacked the CAD background, he is the ultimate sustainability evangelist. With 400,000 commercial customers available, Asheen has his work cut out for him in bringing sustainability to all. They (should have asked for clarification on who ‘they’ are, but I’m a lousy journalist) did some calculations and figured out there are 1,000,000,000 physical objects that are designed (in SolidWorks), manufactured and sold each year. He figures if there was a 5% energy reduction across the board, that would be enough to take a power plant offline. It’s these kind of things that gets him excited.
Delving further into the murkiness that is Asheen’s mind, I discovered that he is an Eagle Scout and it is in his scouting days that his sustainability addiction is rooted. All the nights spent under the stars gave him a love of nature and the want to keep it around. He also sees sustainability as a business advantage, which isn’t hard to understand. With so many people (read: consumers) trying to do their part to help the environment, businesses that can advertise that they’re shrinking their carbon footprint can help increase their bottom line.
It was at this point in our conversation that I had to ask Asheen to give me an overview of Sustainability in SolidWorks, as I haven’t really looked at it. He calmly explained where the data came from and how it was used. He also explained that SolidWorks’ philosophy was that designers wouldn’t want to go elsewhere for the info, it had to be seamlessly integrated. By filling in a few parameters in the Sustainability Dashboard, you can find out the carbon footprint of your design, lifecycle energy, etc, and will then automatically update as you change your design. It will also help you to find alternate, more green, materials. Ones that have the same properties as what you need/want, but that won’t have as much of a negative impact on the environment.
While no one industry appears to be leaning more towards sustainability than another, he has seen more of the companies at the end of the value chain moving towards it. Those companies are the ones that are feeling the consumer pressure to be more environmentally aware. Suppliers of those companies are starting to feel the pressure as well. Wal-Mart actually scores their suppliers and gives the high scorers preferred vendor status. McDonald’s, IBM and P&G were also mentioned.
Asheen loves what he does. His passion for sustainability is almost palpable. Once you get him started on the subject, he’ll talk forever. This, in my opinion, is an excellent quality in a product manager and can only lead to success for SolidWorks Sustainability. He has me convinced, now I just need to convince the powers-that-be.
Last two thoughts: I need to stop interjecting my little sidebars into conversations; I end up sounding foolish. I don’t like the sound of my own voice.
Photo stolen from the SolidWorks Blog.