Solid showing at SolidWorks World 2009

Tuesday February 17, 2009
Written by
ORLANDO, Fla. - At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, February 9, 2009, for a brief moment, it was easy to forget about the global economic challenges facing the manufacturing industry. The location was the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., where 4,300-plus engineers gathered for the SolidWorks World 2009 International User Conference and Exposition.

"What gives? Isn't there a recession?" joked Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks, when he looked out at the sea of engineers from across the globe at the conference's opening general session. Ray said that he expected just 3,000 attendees because of the current economic situation, and was shocked when he heard the final number. This is an indication that companies recognize the importance of innovation during difficult times, and the role that computer-aided design can play in this.

But still, the attendees were looking for advice on navigating through these volatile waters.

"Times are tough, but adversity brings out the best in people," said Ray. "Tough times spawn invention, and they spawn incredible stories of ingenuity. It gives us the chance to see things differently. But this isn't the first time we've gone through difficult times," he explained. "A worse scenario was in the Depression. But some of the great inventions of our time that we take for granted today really were sparked during the adversity that happened during the Depression," he said, giving nylon as an example.

Ray then invited keynote speaker, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group - including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Radio - on stage for a Q&A. An entrepreneur since the age of 17, Branson has built a variety of companies into global successes, and he is just the person to offer the crowd insight on how to succeed during an economic downturn.  

"It's certainly the toughest economy that I've known in my lifetime," Branson said. The key to success, he added, is expanding out of it rather than contracting. "Companies like us that have resources need to continue to expand, continue to innovate, continue to hire people." And those who don't have the resources to expand should explore other options like a four-day workweek or job sharing, he suggested, before resorting to laying employees off.

Branson said that the engineers in attendance have a role to play in helping companies survive the recession; they need to come up with ways to do things cheaper. For example, metal-free airplanes or space shuttles would use less energy, resulting in lower operating costs for companies, and cheaper fares for consumers. Engineers need to think, "How can we make companies more efficient?" he explained. And that's where innovation comes in. An investment in innovation goes a long way, he said. Those companies that survive economic downturns are the innovators.

Ray agreed. Companies that invest in innovation and skills during an economic downturn will emerge, he said. But there are still a lot of engineers out of work. And to combat this problem, SolidWorks is launching the Engineering Stimulus Package, a program that will allow out-of-work engineers to receive free training on SolidWorks solutions. The program hasn't launched yet, said Ray, because the company is still ironing out the details. But he did say that it will be rolled out in different stages throughout the world. The goal is to get these engineers to the Certified SolidWorks Professional level, so that they will be hotter commodities when they re-enter the workforce.

SolidWorks doesn't take its social responsibility lightly. The company is doing its part to help its customers emerge successful during this economic downturn. This could explain why there was such a solid showing this year, when so many other conferences are experiencing drops in attendance.

SolidWorks World 2010 will take place in Anaheim, Calif.

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