Design Software History: SolidWorks: Pioneering Accessible 3D CAD Software and Its Lasting Impact on Design and Engineering

May 30, 2024 4 min read

Design Software History: SolidWorks: Pioneering Accessible 3D CAD Software and Its Lasting Impact on Design and Engineering

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History of Design Software - SolidWorks

Introduction to SolidWorks and Its Founding

Background and Context

In the early 1990s, the CAD (Computer-Aided Design) industry was undergoing significant transformation. The landscape was dominated by high-end, expensive software solutions that required specialized hardware and extensive training. These tools were primarily used by large corporations with substantial budgets, leaving a gap in the market for more accessible, user-friendly 3D CAD software tailored to smaller businesses and individual engineers. This provided an opportunity for innovation and democratization in the mechanical design software space.

Founding of SolidWorks

Jon Hirschtick, a visionary in the field, recognized this gap and saw the potential to make powerful 3D CAD tools available to a broader audience. With this vision in mind, Hirschtick founded SolidWorks Corporation in 1993. The company's mission was to develop an affordable, easy-to-use 3D mechanical design software that could run on the Windows operating system, making it accessible to a wider range of users. Hirschtick's approach involved raising initial funding, gathering a team of talented engineers, and focusing on creating a product that could revolutionize the industry.

Key Milestones in SolidWorks Development

Early Development and Initial Release

The development process of the first version of SolidWorks was intense and driven by a clear vision. The team focused on building a software that was not only powerful but also user-friendly and affordable. This was achieved by leveraging the Windows OS, which was gaining popularity at the time. The result was the launch of SolidWorks 95 in 1995. This initial release marked a significant milestone, as it provided a 3D CAD solution that was accessible to a much broader audience. The market reception was overwhelmingly positive, with users appreciating the ease of use, functionality, and cost-effectiveness.

Growth and Acquisitions

Following the successful launch of SolidWorks 95, the user base grew rapidly. The company continued to innovate, introducing key features in subsequent versions that further enhanced the software's capabilities. Some notable advancements included the introduction of parametric design, which allowed for more flexible and efficient modeling. In 1997, SolidWorks was acquired by Dassault Systèmes, a leader in the CAD and PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) industry. This acquisition provided SolidWorks with additional resources and expertise, accelerating its growth and solidifying its position in the market.

SolidWorks' Industry Impact and Technological Contributions

Revolutionizing Mechanical Design

SolidWorks revolutionized the mechanical design landscape by making advanced 3D CAD tools accessible to a wider audience. This democratization had a profound impact on various industries, as it enabled smaller companies and individual engineers to compete on a level playing field with larger corporations. SolidWorks was particularly influential in the adoption of **parametric design**, which allowed for more efficient and flexible modeling processes. This innovation significantly improved the speed and quality of product development.

Technological Innovations

Over the years, SolidWorks introduced numerous technological innovations that further enhanced its functionality. One of the key developments was the creation of SolidWorks Simulation, a tool for FEA (Finite Element Analysis) that allowed engineers to simulate and analyze the behavior of their designs under various conditions. Additionally, the integration with other Dassault Systèmes software created a comprehensive design ecosystem, providing users with a wide range of tools for every stage of the product lifecycle.

SolidWorks also embraced emerging technologies such as cloud-based solutions, facilitating collaborative design and enabling teams to work together seamlessly, regardless of their physical location.

The Future of SolidWorks and CAD Industry Trends

Current Position in the Market

Today, SolidWorks remains a leading player in the CAD industry, with a large and loyal user base. The software continues to evolve, incorporating new features and technologies to meet the changing needs of its users. However, SolidWorks faces competition from other major CAD software providers, including Autodesk, PTC, and Siemens. To maintain its market position, SolidWorks focuses on delivering innovative solutions and maintaining strong relationships with its user community.

Future Directions and Innovations

The future of CAD is being shaped by several emerging trends, and SolidWorks is well-positioned to adapt to these changes. One of the most significant trends is the integration of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning, which can enhance design processes by automating repetitive tasks and providing intelligent design suggestions. Additionally, VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) are poised to transform the way designers interact with their models, offering immersive experiences that can improve design quality and collaboration.

SolidWorks is also likely to continue its focus on cloud-based solutions, enabling more seamless collaboration and data sharing. The company actively engages with its user community to gather feedback and insights, ensuring that future updates and innovations align with the needs and expectations of its users.


From its inception in 1993 to its current position as a leader in the CAD industry, SolidWorks has made significant contributions to the field of design software. The company's commitment to innovation, accessibility, and user satisfaction has driven its success and growth. As the industry continues to evolve, SolidWorks is well-equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead, ensuring its continued relevance and impact in the world of design software.

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