A great idea executed badly

SolidWorks has unveiled 3D ContentCentral, a free online directory of downloadable, three-dimensional computer-aided design parts. Dave Wilson wasn’t impressed.

When searching for components to fit in their overall product designs, engineers have traditionally sorted through paper catalogues, interpreted 2D drawings and technical specifications, and created component models from scratch.

3D ContentCentral streamlines this process by allowing design engineers to search through a directory of leading suppliers and download supplier-certified CAD models into their designs within minutes instead of hours.

There are 12 suppliers on the ContentCentral site: Boston Gear, BTM, DE-STA-CO Industries, Enerpac, Festo, Jergens, Kaydon, Nook Industries, Robohand, SMC Corporation of America, Warner Electric, and WDS. Not comprehensive by any means.

But at least 3D ContentCentral also includes a model-sharing library and user community for individual design engineers. The model-sharing library is a free resource for design engineers to share CAD models with colleagues, customers, and other community members. Design engineers can simply post a 3D CAD model to this community, providing other 3D ContentCentral users with quick access to the 3D model.

While it sounds like a great idea, the actual execution of the site is pretty poor. 3DContentCentral is simply a window with some hypertext links that will take the user either (a) into a part of a manufacturers site where he can download models, or (b) directly to the home page of that manufacturers site, where he then has to find out where the models are hiding.

And because each and every manufacturer has implemented their own web site differently, 3D ContentCentral looks like a bit of a mess.

If that wasn’t upsetting enough, some of the parts of the site (like the SMC pages) won’t work well, or at all if you are using a Mac (I know I’m a bit of an oddball here, but still).

Many other software vendors learnt a long time ago that a uniform user interface really helps users get things done quickly. It’s a pity that the Solidworks folks didn’t learn from that experience, because the idea is great, it’s just the experience of using the site that isn’t.

We wait patiently for Revision 2 to hit the streets.