CATIA and SolidWorks are both feature-based, dimension-driven solid modelers running on Intel/Windows systems. They even look the same – at least superficially – employing Windows look and feel with menus, button bars, and graphical feature and assembly trees. Both are owned by the same company. Yet CATIA sells for $16,500 (2001 average) vs. $4,995 for SolidWorks. What do you get for the higher price?
CATIA also incorporates specialized design software for disciplines such as wiring, sheet metal, and composite materials for aircraft. CATIA incorporates four separate products for designing electrical raceways, conduits, and wave guides.
In the field of car design, CATIA has a specialized application for so-called class A surfaces that enables workers to start with points digitized from clay models and produce smooth mathematical surfaces for production of tools and inspection of finished parts.
CATIA V5R9 incorporates 129 separate products, not including 3rd party applications.
Sophisticated shape modeling
SolidWorks is a capable system for industrial design that includes sophisticated features such as lofts, variable-radius fillets, shells, and draft angles. CATIA’s mechanical part-design workbench has these tools, too, and they are no better than those of SolidWorks.
But CATIA also offers shape-modeling capabilities beyond those of SolidWorks.
Generative Surface Design product enables designers to sweep, revolve, and loft surfaces as can be done with solid models. It also enables designers to do things that can’t be done with parametric solids alone. For example, a designer can draw lines or curves in space and fit surfaces between them. Surfaces created in this way can be intersected, trimmed to the intersection curve, and blended with fillets. GSD also enables engineers to add surfaces that blend between non-intersecting surfaces.
FreeStyle Shaper enables designers to create surfaces bounded by curves and change their shape by dragging their control points to new positions. CAD programs that use surface modeling are less automated than solids-modeling systems. Where solids programs trim surfaces automatically, users of surface-modeling software must do the job manually. However, with surfaces, designers may be able to create models that solid-modeling systems can’t.
The CATIA V5 FreeStyle Shaper lets designers shape surface models by manipulating control points as shown above. (Click image for a larger view.)
Designed for large teams
CATIA enables customers to set up what Dassault calls “workbenches” that contain all the tools, translators, and pointers to directories that are needed to perform a specific task. Some of the standard workbenches include mechanical design, shape design, digital mockup, and ergonomics design and analysis. With some programming, customers can create their own workbenches tailored to job descriptions of their companies.
CATIA version five groups software products into workbenches. Selecting a tool from a workbench brings up the button bars needed to operate the tool. (Click image for a larger view.)
Ease of Use
Sophistication comes at a price. The arbitrary rules and procedures of the many CATIA application are not intuitive to learn or use. For example, to zoom in and out with the mouse, one must first press the second of three mouse buttons, then the first, then release the first mouse button while keeping the second pressed. By contrast to CATIA, SolidWorks provides fewer functions and makes them easier to use.
CATIA’s user manuals and training aids are not good. This may be fine for large corporations that often design custom training classes to match their own procedures.
In summary, SolidWorks is less costly than CATIA because it is a simpler product. It contains fewer lines of code, and installation is simpler, reducing the need for on-site application engineers. Complex products that need to be optimized for weight and performance can benefit from the advanced engineering software integrated with CATIA.